Things that can’t be taken away

“Not only had my brother disappeared, but–and bear with me here–a part of my very being had gone with him. Stories about us could, from them on, be told from only one perspective. Memories could be told but not shared.”

It seems like so long ago now, and still it seems like just yesterday that the charismatic and charming Riley V Whitehead graced this world. He committed suicide on March 22, 2011. Riley was my cousin, but the closeness we shared was more akin to siblings. On the day I found out it had seemed impossible, unthinkable, that the world did not grind to a halt at the moment of his death. More than anything I wanted to stop, wait, go back, do something to stop it. Yet the world spun obstinately on – oblivious to the anguished cries of disbelief from myself, my family, and Riley’s incredibly numerous friends. Everyone who knew Riley knew he was special. He was bright, easy to laugh, brilliant, fun, fearless, one of those people that effortlessly became the center of attention. And you’d better believe he knew it.

I think that was part of why we all felt like we had failed him. Riley was always there when you reached out to him, and for whatever reason didn’t feel like he could reach out to any of us.

Over 800 people came to his funeral. It was one of the most mind-boggling and touching things I’d ever experienced. Everyone laughed and cried and shared memories, and from all their stories I learned about dozens of facets of Riley’s life that I’d never known about.

This post has been sitting in my drafts for quite some time now, and I think it’s about time I just put it out there.

I don’t quite know how to wrap it up though. Thinking about it now over three years later I remember bits and pieces and mostly memories that make me smile. I remember how Riley got a bag of dog food for a childhood birthday — an inside joke amongst family because Ri would eat his dog Max’s food. He said “If it’s good enough for Max, it’s good enough for me.” I remember playing tag and swimming in the pool at his house. I remember family reunions and his ridiculousness. I remember how attached he was to his car and his satchel (though some of us teased him about it being a man-purse). I remember making crowns with vines that were growing on the fence by my garage. I remember Riley telling me that he would be the coolest uncle ever once my daughter arrived. He promised to teach her the most creative curses and the best ways to annoy me.

Leonard Cohen sang “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

That’s how I have chosen deal difficult life situations. One of the most important (and hardest) life lessons you can learn comes on the heels of death and tragedy. You can live without money, you can get by with next to nothing and still manage to wake up every morning happy. People can be resilient. You can be beaten down again and again, and still manage to get up at the end of the day.

It doesn’t matter what you go through, who or what you lose as life goes on. The world spins on, refusing to stop and let you get your bearings back. Use it to make you stronger. There are things that can’t be taken away from you. Memories. Hold them for a while, then index them and pull them out for a dusting now and again. Just don’t spend all your time with them. You have to move on and create more.

Don’t put all your time and effort into making more money, acquiring more things, or being more successful. All that effort is better spent on creating new experiences, cultivating the relationships that are important to you, and doing things that make you happy. None of us gets to know how much time we have, so let’s just make the best of what we have while we have it. The only things you end up truly regretting are the things you didn’t do.

Bandwidth overload

It’s been a while, so I suppose you want a preamble of some kind. I don’t really have an excuse for not posting on here because the truth is, I have had the time. I just have chosen not to. That’s ok.

The realization that it’s ok was a hard won internal wrestling match. I’m the type of person to takes on too much, and then get stressed out when I realize that I have done so. Telling myself that it’s ok not to do things is a new concept for me.

See, I like to take on lots of things. I feel sometimes like I can do anything and everything. But I can’t, because I’m simply not superhuman. It’s only something to aspire to. Dreams are dreams, no matter how realistic.

Let’s have a run-down of my current projects in progress, shall we?

1) Screenplays, being co-written with my S/O.

2) Personal writing – Novel

3) Work. My job is technically a 9-5, but I often take it home with me. Why? Because I care about what I do. It really makes the difference between a job you love and a job you hate.

4) Parenting – recently the living arrangements with my daughter changed, and she is now living with me full time. This is a blessing, but also sucks away a lot of personal time. Those hours are so precious nowadays.

5) HIH This is super fun but also a huge time suck.

6) The Reading List. You know there is ALWAYS something on there. Right now, it’s Feed, by Mira Grant. That reminds me, I will be posting some reviews soon on Doc, by Mary Doria Russell, and WWZ, by Max Brooks. Spoilers, both are fantastic and YES I recommend them.

7) SUMMER. I am so excited to just go outside and do hiking again. This past winter has given me awful cabin fever, and I’m planning on several weekend adventures. Would love to go back to Baxter’s Hollow this summer.

Oh, and 8) Blogging again. Obviously.

 

Phew. I know it’s not a meaty post, but here it is. Now that I’ve done it, I am starting to feel the motivation to continue. I’ll be back with more posts in the near future, guys. Count on it.

Snow and me: It’s complicated

When I peeked out of my bedroom a week ago I discovered something terrible. It had snowed overnight, leaving a thin blanket of brrrrrr everywhere. How disappointing.

Now I do recognize that I live in a state where snow is a thing every year. There are loads of cool things to do with snow. You can build snowmen; My childhood winters consisted mostly of trying to emulate a lot of Calvin’s famous snow creations. You can build igloos (theoretically, of course. I’ve tried, and apparently I can’t.) You can go sledding, you can have snowball fights, you can build forts, you can do all kinds of things. Winter is a magical time.

So when I awoke to snow what I saw wasn’t a myriad of possibilities. I saw instead; People will be driving stupidly; I will pass several vehicular accidents (actual count: 4 that day); It’s bleedin’ cold out there. I wasn’t wrong.

It hasn’t really gotten better. I’m not very excited about this season.

I have hope, though.

I’m a romantic. Everyone who knows me know this. I try to find joy in the simplest things, I try to always have a positive outlook no matter the situation. Sometimes I fall back into that hole of despair but getting back out has become more like simply picking myself up off the ground – where it used to be like trying to climb out of a mudslide with bloodied hands. Point is, I always smile. I always laugh. I always try to help others up. I always try to be honest with myself and others.

Here is my secret hope I won’t admit aloud: I hope with all my heart that one day soon I look out my window and I see a sparkling, bright, fresh, thick blanket of snow on everything and it pulls out my inner child from wherever she’s been hiding, and it makes me want to go sledding, and make snow angels, and throw snowballs. I hope that when she comes out she’s loud and obnoxious, energetic and blindly cheerful beyond any reasonable quantity. I hope that winter doesn’t get me down.

Nonsense

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

— Ronald Dahl

I’m a prominent purveyor of nonsense. Oh yes, that’s me.

Apparently I began this post, oh, a week ago and <forgot><lost interest><overestimated my attention span> suddenly had important other things to do, probably. So I was about to delete it when I realized that if I did so, I would be wasting the dozens of seconds of thought that I initially must have put into it. The above quote by Ronald Dahl and the sentence following it were all that existed when I curiously opened up the draft post NonsenseClearly, I had big plans for this. 

It was a tough decision, requiring even more thoughts, and by that time I felt that I was too fully invested.

“I’m already on a roll,” I thought, as I began this quotation of my thoughts, “Why stop now?”

“I’ll tell you why,” I responded internally. This is becoming a bit of a mess, admittedly. But once I began this internal debate, it was already too late to stop myself. “Because you have no idea what to write.”

But sure I do. I’ll write about nonsense.

<<blank draw, try again>>

Hmmm, I could just write

R~A~N~D~O~M

things as they pop into my head.

That’s what you’re doing right now, lady. You’re having trouble following yourself, how is your readership going to follow this train wreck? Besides, you don’t even have a topic.

Nonsense! See?

Oh for heaven’s sake. That’s not a topic. You don’t even have context. This is a disaster. Look, I’m just going to

-cut-

-you-

-off-

right here before this can go any further.

Oh great, now I’m doing it too. 

—End—

 

To Arthur Dent

Dear Arthur,

You may be surprised to read this – as you are pretty much the last of the human race. Don’t be too surprised however – stranger things than this have happened – there are many more improbable things that have happened to you than receiving a letter from the dead people of the planet you escaped before its demise.

No worries, Arthur. We’re not holding any grudges or anything. The thing is, we’ve all come to an agreement about something (wow, right?) that concerns you and we had to get the message to you somehow, so here you go. A few things we as the deceased people of the Earth would like to stress the importance of.

See, you’re our last representative in the universe. Pretty much the way anyone judges you is going to reflect on us. And we would  appreciate it if you tried very hard to make us look better than we really were. Try to keep the nasty bits about the wars and genocides and pollution, etcetera, to yourself alright? No need to air out our dirty laundry for others to see.

We understand the delicacies and difficulties this request might present, but if it’s possible we’d also like for you to work on propagating the species with that Trillian woman. Yeah, yeah, we know, but the least you could do is try, mate.

Also, the blokes who demolished your house would like to offer their apologies even though that’s sort of moot now. But they’ve insisted and kept on about how it’s the principle of the thing.

Last, if you ever find those dolphins you give them a solid piece of your mind. Honestly, if they’re so smart they should have known we didn’t understand one blasted thing they were trying to tell us. You let them know that once we find a way to become corporeal again we’re going to have it out with them.

Okay, I think that’s about it. Oh yeah, work on staying alive for as long as you can. Don’t panic. Always bring your towel. All things you know already but we’re just saying, a little reminder never hurts.

-Best Wishes, The People of the demolished Earth

PS: You can stop whinging about tea, we’ve stuffed this envelope as full of tea sachets as the post will allow. Don’t bother trying to reason out how.

Just seven words.

Khalil Gibran once said that people will never understand one another unless language is reduced to seven words. What would your seven words be?

  1. Hello
  2. Help/Danger
  3. Believe
  4. Peace
  5. Friend
  6. Forgive
  7. Always

I think that the most basic of words — yes, no, love, etcetera, can be conveyed without actual words. So when I chose these seven words, I was trying to think of words that need more than expressions to describe them.  The word love is meaningless without the feeling behind it. If you love someone you shouldn’t have to tell them — they will know by your actions and by your devotion the depth of your feelings. The phrase “I love you” is almost a call-and-response phrase — you expect the other person to respond in kind. I tell my boyfriend that I love him all the time, and he tells me the same, but I really know that he loves me by the way he treats me, the way he touches me, and the way he looks at me. None of those actions need words.

Another word that I pondered putting on the list — but decided to exclude — is the word “goodbye”. It’s such a sad word, and I can’t think of a single person that loves to say goodbye.

Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.

So let me explain why I chose the words I did:

The first, Hello, seems to also be one of those words that can be conveyed by body language. However if you delve deeper the word is more than a greeting — it’s an invitation. It’s a call-and-response as well, but with a stranger. By saying hello, you are extending a welcome that they can respond to in kind.

The second, Help/Danger is self explanatory. If you need help, or need to warn someone of pending danger, it’s much easier to have a word for this than using body language to explain the situation. The word is a call to action.

Believe could also be Trust. This is a word that cannot be conveyed by body language. Sometimes life requires you to take a leap of faith.

Peace. The opposite of a call to action, this word can serve to diffuse situations. It can also be used to intone that you mean no harm, or as a plea to dissuade hostility.

Friend is a word used to describe a relationship outside of sexual or family relations. A definition of bonded companions, confidantes, or play-fellows. Friendships are a basis for small communities as well. Humans are social animals, and need those relationships to thrive. Having a word for such a thing is important, because there is a difference between someone you are acquainted with, and someone who is a friend. It’s important to be able to define that difference.

Forgive, because sometimes forgiveness is required, whether you are asking for it or giving it. I thought about including a word for sorry or remorse, but some languages do not even have the word sorry, because one should never have to apologize. You can show remorse with your actions and beg forgiveness from someone you’ve wronged. Whether or not you apologize is irrelevant, because as they say: “Actions speak louder than words.”

And finally, Always. In my personal opinion, always is one of the most powerful words in any language. Always transcends all times and all barriers, on all occasions, come what mayAlways is a promise, a measurement, a consistency, an infallibility, without exception. You can always be a friend, always believe, always forgive. Beautiful in its simplicity and complexity and scope, always is my favorite word on this list.

The girl and the alien hominoids

The planet was a lush rainforest of continents swaddled by gentle indigo oceans. Enormous pink clouds floated around it like so many puffs of cotton candy.

From a crawling orbit above the atmosphere the strange bipedal hairless hominoids were embroiled in disputes about it, and about the sentients they hoped to find below.

This was the first time the hominoids had ever attempted such a thing. They had been carefully chosen for this mission to properly represent their species as delegates from the third planetary body orbiting the star Sol.

So far from home, only the Navigator recognized that specific star. He checked several times a day (insofar as one could relegate days on the vessel), just to make sure it was still there. He superstitiously believed that if he ever lost track of that star, he might never find it again. A good navigator can always find his way home.

The hominoids bickered about how to land, where to land, what to bring, how to approach the natives (if there were natives), what all that purpley and bluish stuff was, and who would go versus who would stay. The arguments were pointless for the most part, as they had procedures set in place for just this kind of thing. To be fair the landing discussion did have some merit: everyone agreed that it would be difficult to land on top of the thick canopy of trees covering everything. At least what the topography expert believed to be trees. No one knew for sure.  Two things they all agreed on was that all this had seemed much more simple and straightforward on paper, and also that the planet below was more beautiful than they had ever anticipated.

 

Below in her small forest village, a brilliant girl was fiddling with her latest invention. She fine-tuned some metal filaments and what could reasonably pass as an antenna inside of a crude wooden box. This girl, whose mind was far beyond anything her people had ever seen, was at the moment quartered in a treehouse with all her homemade gadgets and paraphernalia. She was both feared and respected by the village, who gasped in wonder at her impossible inventions. A small orb made of fused sand and metal absorbed the sunlight during the day and emitted an illuminating glow during the dark night hours. It didn’t provide the warmth of a night fire, but it was a much safer lighting system. She’d also created a sort of aqueduct system that brought the village fresh water from a nearby river. Her star map – carefully carved into a large piece of stone was something of a novelty to the villagers who didn’t really understand what it was for, but appreciated its complicated beauty.

As she fiddled with the filaments a gentle hum emanated from the box. Jumping back excitedly,  the girl moved her finger to the antenna to ground the device. She felt a small charge and grinned. She was hoping her theory was correct, and this this device might be useful to warn the village of the frequent great electrical storms. What she heard instead from the device was garbled words in a language she did not understand, although it sounded strangely familiar to her.

“…earth. We come in……Captain Walsh….Transmission….Four – Two – Seven……..delegates from the planet………..peace……can…..hear me?……Walsh……Two – Eight – Six….”

The device lapsed back into a humming static as she pulled her finger away from the antenna. Eyes wide, she stared at the small wooden machine in front of her. Any other villager would have proclaimed that the box was possessed by evil spirits. This girl was not so superstitious.

She was thrilled. Immediately she began working on another box, similar in design but with key alterations. She would send a message back. She would say in every dialect she knew that she had waited so long for a friend equal in her intelligence. She would ask where her new friend was. She would tell him to come to her little village – she would tell him about her inventions, and ask about his.

She would no longer be alone.

 

Miles and miles above the village that held such an extraordinary girl was the ship. The great metal beast of a ship, filled with hairless hominoids. Hominoids that could not stop arguing with one another about so many tiny details. Details about how and where to land, what to do, how to make contact. They were already sending a pre-recorded radio transmission out into the airwaves – but there was not much hope that it would be answered. So when it was, the bickering stopped cold, and the girl’s message filled the silent ether.

“…R..unn….nno..t…wel..co..mm…….no..land…goback….leave….be..for……..warr……yuuuu…are….nno..t..wel..com……..rrrr….unn……nnowww….”

And the hominoids staring fearfully at one another as the strange gravelly voice intoned such hostilities at them suddenly decided as one that they would listen and obey, no arguments about it. It did not occur to them that the words they heard may have only sounded like their language, but meant something else entirely.

The Navigator searched the sky for Sol and programmed the ship to make a beeline. He was gratified that the rest of the crew suddenly all asked him to point out the comforting star to them, and not a single one forgot how to find it again.

 

More Time

Daily Prompt: Childlike

momastery.com

You know, one day you’re going to be as old as you wish you were right now. And it’s not going to seem nearly as cool as it seems to you at this moment.

In that moment, when you’re that age, the thoughts going through your head aren’t going to be “Finally, I’m a grown up” or “Now I can do anything I want to”. Do you know what they’re going to be?

“What happened to summers?”

“How did I get here?”

“Where did the time go?”

And I know you’re not going to believe me, but “I wish I could be a kid again”.

When you get older, you’ll regret not savoring the time you had.

Instead you wished it all away, you willed the years to pass, and before you even knew it, your wish came true.

And then you’ll be wishing you had more hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the year.

Time is something that can be passed, wasted, borrowed, lost, found, scheduled, counted, given, and stolen. But whatever you do with it, you’ll only ever have a certain amount. Time is not something that can be bought or traded. You will never have more time than you do right now.

You’ll wish you had a lot of things – more money, more friends, more toys. But one day, little one, you’ll wish you had more time.

It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.

Back to basics

Unplugged.

Such an innocuous term. I think that a lot of people believe they can unplug themselves any time they want to. It’s a lovely thought, to turn off ones phone for the day and go “off the radar”. I do think that it’s something everyone should do, from time-to-time.

I actually recently read an article about a CEO deciding to work off an uninhabited island for 40 days or something. The thing about that is, even though the thought is appealing – Robinson Crusoe your way through a scorpion and snake inhabited wilderness and rough it – even he isn’t really unplugging. His intention is to telecommute while he’s on the island. In my mind, that sort of destroys the whole intention.

A few weeks ago the boyfriend and I decided to go to a place in WI called Baxter’s Hollow, which is the Nature Conservancy’s largest preserve in Wisconsin. We were going to take a hike and he was going to shoot for some pictures of the little creek that runs through the preserve.

Here’s the thing about trekking through a place like that – no reception. We were hardly surprised though, and ended up being glad of the walkies, handheld GPS, and hydrapak we brought with us.

First we decided to leave the phones in the truck – no use dragging them around with us, because inside the preserve they were literally no more useful than a snazzy-looking game-boy. After a quick lunch (Pb&J’s, chips, and soda), we threw on our packs and hit the woods. At first, the boyfriend wasn’t having much luck with pictures. We saw some songbirds, but they were flitting around too fast. So were all the honeybees in the meadow, and even a giant green caterpillar slowly crawling across the quartzite trails wasn’t feeling very photogenic. We wandered around a bit more, I became annoyed at myself for not moving efishly-quietly through the woods. (When I’m walking through nature I like to pretend I’m an elf. Don’t judge.)  I kept stepping on sticks and I was trying super hard not to scare off any wildlife, so I decided I needed a walking stick (because in my head this would help me be quiet for some reason). We even found some apple trees, where I picked an apple and tried to get Boyfriend to take the first test-bite, but he wouldn’t, so I did and it was actually pretty good. Take that, sense of adventure.

Then, Boyfriend found a nifty spot at the wood-edge to get a good view of the meadow, and started setting up the tripod to get some shots. I went back into the woods to find a suitable walking stick, and maybe a spot to sit so I could do some reading. I didn’t find a good sitting spot, but I found a walking stick and even remembered to turn on my walkie in case I wandered too far away from him and got lost.

Eventually he got his shots, so we wandered back to the truck to make our way to the creek – which was to be the cherry on our trip.

The first part of the creek was neat, but I broke my walking stick and there were no good shots for the boyfriend, so we headed to another part of the creek. I did see some fish though, and got to prance around on the pebble-banks of the creek and pretend to be a fairy or an elf or something, I don’t know. Boyfriend found me another walking stick. It wasn’t as ideally shaped as the first had been, but it would have to do. It needed work, so I set to surreptitiously shaping it as we walked.

The second part of the creek was much better. No pebble-banks there, just big ol’ quartzite boulders and neat little waterfalls that Boyfriend was really excited about. His excitement turned pretty quickly to disappointment when he realized that the tripod connector thing (let’s get technical with our equipment terminology here) had apparently fallen off his camera somewhere along the walk,  and he had no way to stabilize his camera to get the long-exposure shots he wanted of the little waterfalls. HUGE bummer. I did my duty as supportive girlfriend and tried to find good perches for him to set his camera on instead, and came up with a bunch of bupkis. He did end up being able to set up on his backpack and get a few shots, but not at the angle I think he wanted, although the shots turned out pretty well, so I’ll chalk it up as a “did what we could with what we had” win. After that though, he sort of lost his interest in taking more shots, and we kept going down the creek to see if there was anything interesting further down.

I pranced around some more, and fell on my butt in the creek, which was really funny even though I soaked my jeans and I’m pretty sure it looked like I peed myself (boyfriend said it didn’t look much like I peed myself, which I suspect is nice for “it certainly does, sweetie, but I’m not going to laugh at you about it”).  On the plus side, my fall didn’t destroy any of our equipment, so I didn’t have to beat myself up about that sort of thing on the 2-hour long drive home.

Anyway, after my fall we decided that it was time to skee-daddle and get some dinner (luckily by the time we found a restaurant my pants were mostly dry, except for my socks/shoes/bottom of my jeans area) at a little family restaurant we found on the way home. It was decent, and much appreciated after a day of roughing it, but nothing to write home about.

So we spent the day unplugged, and it was a pretty amazing day, pitfalls included. It was pretty refreshing to be connected in a very human way with no phones. It’s something I would like to do way more often that I currently do.

Maybe this weekend could be time for another adventure!

Children’s Books

Having a 4-year old, I have a standing routine where we read two stories before bed every night. She always tries to con me into “one more book, mommy”. 

 

I try to keep the books educational, appropriate, and when I can get away with it, good literature. As far as the good literature goes, I’ve succeeded with A.A.Milne books about Winnie the Pooh, and Peter Pan. By succeeded I mean that she allows me to read these to her, even though the copies I have contain minimum to nil pictures. She actually listens and asks intelligent questions when something goes over her head.

 

I have failed with a number of other books, including Alice in Wonderland (and Lewis Carrol’s other stories), A Little Princess, and I even tried once (with utter and complete failure to my dismay) Harry Potter.

 

There is hope, though. Some of the picture books I read to her are actually pretty great for little bibliophiles. She really enjoys this version of The Princess and the Pea, the Strega Nona books, which I mostly bought out of nostalgia, and a lot of the Dr Seuss books that were my favorites as a kid (Oh, the Places you’ll go, McElligot’s Pool, and others). 

 

She memorizes certain books, which fascinates me. She will recite entire books from memory if you get her on a roll. Her favorites are pretty much anything in the Pete the Cat series. I get it. They are sort of song-y and have a certain melodic flow about them. They are not my personal favorites, because the hundredth time you hear a shrill toddler voice belting out “I’m Rockin’ in my School Shoes!”, your brain begins to eat itself. However, the messages of the books are not something I can argue with. They are pretty educational and she’s learned certain skills (counting backwards, associating names of places with the function of that place, the books are very clever and engaging to toddlers), and they all have an “it’s all good” sort of message that I guess is supposed to help little ones not see small problems as the end of the world. 

 

Anyway, bad books, good books, annoying books, whatever; What I really enjoy is spending that time with her. It makes me so happy and so proud that my little girl loves reading and books as much as I do. I didn’t really get bedtime stories as a child, I think my mom was probably too busy just trying to keep the rent paid and food on the table. When I read to her, its a way for us both to communicate and also give me some background material to reference when I can’t quite understand what she’s saying – for example, when I can’t understand her words (she still has some trouble pronouncing certain things) she often goes to books as a reference point because she knows that it will help me to understand as we both experienced the story together. She knows that I’ll be able to find the connection that way. It’s amazing to me how much our little routine means to her, and it’s something we share, just us. I didn’t think it would become such a special and treasured time for me, and I was pleasantly surprised.

 

Here is an Article detailing the many benefits of reading to children. 

 

And a quote, to end with:

 

“When it comes down to it, I don’t have much in the way of advice to offer you, but here it is: Read to children. Vote. And never buy anything from a man who’s selling fear.” 
― Mary Doria RussellDreamers of the Day