Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Break Time....

Melinda flopped in to a chair at the break room table. She took her glasses off and rubbed the bridge of her nose.

"Long day?" Jules asked.

"The longest. After a week of long days. Maybe a month of long days. It's my own fault. I took a little time off and now I'm struggling to catch up." She paged through the list on her clip board. "Only 200 more names to go."

"Is this for Archives?"

"No, this is for Special Projects. I think they are looking at setting up a new simulation. I'm not sure, because I haven't actually run any of the data, but most of what I've been collecting seems to be very similar. I think they want to add in a few more variables to get a wider variety of experiences."

"Maybe. Or maybe they want to narrow it more."

Melinda looked puzzled. "Why would they do that?"

Jules tapped her clip board, "If you get too wide of a variety it's hard to predict the outcome. That's what I've been seeing in my collections. I think they are looking at limiting the options so they can predict the outcomes a little more tightly."

"Hmm, that's an interesting idea. But wouldn't that be noticeable in the sandbox? If the outcomes were predictable then there is no point in having the experience. I would think the patterns would start to become visible."

"Why would you think that? You just said that without running the data yourself you are seeing the outcomes in your collection all seem very similar. Do they seem to be aware of it?"

"You're right. They don't. Each one thinks their experience is unique. Very interesting."

"But that's just a guess. I am probably being cynical but if there were fewer outcomes there could be more automation and less need for hands on interventions."

"You think this is all about downsizing?"

"It's happened before."

"Well that would suck. Research myself out of a job."

Jules reached out and patted Melinda's hand, "You would still have a job. Data collections is always fully staffed."

"But I wasn't planning on staying in data collections forever. I was hoping to move up to supervising, or even programming."

"Have you ever met someone who moved out of data collections?"

Melinda rubbed the base of her nose again, "No. Not personally. But I imagined that it was possible."

Jules nodded, "Anything is possible. But you are in data collections, look at what is probable."

"Crap."

"Sorry to bum you out. Tell me about your time off, that had to be fun right?"

"It was. I spent a few days in the Archives looking up a tying string in some of my data collection."

"Oh, it wasn't really time off, time off. It was a side project for Special Projects?"

"Sort of. It was a pattern I thought I recognized and Rosario said I could go explore the idea a little bit if I wanted to. I thought maybe that was a good sign for being considered for Special Projects, but now I'm thinking it was just further cementing me here in Data Collections."

"Is it really so bad? I mean, what project are you working on?"

"Best Day Ever."

Jules laughed, "Really? You are collecting data on their best day ever?"

"I am. And you would be surprised on how many of them are pretty much the same. Births, weddings, a lot of sunsets. A really surprising number of sunsets. How in the world can a Best Day be about the very end? But that's what people remember. Like I said, a surprising number of repeats."

"It will be interesting to see what they conclude."

"What about you? What are you working on?"

"Ready? This is what made me laugh, I'm doing Worst Day Ever."

Melinda laughed, "That is funny! What a weird coincidence."

"Surprisingly I have a lot of births, weddings and sunsets as well. One experienced as the best day and one as the worst, that would be interesting to delve in to a little deeper. But I have a lot of other things. Some of it is really horrific, some of it I feel like I should make sure they are understanding that I am asking for the worst."

"How are you handling it? I mean, I'm overwhelmed and I'm asking about Best Days. How are you handling Worst Days?"

Jules shrugged, "It's just data. Their lives in the sandbox aren't really real, right? I mean they think they are, but it's just programs they are running. I can't really be upset because," she paged through her clip board, "Subject 24's worst day was a glitch in the program that caused his dog to run away and be hit by a car. It was horrible for him, but as he is not real and his dog isn't real then it's not really all that tragic is it?"

"But they are real. I mean to themselves they are real."

"But are they real to you? I mean, honestly, do you think they are real?"

Melinda thought for a moment, interacting with them felt real. Sure they would have no memory of it when they were placed back in the simulation. But they seemed real. Some of them seemed almost as lifelike as Jules. And they seemed to be having a lot more unique experiences in the sandbox than she was in her own life. She had worked in Data Collections for 2,700 years, every day the same routine. Collect information from the subjects for Special Projects or Continuing Projects or Archives and that was that.

"I think they are interesting. Sometimes I think it would be more fun to be one of them."

"To be one of them? With their limited capacity for data? With their best and worst days? With their dramas? Really?"

"Yeah, just sometimes though. Haven't you ever wanted a dog?"

"To get hit by a car? Their lives are programmed to be full of reactions. We are above that. Be glad of it."

"I guess so. Well, my break time is over, back at it. Only 200 more Best Day Evers to go."

Jules watched Melinda gather her things and head back to her interview room. Then she turned to face the small camera in the corner of the room, "Data Collection on 'Melinda' complete."

In another room two researchers wrote notes from Jules and Melinda and talked about their jobs. "Do you think they realize they are all just a simulation and their sandbox is just smaller?"

"Did you?"

Monday, December 4, 2017

Prosperity is as Prosperity Does...

After the passage of the Republican Tax Bill this weekend and then the quickly announced follow up that they will be attacking the social safety net next I just had to shake my head. When will republican voters ever get it that populism is an election tactic not a governing belief? I rail against members of my own family that continually vote against their own best interest. Why do you think this is a good idea? Do you really think that that million dollar salary is just around the corner and this will help you? It's not. It's your medicare that is under attack next. It's your social security that won't be there when you need it that is going away. But hey, Trump and his kind get to pass along even more than $11 million of their estate tax free. So...yay?

And yet, I have to admit that I also tend to vote against my own best self interest. If you count tax breaks and money as self interest. I vote for bond measures for schools even though I don't have a kid in public school right now. I vote to pay for public libraries when I can afford to buy my books and have internet in my home. I vote to make sure sick kids get health coverage even though my kid is an adult with health insurance through his work. I even vote democrat more than republican knowing that they would rather take more of my taxes to support social programs I don't need.

And that's the difference. I vote against my own best interests to help those with less than I have. My republican family and friends that vote against their own best interest to help those who have more than they have. For the most part, I do have a few in the upper echelons of income that are truly voting in their own best self interests monetarily, but the majority are paying for those benefits without reaping those rewards.

It makes no sense to me.

But then I think of what seems to be the prevailing philosophy and religion of the republican party right now. Ayn (like Swine) Rand and the Prosperity Gospel. It's a weird mixture considering Rand was an atheist who would have mocked the prosperity gospel with every fiber of her being. But they work very well together. Both believe, at their core, that they have more because they are more deserving than others. Randian philosophy says, "I'm smarter, I'm better, therefore I deserve more" the Prosperity Gospel says, "God loves me best therefore I deserve more" and both of them work to insulate the believer from those with less. Because obviously they aren't as smart, or as godly, or as deserving. If they were then they would have more. And it makes those that follow those beliefs stay trapped, if they aren't succeeding it's right around the corner, as soon as those freeloaders stop taking what they don't deserve, as soon as we get God back in to government, as soon as the others stop messing it up for us.

What a great scam.

Now I will have pissed off those that believe it because they will say that charity should be a choice and they will give to help those that need it, they just don't want the government involved. To which I say, bullshit. The percentage that actually give without a benefit is incredibly small. There are those that do, but most do not. Why do you think charities freak out when republicans start talking about doing away with the tax deduction for charitable giving? Because they know that without that tax benefit they will not receive that donation. People give because they can get. And very few people are content with the warm glow of doing the right thing for their giving.

And I also want to put in here a screaming rant I have all the time (Brent is shouting testify right now). Social security is NOT an entitlement program. WE paid for that. Along with Medicare. We paid for those benefits in our payroll taxes. I'm entitled to it, because it's mine. It's not an entitlement program like it's some sort of gracious gift. AND you (Congress) STOLE from the fund. Oh wait, sorry, borrowed without a way to pay it back. You did that. A part of why the fund is not going to be there for us when it comes time to retire is because you took the money. My money. Your money. Our money. They stole it. Sorry again, reallocated it. (so much side eye) So stop talking about getting rid of entitlement programs that you are not entitled to touch.

But because of their faith in the atheist Rand and the shoddy prosperity gospel republican lawmakers have you convinced that these are bad things. Social Security? Medicare? Bah! If you were just smart, better and more godly you wouldn't need them. You would have millions of dollars when you retired and could take care of everything yourself. While those dollars yo already paid in to the system were given to, well, millionaires for tax cuts so see how that's going to work out for you? It's really a win win.

Meanwhile, I'm looking at going back to work next year because Brent and I have reached the conclusion that none of the programs we assumed would be there when we started out our earning careers 25+ years ago will be there in 20 years. And we are better off than a lot of people out there. We have savings, we have investments, we have a lower debt load than a lot of people. We have more, we just don't think we have enough to live on once that safety net is pulled away.

I do not believe that having more makes me more deserving. I also have a really high opinion of my intelligence but being smarter than the average person doesn't mean I should get more, but it seems to mean I get it more. Stop letting yourself be scammed. Stop thinking you are one corner away from that million dollar pay out that is going to make all of this worth while. You are closer to taking the wrong turn and ending up with a medical bill that causes you to go broke. Stop thinking the god you pray to is a magic genie just waiting to grant your wishes. Read your bible and pay attention to the verses about the camel and the eye of the needle and the riches promised to you IN HEAVEN, as in you have to die first.

So I have decided to put out my own philosophy. The Prosperity Gospel by Denise (as in Oh Please).
It's simple really. Success is not measured by money. And there is no magic genie waiting to give you a winning lottery ticket. Be grateful for what you have and always know you are not better than those that have less, nor are you less than those that have more. Having is not the same as being. It takes more than a trickle to get that rising tide that lifts all boats. So get to lifting, sunshine.

And for the love all that we will now decide is holy, stop allowing people to redistribute wealth UP the chain! That's not how any of this is supposed to work!

So let it be written, so let it be done...

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Your Princess Is In Another Castle...

The dreams had started as soon as he reached puberty. His mother and father had been surprised but not completely shocked. He was half dragon fighter on his mother's side after all. Though there hadn't been dragons in the kingdom for at least two generations. But still, he was half dragon fighter, and apparently there was still at least one dragon left out there.

He dreamt of the castle it was guarding. He dreamt of the princess hidden inside. He could see her. Or at least her hands. She had the lovliest hands. Delicate fingers. Pale white skin. He had never seen skin so pale. Though when he thought of it during the day it made sense to him. If she was locked away in a castle she wouldn't see the sun.

He never dreamt of the dragon. He couldn't see it at all. When he asked his mother about the dragon fighters and their visions she had guessed that he was having dragon fighting dreams. He thought about lying to her, he didn't want to worry her, but he didn't. He told her about the castle, and the princess with the delicate hands. He also told her that he could not see the dragon.

His mother watched him speak. Listened to his dreams. He was afraid she didn't believe him when she seemed to have nothing to say. But the next day when he returned from school she called him in to her study. In front of her she had a sword and a book. The sword was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. It was gold and etched with symbols he didn't understand. The hilt was scrolled work with the largest ruby he had ever seen embedded in it.

"Today starts your training."

He reached for the sword and his mother snatched it away before he could lift it.

"You will train with a wooden blade at the start. Then steel. Gold is a soft metal. It is not for fighting. It is only for slaying."

"But how will I slay the dragon if I don't fight it?"

She smiled at him. "That's why we start with training."

She opened the book, paged through for a while then turned it to face him. "Start with reading this. It will explain the dreams."

"When do I learn to fight?"

She tapped the book. "Start with this."

She picked up the sword and left the room. His father met her in the kitchen with a cup of tea. "Well I wasn't expecting this."

"I wasn't either. I thought the dragons were gone."

"And him? Is he really going to be a dragon fighter?"

"He is having the dreams. The rest will be up to him."

"Do you think he will be able to do it?"

"We will train."

And they trained. They trained for months. The dreams kept coming and the details began to fill in. He could see the mountains around the castle. He could almost feel the bricks under his hands. He could see the sleeves of the gown the princess was wearing. And then one night he heard the scream of the dragon. Like the largest bird of prey he could imagine. The call vibrated through his bones. Raw, angry, terrifying. He woke in a cold sweat. His mother was standing in his doorway watching him. "I heard the call."

She nodded. "Then it's getting closer to time."

He thought it needed to come sooner. They had been training for a year already. How could the princess survive in the castle that long? How long should she have to wait for him to rescue her? His mother had explained that time was not the same in dreams and in life. And that what he was seeing was not of this time. Or of that time. It was of the right time. He didn't understand.

He continued to read the book. To learn about the dreams. For every dragon hunter called this is how it started. The dream. The castle. The call. But never the dragon. You never saw the dragon in your dreams. You had to be brave enough to face it unknown. Many weren't. The rescue never happened. The dragons sometimes won.

His mother continued to train him. He learned how to fight close in and at a distance. He learned how to see what was in front of him while seeing what was coming from the side as well. When he sparred with his mother he learned that she could see attacks from behind as well. "How do you know what is behind you?"

"You need to feel the fight, not just see it. Air shifts. Temperatures change. Dragons will not wait for you to see them to attack. You must feel the fight."

And so he trained.

"If the dragons were gone, why did you train?" He asked his mother.

"My grandparents did not believe the dragons were gone. Their generation had fought too many of them. Even though their children had not been called they did not believe that the dragons were gone forever. They knew they were tricky creatures and might well be hiding, waiting for the world to forget about them before they came back. And so they trained us as they had trained their own children. To make sure when the dragons returned our ways were not forgotten."

"Are you worried?"

"I am your mother, I am always worried."

"Is Dad worried?"

"Your father is not a dragon fighter. He is from the city where we were stories told to children before bed. For him we are as mythical as the creatures we fought. But when he met me he learned we are real. And we are fierce, but he was not scared for me. He is not scared of the dragon winning, because in the stories they told the dragon always loses. But even then, he is worried that they are back. And that you have been called. It's," she paused, "unsettling."

"Because I'm male?"

"Yes. Because you are male."

They continued to train. The years continued to pass.

He had more dreams. Now he was used to hearing the dragon's call. It was familiar to him. No less awful but now he did not wake in terror when he heard it. In the dreams he continued on his journey to the top of the castle, to his rescue. He saw the battles he would face on his way. Where the traps were. What was waiting for him. He used all of his training and skill and made it to her, he would see her hands. And then he would awake.

And always his mother standing in the doorway to his room watching him.

Finally she brought him the golden sword. When she placed it in his hands he could feel...he looked at her, "What is that?"

"The beat of the dragon's heart."

He looked down at the ruby. It was pulsing light. "This is a dragon's heart?"

His mother gave him a sad smile and nodded. "Yes, you cannot slay a dragon if you do not have their heart."

"Do you think I'm strong enough to slay the dragon? I am only half dragon fighter."

She watched him for a while. Silently. Then she took the sword from him. "Which half?"

"The half from you."

"But which half is that? Is it this half?" She touched the sword to his right shoulder. "Or is it this half?" She moved to his left.

He laughed. "Not half like that, you know what I mean. Dad isn't a dragon fighter. I am only half."

She didn't smile. "You are my son. Do you feel as if only half of you is mine? I remember carrying all of you inside my body. I remember raising all of you to be my child. Not half. You are no more half dragon fighter than you are half loved by your mother."

He nodded. He understood what she was saying, and yet, he still worried. "I will be all that I can be."

She didn't tell him that would be enough. Sometimes the dragons won.

He slept without dreams. Dark and deep. Not moving. His mother watched from the doorway. His father stood next to her. "Is it time?"

She watched him breathing deeply, "Yes. It's time."

He took the gold sword strapped to his side. He took the daggers he would need for the creatures on the stairs and he strapped those to his wrists. He took the machete he would need to cut through the thorned forest surrounding the road and he hung that from his belt. He put on the thick leather gloves that would protect him from the poison in the thorns. He strapped another short blade to his belt to attack the wild animals that lived in the garden. He put on the pack that would carry food and supplies for the trip. His mother looked him over and made a few adjustments to his clothes and his weapons. "Do you have everything you need?"

"Everything I have seen in the dreams I am prepared for, and I have the sword for the unknown."

She nodded solemnly. "Then you are as ready as you can be. Good luck and dragon be damned."

He walked from the front door of their house on to a road that had never existed before. He walked down a path a hundred yards from his home that he had never seen. The veil between his father's world and his mother's had shifted and now he was no longer just a normal child, he was a dragon fighter. Though he had not been a normal child since the dreams had begun. In the years that had passed since the first dream he had grown to be a young man. But more than a young man. A dragon fighter. He was as fierce and as focused as his mother.

He camped on the side of the road. He started a fire. He ate the food he had packed. Then when he was fed and warm he rested while leaning against a giant tree. He knew he would be safe here because he had seen it all in his dreams. The fire died out and he closed his eyes and slept a deep dreamless sleep.

The next day he fought his way through the poisoned thorns guarding the path, he battled the wild animals in the garden, he slashed and parried with the creatures guarding the stairs. He fought them all successfully. And as he moved each step closer to his rescue he heard the dragon screaming in frustration. He knew he would face it soon enough. And he was ready.

He opened the door at the top of the stairs. She was sitting in the shadows in the corner of the room. He could see her hands in the beam of sunlight coming in from the window. She stepped forward in to the light, "Are you here to rescue me?"

He caught his breath. Or lost it. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was as pale as the moon, yet glowed like the sun. Her eyes were as dark as night but held the stars in their gaze. Her hair was long and dark and she wore it like a cloak around her shoulders. Her voice felt like honey on his skin. Warm and thick. She held her lovely hands out to him.

He stepped toward her. Now was the time of the most danger. The dragon would sense he was stealing the captive. He waited for the scream. She moved toward him narrowing the space between them. He could feel her. The air shifted. The temperature changed. Recognition dawned in her eyes, "Oh so you know?"

Her pale hands turned to talons and she slashed toward him. He stepped back reaching for the sword at the same time pulling it free. He could feel the vibration as the dragon's heart beat faster.

"Lovely, you've brought me a gift." Her hair shifted and wings sprung from her back, she was ready to take flight. He looked at her beautiful face one last time and then brought the sword up and in to her chest.

The soft metal should have bent. The gold should have never been able to pierce her skin. But the heart pulsed and the blade struck home.

The dragon screamed and fell to the ground.

He stood looking down at her lovely face. He pulled the blade from her chest, then he looked around the room. The princess must still be trapped. He felt another shift in the air and turned ready to fight. He spun quickly holding the sword in front of him, when he turned the stone fell from the shaft hitting the stone floor and shattering. He was defenseless against another attack, he began to panic but then saw it was his mother standing in the doorway watching him.

He watched her for a moment as she took in the scene in the room.

"She was the dragon, not the princess."

His mother nodded. "Yes."

"She called to me because I am male."

"Yes."

"She thought I wouldn't be able to do what I needed to do."

"Yes."

"Are you here because you thought I wouldn't be able to do what I needed to do?"

"No."

He looked at her standing in the doorway, "Then why did you come?"

"Because you forgot this." She held out a box to her son.

"For the heart."

"Yes. We will need to repair the sword and for that we need a dragon's heart."

He opened the box and did what needed to be done.

Because he was a dragon fighter.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Void...

I know I said I was hoping to wrap up the month with a juicy fiction piece but one didn't come to me. Though don't lose heart, depending on how many words this piece ends up being, and my rants are usually shorter than my stories, there is always tomorrow!

So dictionary.com threw some massive shade this week when it made "complicit" the word of the year. You might remember Ivanka saying she didn't know what complicit meant and trying to define it as being a force for good. Umm, no. Senator Jeff Flake said he was resigning because he could no longer be complicit in what this administration was doing. And numerous stories around the sexual abuse scandals have come out about how many people were complicit in keeping them silent.

So complicit is the word of the year.

When I saw that I gave a smirk smile. Because it sums up what I've been feeling all year. You all know I've had my moments of being tired of screaming in to the void. Of trying to find the right words to say to move people. To bring some sort of understanding of actual facts over tweeted lies to the forefront of discussions. I've dropped people off of my friend list because I was tired of having to take a deep breath before looking to see what idiotic "people are saying" thing they posted. And I've been so sick of it all that I have come up to the brink of just shutting up and deleting all of my social media and my blog page and just going away for the next however many years this nightmare lasts.

But then I don't.

Because someone tells me that what I say has made a difference to them.

Because I see a story that shows me that I'm not the only one out there railing against the wind.

Because I refuse to be complicit.

And silence to me is being complicit.

This morning our illustrious leader tweeted out videos from a right wing extremist group from the UK. Two of the videos were debunked as false and one of them is unknown as to what it's even from. This is old information. I was already familiar with two of the three because they had been posted by assholes and debunked as false. But our president looked at them, knew the source, and retweeted them. Then his press secretary came out and said, "Whether it is a real video, the threat is real... That is what the President is talking about, that is what the President is focused on is dealing with those real threats, and those are real no matter how you look at it." When Sanders was asked again about the fact (THE FACT) that the videos are fake and the source is horrific she doubled down, "I'm not talking about the nature of the video. I think you're focusing on the wrong thing. The threat is real, and that's what the President is talking about."

So the threat is real and we are going to show you fake videos to prove it.

Fake videos from a right wing extremist group.

And can we just talk for a moment about how "right wing extremist" should make conservatives FURIOUS? You should be fighting against these people. Washing them from your ranks. Remember how when Antifa "protested" here in Portland after the election and broke things, and spray painted things and rioted against the police and I posted on my status about how WRONG they were? How they didn't represent the majority of progressives and how disgusting their actions were? THAT is what you need to be doing with people who claim your side as their side. Stop being silent.

Earlier this week the President of the United States stood in front of a portrait of Andrew Indian Killer Jackson and used the slur Pocahontas, to Navajo Code talkers.  WWII heroes. Now, I would have given him a pass on the portrait. It's in bad taste but possibly an honest mistake. Possibly. Maybe nobody in the White House right at that moment knew about the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears. It could happen. I guess. I mean I've met adults whose education was so piss poor they didn't know. So maybe...

But then Sanders came out to defend him. It's ridiculous that anyone could think of Pocahontas as being a slur, and really isn't the offensive thing that Warren claimed her heritage as Native American to advance her career? Why weren't they focused on that? Well, let's break it down. NUMEROUS Native American groups have REPEATEDLY stated that they view the President's use of Pocahontas to refer to Senator Warren as offensive. So there's the first part. It's a slur because he is using it as such. He is mocking her by calling her by the name of a famous Native American woman. And secondly, it was reported on. It was investigated. She didn't use it to gain an advantage. Harvard used it to look more racially diverse than it was but she didn't use it to gain any advantage. And the real kicker is, she didn't lie. It's her family lore. Being from New Mexico I know a lot of people who claim Native American heritage but not the benefits or the tribal inclusion. There are a lot of family stories about people passing. Hell, I have two in my family legend. I imagine when I get my DNA testing back that those will be shown to have just been legend, but growing up I was told about them, so I'm not lying when I say, my family thinks this thing.

She's not on the Dawes registry, if the family story is true she's probably a very small percentage of Native American, but it still doesn't mean she's lying. It means that's her family story. So no, I don't find it offensive that she has a family that believes itself to have Native ancestry (even though I laughed at the Cherokee part, everyone who thinks they have Native blood but doesn't have a still intact lineage goes Cherokee).

But even if she did lie. Even if she claimed to have been raised on the reservation, even if she was a giant piece of shit, guess what? That doesn't excuse what he did. And it doesn't excuse where he did it. And it doesn't make him any less of an ignorant fool to have said it and done while he was supposed to honoring those men.

And that is why I continue to rail. Why I continue to shout in to the void. Why I still run at that wall full force. Why I refuse to sit silently. Because there are people out there that want you to ignore what he is doing, what he is saying, how he is behaving, and what the cost of that behavior will be. And as things progress I want to make sure I can stand and say, I was not complicit.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thinking about 2018...

I know, we have one of the busiest parts of 2017 left to go, but I can't help it, I'm already thinking about next year. Specifically goals for next year.

I've started reviewing my 2017 list and I will write up the formal recap of that at the end of December but suffice it to say that it's been its usual mix of hits and misses. But since I am wrapping up a few of the "big ticket items" I am starting to wonder about next year.

I have one more book to read for the Goodreads challenge, I'm pretty confident I will make that, and because of NaNo I will zoom past the Blog number goal.

But because those are done or nearly done I'm starting to wonder about next year.

What should I be aiming for? I like the reading and writing numbers because, though I love both, I can get a little lazy about them. I like the fitness goals because they give me something to focus on when I'm not feeling so healthy about how to manage things. You know I believe you should know what your crazy is and how to manage it. Weight is one of my obsessive areas. I also have my calendar with the stars that I did last year. I liked it. (If Brent were reading this he would be making his fake shocked face) I like getting a gold star for my day. It's another area I can be obsessive about. But if I set up the things I get stars for when I'm in a good place, the stars are good things.

I also just ignored two of the colors pretty much. They were things I felt I should be doing more of, but even with the allure of a pretty star they didn't make me feel that I wanted to do them.  So if I keep the star chart I will be reassigning stars next year.

Which then leads me back in to the circle of what should I be thinking about for next year? Or I guess more accurately what do I want to be focused on next year?

I don't know yet.

You know there will be writing and reading and fitness on the list. Maybe just keeping the status quo for those things, though I've already got a goal in mind for writing, kind of a two part thing.

I really want to work on the house some more. I picked out a living room color over a year ago and have not found my motivation to paint yet. When I realized I had no motivation I decided I was going to hire it out but when I got the quotes back for painting everything that needs to be painted I decided I better look for my motivation again! I also want to do something with the basement. I'm using it for storage right now and that might be what it ends up being but some of the things I'm storing I don't need and won't need ever again so I shouldn't be storing them.

Building on the success of last year cutting back on sugar and adding Brent to my gym work out after sabbatical I was thinking about cooking becoming a set goal. The way that logic train moved was we cut sugar last year which changed the way we eat during the week. It took awhile to get in the flow but we did it. It was good for us and we are still doing it. Adding Brent to my gym work out means that we go in the morning before I take him to work. That means no Starbucks breakfast on lazy days. I cook every weekday morning. I get up, I make post work out smoothies, I make breakfast, we go. It's not a negotiable thing anymore because I don't have time for lazy Starbucks and workouts with Brent. I am thinking I should treat dinner the same way. As just what I do. I know, I know, I have tried so many times to get in to that groove, but if it keeps coming up in my head then I will keep thinking I should try.

I don't have Sabbatical to plan for, which is a bummer, but I do want to make sure we take at least a couple of vacations. Hawaii is generally on the standard list but our "want to" list keeps growing. Maybe make some long term plans for places we want to go and start knocking those off?

And there are things that I think about a lot, enjoy doing a lot, and yet don't seem to ever do enough of. I know I'm not the only one who is like that as well. Why do we do that to ourselves? I like going on hikes. But I talk myself out of it all the time. It's too hot, it's too cold, it's too rainy, it's an inconvenience, I don't think Brent likes it as much as I do, on and on and on. But I love doing it. I was in a pretty good groove for awhile getting us out on Saturday walks, but then the fires hit and the smoke was too much. That is a valid excuse. I will give myself that one.

And we are still thinking about dogs and cats. I am torn on that one. I have loved all of our pets over the years and a big part of me misses the companionship. But I also love the freedom of not having a furry one depending on us. We can travel without finding someone to take care of them. We can stay out late, or all day, or leave early, and it doesn't affect our pet. On rainy days I don't have to go for a walk. On lazy days I don't have to scoop litter.  And the house stays much cleaner. No puke patrols. It's nice. But it's also not nice. So I am still torn on that one.

So I'm thinking about 2018. Which is all well and good but right now I need to get back to 2017 and the 4000 or so words I still need for NaNo, and the things I've let slide during NaNo that need taken care of, and the half dozen or so events in December we are going to, and the Christmas shopping and meal planning that needs to be finished and...

Well, 2018 sure looks great though...

Monday, November 27, 2017

Power Plays...

He had been a "go getter" in life. Which he liked to joke was a "go get her" as well. He had built his empire on a life style idea. That men should have the best and shiniest toys, the fastest cars, the priciest art work, read the best books, have collections that made other men envious. And that women were obviously a part of those collections. He published his magazine as a paper altar to the god he worshiped. An idealized version of himself. The cosmopolitan man. Women wanted him, men wanted to be him. That was his creation. And he would tell everyone that he was a self-made man.

She had spent her life as a symbol. And what she symbolized varied from person to person. Was she the struggling ingenue? Was she the hot sex symbol? Was she a savvy business woman or a hapless in love, drug addict? She was whatever people wanted her to be. But she made that self-made man what he was. 

When asked about the pictures that launched his magazine she said, "I never saw a dime. He made a fortune selling something he had no right to own. He never asked permission from me. I never even got a thank you call."

See she was his first cover girl. His first "all nude!" centerfold. The pictures had been taken years before she was famous. Before she even had her name. Yet another man who saw her not for herself but for what he needed from her. She had been young and trusting. He wouldn't sell those shots. He was practicing for some art shows. He would never do anything to hurt her. And besides, if she helped him with those pictures he would give her the head shots she needed for free. She trusted him.

Later when she had her new name and was "somebody" the photographer sold those photos to the "go get her" for a song and he built his empire on her body. Without even a thank you call.

But most people didn't care about that. They assumed she got what she deserved by posing for those pictures in the first place and he got what he deserved by being smart enough to buy them. And, well, didn't we all win by being able to see them? After all she was beautiful and what harm did it do?

When she died, drug overdose or CIA murder, again, take your pick as to how you wanted to see her, she was buried in a mausoleum. Shelves of bodies in eternal storage. One of her ex-husbands had flowers delivered to her grave twice a week until he died. It was said he never got over how their marriage had ended and he had never stopped loving her. His last words were supposedly that he would finally see her again. Romance or guilt, you could take your pick.

The "go get her" man bought the space next to hers to be buried in when he died. "This way I can be next to her for all eternity." He loved to show people the paperwork. "When people visit her, they will see me. When people visit me, they will see her. We will be tied together forever. It's perfect." Again, nobody had asked her what she wanted. 

When she died her legend grew. But she became even more of a blank canvas. She was a tortured genius. She was a hot mess. She was a star. She was a whore. She was what you wanted her to be. But she was always beautiful. She died too young. Nobody knew who she would have become.

He lived a long time. Past his prime. He outlasted his empire. He outlasted the time where women wanted him and men wanted to be him. He lived long enough to be ridiculed for both ideas. His playground revealed in the bright light of day to be something you regretted touching in the darkness of night. He lived his final years as a caricature of himself.  But when he died all of that washed away and people remembered the decades past. The lifestyle. The glamour. The endless miles of young flesh he peddled without consequence. And then he was buried next to her. Without asking.

When he awoke to the bright light shining down on him, he wasn't surprised. After all he had lived a charmed life. Why wouldn't his afterlife be just as bright and shiny? He was greeted by a woman in a white lab coat holding a clip board. She had a few things to show him and to go over before he was released to live out his eternity. He wasn't surprised at this either. Bureaucracy would follow you everywhere. 

He was surprised at the tour. It was lovely. He had spent his entire life selling a lifestyle of perfection and only now did he realize how far short he had fallen in imagining what that was. The art on the walls was so beautiful it moved him to tears. The music he heard was so powerful it made his very being move with the melody. The air smelled like nothing he could describe. Fresh bread and fresh flowers and the forest and ripe strawberries and yet none of these things. Just air that made you happy to breathe it. That's what it was. Everything was filled with joy.

The people that they passed who smiled at his tour guide and looked at him with curiosity. They were filled with joy. The sights, the smells, the sounds, it was all reverberating with joy. And he knew that this was what his eternity would be. Filled with the joy that he had tried to imagine on earth but had not come close to. Not even in his wildest days had he understood this feeling. Even when the triplets were sharing his bed had he felt such peace. Even when they came to him for their spending allowances and told him how wonderful he was, none of that made him feel like walking behind this woman with this clipboard seeing these walls made him feel. This was paradise.

They came to a stop at the end of the hallways and she opened a door, motioning for him to go inside. She told him to disrobe and wait for his inspection. 

He knew what this would be. The time where he would be given his perfect body. He had noticed that everyone they passed on their way here had been perfection. All different ages, and shapes, and colors but still they radiated perfection. Any earthly damage would be taken away and he would exist in perfection and joy. He wished he could go back and tell everyone what it was like. What they really had to look forward to.

He disrobed and waited. The lights flickered and then the walls turned to viewing screens. Scenes from his life flickered past. The magazine. The mansion. The women. The men. There it wall was in technicolor glory. He smiled. It had been a good life. Then his smile faltered. There was the mansion again but the party was not joyous. It was dark. A woman was screaming no but no one was listening because, after all, what had she expected to happen after she posed for those pictures and went to that party and swam with that man? There were the triplets playing rock, paper, scissors, deciding who would have to go in and flatter him to get their money. There were the men who idolized him who were taking their own pictures of women. Of girls. Of very young girls. The room got darker. And then there were the pictures of her. The ones that had launched his empire. Her beauty filling up the walls. Then her dead body on the floor of her bungalow. The quote from him weeks later after he made his purchase, "I bought the space next to her because the one on top was already taken."

The room went dark. Then the lights were back on. Bright. Unforgiving. Standing in the middle of the room he looked down at his nakedness and he was ashamed.

He called out that he was sorry. He understood now. He appreciated the lesson. And now he was ready to leave this room.

He heard her voice over the loud speaker, "Nobody asked you."

And the videos started again. 


Explanations...

So the story I wrote yesterday I posted to Facebook with a disclaimer that "any resemblance to living family members was purely intentional" which led to some confusion that the conversation actually happened. So I want to clear it up.

Totally a fictionalized conversation. It came about because we kept reading all of these stories about how to avoid conflict at holiday dinners, and of course the number one suggestion was to avoid politics. It made me laugh because Christopher and I talk politics all the time. We mostly agree so it rarely leads to conflict. Sometimes it does, I'm a little more conservative than he is and I'm also more about keeping the peace if I can than he is. I know, right? That lets you know how progressive and aggressive he is.

But those articles did remind me of my family back in New Mexico. We saw them right before last year's election and we saw them this spring after Trump took office as well. And we never spoke of politics. I avoid them and will change the subject when it's brought up. Because it will lead to an argument and I don't want my limited time with them to be spent arguing. I am in the minority in my beliefs and I respect that. I am not going to change their minds, nor will they mine. The only time I even say anything about politics to my mother when we are talking is when she says something that I know is demonstrably false. A difference of opinion I gloss over, a lie I can't abide. But mostly I just stay quiet. Which is easy with my Mom and even mostly with my siblings.

But not with my uncle.

There are people in this world who love conflict just for conflict's sake. My uncle is one of those. The religion my family practices believes men are the head of the family. My uncle believes that means women should show deference to men in discussions about anything other than...well...I can't think of any other than but there might be one. My uncle also knows that I don't practice their religion or believe in their politics so I am ripe for an argument. He does his best to provoke one anytime we are together.

Including when I was home for my father's funeral.

I had been thinking about that while I read those articles.

Sitting in what was now my mother's living room instead of my parent's living room still shell shocked, as we all were right then and my uncle has Fox on the TV watching Glenn Beck who is working his chalk board with a passion showing how all of the ills in this world could be traced back to BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA! Now this was about a year and half in to Obama's first term. The economy was just starting to struggle back to breathing after the big crash. And my uncle starts in on how this recession was all Obama's fault.

I thought to myself, "Get up and go outside." but I just didn't have it in me to move right then. And seeing that I'm not biting my uncle turns up Glenn Beck (this was pre- oh I'm so sorry for ruining our country with all of my bullshit, Beck) and starts adding his own commentary to what is being written on the chalk board. I finally say, "You know he was left with Bush's mess right?"

Which made my uncle's face light up with glee. The opening he had been waiting for! "You can't blame Bush! This is all on Obama now!"

And we were off. The clean slate argument was made. The fact that Bush kept the wars off the books was pointed out. The lack of diplomacy vs. bomb dropping. I didn't get angry though, which made my uncle really frustrated. I just didn't have it in me right then to get angry. He was wrong, he was stating things that were wrong, I was correcting him, but I had zero passion about the exchange because, and here is the important thing, my father had just died.

Finally my mother, who had just lost her husband, had enough and announced that I hadn't even voted for Obama in the primaries. I had voted for Hillary. Which shocked my uncle so much he literally did the fish mouth thing...where it opens and closes and opens and closes with no sound coming out.

"I did. And I would vote for her again if she ran. I voted for Obama in the general, but I thought she would make a fine president. I think it's time to let a woman run the show for a while and see if we can get out of some of these man made messes."

And then I got up and went outside. I didn't want to be there when he caught his breath and went on about a WOMAN!

So the conversation in yesterday's piece was a work of fiction, but I can't call it a work of pure fiction because I imagined my uncle every step of the way. But you know it's fiction because as the main character leaves her mother tells her that SHE voted for Hillary, and please believe my mother did not vote for Hillary. I believe she voted for Johnson, but I won't ask because sometimes you need to believe what you need to believe. And sometimes you just need to get up and go outside.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Family Dinner...

"Vulva."

The dinner table suddenly got very quiet. It was almost as though she could now see the word floating above the centerpiece. Maybe flashing neon; VUL-VA, blinking off and on. If it had been a word balloon like in a comic her mother would have been desperately trying to erase it. As it was everyone stared, some at her, some at her uncle and some at their plates hoping for it to be over, or for it to explode in to a big argument; depending on the family member.

"Excuse me, young lady, what did you say?"

She almost laughed. It had been decades since anyone had called her young and she wasn't sure anyone had ever considered her much of a lady. It was just her uncles way of trying to remind her of her place.

"Vulva. You keep saying vagina and what you mean to say is vulva. Although that is incorrect as well."

"I am sure I am not incorrect. I mean to say vagina hats. They were out there marching in their vagina hats and it seems as though you approve of such vulgarity!"

"Vulva. You mean vulva. Think of it as rooms. The uterus is the main room, the vagina is the hallway and the vulva is the front porch and doorway. All of the area outside of the body is the vulva. The mons pubis, the labia, the clitoris..."

"That is ENOUGH! The dinner table is no place for such dirty talk."

"You are the one who brought up vaginas. I am just correcting you. You mean vulva. And the hats were neither one."

Her uncle's face was a bright shade of red that was making her aunt think about blood pressure medicine. "You are correcting me? I know what I saw on TV. They were wearing vagina hats and saying horrific things about OUR, yes OUR, yours too young lady, OUR president."

"They were pink pussy hats. Like cat ears. It was a play on words. Words the man you voted for who is, yes, all of our president, said."

"Don't use that word at this table."

"Don't use the word pussy? To describe cat ears? You are offended by that but not by the President saying he could grab them, meaning vulvas?"

"I saw on the news. Just like giant vaginas."

"Vulvas. And you might have seen a few people in costumes. There were a couple of those. But the hats were cat ears. Thousands and thousands of cat ears. A lot of pink but some beige and some tan and some black, as many colors of yarn and as many colors of women there were hats. But a sea of pussy hats."

"Cry babies, that's all. Couldn't accept the win and so they cried."

"No, Uncle Bobby, they marched. They let the current administration know that they weren't going to be silent. They weren't going to roll over and play dead for the next four years."

"You didn't see people marching when Obozo was elected!"

"You mean when Obama was OUR president, yes even yours, OUR president? And you showed him the deep respect you think Trump deserves? No, there weren't thousands of people marching in the street worried about their basic human rights being taken away. What you did see is an uptick in the sales of guns as the NRA convinced you he was going to take them away. And you did see the Tea Party rise. And you did see his very Americanness questioned."

"Nonsense."

"Yes, it was nonsense. But it happened. And now you are living the other side of the coin."

"It was vulgar. And now they don't want to accept how great the country is going. Jobs, the stock market, foreign policy. It's all better."

"Jobs have been going up for the last 6 1/2 years..."

"No! You don't get to say that this isn't Trump. Just like when Obummer took office and you tried to blame the crash on Bush, you don't get to give him credit for the recovery!"

"Do you think that when a president takes office they get a clean slate? Like everything that happened before doesn't count? Of course the crash started under Bush. The roots of it could be found as far back as Reagan and it was exacerbated by things Clinton did."

"The deficit ballooned under Barry!"

"Bush kept the two wars we were fighting off the books. Obama brought them in to account. You don't get to go to war for free. People needed to see the cost. Not that it mattered. You still want more war."

"We used to be respected! Barack Hussein Obama made us the laughing stock of the world!"

"That's not true either. He was well respected by other foreign leaders..."

"The ones that liked him only liked him because they could take advantage of him!"

"That's not true either. He was respected because he was a deep thinker and believed in diplomacy."

"Diplomacy! You mean showing your belly!"

"It's a different view. You believe in ruling by fear. Your man in the office spouts that as well. Though he is easily swayed by flattery and manipulated by insults. Twittier in Chief. Making up foreign policy on the fly. Casting insults via speeches and twitter then saying nice things face to face."

"He keeps them on their guard! Being too predictable is a bad thing. This way they never know what is coming. It's a good policy. Better than announcing everything we are going to do ahead of time and letting the enemy get the jump on us."

"Keeping people off balance isn't a great thing to do when you are talking about starting a nuclear war."

"Nobody is talking about nuclear war!"

"He did. He said he wasn't sure why we didn't use our nukes more often."

"Fake news! They press just manipulates things to make him look bad!"

"He said it, I watched the interview. The words came out of his mouth. How is the press manipulating him to say things with his own mouth?"

"Editing."

"You believe that?"

"He said it was true so of course I do. Why would he lie?"

"Because he lies about everything."

"Hellary would have been worse in the White House."

"We will never know. I don't think she would have been but she didn't win..."

"She didn't! You should keep that in mind! Most Americans didn't want her!"

"Again, not technically right. Most Americans who voted did want her but..."

"Doesn't matter! That's not the way the system works!"

"I know that. But you can't give him the majority when he didn't get it. He still won. But he didn't get the most votes."

Her cousin spoke up, "You claim to be a feminist and yet you would have voted for Hillary. She was horrible to the women Bill abused."

She turned and smiled at her cousin. "Remember Lisa Shenkle?"

"What? That was high school, what does that have to do with anything?"

"Lisa Shenkle is a Slut Faced Whore."

"Young Lady!" her uncle roared.

Her cousin looked down at her plate.

"Remember that?"

"That was a long time ago."

"Sandra told you that Lisa and James were making out. You confronted James and he told you it never happened. That Lisa was trying to steal him away from you and she was spreading the rumor to make him look bad. Who did you believe?"

"I was DATING James."

"And she is MARRIED to Bill."

"You believed James when you really knew Sandra was right. But you destroyed Lisa's reputation. People took sides and since you were popular, they sided with you."

"That's not at all the same thing."

"Isn't it? You were only dating James and you didn't believe Lisa first. That's what you are trying to say Hillary should have done. Believe the women who said that her husband was cheating on her with them, and then believe the woman who said he raped her. You expect her to be something that most of us would not be."

"What about you though? YOU should have believed the women."

"I will never vote for Bill Clinton. Ever. But I also will not hold Hillary or if her time comes Chelsea responsible for his shit. Pardon my language, Mom."

"But you voted for him in the 90s."

"I did. I did a lot of things in the 90s I wouldn't do now. But I believe that he wouldn't be electable now. People's attitudes have changed. Or at least half the country's attitudes have changed. Some seem to think that locker room talk is about sexual assault and electing a child molester is better than a Democrat."

"It is."

She heard her aunt gasp. Well there is was.

"Uncle Bobby, really? Did you just hear yourself? You just said that a child molester is better than a Democrat."

"Roy Moore has denied the charges, that's what I mean. He's better than the other guy because he will be a solid conservative voice and a vote."

"No, you agreed that better a child molester than a Democrat and you call me vulgar."

"You are being vulgar. With the sex talk and the disparaging of our president. You're just a special snowflake who..."

"I think we need to change the subject! How about dessert?" Her mother was trying to bring things back around.

She looked at her watch, "I really need to take off. I want to make sure I get to the airport on time. Thank you for dinner, it was lovely. Thank you for the conversation, it was entertaining. I love you all. Happy Thanksgiving."

With that she left the table and grabbed her coat out of the hall closet. Reaching in to her pocket she pulled out her pink knit cap. That day had been the first good day after a lot of bad ones. The first day she felt like she was walking on the right path again. The hopeful one. And it was also the day she promised to never keep silent again. Even if it meant she would have to skip dessert to keep the family peace.

Her mother met her in the hallway and gave her a hug. She whispered in her ear, "I voted for Hillary."

She sighed and smiled at her. "I'll text when I land."



Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thankful...

She wasn't going to cry. She had declared it a no pity Thanksgiving. No tears Thanksgiving, it was her rule! After all she had a lot to be thankful for.

When her family Skyped with her from Mexico and she saw all of their smiles and sunburned noses she was thankful for them. Even though when they had planned the get-away last Thanksgiving she had been excited to join them. That was before she was laid off from her job of 15 years and went from being the most senior with all of the vacation time to the most junior who only got Thanksgiving day itself off. She was not going to cry or feel badly that they were there without her. She had told them to go, to enjoy themselves, to have fun. It's not like they wouldn't have gone anyway, but at least she felt good telling them to anyway.

When her youngest niece told her she missed her she almost lost it. But she was saved by the commotion in the background when someone splashed in the pool getting her mother's hair wet. The glee that followed "Gamma wet! Gamma wet!" erased any tears that might have come. She had wished them all a Happy Thanksgiving and turned off the camera.

She had volunteered at the shelter downtown, thinking that helping those less fortunate would make her feel better. Instead she ended up feeling a little worse when one family came through the line. Smiling and happy. The woman next to her serving potatoes had commented about how happy they were and the mother said, "We might not have much, but at least we have each other." That one had stung a little. But no pity. It was one day. One trip. One holiday. She still had her family, they were just doing something else. She just had to work.

And she really was thankful for the new job. A lot of people didn't find work right away after a lay off. She knew she was lucky. The new company was a good one and there was opportunity to move up in the organization. She wouldn't be the new guy for long. A lot of opportunity. And a paycheck instead of trying to stretch that unemployment. She was thankful. She was.

The microwave dinged and she went to get her turkey dinner. She should have eaten at the shelter. They offered, but it just seemed wrong to take a meal that someone else could use more. And besides, she had this Hungry Man Turkey with Stuffing just waiting for her at home. Yum...

She burned her thumb on the steam when she took the plastic cover off the meal.

No pity! No tears! She had so much to be thankful for!

Her family was healthy and happy. Her new job was paying the bills. Her microwave worked.

She stood at the kitchen counter and started to eat her dinner. The thought of sitting alone at the table was more depressing than standing at the counter to eat. She poked at the "cranberry apple strudel" and then decided against it. She didn't really need dessert anyway.

She tossed the remnants in the trash and wiped down her counter. Another thing to be thankful for. No big clean up needed. Nobody likes cleaning up a messy kitchen.

As she started to settle in for a night of sappy movies her doorbell rang.

She opened the door to find her neighbors there with a pie and a stack of board games.

"We know you said no to dinner, but you can't say no to pie!"

Her no tears rule shattered. So much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The First Thanksgiving...

The first Thanksgiving was the year of the burnt offering. Neither of them had any idea how to cook a turkey but both vaguely remembered their mothers putting the bird in the oven around 5 AM to eat dinner around 3. That seemed right. Until around 11 AM when the house filled with smoke and the burnt bird had to be tossed in the sink and drowned.

The second Thanksgiving was the year of the turkeysicle. They had pulled the bird from the freezer on Tuesday night assuming it would be fine by Thursday. It wasn't. But that was okay, the oven would defrost it as it cooked, and the ice would make it extra moist right? They cooked that bird for ever and it never was anything but cold and raw in the middle.

The third Thanksgiving was during the vegetarian year and they made Tofurkey. They weren't saying that it was the Tofurkey that made them go back to eating meat, but they aren't saying it wasn't either.

The fourth Thanksgiving was two weeks after their first child was born. They went out to dinner. It was delicious but there were no leftovers so they decided that wouldn't work next year.

The fifth Thanksgiving was the nausea Thanksgiving. She couldn't be pregnant again, she was breast feeding, everyone knew that breastfeeding was like natural birth control. Everyone was wrong.

The sixth Thanksgiving started the beige years. Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, bread, cover it all in gravy. Not a green vegetable to be found. They were always going to add more in to the mix but the kids wouldn't eat it anyway. So everything was beige.

The tenth Thanksgiving was the year they decided to skip the hassle of Christmas travel and go home for Thanksgiving instead. "Oh Thanksgiving is the worst of the travel holidays," her mother had declared in that way she had of saying things that would have been helpful BEFORE but not at all NOW.

The eleventh Thanksgiving was back to beige.

The fifteenth Thanksgiving the kids started to help cook. And vegetables made an appearance back on the table. If they cooked them, they would eat them. Who knew?

The twenty-fourth Thanksgiving was the serious girlfriend I think she might be the one don't do anything to embarrass me Thanksgiving. "I'm thankful that Bobby is finally getting laid and isn't such an asshole when he visits from college." Well, that didn't work Thanksgiving.

The thirtieth Thanksgiving was the first one at the kid's house. Bobby and his serious girlfriend, now wife, hosted and they didn't need to bring a thing. Julie brought her not at all serious boyfriend with the nose ring just to make things interesting. Her father taught him how to play the bass line to Back in Black. Julie's not at all serious boyfriend never made an appearance again, he turned out to be not as interesting as she had hoped.

The thirty first Thanksgiving was back at Bobby's house with the new baby. This time they were allowed to help out as much as possible. Even Julie who brought Becky. A new interesting person in her life. Becky was much better than the not at all serious boyfriend of the year before.

The fortieth Thanksgiving was at Julie and Becky's house. Bobby and the very serious wife brought their two kids and they watched Julie and Becky's two kids. And everyone ate beige food.

The fiftieth Thanksgiving was the first one where they weren't a they anymore. It was just a her. She went to Bobby's house. She tried to be thankful.

The sixtieth Thanksgiving was crowded with children, grand children and great grandchildren. She hadn't brought anything but her stories. The stories about the first Thanksgiving and the year of the burnt offering.

House Rules

Again, I'll start with an explanation. Yesterday I wrote the first part of this dream story.  And I talked about how I had the dream, I woke up took notes and decided to make it a story. When it turned out to not be all that coherent I decided it wasn't a story. Then the next night I was back in the dream. But it wasn't the exact dream. It was the same place and the same world, just more. So here is the second dream. Still doesn't make a lot of sense, but I still think if I put it down on paper (so to speak) and let it breath I might have a story out of it sometime. For now it's just a surreal landscape of an idea.

House Rules

She was unpacking her kitchen boxes. What she really wanted to find was her coffee maker. The late night putting up Christmas decorations after the full day of moving had wiped her out. She thought about taking a nap but really wanted her house unpacked. Maybe if she settled in more she would feel more settled. 

Though maybe she should just repack everything and leave. After all this was not exactly what she had thought she was getting in to when she moved. Yes, she liked how friendly everyone had seemed when she toured the place last year, but she had no idea she would be expected to be a part of every single activity. And not just expected, but required. It didn't sit right with her, but she felt she didn't have a choice. If she left now she was out her first and last month's rent and her security deposit. She would have to dip in to her savings account quite heavily to afford a new place. If she could even find one on short notice that she would feel safe enough living in by herself.

She laughed at that thought, she wasn't sure this really counted as living by herself anymore.

She looked around her tiny kitchen. She really liked how many cabinets it had. That was an important part of living in a small space, storage. The walls were lined with enough cabinets that she thought she would have room for a few non-kitchen items as well. Maybe her holiday things could go in the high cabinet above the entry way to the kitchen. She reached up and opened that door to see how much space was there. It was already full. There were Tupperware containers and lids in one half and a first aid kit in the other. She pulled the storage pieces down and placed them in to an empty box. Obviously the previous tenant had forgotten them in the move. If she found anything else she could add them as well and give this to her landlord to forward to their proper owners.

The first aid kit looked like it was designed for the cabinet. She pulled it down to check the supplies inside. She liked the idea of having a first aid kit in the house but it would do her no good if it was empty. She opened the box and was taking inventory of the items when her front door burst open.

"What happened? Is everything okay?"

Pam, the woman she had called the "Woman from the wall" all evening, was standing in her entry way. 

"Everything is fine. What in the world are you doing? You can't keep busting in to my house like this!"

"You took down the first aid kit, it triggered the alarm. I'm here to help."

She was stunned. "What?"

"The first aid kit. It's on a pressure sensor. If you move it, it rings in my apartment. I'm the head of the Safety Committee so it's my responsibility to make sure you are okay. I cannot believe you STILL haven't read all of your paperwork." 

"It's a first aid kit. It's meant to be a tool to help yourself. If I needed outside help I would call 911. I don't even need any help right now. I was just taking inventory of the supplies."

"That is not your job. Monthly inspections happen that take care of that. You don't need to worry about it at all."

"What's the emergency? Is everyone okay?"

Now her landlord had joined them.

"She's fine, she moved the kit without knowing it would trigger an alarm. She STILL hasn't read the paperwork. I told you that she was not going to be a good fit."

"Now, Pam, it's early. Some people need more time to adjust than others."

"Yes, and people who have never been part of a unit never do. She's not former military or police or fire, she's just a civilian. A writer for fuck's sake. No history of joining any groups or organizations. After the accident she didn't even have any family left. She's solo, a loner. Loners don't work for groups!"

"Pam! That's enough, the committee decided and you are out of line."

She watched the exchange getting more and more disturbed, "What in the world are you talking about? Did you have me investigated or something? How do you know ANYTHING about me, let alone that much about me?"

"I told you we would be running checks after you put down the deposit."

"I assumed credit checks. To make sure I would be able to pay the rent. Not a background investigation. Who the hell are you people to get in to my business like this?"

"We're your community. We're part of your social fabric now. You're going to fit it nicely, I promise. I've read your books, you write about connections. We are going to help you live those connections."

She was completely creeped out. Forget the money, she would figure that out. She was going to have to move. This was not what she had signed up for at all. 

"What is this box?" Pam pointed at the Tupperware she had pulled out of the cabinet.

She shook her head. The way people changed the subject around here was exhausting. "Those are things that were left behind. I was gathering them to bring to the office later. I assume you have a way to contact the former tenants and let them know they missed some things packing."

"That's not possible. We do an inspection of each unit between tenants. There is no way that things could have been left behind."

"Well, I don't know what to tell you, Pam, but they were. Maybe the head of that committee isn't as on the ball as you are."

Pam nodded completely missing her sarcastic tone, "Yes, I guess not. I will have to bring this up at the next meeting."

And with that Pam left her apartment. Her landlord was still there. "I know it's been an odd couple of days and you are most likely thinking about moving right now. But I just want to advise you to rethink that. You have a lease with us, and it wouldn't be cost effective for you to break it. Just read your paperwork and come to me with any questions. I'm sure it will all feel totally normal soon enough. And you did have a good time last night, right?"

And that was the crazy part. She really had had a good time. It was weird and it was uncomfortable to be told where to go, but once she got there and spent time with Jay and Barbara putting up the winter village on the front lawn she really did have a good time. And the hot chocolate was the best she had ever had. 

"Yes. I did actually."

"I thought so. Look, I am rarely wrong about the people who move in here, and I do believe you will be a good fit. But you are going to have to read your tenant responsibility sheets and follow the house rules. Pam will keep being a thorn in your side until she sees you make an effort. And you don't want that."

"Is that a threat?"

"Oh no," her landlord laughed, "It's not meant to be a threat. It's just meant to be advice. I'll let you finish your unpacking. And if you find anything else that has been left behind, please let us know right away. I'll see you this afternoon at the community meeting."

He left her alone again. Community meeting? She dug out her monthly schedule and there it was, 2 PM meeting to welcome new tenants and get new community assignments. Great. Just great. 


Monday, November 20, 2017

Moving Day...

(Starting with an explanation)

I had this really detailed dream Saturday night. Which isn't all that unusual for me. I am a vivid dreamer. But I remember in the middle of the dream thinking, "this would make a great story," that's also not unusual for me. I often am aware that I am dreaming while I dream. I have really vivid nightmares as well and teaching myself how to redirect a dream is what led to this, I believe.

Anyway, when I woke up I thought about the dream and thought, "yeah, there is a story here." First thing in the morning before I got out of bed I opened my phone and took some notes so I would remember the frame work of the story. Because I was still pretty convinced it was a great story.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon when I was going to write the story. I opened my phone and read my notes and went over the dream in my head again and...what the hell? None of this makes sense. There are giant gaps here. Which is what happens in dreams. They tend to lurch along. You are in one place then you are in another with totally different people and it all make sense in the dream but how did you get there? Why are you there? And why is there an elephant in the corner?

So I closed my phone down and did not write that story. Go to bed last night and I am in the dream again. And this time the voice in my head says, "You know this is a story, you need to figure out how to write it or you are going to be dreaming it for weeks." So here we are. I still don't think it makes much sense but it's at least going to get the start of story and we will see where it leads.

Moving Day

It was a small apartment. Maybe even smaller than the first apartments she had shared with her husband years ago when they were first married and very broke. It didn't feel like a studio apartment but it wasn't exactly a one bedroom either. The living room would be her bedroom as well. The kitchen was set off from the living area. And there was a good sized bathroom with a dressing area. Which is what made it seem larger than a studio apartment, that extra space with an old fashioned mirrored table and padded bench seat. She thought she would probably move her desk in there and use it as an office area more than a dressing room but wasn't sure if it would be odd to be open to the bathroom like that.

But those decisions were for another day. Today she was tired and ready for bed. It had been a long day moving her small collection of boxes out of the old house and in to the new apartment. She didn't have much anymore. She had sold off or given away the majority of her things over the last year. It had taken a long time to pare down enough to move in to the new apartment. But that was okay, it had taken a long time for the unit to become available. She had decided to rent the smaller space almost right away, after...but when she had come to look and sign the papers they let her know that there was a waiting list. Smaller spaces were harder to find than larger ones it seemed.

She filled out the paperwork and put down the deposit and waited. Starting the process of selling off her life. The books and artwork first. She would only have room for a few things, and since it was back to a rental she wouldn't be putting any holes in the walls. Back to easels and double stick easy release tape for her. Clothes. Some of them were easy choices, after all she didn't need half of the things in the closet anymore, did she? Though she had to admit she kept a few things anyway. There was need and there was want. 

She sold almost all of the furniture, knowing that she would have to replace everything with smaller versions or multi-use versions. The couch needed to be a sofa bed. The desk needed to fit in the dressing room, and have storage spaces for her writing supplies. She would need storage that would double as living room and bedroom. Luckily Ikea seemed to have an entire section devoted to such items. It did make her a little depressed to see they were geared toward college age people. She actually sent in a recommendation that they could market them to an older crowd who found themselves downsizing and on their own for...reasons...

She was tired. The long day. The long year. It had all taken a lot out of her. But she was in her new space now. She would finish unpacking tomorrow and start the next phase of her life. She changed in to her new pajamas and made her sofa into her bed. Pajamas were a new thing as well, but she didn't feel comfortable sleeping in the nude in her living room. It just didn't seem like a good idea. Too vulnerable. She reached over and turned off the light. 

An hour later the light was switched back on. She startled awake and blinked at the harshness of the glare for a moment before realizing she was not alone. She sat up straight and looked around at the crowd of people in her living room.

"I told you she wasn't going to be ready to go." a woman leaning against her wall said.

"Did you not read the paperwork?" 

She looked toward the voice and saw her landlord near the entrance to the kitchen.

"What paperwork?"

"The paperwork I gave you. With the community activities list?"

"Excuse me, let's back up here a bit. Why are you all in my house? I didn't invite you in."

"I told you she was going to be a problem." the woman from the wall said.

"You didn't read any of the paperwork did you? It states very clearly that management must have access to your unit."

"I did read that, but that's for repairs and such. Not for midnight...midnight...what the hell is this exactly?"

"Oooohh...language! Community standards must be met!" the woman near the wall chimed in again.

Her landlord picked up the folder of paperwork she had left on the side table, he handed her a sheet. "Here."

She looked over the paperwork there was an all community work party on November 30th starting at 10 PM. They would be putting up Christmas decorations so they would be ready to go on December 1st. There were also a variety of activities through the holidays. Gift exchanges, pot lucks, caroling. She had known that it was an active community but..."Are these things mandatory?"

"Of course they are mandatory. It says community right there on the top of the sheet, does it not?"

"You can't be serious."

"Did I not tell you that we were an active community when you first applied for the unit?"

"Yes, but..."

"Did I not tell you we looked out for our own here and that is why it was such a good place for...well..people like you?"

"Yes, but again..."

"And did you not say you liked how nice everyone seemed?"

"Yes..."

"Well this is how we do things. When you did not arrive for the work party we formed a committee to come wake you up. Because, of course, you must have accidentally fallen asleep. It would be unheard of to miss your first activity. Especially one as important as this one. Imagine our surprise to find you in bed. On purpose."

"I wasn't surprised." the woman from the wall said.

"Look, she obviously doesn't want to be here and be a part of this. Just revoke her lease and move down the list." A new voice added.

She looked over to her left to see another one of her neighbors opening and closing her curtains. "What? You can't just revoke my lease like that."

"Oh yes we can. You signed the paperwork. If you disturb the peace you will be evicted and your deposit forfeited. You even initialed that line."

"I am not disturbing the peace! I was sleeping! You all are the ones disturbing the peace by breaking in to my apartment..."

"Management has the right to access the unit..."

"And demanding that I go help decorate..."

"Community activity..."

"I was quite peaceful!"

"You are yelling a bit now."

"Of course I am! This is very upsetting."

Her landlord spoke again, trying to soothe everyone's nerves, "There is no need to discuss eviction, just yet, you are new here, and I think most of us understand that it can take a little bit of getting used to. We have lived in such a disconnected world for so long, some of us didn't even know our neighbor's names in our old lives, it's a new sensation. Especially for someone like you who has been living alone for awhile. Please just get dressed and join us. There is no need to make a big deal out of this, for any of us," he pointedly looked toward the woman leaning against the wall, "and we have hot chocolate."

"Fine, I will go. But you all need to leave so I can change. I will meet you...where am I supposed to meet you?"

The woman against the wall made a disgusted sound, "It's on the sheet! Geez, you will have to start reading things, meet us in the rec room. We will expect you within 15 minutes."

She watched as her neighbors all filed out of her apartment. She looked around the cozy space, now feeling bigger and smaller than it did before she went to bed. What was she going to do now? She guessed that first thing tomorrow she would have to read everything in that folder...


Someone's at the Door...

I was listening to a story on NPR this morning about Native American artifacts that have been uncovered due to the hurricanes in Florida. They were talking to an archaeologist who was so excited to have access to these items now. Trees were blown over and when the root balls came up and the dirt around was exposed there were thousands of pieces to explore. It had been used as a trash dump site by the tribe that had the land back in 700 AD. She was talking about taking as much as they could to research and display. The whole time I was listening to her my face was doing that *my face thing* we discussed earlier. I was afraid they were just going to leave the story at "Excited Archaeological Discovery!"  Now I should have known better, it was NPR after all, they did talk to local tribes' members about how horrified they were that this was happening. Their belief is that if you disturb these items it will harm the rest of the spirits attached to them. You leave the dead and their things where they were buried. Let the dead rest.

The archaeologist, of course, did not hold to this belief. The research, the understanding of an ancient culture, the missing pieces of what was on this land before the Natives were driven out by disease and "progress" that was important. The members of the Tribes feel disrespected. They are telling her how to understand their culture, and that is to let the things be reburied.

It made me start thinking about two different things, the first being is there a more disrespected religion (or technically group of religions since each tribe varies somewhat) than Native American religions? If Christians today faced the actual disrespect that Native Americans face they would freak out. It's not "People don't say Merry Christmas!" It's "People are digging up our graveyards and putting things on display." It's "people are wearing our religious garments as drunk fest items." It's "people are building on our holy sites." And the complete dismissal of those beliefs as superstition, or ancient history is amazing.

And the other part is that a lot of people don't know anyone who practices any form of Native American beliefs. I come from a place where the culture is this mix of places and peoples and it became this really unique mash up. When the Spaniards tried to settle the area that is New Mexico they brought their religion, as they did everywhere, and tried to convert the Natives to their beliefs. It was met with varying rates of success. Now when I say convert you might have the image in your head of a nice Mormon kid or Jehovah's Witness on your porch asking you if you want to discuss their truth. Imagine that Mormon kid or Jehovah's Witness slicing open the throats of a few of your neighbors when they decided not to convert and then coming to your door and it's a closer version.

And it wasn't just the Spaniards and their bloody conversions there were times they would set up a church and small settlement and then move on only to come back and discover that the Natives had decided not to convert after all and all of the priest were gone and the villagers were either missing or "gone Native" as well. Conversion or non-conversion by blood was the standard.

But what also happened is that the Catholicism that did stick became mixed with the Native beliefs. There is a difference in the churches where I come from than the ones back east. There was a blending of cultures even in conversion. I grew up in a protestant house but even with that there were more somewhat supernatural aspects to faith than there would be in a protestant house in the Bible Belt. Enough of my friends believed in Saints and Dia de Los Muertos and Shamans and the like that it was mixed in to my growing up. (Saints are Catholic from the Spanish influence, Dia de los Muertos is Mexican traditions and Shamans are Native American)

And part of that is because my parent's faith has a very open door policy to it. By that I mean the living are in one room and the dead in another but sometimes the door between the rooms isn't shut so tightly. They believe strongly (and it's a tenant of most if not all Christian faiths) that the dead go on living, just in a different way. For them it's heaven. Though they can be around you at times. Sort of a just visiting clause. And you honored your dead, and spoke of them as though they were still around. In a way.

For instance my father died right before Father's Day. On that Sunday my oldest brother said it was nice that Dad was going to spend the day with his three children he had not been able to before. That it was Marsha's, Marcia's and Mark's turn now. And how nice that was. The thought of it brought him great comfort. When my mother dies she wants her ashes and my father's ashes spread on the east side of the mountain. When Dad died she had dreams of seeing his silhouette on the top of the mountain standing with three other silhouettes. She took that to mean Dad was with their three children they lost, waiting for her. It's comforting to her.

And that religious belief had to have been so important for them when they lost three children. Believing that though it hurt to lose them, they were not gone forever, they would be reunited after death? That probably kept them sane while they dealt with every parent's worst nightmare, three different times.

But growing up what it meant is that my two older sisters who died right after they born and my older brother who died when he was 6 were still talked about in my house. They all died decades before I was ever born but even with that they were part of my family and I always felt closest to Mark. My mother used to tell me that we looked alike. I would scour his baby pictures trying to see the resemblance. Because I don't look like my other siblings. I look like my mother and they resemble my father. So the thought that Mark and I would have looked alike was great. It meant I wasn't really from the milk man after all!

And even though I don't believe what they all believe about heaven, that feeling of the door between the living and dead being kept open is a part of my basic sense of life. You see it in my fiction. A lot of what I write doesn't have a clear delineation between the living and the dead. They interact pretty consistently. My actual belief is that when someone is gone they are gone but my creative take is that they are still around. Though, I guess it's not entirely accurate for me to say I think they are gone. I think what remains is what lives on with you. I still have my father with me, for instance.

While the rest of my family waits to be reunited with him after death I keep him alive in my thoughts. And in a way I have a firmer hold on him now than I did when he was alive. Because he's frozen in space and time now. He's not still changing. I have his essence, in a way. I have the parts that he gave to me. His beliefs about life that formed me. And I access those all the time. Brent and I will hear something or see something and comment about how much Dad would have liked that, or hated it. We do the same with his father. What we have from them is what they left to us.

With our mothers what we have is constantly changing. Because they are still living and to live is to change. My mother is quite a bit older than his and so we have the random nature of 85 year old woman to add to the mix. My mother is brilliant and funny and kind. She is also bossy and critical and snippy. The mix changes depending on the phone call that day. When I was growing up the good parts were pretty much the most prevalent, though the other was always there as well. (Sound familiar to any who has dealt with GD and BD?) As she has aged there are days where the more pleasant aspects are tucked away a little tighter. So you don't know what you are going to get. With the memories of my father I know what I am getting. So that's what I mean by having a firmer hold on him now.

So back to the NPR story. We have an archaeologist who wants to display these artifacts to show the world the missing pieces in our country's history. We have descendants of these tribes saying that they don't want it to happen because it is disrespectful to their religious beliefs. Where do you come down on this? Does the need for education overrule the religious beliefs? Would your opinion change if it were a Christian settlement being excavated? And would that change be because it's not part of that religion to tie objects to the spirits of those that used them? Is it a lack of understanding of different faiths that is really the issue? Or do you think the level of respect given to each religion is uneven? Should the dead be able to rest or should we say it's superstition and nonsense?


Or, and this is what I believe, should she be worried about how tightly that door is shut?