Friday, October 31, 2014

Come out from Behind the Lens

I wrote this post for my travel blog. But I thought it was worth posting here too. Because it is not just important when exploring the world, it is important when interacting with the world.

Some things are not meant to be photographed. Some things require you to be present. For you to have a direct link between it, your eye, your memory.

I minored in photography in college. I will always remember one piece of advice my favorite instructor gave:

"Be sure you don't always experience the world from behind your camera."

If you put the camera down, you are requiring yourself to engage, to see, to keep. On this trip, I took many photographs, some of those you can find on this blog. I have a lot of good ones, a few great ones, and one or two worth printing and framing. That's a decent photo ratio.

But there are some things I didn't get a photo of. And that is ok. I got the moment. The memory.

I don't have photos of polar bears. Too far away and too weak a lens. Taking Northern Lights pictures would have been impossible on the moving train leaking light pollution. And the stars... the stars...

I was only ever meant to gaze in wonder and remember.

If you take a photo of something amazing, it is wonderful and fun to look at it and reminisce.

But if you require yourself to call up a memory--to revisit a moment stored in your mind--you experience so much more. You can remember the sounds around you. The taste of the air. The surge of feelings you had.

When you look at a photograph, you remember where it was taken. When you recall a memory, you remember what happened. How you interacted with the universe at that moment.

Photos are beautiful. Memories are invaluable.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Headed Out

I'm leaving on my road trip in one week days and I am insanely excited. I'll be documenting it all on my travel blog, for those of you who want to follow from home.

Northern Lights | My new trip on!

See you on the flip side!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Devil I Know

“You sure do like the bad boys.”

That was a comment from a coworker visiting my cube. Don’t worry. It wasn’t someone sexually harassing me or editorializing on my love life. It was a very literal comment from a fellow nerd.

It was because of this:
Walter White. Bane. The Alien, a tribble, and Arya (who is not as much a bad guy as a badass). Those are my desk buddies. Excuse me, but they are not toys. They are collectable action figures. OK, they are toys. And for the record, only 50% of them are actually boys. Arya is most certainly a girl (according to my niece, you can tell by the eyelashes). The Alien is a Queen, and she would be happy to discuss it further with you. The tribble? Well, truth is, I haven’t examined it that closely.

But, all joking aside, my coworker did pose an interesting question. Why am I attracted to the bad guys?

The short answer is: I’m really not. Not in real life. I won’t ever buy a Ray Rice jersey. I don’t read books about Charles Manson or Dick Cheney. I don’t give two shits what Sarah Palin has to say today, tomorrow, or ever.

The more involved answer is that—like it or not—the bad guys are attractive.

For the record, I have both a Superman and Batman shirt. I dressed as Wonder Woman last Halloween. I do love a good hero. Thinking about that for a moment, I can see an interesting trend. I like to collect the bad boys. But I like to BE the hero. I am sure there is some psychology student’s thesis in that.

And to be fair, I don’t have the really scary villains displayed on my desk. The ones made of the purist evil. Even that prickly little Alien, she was only trying to protect her kids. And, really, those humans were invading her space.

But I don’t have the Jason Voorhees trading card. I don’t really care about Lex Luthor. And I never want to be near a plastic clown toy from It.

Aside: Here is proof that clowns are Satan’s little helpers. When I was about Kidlet’s age, my Dr. Sister and I both had these cute clown dolls with big, painted-on smiles and silky outfits with ruffles around the sleeves. Dr. Sis was pretty attached to hers, and it got a little grungy—as cherished cuddle objects are wont to do. It was the early days of cable television, and we were often sent into the deep, dark woods of daytime HBO unsupervised. And it was there that everything changed in our young lives… One day, we were watching Poltergeist… with that horrible clown doll… I mean the one parked in my sister’s lap, not the one on the TV trying to strangle the fictional kid living in the haunted house.

Shudder. Anyway…

But hells yeah I love Loki, Darth Maul, Keyser Soze. OMG. Is there a Keyser Soze action figure?!? I must have it!

I think my point is this… I abhor evil for evil’s sake. I don’t understand it and I want to be far away from it. There has been real, true evil that has touched my life. Sometimes it is the organic evil of encroaching disease. Sometimes it is the man-made evil that I have unknowingly unleashed into my life and the life of my Kidlet. I know what real evil looks like. And I want nothing to do with it. Not in the real world or in the world of make-believe. In my literature, film, and pop-culture consumption, I have never cheered for the true evil.

But, as is evident in my office cube, I have a clear and overt attraction to characters who are strong, and brave, and even brutal, if brutality is called for. I don’t always agree with their methods or their causes. But these super bad boys (and girls) are doing what they need to do to survive. I understand why Dexter kills, why Deadpool is a mercenary, why Catwoman steals.

I get that. I even, in some ways, admire that. And yes, I do like those bad boys.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Raising a Bad Ass

Kidlet was accepted to join a competitive team of kids in the FIRST LEGO League competition. FLL is a ridiculously cool program focusing on science, engineering and problem-solving for kids 9-14 years old. In other words, the kids who we will all be working for in 25 years.

But like everything in life, with participation comes meetings. At least this meeting had brownies—something lacking in that morning’s project meeting at work.

I looked around at the mostly moms and some dads that were listening to the team coach go over expectations and practice schedules. And I couldn’t help but notice… One of these moms was not like the others. One of these moms just didn’t belong.

One of us was wearing a sleeveless roller derby shirt with a prominent—if inadvertently displayed—tattoo on her shoulder and a diamond in her nose to match the ones running up her left ear.

True, one of the moms seated nearby was sporting some ink. A tiny outline of a heart on her foot, about the size of a dime. Hardcore.

One of us was wearing a short skirt that revealed all the bruises on her legs, caused by both falling while attempting a turn-around toe stop and by injections of Avonex. And it was a good thing that the bruises were there. They kept people from immediately noticing that neither time nor the energy was spent shaving the aforementioned legs.

True, one of the moms was telling us that the reason she was looking frump was because she was coming from yoga class. And, oh, are these brownies gluten-free?

You have probably cracked my secret code by now. Yes… This oddball woman I write of is actually me. It is hard to believe, I know. I will give you a moment to ponder and accept this. It is true. I still haven’t shaved my legs.

The other moms in the room were all very lovely women. Very nice. Very accommodating and helpful. Very willing to share the secret to chewy—not crusty—brownies.

Aside: For all you readers living outside the great state of Utah, you might think I am painting this picture with too wide a brushstroke. Let me assure you, I am not. I won’t go so far to call the Wasatch Front moms Stepford wives. Maybe Stepford-ish or Stepford Lite. Wait, that sounds more like a beer…

You will have to take my word for it. I am the odd (wo)man out. And, for a kid, it is hard enough to be hurdling towards puberty without also having to deal with having “that mom.”

We all can think back and remember the classmate of ours who had “that mom.” The one who got to watch R-rated movies (yes, kiddo and I watch our favorite Christmas movie—Die Hard—together every year), was never in trouble for cursing (Kidlet has had to deal with a shit-ton of things that would stagger most grown-up. I think he has earned the right for an occasional swear word), or always stayed up until all hours (I have neither the time or inclination to drag Kidlet to bed by his ear. If he is tired in the morning, it’s his own damn fault).

So yeah. I am “that mom.” Making my kid “that kid.” And who in the hell wants to be “that kid.” I felt really bad about it. I want his life to be just a little bit easier than mine was. I want him to feel good about himself. I want him to be successful in school. Academic but popular. Cool but nerdy (in the best way possible). The kid that you want to both cheat off of and go skateboarding with.

But I had made him “that kid.” I was feeling a little down as we were climbing into the car for the drive home.

“I’m sorry I’m not like the other moms,” I started. But before I could launch into the speech I had structured in my head—an explanation that it is OK to be different, but that I never wanted to embarrass him in front of his friends—he said this:

“I know. It’s because you are a bad ass. I like that about you. It’s awesome.”

And he went on reading his Lego League handouts, not giving it another thought.

I just shut up, and we simply continued basking in our mutual bad-assery. I like that about us.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Punch Drunk

I have started—then deleted—this post at least a dozen times. I am having trouble wrapping my brain around the things I want to say. I can’t seem to capture and hold all my thoughts.

But it's in the ether today. I have unavoidably viewed the Ray Rice video so many times that I have lost count. I have memorized it. I know exactly when that huge fist begins to rise up. It is a repeating loop playing on every news site I visit. And now a repeating loop in my head. Every time I see Ray Rice violently assault his now-wife Janay, my thoughts are shaken up and reordered. And I am sure that is nothing compared to Janay’s thoughts today.

It is just such an ugly instance of what is most certainly one of the worst parts of humanity.
I am not referring to the images of a 220-pound Running Back knocking out his girlfriend. I’m talking about our reaction to it. It is so easy to see 30 seconds of surveillance footage and begin to pass judgments. But not against the violent man who knocked out the woman he claims to love, dragging her out of the elevator and leaving her on the floor exposed to whomever was watching. I’m talking about judgment of Janay.

Across the country, people are asking how this woman could sit next to this man at a press conference. How could she defend him? How could she stay?

Why doesn’t she leave? Because it isn’t that easy. It isn’t that simple. I know from my own personal experience. We are not always able to extract ourselves from a volatile and dangerous situation. At least, not without a huge cost to and risk of our safety and security.

About ten years ago, I worked as a grant writer for the Legal Aid Society. This non-profit group consisted of both lawyers and paralegals who worked for far below what they could earn in a private firm. They did it because they knew what they were doing was important. They help victims of domestic violence obtain protective orders against their perpetrators. They do everything they can to help these people, and the only thing they can give them for armor is a piece of paper signed by a judge. That is the only shield that they can give these victims to arm themselves.

We need to do better.
The most dangerous time for people in a domestic violence situation is when they decide to leave. And once someone eventually can summon the courage, the money, and the outside support they require to leave, they still aren’t safe. In fact, they are more in danger than ever before. Remember that Nicole Brown Simpson had left.

I really didn’t intend to make this post about why people stay in a dangerous home or relationship. There is an amazing, powerful discussion happening about that very topic in cyberspace right now. Go to Twitter and search for #WhyIStayed. Take 15 minutes and watch Leslie Morgan Steiner’s hugely powerful TED Talk.

"Why I Stayed" is absolutely a conversation worth having.

But here is the thing: it doesn’t matter why she stayed. Not one bit. What matters is her situation today. Right now. What matters is her feeling supported, not judged and abandoned. What matters is her safety and the safety of her children.

This is a huge issue to tackle, and I certainly do not kid myself by thinking I can even scratch the surface of this ubiquitous, nefarious problem. I don’t know how we can ever truly protect those in our society against the people who intend to do them harm. And that is such a helpless feeling. We fight with such weak weapons. A restraining order isn’t bulletproof. Hell, it isn’t even fistproof.

One thing we can do is actually punish those who do the harm in hopes of protecting the victims and serving as a deterrent for further abuse. But… That hardly ever happens. Not really. What if we, as a society, prosecuted acts of domestic violence with the zeal that we incarcerate college kids caught with a joint?

We need to do better as a society. We owe ourselves that much. We need to provide safe exits, family support, and substantial legal penalties.

Instead, we blame victims and make jokes.

And we do laugh. We need to admit that about ourselves. We make light of it. All in the name of comedy. It starts with Ralph Kramden. “One of these days, Alice… Pow! Right to the moon!”
Cue the laugh track.

That is the beginning of minimizing the pain of domestic violence. It desensitizes us to the idea of a man hitting his wife. And it leads to Giant Bags of Douche Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy reminding all the Fox News viewers that if you intend to punch your girlfriend, you would be wise to remember that there are cameras in the elevators. Best take the stairs, they advise.

Does the Honeymooners sitcom really give tacit permission to those jackasses on Fox to make jokes? I think it kind of does, yes.

Things around here need to change. But I’m not holding my breath. I guess, like everything else in life, we need to tackle this in small bites. Excuse the football pun.

This is where my thoughts come to rest most. At least for today. I’m not going to ask why Janel stays. That isn’t the question I need to be answered right now.

I want to know why the NFL reacted to the assault of a woman by one of their employees only after it became a public relations problem for them. I think we all need to take a few minutes and chew on that one before we tune in this Sunday.

These days, most employment applications ask: Have you been convicted of a crime? We should all demand that the NFL ask the very same questions of their players as they do of the woman who answers their phones.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Near Life Experiences

If there is anything less satisfying than buying new tires, it is buying a new furnace. But that is exactly what I did this last weekend.

My Grandpa Mustache always said that I should always sleep with the window cracked so I didn't wake up dead. As it turns out, he was onto something. When Furnace Guy was loading my old equipment into the back of his van to make room for my shiny, new, energy-efficient Amana, he showed me a giant crack in the heating element. That crack--as it turned out--allowed the escape of toxic carbon monoxide gas into the basement of my house. Where I sleep. 
Furnace Guy said: I’m surprised you woke up.

You know that feeling you get when you ALMOST get into a car accident? That surge of adrenaline that makes your heart race and your head spin? That was my reaction when I learned that my furnace was trying to kill me. I experienced a crazy high. I had escaped a near death experience without even knowing it.

Even though I was fully awake and upright, and even though I was watching the murderous furnace being hauled away, my adrenaline surged through me.

And that surge--my friends--is caused by a chemical compound called epinephrine. This is a drug conveniently manufactured and delivered by our very own bodies. Let’s all take a moment to thank our medulla for bringing home the good stuff.
Like our fellow vertebrate animals, we experience the flight-or-fight response when we are faced with a threat to our survival. We are programmed to want to survive. It’s hard-wired into our brains.

Aside: How fascinating would it be if the MS chewed up my fight-or-flight wiring? If that ever happens, I am totally pitching it as a reality TV show. It can be a cross between Fight Club and New Yankee Workshop.

Anyway, I’ve been called an adrenaline junkie more than once. And maybe I am that. But I am not really a daredevil. Are those things mutually exclusive? I’m not sure. I think I can define it like this: I love roller coasters but hate heights.

Yes, I know. It’s weird.

But I understand why I love coasters. They make me feel…well… alive. I feel alive when I am cresting the peak of that first, can’t-turn-back-now hill. I feel the exhilaration overpower the fear. And make no mistake that it is real, true fear. Instinctual fear rooted in the back of all of our caveman brains.
Maybe the thing that gives us that adrenaline high is feeling the fear that something stirs, and then doing that thing anyway. What if the reason we stand for an hour in a line to ride the coaster is not for the actual ride? What if it is about overcoming the fear enough to step into that metal car and strap in? That is where the true victory lives. Not in the passive act of sitting still while the coaster cars click their way up that hill. It’s in the basic act of committing yourself to the ride. It’s quite a simple thing, really. Courage is just deciding to do it, then doing it. That’s it.

It felt a little scary knowing that my major home appliances had taken out a hit on me. But I’m not too worried. That furnace better get in line behind brain plaque, derby girls, and fifth graders.