Category Archives: World at Large

Re-try, again.

Well, it worked, I suppose.

I’m on my eighth week of my eight week sabbatical, and I have finally been able to deliberately do nothing all day, just because, without trying hard or being upset about ‘not getting things done.’

If you had asked me, I would have told you that I honestly didn’t think it was really going to take me all of eight weeks to unwind. I really didn’t. I picked eight weeks because, well, because. When people say God told them something, I really struggle with that. what does the voice of God sound like? How do you know?

In my limited experience, you know because you know, the same way you know that God created all the world, including you, and sent His only son as an atoning sacrifice for all of His lost children. I was sitting on my bed with a spiral bound notebook, working and re-working the numbers. Yes, I needed time off between work and school, but how much? One week? Two weeks? If I made it to the next paycheck cycle, would I have enough money–and then suddenly, interrupting all my thoughts and figurings, I knew it had to be two months. It had to be.

I closed the notebook, because there was no use thinking about it. It seemed more than a little scandalous to spend two months doing nothing, but I was certain. It seemed rather irresponsible, too, but you can’t go and tell the Almighty that He’s being irresponsible.

I quit my job. I really pissed off my boss, because she thought I should work the summer and that there was no reason to quit before school, and that I was self-centered and self-righteous, and I didn’t care about her or the company or the patients or anything. It was very uncomfortable. Yes, very uncomfortable, but still not even close the uncomfortableness of trying to defy God.

I guess that’s what some people would call being stupid for God, but I’ve never cared for that phrase. God, as the originator of all wisdom, is not stupid. He’s just not as near-sighted as the rest of us, and He understands and owns wisdom far deeper than we can perceive. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel a little stupid when people keep asking me what I’m doing. Nothin’. Just–you know, passin’ the time.

You quit your job so you could do ‘nothin'”?! Yeah. Don’t be jealous. How does that even make sense?! I dunno. Does it have to?

But today I got mad at Etsy for for not being creative enough (this is akin to complaining there isn’t enough room in the dump truck), and decided I was feeling sick and tired (literally; sore throat and headache) and needed to take a nap. But I couldn’t fall asleep because I kept designing clothes in my head, and had to sit up and try to sketch them out. I never did get a good nap in, but it was the first time in years I’ve been so creative I couldn’t sleep (or that I got mad at Etsy for not being creative enough).

In quieter years, I was good at the creative dreaming and really bad at the functional carry through. Over the last several years, I’ve been so conditioned and trained to be functional that even the last few weeks of sewing have seemed more rote than creative. I suppose here is where I’m supposed to make some sort of grandiose statement about finding balance in my life, but I’m not ready for rash promises just yet (ask me tomorrow).

I’m getting back that feeling that I can take on the world. Not slog through it–take it on! I’m not going to tell you that feeling will last long. But I’m not going to tell you it won’t, either. I guess that’s the point of taking a break, to fill you with impossible hope. (Okay, it really won’t last long. Want to know how I know? Conclusive studies over the last 8 weeks have shown that it takes no less than TWO consecutive late nights for me to be a basket case and need a nap. Bets are open as to how long I’ll foolishly do two consecutive late nights.)

It’s a feeling. It’s not reality. I know that. But the fog is clearing, and just in time–classes start next week. The panicky feeling is subsiding. I’m thinking again, thinking thoughts instead of to-do lists (although I did sweep the floor today, aren’t you proud of me?). What I feel like is that I’m ready to grow. I’m not stretched so thin with simply existing that I have nothing left to give to turning into anything else. I’m not the King of the World, but I’m ready to try again.

Zombie Apocalypse

I think a lot of people are very uncertain about the future. This is not merely a thing of today; it’s an outlook from many times in history. But everyone finds their own way of addressing this uncertainty, and I’ve come to title this expected disaster as “The Zombie Apocalypse.” If you want to get specific, things quickly degrade into name calling; if you leave it vague, everyone can assume that of course The Zombie Apocalypse refers to whichever things they think will cause this disaster. Everyone can agree on Zombies.

More and more people are believing in the Zombie Apocalypse everyday. For some people, it just leads to questions like, “Yeah, but how practical will this degree be for me when the Zombie Apocalypse comes?” Some amuse themselves with lighthearted lists of things to stockpile (toilet paper! Remember Argentina!). For others, it means making bigger gardens, learning to put up food, and, in general, “becoming more self-reliant.”

I was talking with one of these ladies who is really getting into the Zombie Apocalypse thing. She was getting frustrated that she really didn’t think their gardening efforts were leading to a monetary savings; I was pointing out that the education (School of Hard Knocks) itself would be very useful come Zombie Apocalypse. She explained that what they really needed to get ready would be the ideal piece of real estate. I suggested that it was very hard to know what would really be needed during the Zombie Apocalypse, and maybe what she really needed most was just good neighbors. She stated unequivocally that what was most needed was food, water and shelter, and then it hit me.

She was wrong.

I had been trying for some time to be able to put in words what bothered me about Zombie Apocalypse preparations, and I suddenly held it so clearly I could barely continue the conversations. What matters most is not food, water and shelter. What matters most is being a good neighbor.

I’ve read stories of hard times and holocausts, and the tales that have been impressed on me–the people who have made the strongest mark in my memory and inspired me as to how I would wish to behave–are not the ones with the stockpiles. Not the ones with the clever preparations. Not the ones who held off the scavengers with a shotgun. It’s the ones who have given the shirts off their backs, the food from their mouths, and risked their very life time and time again to help others. Those are the ones who leave me in awe, not the ones who managed to survive under the mantra of “I got mine!”

The point isn’t to survive. Maybe stock-piling and cleverness is the best way to ride it out, but what’s the point of surviving that way? The tales of those survivors are dark indeed. The secrets they hid of what horrible things they did to others to get by, the depression, the unrelenting fear, the self-absorption and the paranoia. But some survive who didn’t claw their way to the top of the pile, and they tell a different story. They have still seen horrible things, but theirs is a lighter burden because the life they lived was worth living, even as horrifying as it was.

Maybe giving the shirt off your back will mean that you don’t survive the Zombie Apocalypse. I think I am more than okay with that. I think I would rather live the shortened life, knowing each minute was worth it, than to survive it surrounded by shotgun shells and having had brought the darkness inside of me. The way to prepare is not to stockpile food or ammo or toilet paper (okay, maybe toilet paper), and it’s not to find a way to successfully isolate yourself from anyone who might do you damage. The only real way to prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse is to practice loving; to practice giving to those in greater need than you, especially when you don’t have anything left to give; and to practice being full of light and joy through every hard and frightening thing. Those are things that no looter can steal away from you, and those are the things that will be of great use no matter what form the Zombies take.

Hurting Each Other

You may remember when I first mentioned The Civil Wars. They had an intense form of music, with the emphasis on the two very talented singers. This would be typical of one of their songs:

I found their obvious talent to be a big draw, but I didn’t buy their CD, because they were still just playing around. Joy would be up there dancing cheerfully to the glummest songs, and she and John Paul would drag out words through all sorts of auditory acrobatics together, just because they could. I wanted to see what would happen when they settled down a little.

They didn’t show many signs of settling down; their tour schedule was brutal, and it there didn’t seem to be much of a hurry of putting out another CD. I waited.

Joy and her husband Nate had a baby boy. No new CD. The Civil Wars went touring in Europe, leaving John Paul’s wife and children back in the states. No CD.

Abruptly (almost in the middle of a show), the band canceled the remaining tours and put their status on indefinite hiatus due to “irreconcilable differences.”

I was sorry, but not surprised. Of course both of their respective marriages had to be strained–how could they not be? Of course all parties involved were facing serious burn-out. How could they not be?

What infuriated me was the general public’s response, their entitled response that Joy and John Paul had no right to be in falling out, had no right to deprive their fans of continuing music, and, in general, were both acting like a bunch of babies who were engaging in needless drama to increase their fame.

The land of “fandom” (ha) continues to engage in wild speculation, attempts to find one or the other to blame, demands answers, and, generally, is making far more drama out of it than either Joy or John Paul ever did or likely ever will. Yes, Joy and John Paul aren’t speaking. But when Joy granted a rare interview, she didn’t blame or accuse or explain away. She acknowledged tension, and didn’t throw anyone under the bus. John Paul has yet to speak, allowing many to therefore decry that he must be the guilty party and he needs to hurry up and come around.

Really? A man who is unhappy enough with his life choices that he publicly apologizes to his wife for being such a jerk is not likely to be a man who wants to “talk about it.” It is far more likely that he is filled with his own regret, and has more important things to deal with then some people who think they’re entitled to entertainment, be it musically or by getting the dish on whoever it is they want the dish on.

It was nearly a given that Joy would be the one who would be able to speak, even if just something gracious and oblique. She has been in the better position. She was touring with her husband; John Paul had to leave his family behind. She was basking in the glow of being a new mother; his wife, I’m sure, saw plenty of the public speculation that John Paul and Joy were romantically involved. How hard must it be to be separated from your husband who is off on a tour of fame with a pretty lady who everyone thinks he’s an item with?

They did their best to honor their commitments, including offering to pay people their travel costs for arrangements they’d made previously to attend their concerts. They also finished the CD that they’d been working on, even though the tension was high. Here’s a song off of that.

This CD I might have to buy.

On the first CD, they were pretending. They agreed on what made good music, and they made music. On their second CD, they’re raw. The songs are more real to them, and they’re singing from the gut, not playing with their talent. I hear the difference, and it means more. And they know it, too.

I am grateful for the music, but I hurt for them, because their hurt is real. But there are so many people trashing them and bashing them for–hurting.

And that, in itself, is a reason to hurt. People are pretty screwed up.

Heave away, boys!

It was my day to take my two youngest siblings to their swimming lessons. There’s a pavilion near the chain-link fence surrounding the pool, so if you like you can sit on a picnic bench and watch the pool activities. I was keeping half an eye on my siblings–not because I feared for their safety, but rather their amusement. It was my idea to enroll them, and some guilty part of my conscious was afraid that in in the end I’d be responsible for a miserable experience.

The last fifteen minutes of the lesson is “free time” and anything goes. That, I knew. What I thought was that it would involve the instructors sitting on the edge of the pool taking a 15 minute break between classes, while the kids entertained themselves. What happened instead was the next time I looked up, I saw one of the instructors hurling one of the kids through the air into the deep end.

It was marvelous. No, really–it was. All the kids were lining up for their turn, and one by he was picking them up and chucking them in the water. He was laughing with every throw, and the kids were bouncing impatiently for their turn. In the shallow end, a similar scene was taking place; there, the instructor was tossing kids up out of the water so they could land with a splash.

The instant I saw the first throw, I was suddenly struck with a powerful memory–my older brother throwing us into the water. It was a little different. Here, the instructor was thoroughly tanned and children were landing in sparkling clear water. There, we had lined up on the grassy wall, all of us blindingly white, and flailed into water so muddy it stained your suit. But I remember–I remember being scared to lose control and go flying through the air. I remember being told to cover my nose, and obligingly doing so–only to switch to covering my ears mid-flight. What? I hated water in my ears worse than water in my nose. I remember, though, the feeling of flying through the air, and the surprisingly safe descent into the warm water. The first time was terrifying. After that, it was pure exhilaration.

The memory was a happy one, but it was nearly eclipsed by feeling of–joy? Gratitude? I am nearly positive the young men throwing boys and girls through the air didn’t have siblings that age. I am just as certain the kids didn’t have siblings old enough to throw them. But what made me happy was how much they were enjoying it. The instructors weren’t doing their job; they were having fun. They were truly enjoying the younger kids.

I just felt so–oh, I don’t–relieved, I suppose, to see the delight within the age disparity. I’ve known it, and know it still, but so often it seems like some rare phenomenon that most people can’t comprehend. This afternoon, all was right.

SomeOne Has To Do It

It’s interesting, sometimes, thinking of all the little things that make the world go ’round. Someone has to pick up the trash. Someone has to be a plumber. Someone has to write the blurbs on the back of the cereal boxes.

The flip side of that is that someone has to be the one discovering new things. Someone has to make the beautiful things.

Sometimes I hear about lives, about things people have done. Past lives. Past lifetimes. Some people–they’ve done so much. So many things. It makes one think about Heroes. Maybe there is just another class of people that just isn’t like us. They do wonderful things that us ordinary folk just can’t quite obtain.

I guess one of the things that fascinates me is that at some point, one seems to have to choose. I suppose that irritates me. I want to have a piece of everything. Why does one have to devote oneself to ONE thing? It’s boring.

Sometimes, I’ll do something like read a piece of journalism, and I’ll think “I could do better than that!” Or perhaps, “That would be fun to do that!” But I’ve never, ever thought that I would like to be a journalist. Take those classes? Adopt that value system? No. I can’t ever even say “The people need to know!” or anything like that. It’s just that when I see something powerful–a flood, a huge project, a personal struggle–I want to capture it, make a way to grasp it.

That’s essentially what I like about photography. Things are so fleeting, and it’s so hard even for your own two eyes to take it in. When you capture it well with a camera, you have a chance to hold onto things for just a little longer. To really look. To try to absorb it. And I think that one can do that with words, too, to help capture a picture that is bigger than even words.

But I don’t want that to be my job. I don’t want to network, I don’t want to go to school for it, I don’t want to work long hours meeting deadlines. I just want to be able to see something powerful, capture it, and put it out there for other people to try to grasp as well.

But that’s a different story. When you color inside the lines, that’s not something you’re allowed to do unless that’s your job, and that’s the job of a journalist.

Sometimes I can’t help but entertain ideas about selling my hand-work; putting my artistic aspect to monetary function. Not devote my life to it, mind you. A person can find a million thoughts to shoot that idea right out of the sky. But why not? Some in the world sells things they make. On the side.

Someone out there sells their novels.

Someone out there wins the lottery.

Someone out there is happy in their job.

Someone out there is quitting their job and taking their life in a totally different direction.

Someone is experimenting and exploring.

The thing is, when they fail, we just call them fools. And when they succeed, we call them heroes. And if they don’t even try, we don’t remember them either way.

Mostly, what we tell people is “choose.” And it kind of makes me mad, because it’s true. The human experience is a finite one. You CAN’T do it all. Just as I find I pursue photography or writing to try to capture things that I can’t experience fully in one moment, a single human cannot experience everything that can be experienced. That’s why “someone” is doing it, not “everyone.”

Even if I can see it, I don’t want to come to terms with it. I keep trying to find a way to do more, to be the hero–the heroes we’ve all heard about, in big ways and small ways. But there is, of course, always the fear of failure–or, to put it another way–the realization and the rebellion against the idea that we are limited. That maybe everything isn’t possible. That we really are mortal, and there really isn’t anything we can do about it.

What then?

Listen To Me Talk

Last night I performed some uncharacteristic web-browsing—in that normally I don’t. I am either looking at products (e.g. fabric, patterns, etc), researching something in particular, or quite honestly staring at the screen wishing myself in bed but being unable to dislodge the glowing screen from in front of me.

It was an eclectic mix, from an organization teaching surgeons in Africa, to a science fiction writer—an atheist—dying of cancer, a commentary on recent super-hero movies (which I don’t even watch). But all in all, I went to bed thinking a 25-page blog post, being of course too tired to write it out just then.

I guess one of the things that stuck with me most was the idea of trying to find the balance about asserting who you are versus telling everyone else that your way is best.

The dying atheist roundly dismissed all conservatives as deluded and stupid, and said that while liberals weren’t perfect, at least they were in touch with reality. I’ve seen the exact same sentiment by conservatives spewed at the liberals, each asserting that the other side is ignoring the Obvious, Clear Evidence that their experts of choice have defended.

And the African surgeons made absolutely no bones about being a Christian organization, interested in teaching Christian surgeons, and being more worried about being disciples of Christ than being politically correct. They prayed over their patients openly, and made their faith their number one priority, with their field of service coming second.

On the one hand, I am so sick of assertion. This is where the movie commentary comes in—the commentator made note of the fact that one of the greatest powers of super-heroes in modern movies is Absolute Certainty. The superhero knows that his actions are right, that there will be no negative effects from his decision, and that he will be Always Right. We can sit and say “that’s stupid” when we’re looking at a movie, but—how does it go? Art imitates life?

Sometimes I am just at the point where I just don’t even want to know what someone else thinks. I’m tired of the dogmatic assertion. I don’t even want to go back and read any of my older writing, with my dogmatic assertions about sewing, or life, or whatever. You don’t know what you’re talking about, okay? You really don’t. Stop talking.

To quote Margaret Mead (I don’t know who the heck she is), “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Less talking, more doing. Stop talking about what you’re doing. Be quiet and be busy. I don’t care about your facts or your projections; if that’s all you want to do, go away. Liberal, conservative, atheist, bible-pounding warrior—shush. Work. No whining.

But on the other hand, I am jealous of the Christian African Surgeons. We believe in sep’ration of churchnstate. ‘N business, ‘n healthcare, ‘n mostly neighborly discussions. It doesn’t matter how important your faith is to you—you’re expected to work for 40 hours a week and deny anything but work in that time. When you go home and want to have faith unto yourself, fine. But you should be a totally different, sanitized person for the rest of the time. Like, the majority of your waking hours. Pretend to be something other than what you are, or at least stifle it and stuff it down.

I wish I was better at being like the African Surgeons, and insisting that Christ came first and would color everything else. I wish I was comfortable telling the world about African Surgeons, but I hear my own voice—“shush. We don’t need to hear what you think.” I carry around the important things, the things that make me think—and don’t speak them, for dread of adding to the clamor. So I join the throngs spinning out cotton candy. Is that more worthwhile?

No. Maybe I am just afraid of being pigeoned-holed? They way I just did to the dying atheist? I start talking about God, and I’ll just be lumped in with the girls who go to church, and talk there with the friends about the baby their trying to have with their boyfriend, but they’ve had a miscarriage. I’ll be lumped in with the guy with a son out of wedlock and 5 girlfriends later, who’s so proud to see his son performing in the church choir. I’ll be lumped in with the patriot movement, the God-likes-us-to-go-kill-bad-guys movement. I’ll be assumed a Fox-News watcher. I’ll box myself as a self-righteous façade, someone who likes to talk about pious things, but doesn’t understand the holiness of God. I’ll be one more voice insisting I’m right, and benefiting no one at all.

Always be ready, we’re told, to give an explanation for the joy you have within you. I get comments on my smile, on my laugh, on my positive outlook (speaking of facades one puts up for 40 hours at work?), but it would be entirely unprofessional for me to give a reason. To say “God is good, and He grants grace.” Why? Why is it in Africa you can say that and in America you can’t?

But I don’t want to be the preachy one. I don’t want to be the one filling all the voids with I Am Always Right; I am not a super-hero. I don’t want to be The Chicken Who Has Laid an Egg. I just don’t want to hide the light that I have found under a basket. I want to take the basket away, without sending out shrill platitudes of emptiness. Such noise is unpleasant regardless.

I suppose, when it all boils down, the question is—is it possible to not be a hypocrite?

Take Off Your Sandals

It’s really perfectly normal, at first. Okay, the security line is a bit stressful, because you don’t know what you’re doing, and the line is moving so fast, and it’s quite clear people will be annoyed if is you slow it down in any way. But it isn’t rocket science, and you are a capable adult, so you get through that okay. And the waiting area by the gate is droll and typical, complete with vending machines trying to sell you sub-Saharan bottled water.

Then they start calling people to board, and you think it’s normal. Nothing seems strange about walking down the portable hallway, and nothing seems odd about the weather—cloudy. Drizzly. Miserable. Expected. But when you get to the plane, the actual plane, you realize something is wrong.

For starters, you start having severe flashbacks to the time you toured a submarine. And you stand there in the crowded line, with people shimming sideways and trying to make their elbows fit while shoving things in the over-head storage (which is a mis-nomer, because it’s lower than everyone’s head, if they’re standing; your shoulders barely fit under the ‘overhead’ storage)—and you think, really? Really, this is what people mean when they talk about how they love to fly, and how glamorous it is to travel? This is like trying to fit around the supper table at the old house. I thought that wasn’t socially acceptable, never mind socially laudable.

But never mind. If the emperor has no clothes and no one wants to mention it, far be it from you to bring it up. You don’t mind crowded—you grew up crowded–, and besides, the chairs are so small they actually fit you, so this will be a comfortable flight, even if you do pity the others. You see them coming onto the plane, and they definitely aren’t as small as you. They’re bigger—taller, wider. How will they fit? Nevermind; you’re comfortable.

The stewardess starts to give the spiel about seatbelts and cellphones, and you try very hard to pretend it’s normal. But—since this is the first flight, you actually look at the stewardess. . .and the PA system she’s using, which is a phone. Like, the phone you grew up with, not like your cell phone. With a cord, and a big plastic handset. And you start wondering how old the plane is.

But the plane is taxiing, which means butterflies are starting to get warmed up in your stomach. You peer out the lil tiny submarine porthole, to make sure the pilot won’t be crashing in to anything. Surprisingly, the captain seems to actually know how to taxi. You can see him turn corners, and navigate the airport. And then you can see that the runway is spreading out straight before you, and so logic tells you: next we speed up.

Now the urge is strong—in your mind, you’re back on the roller coaster, closing your eyes, because then the monsters under the bed can’t see you. But you’re riding with your crazy, loopy brother, who refuses cowardice, and literally pries your eyes open before the coaster starts. He could be sitting right next to you right now—you so badly want to close your eyes, but you can’t. That would be cheating.

Faster, faster, faster. You get uncontrollable giggles when heights get involved; tops of the ladders are iffy. You can’t get hysterical giggles here—the plane is packed full of people who would hear you! But you feel the wheels leave the pavement, and inside the hysteria is building. Hold on, hold on—there, you made it. You are beyond the realm of reality, and you cannot comprehend the height, so the hysteria passes.

But you are high enough now that every horrible plane crash story you ever heard now suddenly has a thousand times more context. Like the plane that fell out of the sky in the Buffalo suburbs not too long ago. See all the houses? What is holding the plane up? Supposing the engines suddenly cut right now? Straight down to all the little houses. . .

That thought passes, too, because it is cloudy. So very cloudy. Wisps of mist turn rapidly into the gloomiest winter cloud. Still, you can feel the plane going up. More up. More up. You can’t help but strain at the little porthole, trying to see something. Where are you? Grey. Everything is grey.

It almost feels like you’ve become unconscious, that un-connected dream world where nothing takes shape. At first it’s subtle, and you think you’re imagining it, but no—the light is coming. The grey is growing brighter and brighter—the whole cabin is filling with white light. What is out there? You strain again toward the glass. You can see the wing now, it isn’t hidden by cloud. Whiteness fills below. Why is there a blue streak on the wing?

Stop looking down.

You’re on top of the clouds. The sky is such an intense, brilliant blue, like a Caribbean beach, only more so. Look—it’s so bright! So very, very bright. White clouds, blue sky, and such a driving sun. Part of you supposes it’s no wonder the earth reflects so much light. The other part of you knows you have reached the heavens, and you wonder where the throne is. Perhaps He is higher, but one cannot quell the thought that some heavenly beings must be about. The silence—the barrenness—it seems sacred, and you feel like an intruder. The engine of the plane grinds on underneath you, but it’s unnatural. It doesn’t belong here. It is trespassing. Everyone is quiet.

Then the stewardess comes out, with her cart that barely fits in the aisle, to offer a drink or a snack, and suddenly it has gone from the surreal to the ludicrous. The flight will barely be an hour—less time than it took to get to the airport! Are we children, unable to wait that long for a drink? Oh, are we children, playing make believe, playing house in the flying tin-can? You played many of those games growing up. Here, have some pretzels!

And yet, it is sobering. Like the old plastic phone. We are back in time. The stewardess is in her proper uniform, which so many of us have forgotten could ever be anything besides polo shirts and khaki’s. This is official business. This is serious. They have to be professional, because we’re putting our lives in their hands, and we haven’t gotten far enough away from it to stop being afraid, just yet. It’s too easy to understand the noise rumbling under our feet. There is a metal shell, and under that, engines. The engines go, and we are higher than a human was made to go. The engines stop, and we won’t be anymore. It’s too simple for comfort.

It’s too absurd. It’s absurd that it’s so small in such a vast space, that humans could be so close in size to something hurtling through the sky by audacity alone. One doesn’t seem to think one should say “it’s too small to go so high”—but, it might rather be built like a sting-ray, rather than a submarine. Submarines go down, and at least we could pretend that a sting-ray would float.

That’s why mild turbulence is good. You are all but blindfolded and thrown in a trunk—your senses are worthless to you. You can’t see, anything but clouds and holy light. You can’t gauge your speed, your destination. You can’t hear anything, besides the engines. No sound of passing objects, no sound of living beings. You can’t feel anything, no rush of wind. You learn to sit straight and use yourself to try to measure velocity and gravity and direction change. When the rumbles come underneath you, less than spring pot-holes, you can pretend there is something solid holding you up. When it leaves, you have nothing.

You can feel the descent before it is announced, with what ever gravimeter your body posseses. We will be heading down. You watch out the peep-hole; the cloud floor is coming closer and closer. You make a bet with yourself that you will be able to feel when the plane hits the clouds, and you’re right. You descend into the clouds like rising fog after a rain, and in the shadows of the mist, you can’t help but looking for dancing dervishes, for otherworldly vermin. But you have passed through those fingers of between-worlds, and it is all grey again. Grey and getting darker, and darker. The cabin is enveloped in gloom again, away from the brilliant light that shines above.

You know you are getting lower. You can feel it. You’re turning, you know it. But everything is grey. There is supposed to be a city under you, but you can’t see it. They say they can fly by instruments, land by instruments. Where is the ground? It is time to imagine the captain. Imagine him a very clever, brave fellow, very talented, very experienced, of course. Of course.

You seem to come out of the grey around the same time the trees come up—you are already lined up with the runway—nearly touching down already. No one told you to brace for impact, but how can you not? Here comes the ground!

There is not so very much impact so much as a very bad case of road rash, but it is comforting to see that, surprisingly, the submarine can slow down rather rapidly after all, even when it hits the ground on purpose. The grey is gone—well, above you now, anyway—and the very, very, very clever captain is taxing to his destination.

This plane—this whole contraption—it’s moving, you know. The people on the ground seem to not comprehend this. They’re too close. They’re right by the wings. Is that—isn’t that a refueling station? It’s too close! But he parks the whole silly van, perfectly fitting without an error of more than a foot from wing tip to wing tip, easy.

The entire cabin breaths a collective sigh of relief. Because now we can use our cellphones again. Instantly, everyone dives for their handheld devices, restoring their deprived lifestream. We file out of the archaic machine and find our luggage. We are back to the land we know: fast food; internet; talking loudly on cell phones; impatient lines; computer screens and overhead announcements. Much better, naturally.

How unnatural.

Just Ducky!

We needed to give away a few of our ducks, having the male/female ratio disproportionate in the wrong direction. I had made mention to Deirdre that we weren’t going to catch them right away in the morning (meeting up with the recipient at 2:30pm), but that when we were going to, we would herd them all inside the coop and close the doors. This would make it much easier to choose the right ones to get rid of, because, of course, it was very important to Deirdre that we keep the “right” drakes.

Deirdre came in beaming a bit bashfully (yes, that is physically possible; but I didn’t have a camera to capture the moment for you).

“Well, I have good news and bad news!” she proclaimed.

“Okay,” I said. “What’s the good news and bad news?”

“Well, first I’ll tell you the good news. The good news is that now I definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY know for sure which male harlequin to keep!” Thus she declares like Christmas has come.

“And what’s the bad news?”

“Oh. . .well, . . .I forgot to make sure the gate was closed, so all the ducks went to the creek.”

Head bonk. Head bonk. Head bonk.

So, after preparing our box for transportation, I explain to Deidre we will have to herd the ducks from the creek to the coop, so we properly capture our prey. Deirdre insists we can catch them at the creek.

“How on earth do you think we can do that with out getting soaked to our underdandies?”

“BOOTS! We’ll wear boots!”

“How is that going to keep our underdandies dry? In case you didn’t notice the creek is deeper than our boots, and guess what? The ducks, when they’re in the water? Splash a lot. And when they’re chased? They splash more!”

Nonetheless, she was insistent we could catch them at the creek.

“Fine,” I finally said. “We’ll go down to the creek. YOU can try to catch them–not me!–and when it doesn’t work, then we’ll herd them back up to the coop.”

“It will too work! BOOTS!”

(No, this is not a three year old. I don’t blame you for being confused.)

So we trundle outside, heading toward the creek.

Quank. Quank. Qu-quank.

Sharp left turn executed. All the ducks are no longer at the creek. Closer inspection required.

Ducks, being the brilliant creatures that they are, don’t quite get the concept of fences. Pekin (who may be soon named Mary Lou), the two Rouen drakes, and Gertrude are all inside the fence, just by the coop. All four Harlequins are outside the fence, just by the coop.

Bam. Closed the far side of the coop. Ushered in the Harlequins. Bam. Closed the near side of the coop. Catch one, catch two, and the box is taped shut. Isabelle and her “boyfriend” (as Deirdre refers to him; he may soon be dubbed Joseph) are let out of the coop.

That’s the neatest, cleanest, quietest, calmest duck catching I’ve ever done in my life, oops-I-left-the-gate-open notwithstanding.

Ducky!

Grace

I suppose this is a rather quaint, stereotypical thought. . .but it is becoming more and more inescapable for me.

There appears to be an ever increasing romanticisation of a really bad attitude. Not always even a “tough” attitude. Just. . .plain old rotten, in more ways than one.

You see it all the time in social media circles. On any given day, I can scroll through my meager feed, and easily pull up examples.

There is the “Painful Ha-Ha.” “No, no, I am listening. It just takes me a minute to process so much stupid all at once.” It kind of makes you laugh, but the spirit behind it isn’t really funny. There is the Self-Absorbed, in their own words, and in the countless “ditch the people who don’t make you happy!!” messages. This, combined with the self-affirmations of things like “A woman who asks for nothing deserves everything.” There is the You-Say-You’re-Tough,-Showing-You’re-Not. “I have already been through hell. So, give it your best shot. Not only will I SURVIVE, I will WIN.” There is the I Don’t Need To Worry About You. “It’s not my job to blow sunshine up your butt.”

It’s in the free calendars people send you. I think it’s supposed to be funny and snarky, but really, who isn’t already having trouble not having a bad attitude at work? It’s on t-shirts, people letting you know far before they open their mouth what their idea of an ideal intelligence level is. Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.

Well, it’s degrading. It’s disrespectful. Not of me–of you, of whoever is propagating it. Occasional light-hearted jabs, okay, I get it. An entire culture? Whoa, wait a minute.

You don’t have to be the victim. You don’t have to pout. You don’t have to have a chip on your shoulder.

There used to be this staunch-upper-lip saying from WWII: Keep Calm, and Carry On. Now, you can’t even say that. It’s been replaced with “Keep Calm, and Get Inked.” “Keep Calm, and Refill Your Coffee Mug.” “Keep Calm, and Punch the Bugger.” So you can’t even encourage people to approach life differently without sounding like you’re part of the snark track.

Well, I could do with a little of the WWII austerity, myself. I could do with a little sitting up straight, instead of slouching over, because what does it matter? I could do with a little of seeing people who didn’t so obviously take the path of least resistance. I could do with a little. . .I don’t known. Rawness. To realize that “hard work” does not mean “went to the gym” and that being able to bear with the weakness of others is a strength. To understate, for a change, instead of to overstate.

I know it is too much to ask for our culture to say “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle,” instead of “Get the h@ll out of my way, or I’m takin’ you down!” (with a smile and a smirk). But I do feel sad, looking back over photography. Watching the body language. Watching it fade from the silent dignity of straight bodies and square shoulders to forms stooped not from labor. And with this change comes also the reflection in faces. . .from composed, to painfully aware. Of the camera, yes. But more than that; of themselves. Of what they think the world owes them.

Yes, owes them. I read a sad post today, an academic discussion of how our current healthcare laws need to be progressed. Because when the law was passed that said hospitals couldn’t dump patients from their emergency rooms because they couldn’t pay, that was worded as a right. But the current legislation that is being passed is speaking of things to much as though they were privileges, rather than rights. Because . . . because, you know. You’re supposed to act tough, and be privileged, not act privileged and be tough.

Mostly, it fills me with a sense of mourning. For me, because there is no way for me to relate to this culture. But also for this culture, which thinks mocking is an admirable trait. What words of comfort can be spoken to it? Any word spoken now will ring as hollowly as the rest of the language. Even “God” is like “Karma” and “Gravity”. . .another platitude, or another joke. And the soft whispers of light are lost, because they’re too busy practicing their sneer.

I would not idolize a “simpler age”. My grandparents were as mortal as any of us were. But it is with a deep aching I see the last of that generation slipping by. There was an echo of grace I see there that I cannot find mirrored in my own generation. May God have mercy on us all.

I’m not like you

I’m not particularly sorry about it, but I can’t say I’m going out of my way to be different either. I just am.

You say, “What are you doing this weekend?”

And I say, “Oh, my second singing lesson is this Saturday!”

And you look at me like I’ve grown a third ear. You say, “You crack me up; first swimming lessons, and now singing lesson!”

And I look at you like you’ve grown a third ear. “That’s kind of the point. To always be doing something that I’ve ‘always wanted’ to do.”

You say, “I shop.”

And I am the strange one, and you are the normal one. And I am not sorry, but I am alone.

***

You order Bailey’s on the rocks. I just ask for some water. You don’t ask me why I don’t get something stronger. In fact–you and you both–you tease me that the only thing I’m safe with is water. No caffeine. Absolutely no sugar.

“Man,” I say, “You just get a little tiny bit too hyper one time too many, and no one lets you live it down!”

“One too many times?,” You say. “I went to school with you!”

“Okay, hyper on one test too many,” I amend. You look at me flatly.

“For two years I went to school with you,” You say.

“Okay,” I amend again. “A little too hyper a lot of times. Especially when we stayed late to study and there was nothing to eat but rice crispy treats.”

You look at me again.

“Hey,” I say, “It’s a good thing! I’m easily made happy!”

You two agree that I am a standard of happiness, and you have no sarcasm at all when you say it. That wasn’t what I meant, exactly. I’m not sure how I’ve got the reputation of being such an always happy person. But I’m not like you. I don’t understand the need to have liquid cheer in order to “have a good time.” Mostly I just need a really good night’s sleep. But going to bed at 8:30 on a Friday night is boring, and drinking yourself silly is “having a good time.” So I don’t know how to have a good time with you.

***

You run your hand through your grey hair, and you consider.

“You would make some man a good wife,” you say. I think you think you are complementing me. But I consider you back. I’m not going to make any kind of wife until I find a good man. Maybe you’re ego tells you something different, but there’s not a lot of them around. Plus also, to your disappointment, I don’t drink whiskey or pack heat. I just know how to give you a hard time back when you give me a hard time.

But I’m not like you. And that’s okay. But I am alone.

***

I am me. Sometimes people appreciate the oddity that is me. But it is very hard to go beyond “friendly” to “friends”. Because without every even trying a smidge, I’m very different from you, and you are very different from me. So we look at each other like we have three ears, and we mostly go our own ways. But let’s still smile when we pass, because that’s a pleasantry, isn’t it?