Thursday, December 31, 2015

15 in '15

The end of the year is most often marked by lists. Here is one of my own. I present the 15 most important things I learned this year:

1. There is nothing more important than having the right job for you.

I can not recall another point in my life where I could honestly say that I love my job. I can say it now. This last year, I have worked on projects with powerhouse teams from eBay, HP, Clearlink, and Prudential. I have traveled for work to New York, San Jose, Charlotte, and Seattle. I've received awards and job offers because of my work. I've met some of the best people I have ever had the privilege of working with.

2. Art matters.

Take a moment to look around you. Find something of yours that you love. And take a minute to acknowledge that it would not exist unless some artist pulled it out of a creative brain.

3. But art is really hard sometimes.

I've been working on my book that started as a novel and has evolved into a series of linked short stories. And I am drawing from many of the experiences I have had in my life. It can be really, really painful. But, as I write, I can feel the poison of these hurts leaving me. I can feel these splinters of pain fester out of my body. Sometimes, as I write, it hurts like hell. I can only hope it makes for some good reading.

4. Always have something on your calendar that you are looking forward to.

At this point, my geekness has been very well established. So it will shock none of you that for the past couple months, I had been counting the days until the new Star Wars was released. (Worth the wait! I loved it!)

What's next? Ireland in March!

Life is just a little bit easier when you have something to look forward to.

5. The world is full of injustice.

Gun violence. Police brutality. Bill Cosby. It's been a hard year and a lot of feeling helpless. A lot of guilt for bringing a kid into this chaos.

6. But there really might be a thing to karma.

But then, at--almost literally--the 11th hour, Cosby gets indicted. That nudges at my belief that things really do come around.

7. Sharing something you love with your kid--and having him love it to--it one of the best things about being a parent.

8. And being an aunt is the best job in the world.

9. Lesions happen.

That new on on the right? I've named him Duane.

10. It's an illusion to think you are in control.

But you also can't throw your future into the false idea of predestination. I know, I know. I have no explanation of how both of these thoughts can co-exist. I'm working on it.

11. Beauty and wisdom can appear in surprising places.

This was a birthday card to my son, from his friend Theddus.

It reads:

Happy birthday Nathan. Don't worry about your height. Worry about your heart and how kind it is and your brain and how smart you are. People that judge you about your height will be working for you. God only has things grow until they're perfect. You just got there before me.

I will never achieve that level of writing. Such purpose and heart.

12.  Bad, bad shit happens and no one does much about it.

13. But, despite it all, there is some progress.

14. We are worth so much more than what we settle for. 

Well, most of us, anyway.

15. It's important to believe in magic.

Here's to a 2016 filled with happiness, art, wisdom, and lessons. And maybe just a touch of magic.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Nice Day for a Write Wedding

NOTE: My head is swimming with the news from Paris. I have so much to say, and yet I cannot organize any of my thoughts. So, I will put off blogging about this crazy world we occupy. For now, I will fill my thoughts with the mundane.


NaNoWriMo is halfway over. And I am hovering around 30,000 words, which means I am on track for the writing goal and victory over NaNo. So, it is only natural that my writing has ground to a halt. Because I have found myself in the unlikely situation of planning a wedding.

Thankfully, it's not my own.

I've come to have a Pavlovian response to seeing a woman in an uncomfortable white dress. Hearing Mendelssohn sets my teeth on edge. If I see one more cake pop decorated to look like it is wearing a tuxedo...

Ugh. I hate weddings. And, as I am word vomiting my November writing quota, I have accidentally come to the precipice of just that. There simply needs to be a wedding to move my story forward. And I have no idea how I am going to write it.

I don't really have memories of good wedding memories to draw from. And no wedding on TV is ever a the joyous occasion it attempts to be. Weddings in movies are forever leveraging the common tropes of Americana storytelling. So I can't even steal from those.

I've hit a wedding wall.

Let's review the last few weddings of note that I have experienced. It might help you understand my aversion.

Total Douchebag Dumps Me at Denny's
While this one doesn't actually occur at a wedding, you will be able to see how it lays the groundwork for my wedding distaste. The story of how I became engaged to Denny's Dude is a pretty short one.

“I think we should get married,” I told him one day. And that was it. We were engaged.

A few months later, we were sitting in a diner, because I was craving pancakes. Breakfast for dinner has always been one of my favorites. I asked him if he wanted to wear a tuxedo or a suit for the wedding. He didn't reply. I told him I felt like he didn't want to help plan our wedding. He said that he guessed he didn't.

Then he said that he didn't want to get married. And as fast and unceremoniously as we were betrothed, we were broken up. Boy, can I pick 'em.

Total Douchebag Ruins My Reception
My wedding itself was quite lovely. And went off without a hitch. It wasn't until three weeks later--at the second reception in California--that Douchebaggery occurred. The night before this reception, I had a terrible fight with my newly-minted husband because he was incredibly rude to my father.

I was furious. I will put up with a lot in this life. But... Never. Disrespect. My. Father.

And we broke the cardinal rule of married folk and went to bed angry.The next morning, we hardly spoke. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that he would not speak to me. Not one word as I did my hair up like I had at our wedding. Nothing as I dressed in a semi-formal white gown that was perfect for a late-morning, second reception. I was holding it together because it had taken me forever to apply my mascara the way I wanted it for pictures. I put my wedding headpiece in my hair and we met my parents at the car. 

Still not a word from the hubby.

I climbed in the back seat with my mom. My dad opened his car door and told me that I looked great. Still no words from the man I married. But my husband found another way to communicate. He proceeded to drive the streets and freeways of Los Angeles recklessly and at a frightening speed. When my mom reacted to a particularly harrowing moment by grabbing my leg, I told him to either stop driving like he was or to pull over and let us out.

I met his gaze in the rearview mirror. That was when I started crying. My eyes were red and swollen for the next three hours. And I’ve got the reception pictures to prove it.

Total Douchebag Takes Me to a Family Wedding. 
The invitation to this wedding was huge for me. It meant so much to me. I was going to meet this DB's entire family. And, even better, they were going to meet me. I hate to brag, but moms love me. Moms love it if I am dating their son. And once the mom is on board, it doesn’t take much for the whole rest of the family to join Team Elys.

I was so excited that he invited me. I felt like it was a sign that our relationship was moving forward, that we were becoming closer. I was a great date. I was accommodating, and flexible. Helpful and delightful. When he and his brothers went golfing before the rehearsal dinner, I took the rental car and went out alone to explore the town. At dinner, I made an extra effort to overcome my occasional shyness and talk to the guests.

Before the wedding, I accompanied him to the country club, then sat alone for a couple hours while family pictures were taken and groomsmen duties were undertaken. When he complained of the oppressive Southern heat, I ran out to get slushies, to which I added a shot of Jack Daniels. It’s an old college trick, and I was happy to trot it out. When his brother complained of a headache, I dug ibuprofen out of my tiny, vintage bag. I held babies, purses, and drinks during pictures.

You know that scene in The Godfather when Michael Corleone pulls Kay into the family picture at his sister’s wedding? Yeah. That did not happen with me.

But I was a goddamn great date. It was only later that I found out that I was his second choice.

As I was pulling myself out of the rubble of that particular relationship, I was contacted by another woman that had experienced the destructive effects of dating this guy. She was kind and wonderful. After talking to her, I felt better. Mostly. But I didn't escape without one more nail in my anti-wedding coffin.

She told me that he had begged her to go to the wedding with him . She said he wouldn't take no for an answer. She told me how he had sent her dozens and dozens of texts and pictures that weekend, and he kept telling her how he wished she were there.

That fucker. I was the second choice. I was so excited to meet his family. To be included in this wedding weekend. I thought that it meant that we were going to spend our lives traveling and making love and seeing symphonies and shopping for antiques.

And all that time, I was his second choice.

All of these stories are finding a place in my 50,000 November words. One way or another. Maybe I should change the title to Total Douchebag Chronicles. What do you think? Too cliche?

Here's the thing. I want my story's heroine to have a wonderful wedding and a wonderful--if fictional--life. I think I owe her that much.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Write Way

I think it has been well established that I tend to learn lessons the hard way. And I've once again committed to write.

It's only a couple days until we start November. And I've signed up for NaNoWriMo, pledging to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

I did this last year. And I have to admit, it was effective. My word vomit (formatted to look like a novel) has begun to take shape. Instead of it becoming a novel in the truest sense of the word, it has become a short story collection, wrapped within the adventure of a road trip to see the Northern Lights.

I'm calling it Trapped in the Badlands & Other Natural Disasters.

It's not exactly memoir, though it is certainly rooted in my life and my experiences. And it will be the manuscript I will workshop during my March writer's retreat in Ireland. The retreat is called Singing Over the Bones, and it explores female myths and archetypes. I've got quite a few bones to sing over.

I've got a couple story ideas to chew on for the next month. But for the next four weeks, Badlands will sit and ferment. Which is good. It's helpful. It will show me the way through some subtly tricky plot points in a couple of the stories. Some personally painful stories.

But art should be hard. Writing should be emotional. What's the point if art's creation and consumption does not induce feelings?

Anyway, I'm off to write 50,000 words. I'll keep you all up to date about the progress.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Butcher’s Bill

Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson was an officer in the Royal Navy during the war against Napoleon, noted for his genius regarding battle strategy and tactics.

Before retiring to his cabin for the evening after a day of battle, he would shout to his orderly, “What’s the butcher’s bill for today?”

In other words, what is the casualty count?
A couple weeks ago, I was flying into Newark on an early morning United flight. It was a beautiful September morning. And it did not escape me that it was almost 14 years ago to the day that another United airplane was flown into Lower Manhattan. Every other time I had been to New York, I flew into either Kennedy or LaGuardia airport. I don’t remember those flights ever offering up the view of the city nearly as beautiful as the one I was getting onboard the flight to New Jersey. As we were turning for the final approach, we were over the Hudson River. With an amazing view of the Statue of Liberty. And the sun reflecting off the recently opened One World Trade Center.

There is really no better word for what I was feeling than patriotic. I was thinking about how we are a nation of immigrants, whose first glimpse of our country was that statue of a woman whose lamp would lead them home. I was thinking about how we rose from the ashes of an unparalleled terrorist attack with literal and figurative grace and beauty.

Yeah, those were short-lived feelings. Because, soon after I was thinking of the Syrian families risking their lives to flee their homes for not much more than giving their children a chance at a better life. And Europe is not doing enough. And the US is not doing enough.

Aside--Don’t you think that Europe owes a tremendous karmic debt for what they allowed to happen during WWII? Just sayin’.

Then I thought about the window dressing our country displays in a ridiculous stage show of artificial safety. Just that morning, I had to take off my shoes to walk in stocking feet to the body scanner. Which didn’t effectively persuade the TSA that there was nothing on my knee other than my kneecap. So before I was allowed the dignity of footwear, I got a pat down of my legs.
Last week, there was another school shooting. Sadly, when I first saw the footage on the break room television, my first thought was not, “Oh no!” It was, “Now where?”

So what’s the butcher’s bill? 

What’s the tipping point? At what point will our country cry uncle and take a serious look at our problem we have with guns?

I understand that the Constitution gives us the right to have guns. We have that freedom. And if I suggest that we, as a country, revise our current gun accessibility, the first response I will hear is “It’s our 2nd Amendment right!”

Aside--It has only been very recently determined by the Supreme Court that the 2nd Amendment applied to individual rights to own guns. All previous interpretations (decades of interpretations) of the Court determined that the 2nd Amendment was preserving the right of States to maintained well-regulated militias. And note the wording of the Amendment. It says it right there. Well-regulated.

So, OK. We have the freedom to have guns. But I think the discussion needs to be this. What is the price of that freedom?

Walking through a metal detector in order to see a movie? Metal detectors are being installed in theaters across the country.

Having your bag search when you go to a concert? A sporting event? Disneyland? Apparently I waive my right to privacy if I want to ride Space Mountain.

But what about this one. Every morning, when you send your child off to school, you have a fleeting thought, wondering if he will make it home safely that night. Wondering if he will be shot. Is that freedom? Is that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? We need to--as a county--have a conversation about guns.

On October 21,1805, during his final victory at the battle of Trafalgar, Admiral Nelson was shot and killed.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

You Knew I Had to Go There

When I was a little girl, my mom would tell me to quit rolling my eyes because they might stick in mid-roll and I would be left with only my peripheral vision. In true Mythbusters fashion, I have tested that theory to the limit this last week. My eyes were rolling to within an inch of their poor, MS-riddled lives. For this was the week of Kim Davis. (For the record, my eyes have not stuck into the feeding shark position. I have, however, had a pretty decent headache for the last couple days.)
It’s a funny dichotomy, this conversation around the devout—if incredibly short-sighted and hypocritical—Clerk of Kentucky’s Rowan County. Because I hate the message she is sending, and I have to defend her right to say it.

At home. She has the right to say it at home. She has to wait to defend “marriage as God intended it” after she leaves the County Clerk’s office. After she finishes her workday as a (very well compensated) public official. You know what? She doesn’t even have to wait until she gets home. She has the right to stand on the sidewalk in front of the her office and display her bigotry by screaming at couples in love and waiving God Hates Fags signs.
But not on our dime, she doesn’t.
If she truly believed that she was angering God, Davis should quit her job. If she really believed that she could not have her name on a piece of paper joining together two people that love each other, she should sacrifice herself to her beliefs. Put her money where her many-times-married mouth is. She should quit her $80,000 a year job as a declaration of her piety. She should find the courage of her convictions.

But, of course, that is not what she did. Because Kim Davis is a hypocritical, bigoted coward. You know, just the kind of person that the Republican Presidential candidates want to align themselves with. Be photographed next to. Ugh.
As Americans, we all have a right to religious freedom. We all get to have our opinions and we all get to express those opinions. And we all get to be called out if we are spewing hate based on flawed logic. We all get to be mocked when we cherry pick the rules of the Bible that benefit our lives while ignoring the ones that may cause us to think. Or to perhaps become a better person.

And to say that anyone else's life choices impacts the sincere beliefs and choices you, yourself, make—you are allowed to make—only displays the religious insanity of your mind. By the way, when I say choices, I mean things like deciding to marry the person you love. I know being gay is not a choice. Being fabulous, on the other hand...

If your faith and your marriage are so fragile that I can break both by getting married to a woman, then you need to seriously reevaluate both your faith AND your marriage.

Aside—Is it only gay people that marry each other that will be condemned to hell? What about a gay man that is shamed and religiously beaten to the point where he marries a woman and makes both of their lives miserable? I think that he deserves that little marshmallow-over-the-campfire feeling too. Don’t you, Kim Davis?

According to Talmudic law, Orthodox Jews are not allowed to light a fire on the Sabbath. They take the Sabbath very seriously, above all other religious dictates. It's a big deal. Shabbat is right there among the Big 10. Ranking somewhere between Michigan State and Rutgers.

I kid, I kid. The Ten Commandments rank keeping the Sabbath holy right after taking the Lord’s name in vain and above both the ban on adultery and murder. So yeah, it’s a big deal. And on the Sabbath, you aren’t allowed to make a fire. So what do you do when you have to warm your house or light your stove on a cold Friday night? 

You hire a Shabbat Goy.

A Goy is a non-Jew. A Shabbat Goy is someone that you can hire for a mandated paltry fee (usually a dime or the end slices of a loaf of bread) to do the necessary tasks that need to be completed during the time period in which you are forbidden to do so. That way, the fire to warm your house is lit without a) you having to work on the Sabbath and b) without asking some other believer to break the Shabbat-no-work rules.

I feel like there is something kind of nobility in that. I know the stakes are low, compared to forever roasting in a hell pit with those damned married gays. But needing a Shabbat Goy is an inconvenience, to be sure. And Orthodox Jews do it anyway. And for the Goy himself (or herself, to be fair), helping light that stove—or babysit the kids or fixing a leaking pipe or running down to the corner store—those Goys are doing a true mitzvah. An act of human kindness.

Today’s Shabbat Goys are in great company. Among their ranks: Colin Powell, Martin Scorsese, and Harry Truman.  And you know who else? One teenage Elvis Presley.
I will never understand how anyone could spend any amount of time worried about what a couple in love are doing if they are not a part of said couple. I just don’t get it. Kim Davis is refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples because she feels that it violates her religious beliefs. Isn’t it obvious what she needs?
Kim Davis needs a Shabbat Gay.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Being and Somethingness

I’m having a bit of an existential crisis. I attribute it to the fact that, at work, I am sitting next to a guy that got a Doctorate in 20th Century Philosophy. And we get to talking about all sorts of things. Sometimes, I think it is better to surround yourself with stupid people. Or maybe the problem is that I have surrounded myself with stupid people for too long.

See? Existential crisis.

But really, I blame Alex.

I was four years old when Alex was born. And he died young—at 31—from atherosclerosis. Sclerosis—as you might remember—means to scar. And those scars are no better in the heart than they are in the brain. Poor Alex.

Alex may well be remembered among the giants of existential philosophy, alongside Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, and Sartre. Which is most impressive when you consider that Alex is an African grey parrot, purchased at a pet store by psychologist Irene Pepperberg when he was only a year old.

And Dr. Pepperberg taught Alex (which is an acronym for Avian Language Experiment) to talk. Not just repeat words back to you, but to actually think and then communicate.

Alex could correctly identify 50 different objects, recognize quantities up to six, and categorize seven colors and five shapes. Alex could comprehend the concepts of bigger and smaller, same and different, over and under. Alex could communicate his emotions, such as surprise or frustration. He was able to tell his handlers when he was angry with them. Dr. Pepperberg has even speculated that Alex understood the concept of zero. During one session with Alex, Pepperberg asked him the difference between two identical objects. Alex answered, “None.”

That small grey bird had the intelligence of a human 5-year-old. He had the emotional level of a two-year-old human. So, right there he’s got my exes beat.

Alex knew more than 100 words. But the thing that made him special* was that he understood what he said. He could be shown an object, then tell you its shape, color, and function. And he would say “Wanna go back” when he had enough of humans and needed a nap in his cage. And if his handlers took him anywhere other than his cage, he would give them the silent treatment until they took him to where he wanted to go.

If his handlers became frustrated with him, he would say “I’m sorry.” For those keeping score at home, that makes Alex 2, exes 0.

But this is why Alex ranks among the most interesting philosophers of the modern age. One day, he asked:

“What color am I?”

Making him the first (and so far only) non-human animal to ask an existential question. Even the great apes who have been taught sign language have not asked questions about themselves. In fact, those apes have never asked a question about anything.

Existential philosophy wrestles with the conflicting human (except maybe not so exclusively human) concepts of existence versus essence. Meaning that the most fundamental knowledge of an individual is that she is just that: individual. That is, my existence can be attached to my self-awareness. My essence—the rolls and definitions assigned to me by my society—never can trump my very existence.

Aside: Don’t worry. As I am sure most of you have suspected, I am quite consumed with another Trump right now. But that is a blog post for another day.

Sartre calls the idea of existence versus essence one’s “true essence.” In other words, my actual life, in which I am making countless, daily decisions, is what makes me, well, me. I am not who I am because of what you see. I am not a woman, a mom, a patient, a writer because you choose to label me as those things. I am those things because I create my own values and determine my own definition of the meaning of life. My life.

Aside: One obstacle my brain has with this life philosophy is my very brain herself. I didn’t make choices that manifested into Multiple Sclerosis. Except, maybe I did. I smoked. I ate like shit. I put way too much processed food in my body. None of these things can be directly linked to my MS. But they cannot be eliminated as causes either. So there’s that.

We will now return you to my existential crisis, already in progress.

Learning about Alex has, naturally, got me thinking. What color am I?

Am I green?

I am a Slytherin. Enough said.

By the way, why the fuck is NO ONE surprised to learn that I am a Slytherin? I have kept my Parseltongue well under wraps. But not one person managed to even feign surprise.

Sartre writes a great deal about living in a way that is true to yourself. Living authentically honors the freedom to make choices that we are both blessed with and cursed with. We can choose to be a good, kind, wonderful person. And we can also chose to be a total shitheel. We get to choose how we act, what we do. That is what allows us to feel great when we do something well. It is also why we feel like we got a punch in the gut when we make a really bad choice. And I certainly have made some epic mistakes. Varsity-level bad choices. So, I guess in that respect, I am anything but green.

Mom and Polonius have been telling this to us for years. Just be yourself. It is the only way into happiness.

Am I blue?

OK. We are going to get a little dark here. Dark blue.

I think we have all read the story of Sisyphus at one point or another. From Greek mythology, Sisyphus is punished for his deceitfulness by having to push a large boulder to the top of a hill, to only have to watch it roll back down. And he is condemned to do this for eternity. We can see that metaphor all over art and literature. It is the story of futility.

Aside: I think it also functions as a happy thought when we imagine the people who have lied to us suffering the same fate. I might need to have a chat with Zeus…

The Myth of Sisyphus is an essay written by Camus, where he shares his philosophy of the absurd. He postulates that this world lacks any eternal truths or human values. This guy might need some balloons. Maybe a piƱata.

Camus tells us that we need to stop trying to find any meaning in life. He says that our goal is not to get the boulder to the top of the hill. The act of pushing that rock is enough to fulfill us. He writes, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

That’s pretty bleak. From Camus, it isn’t a long walk to get to existential despair. A general loss of hope. But, to be fair, his essay was published in 1942 France. They weren’t exactly singing La Vie en Rose right then.

Am I pink?

In the crayon box of my head, pink is the color of a newborn baby. New life. Skin that has never seen the sun.

At the root of any philosophical idea, there must be a person. A person is very necessarily the starting point. In order for a philosophy to take hold, it needs a human subject that can not only think, but can feel. A philosophy requires a person to take action within it.

For an existentialist, the default is the feeling of disorientation and confusion from within a meaningless, absurd world. That world is no place for a newborn. But Kierkegaard has a better philosophy. Or at least one more suited to me. He says that each one of us is solely responsible to giving meaning to our life. Not society. Not religion. Not Fox News. He says we all must live authentically, passionately, and sincerely.

I like that one. A lot. Maybe I am a little pink. And maybe, just maybe, I am a tiny bit P!nk.

Am I black? (In the Sith kind of way, not the Rachel Dolezal kind of way)

Have you ever stood on the edge of a canyon next to someone and had the thought that you could easily push them over the edge? I have. With some people more than others…

Anyway, that feeling is existential angst. It the idea that nothing is really stopping you from doing something bad. We have that freedom. Of course, there are consequences to all of our actions. Because, while we do have freedom, we also have responsibility.

Like Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker, with great power (or freedom, as the case may be) comes great responsibility. And the existentialists contend that is this very freedom that causes our angst. Every time we interact with the world—even in the minutest of ways—we experience the consequences of our action.

That would put anyone in a black mood.

So, what color am I? I don’t know. And I’m not sure it even matters.

*There is no evidence to indicate that Alex’s language and thinking abilities were unique to him. It is very probable that all parrots—and probably many more birds—can be taught to communicate from within a human framework.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Of Danger Mice and Men

I was never in a sorority back in college. For several reasons, really. The combination of my aversion to paying for friends, my going to a very small liberal arts college, and having known way too many frat boys made a sorority very unlikely for me.

And, here I am, days away from turning 43, and I have found myself in a sorority. As it turns out, we have chapters across the United States.

Some might try to describe our growing roster as a support group. And we do support each other, whenever we are needed. With the severity of the damage inflicted upon us, we certainly need the support.

So--while our core purpose, our charter, or raison d'etre is to indeed offer each other support--I prefer to call us a sorority.

Because we are sisters. We are Earthquake survivors.

Pulling yourself from the rubble crashing down on you can feel like a Sisyphean task. But we--as a group of amazing, intelligent women--are developing our course on Earthquake survival. And, with every addition to our ranks, we are perfecting and sharing the syllabus.

Let me share with you all one of the best Earthquake survival tips that I have learned.

There will be days--I still have days--where it will feel like I will never be happy again. Sometimes, it is mired in nihilistic struggles of existential angst. Or in other worlds... Why does terrible shit keep happening to me? I'm a good person. I am a fundamentally righteous person who does not intentionally inflict harm to the people I care about. Why do I always run headlong into people... OK, let's be real for a moment here... Why do I always run headlong into men who are intent on doing me harm?

There will be days that you will wonder if you will ever find happiness. Find Joy. And here is the secret to feeling happy after the Earthquake:

Schedule some Joy. Put some Joy on your calendar, then circle that Joy in red and draw little hearts and stars and diamonds around it.

Joy, it seems, has much in common with Lucky Charms.

I've scheduled my next Joy. In March, I will be going to a women's writing workshop in Cork. I am headed to Ireland for 20 days of castles and cliffs and writing and stones. I will visit Guinness, and Waterford, and Claddagh, and pub after pub after pub. I will visit art museums and maritime museums, then spend five intense days working on the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo. After that, I will hop on trains and buses to see the Trinity Library and St. Patrick's Cathedral. And speaking of St. Paddy, I will be spending March 17th in Dublin.

Such, such Joy.

I do have to attach one small warning to the Schedule Joy plan. If you plan to include someone else in the Joy, you have to be able to Know--capital K Know--that the person you choose as someone to share the Joy will not be taking a big shit all over it.

The person with whom I am sharing this next Joy with is one of my favorite people in the world. She is one of the handful of people to whom I would give both of my kidneys if she needed them. She will make my next Joy an amazing, shit-free journey. She will be by my side as I am working though the most difficult parts of my book. My book--a memoir disguised as a novel--has not seen much attention in the last little while. It's difficult subject matter. But like a splinter, I need to let it fester out of my system.

I need to finish the book because--if for no other reason--it probably should be added to our syllabus.

And I need to read it myself from time to time. Just to remember.

A little while ago, I was talking to my Earthquake sister Melanie about the men in my life and their escalating degree of injury they cause me. I posed the question: How do these men keep finding me? Melanie had an interesting insight. She postulated that once you have been the victim of one bad man, you are more likely to encounter more bad men. It's like getting a concussion. Once you get one, you are susceptible to more concussions. And they build and compound on each other. They just get worse and worse.

After all this time, my Earthquake concussion is still making me feel injured and vulnerable. I need my sorority sisters for support, for camaraderie, for a sanity check. The Earthquake sisters lean on each other. We serve as one another's Jiminy Cricket, sitting on each other's shoulders and giving gentle reminders that "something about this dude doesn't feel right."

There is only one issue that remains. What should we call ourselves, this growing sorority? Maybe we should call ourselves I Eta Pi, and we can plan retreats every March 14th. Well, except this next one. I'll be in Cork.

Welcome to all of our many, many sisters out there in the world. We are here for you when you are ready. We are your support. We are your safe place. We are ordering jackets.

They will have a silver linings.

Friday, July 3, 2015

I Write Less When I'm Happy

I am quickly closing in on another birthday. And another prime number. But, for the first time in a long, long time, I am feeling...

I have a hard time identifying what I am feeling. Hopeful? Energized? Could it be? Could this be what it feels like to be happy?

One thing that is contributing to this foreign sense of smiley-ness is that I am loving my job. I love it. It engages every part of me. My analytical side, my creative side, and even my anal-retentive side. I get to make art and checklists. I get to work along side some truly brilliant people, building things for hugely important companies.

I don't remember ever liking my job like this before.

And one thing I get to do a lot in this job is write. Lots of different writing about lots of different things. I do think that is the source of my extended blogging vacation. So I owe you all a nice, long blog post.

And I will continue to owe you that. But here is one big brain dump. We can unwind it together later.

Since we last talked, I have been to San Jose, New York, and Orlando. The first two for work (but I got to visit friends in both places!). The last was for a family vacation. Which was both hugely fun, debilitatingly exhausting, and the last time that I will ever cross the Mason-Dixon line between them months of February-December. So I owe you a travel blog post.

Here is a little list of the other posts I owe you, complete with an executive summary of each:

Gay marriage: I am so happy that--for once--this Supreme Court is on the right side of history.

Obamacare: Those Supremes were on a roll!

Confederate flags: You don't have to agree that displaying this flag is racist. But you have to admit that it takes a very special type of asshole to want to fly the flag of the losing side.

Twitter improving my writing: Something about summing up a thought in only 140 characters is really making my writing tight. Twitter is a bit like a puzzle. And it is also an exercise in letting go the rules of grammar, if only for 11 seconds.

My new best friend Rosie O'Donnell: Anyone who is a woman and anyone who loves a woman should find an hour of time to watch her HBO Stand-up Special. She talks about the symptoms of a heart attack for women. I absolutely know that she is saving lives with this information. Oh, and she follows me on Twitter.(Spoiler alert. Rosie does not yet know that we are besties. But I'm sure she will be exited about it.)

Shaving my head (Half of it, at least):  I'm trying to figure out the best way to stay cool this summer. My mother commented that I looked "tough." I'm pretty sure she meant lesbian.

Another summer with MS: It is so fucking hot. I am spending my free time shopping for property in Alaska.

The stupid fucking Duggars: I don't believe in hell. But stories like the one of Josh Duggar molesting children make me wish I did.

Harry Potter World: It's like stepping right into the books. It is truly magical.

And just so you know that my blog has not been hijacked by some spliced together version of Pollyanna and Ellen Degeneres, I am fully anticipating that my grasp on this small slice of happy will soon slip through my fingers. But, what the hell. For now? Drinks are on me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I Will Never Understand Us

My best friend is waiting to hear if she has breast cancer.

In the last few months, people very dear to me have been forced to stare down their own mortality. Heart attacks. Heart valves. Neonatal units. Rehabilitation centers.

Every six months I have to record magnetic images of my brain to count the holes forming among the lobes. All I can think of as I am slid into the MRI machine is, "This is probably what a coffin feels like." Which is why I will someday be cremated.

Life is scary. And dangerous. And random. And fragile.

So why do we humans insist on doing things that threaten our tenuous grasp on life? I will never understand that.

In 1997, I read Jon Krakauer's book detailing what was--at the time--the most deadly climbing season on the Earth's tallest mountain. At 29,029 feet, the summit of Everest reaches as high into the stratosphere as a commercial airliner. Reading that book was the catalyst to my ongoing Everest fascination. I have memorized posters detailing the routes up the mountain. I have read books, watched documentaries, attended lectures. All because I just want to understand.

I do not possess even the slightest desire to climb Everest, although I would someday like to see it, if only from a distance. The story of Everest is a fascinating one. The history is the stuff of Arthurian legend. But that is not where my fixation is rooted.

I will never understand why someone would risk everything they are, everything they have, everything they hope to be to stand on a 3 foot by 3 foot square piece of rock that cuts into the sky.

I don't get people. I don't get this impulse. But not for lack of trying to understand.

Straddling the border between Tibet and China, Everest is the elder statesman of the Himalayas. And until 1953, that mountain bested every attempt to climb her. Then New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay stepped onto her summit.

That climb I understand. There had been several attempts on Everest before Hillary and Norgay conquered it.

Aside--Neither Hillary or Norgay ever disclosed who actually was the first one of them to step into that last foot of the 29,029 they had taken. They knew that it was only by combining efforts that they could reach such heights. I have to wonder... Would that level of nobility and teamwork have been possible today? Or are we now living in a world where the first to post a photo to Instagram wins?

In 1924, an attempt on the summit was made by British climber George Mallory. Mallory will live forever in our lexicon because of his answer to a reporter's question about why he was going to climb Everest.

In response, he famously quipped, "Because it's there."

Indeed it was. It still is.

Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine were last seen from a Base Camp telescope, about 800 feet from the summit. Mallory's body was discovered on the mountain in 1999.

I think I understand Mallory, Hillary, and Norgay in the same way that I understand Armstrong and Aldrin. We went to the moon because it was there.

But I just can't wrap my admittedly mottled brain around why humans are still climbing Everest today.

These days, for the sum of the average middle class annual income, you can pay to be guided to the summit. You will be shepherded up the southeast ridge, hooking your climbing line into ropes that have been fixed by Sherpas prior to your arrival. You are lead over aluminum ladders pre-placed over great cracks in the icefall. Your Sherpa will haul your tent, your gear, your supplemental oxygen as he climbs by your side up the steep rock faces and through the dangerous, hovering seracs.

These days, you can buy your way to the top. But even though you have parted with $50,000 and have taken two months from your work and your family, you still have no guarantee that you will make it to the top. And even if you do, there is certainly no guarantee that you will get back down. At least not before you sacrifice a couple toes to frostbite.

I know that the adrenalin rush is real. That is why we bungee jump or sky dive, or SCUBA deep into sinkholes. I know that there is no feeling quite like conquering your fears. I know that there is a power in belonging to an elite group of people that share a common experience. I understand that. I get it.

But here is where you lose me. Doesn't the brotherhood of Everest survivors become diluted with the growing foothold of Everest tourism? Has a novice climber, who was pulled up the mountain, truly earned his way into that fraternity?

Everest has been conquered. At this point, the summiting of Everest has become--if not quite routine--within the grasp of a mere mortal, given enough disposable income and free time. Over 3,000 summits have been recorded. And more than 250 deaths. The number of dead Everest climbers is greater than the number of summits of Everest's sister mountain, K2. That peak, reaching 28, 251 feet, has claimed 55 climbers. Are those K2 expeditions not somehow more noble than the guided tours up Everest?

And then there is Gangkhar Puensum in Bhutan. That 24,836 peak has yet to record a successful summit attempt. Isn't that mountain the embodiment of "because it's there"?

I just don't get it.

Aside--I am perfectly aware that there are similar risks in other extreme pursuits. In 2004, technical diver Dave Shaw became one of 11 people to have reached depths of 800 feet using SCUBA gear. In 2005, he died at that depth in Bushman's Hole, South Africa while trying to recover the body of another diver who died trying to reach that depth. But for reasons I haven't quite defined, I don't feel the same puzzlement about these divers. Perhaps only because the deaths from these adventures go relatively unnoticed and therefore not sought after by those seeking no more than bragging rights?

For the last 15-some-odd years, I have been following the annual May pilgrimage up the face of Everest, noting the success-to-death ratio. It isn't morbid curiosity. Or, at least it's not only morbid curiosity. I just keep trying to understand this amazingly human--and oft-amazingly stupid--quest.

There is a line of demarcation marking the breathable (although painfully thin) air below 8,000 feet above sea level and the deathly lack of oxygen beginning at 8,001 feet. They call it the Death Zone. Nothing living exists there. At least not for long. No birds. No insects. Not even vegetation. The longer you are in the Death Zone, the greater your odds of remaining there forever. Because, as it turns out, getting up above 8,000 feet is the easy part. Coming down from that height alive is where most of the danger is found.

And if you do suffocate or freeze or fall into a crevasse at that altitude, your body will lay there for all eternity. The air is too thin to allow a helicopter to maintain flight. No one will risk their own life in the Death Zone to bring down your lifeless body.

I don't understand it. To reach the summit of Everest, you very literally have to step over the bodies of fallen climbers.

Take Green Boots, for example.

Green Boots is a nickname given to the unidentified corpse of a climber that died curled up in a slight alcove that had been eroded into the mountain. Since his discovery in 1996, Green Boots has become not so much as a cautionary tale, but a mere trail marker on the path up Everest. Climbers trudge past his frozen body both on the way up and on the way back down from the summit.

Of the more than 250 Everest casualties, approximately 200 of their bodies are still up on Everest.

I just don't understand it.

Since I first started to learn about how the desires to climb Everest can overpower caring about the dangers involved in that act, I have thought that urge to be not-just-a-little crazy. But since last spring, I have realized that it is also not-just-a little selfish.

2014 was--to that point--the most deadly year in the history of the mountain. In an avalanche, 16 Sherpa guides were killed. Here is why I find that is so troubling. These Sherpas are not men that have giant bonus checks or can take work sabbaticals. These are the workers that are risking their lives to make going up the mountain more attainable for the people actually on sabbatical.

And these Sherpas earn only a tiny percentage of the fee a client pays to be guided up Everest.

But this year's climbing season has already dethroned 2014's Deadliest Year title. The devastating earthquake in Nepal triggered violent avalanches that swept through the camps of the climbers. So far, 18 climbers have been confirmed dead. Between 20 to 30 more are missing. And dozens have been injured.

This is the selfishness I mentioned before. Because, now, these climbers who, very deliberately, put their lives in danger are using valuable time and resources being rescued. While there are still victims buried under a crumbled brick temple or flattened schools and shops. The climbers on Everest are not victims. At least not in the sense of the people of Kathmandu, who are being pulled from
the rubble. The climbers aren't victims, they are volunteers.

I think that part of the social contract that should be agreed to before anyone straps crampons to their hiking boots is that they waive the right to be rescued. Climbers need to agree not endanger another person who risks his own life to extract that climber from a situation that they very purposefully put themselves in.

I just don't understand people.

Isn't life dangerous enough? What are we trying to prove? And to whom are we trying to prove it? Can anyone explain this to me? Please?