30 October 2013

Stumbling, Falling

Fall is finally here, tumbling frantically downhill into Halloween after an uncertain ending to summer. Weather cools itself off in a spasm of pewter skies and spitting rain. Enjoyable in its own way even if it carries with it a nervous chill of realization that Halloween is just about here. People will "celebrate" this weird "holiday" in fits of trick-or-treating tinged with resignation or excitement, generally depending on one's age group. Or perhaps on one's willingness to embrace overindulgence in some form of socially accepted vice.

The leaves in this part of the world changed color seemingly overnight, sneaking up on the neighborhood like foliar ninjas. Ninjas bedecked in red, yellow, and orange cloaks twirling through the air to festoon lawns and sidewalks in coruscating displays of chaos theory that induce gawking. Such as it was on my errand-laden drive time today, out in the mist. One tree in particular, crowing to the world in a deep shade of red, nearly caused me to stop my car in the middle of a busy street, just to take its picture.

No pictures were taken, however. The car kept moving. The mind kept racing far out on front of it like a falcon on a long rope. The leaves. The colors. The metallic smell of rain. Sensory impressions gelled on the tongue, which burst into a question ejected onto the backside of the windshield.

"What happened to the time?"

The question shattered itself on the glass and rebounded into dizziness in my head. How did it get to be this late in the year, with summer passing by in a blur? The air in the car had a tang of incredulity in it, temporarily disabling my ability to swallow. How could it be the end of October?

That thought and a few garish displays of fake tombstones, Death and undead creatures clawing their way out of suburban-looking front lawns brought it all back to me in a rush. It is the end of October because the earth spins around the sun, nights elide the days and time marches on regardless of my attention span. Occasionally the fog lifts and notice is taken, only to further engender bemusement at what happens in the world beyond my shoulders.

It will be Halloween soon, a happening that always infuses me with a bit of low-grade anxiety. It is not a social event that ever cottoned to me, or me to it. I know the young ones dig it, my own included. They can celebrate it for treats, and that is the way of the world.

Me, I look forward to the fall as celebration of change in the air, manifested by the entry some years ago of my daughter into this world. She was not born on Halloween, thank heavens, but she sure made fall a treat. I drive on, past the decorations and into the swirl of leaves afloat in the October air. The colors blur into chaos and remind me of the love that is constant through all my seasons. It rises, it falls, it is ever there to catch me when I stumble out of time.

11 October 2013

But Then I Realized I Have a Smartphone and Have Never Been Shot In The Head

I woke up this morning with a head full of angst and remnants of unsettled dreams. I believe both were induced by a dearth of good money combined with a surfeit of bad government. Too much is too much, even when it springs from not enough. I did not face the day with confidence.

Stoic chewing through a breakfast that was so much better than the mundanity it suggested. Having low expectations will do that to a soul. The taste faded quickly, my mind and belly experiencing a familiar disconnect. Normally, food captures my imagination but lately it has been more of a minor distraction in the face of the thought-pressure I cannot cease generating. I ate. Tasted, not so much.

I loaded my gear into my car, trying not to think about the new tires it truly needs, but may not get soon enough. Another money cliff over which I could fall. A deep breath and a shake of the head succeeds in dispelling that particular cloud. I have some work to do, thankfully, enough to make it through the day.

Into the car, onto the road. Local radio for company. The smart phone chirps intermittently, offering directions which veer from helpful to annoying. But I do not turn it off.

The work proceeds smoothly, mostly. Later, when I begin to grow tired and hungry, the fingers grow clumsy. The mind grows dull. Minor errors multiply. Epithets escape gritted teeth. It is done.

Setting off for home I experience some small glitches in the technology I carry. My annoyance is somewhat out of proportion to the severity of the offense. It grows when faced with some truly questionable driving decisions inflicted upon the innocents by a careless boor who must have received their driving lessons via old-fashioned mail. I grow cranky.

Upon arrival at mi casa, the tussle with technology is not over. The computer awaits, it cannot be avoided, so to the interface I must. Cables and image files and downloads and uploads; the party is just getting started. Files are sloughed off, folders created, bits and bytes are pushed around.

It gets close to dinner time when I realize my early-morning funk never quite went away. Partly hunger, I know, because I skipped lunch. A rumbling belly nudges me in the direction of the kitchen, in search of some leftover soup. Disconnected dissatisfaction with modern life hovers about, a thin gray cloak settled over slumping shoulders. The relief was in the technology, though.

Today on the internet, I saw a short video about kids playing musical instruments made out of recycled landfill debris. A cello. A violin. What looked to be trumpets and other brasses. Kids whose families earn a living by culling refuse and recycling it to sell for money. They were playing symphonic music, and playing it well. It was so beautiful it made the filth and trash disappear.

My smartphone was losing some of its shine. I sat there with my bowl of homemade soup, lip quivering.

Today on the internet, I saw an interview with Malala Yousafzai, the young lady from Pakistan who garnered international renown when members of the Taliban shot her in the head, all because she championed the rights of girls and women to be educated. She was composed, passionate and inspiring. Her words were so beautiful they made the violence and hate disappear.

A group of violent reactionaries attempted to kill a 15-year old girl who wanted to be educated. I thought of my own daughter and her love for school. I bit my lip, swallowed my soup.

It was then that the cloud lifted. I have a phone that can access the sum total of human knowledge. I have the resources to make good food to fill my belly. What I do not do is make cellos out of oil drums and cast-off wood. What I do not fear is being targeted for assassination because of my gender and desire to gain knowledge. In those, I am blessed.

And if anyone cannot be inspired by true triumphs of human ingenuity and character, if a "Landfillharmonic" and the courage of a girl who truly had a lot to lose, well, then I am unsure there is hope for them.

As to myself, I wept a little, relieved that I am human.

10 October 2013

Ringing Bells

Mama knew my mind, would know this song
Mama knew my mind, would know this song
I muscle holler and a moan
I muscle holler and a moan
Black chords in the night
"You ever hear a new song, lyrics that sorta knock you out?" she said with a voice that purred even over the music and the traffic outside. Snow fell, light and jittery in the streetlight glow coming through the bar window. Someone laughed loud, there was coughing.

She was looking at me with eyes like emeralds and smoke. I managed not to jump at the sound of her voice. Jeans like paint, copper colored hair, boots sexy and dangerous-looking at the same time. The glass found its way to my suddenly dry mouth, hiding nervousness. Swallow. Pause. Answer.

"Once in a while. You?" I said. She smiled. It made me think of jaguars.

"Yes, I do. All the time. Even make them up, when the mood strikes." Smooth hands, coffee-colored, cradled a glass. She lifted it, sipped. White teeth, one slightly crooked behind lips just red enough. Some things are so beautiful you should burn your eyes out after you see them, because you never will again.
Daddy burnt the dirt, but the seed survived
Daddy burnt the dirt, but the seed survived
Holler and a moan
I muscle holler and a moan
Black chords in the night
The drink looked like a gin and tonic. That alone pleased me so much, I could not say why. Maybe it was just relief at not seeing another goddamn pink drink. I looked down at the bourbon I was nursing. It shimmered in the slightly nacreous bar light, honey and leather in a glass. I sipped again.

"So do you write songs?" I asked, not quite looking her in the eyes. Talk about distractions. My hands trembled slightly. Whiskey or nerves I could not tell.
"No, not really. I mean, I want to. I write a lot," she looked at me, then looked down at the bar, then over to the empty stage, "but a lot of things sound great at midnight that fall apart at lunch time, you know?"

I chuckled. Her admission energized me with confidence. A shot of that does a body good, knowing that Jesus will turn another year older before you can somehow make it home. Assuming you can find out where home could be. I turned on the bar stool, she didn't hear me sigh, and then I looked right in those pools of green. She had leaned in closer.

"What's your name, love?"
"Colleen. And you are...?" Blank mind. The music seemed to swell, drowning out my thoughts. How could I forget my own name. What was my name? Oh, Christ on a pogo stick, my name?
"Liam. It's Liam." I managed a smile. To my relief she smiled back. To my surprise, she started singing along with the jukebox.
The heavy bells, the heavy bells,the heavy bells
The heavy bells are tolling out a tune
The heavy bells, the heavy bells
Oh, God, I felt that metal move
You’re gonna wake up, you’re gonna wake up,
You’re gonna wake up, find the heavy bells
Toll their tune for you too
She had closed her eyes, tilting back her head to expose the loveliest neck I had ever seen. She sang, slightly off key with a throatiness that took my breath away. I gasped, staring. She opened her eyes, looked at me, smiling at my obvious lack of composure. To my shock, she reached out with one hand and took mine into it.

Her hand was warm, silky. The bar tilted in my vision. I squeezed her hand. She leaned in, enveloping me in a faint Tanqueray cloud. Her lips brushed my ear, and I heard her whisper "Merry Christmas, Liam. Merry Christmas." Across the street at Saints Patrick and James, the bells rang. Gazing back at her, dizzy to the point of near blackout, I grinned and answered.

"Merry Christmas, Colleen. I love you."

Italicized paragraphs are from a new favorite, "Heavy Bells", by J. Roddy Walston & the Business. Yeah, it rocks.

07 October 2013

Along the Ice Front

Ranger had been told that life on the Sangre Fría de Cristo range was brutal, cold and short. So far, he had witnessed brutality aplenty and the cold never left his bones. But he was still alive, after all these years. A small miracle in light of the graves he had dug.

"Two out of three is bad," he muttered into the icy wind. It never seemed to quit. By the standards of Nuevo A Coruña, a cold, blustery slice of hell itself, the wind was rather slack. He checked the thermal settings on his enviro-suit. The idiot lights glowed a faint green, but the color engendered mistrust. His feet and hands were starting to go numb, despite the suit insisting that the heat was normal.

Ranger doubted it. In the two days since the fall the suit had been performing erratically. One minute he would suddenly be roasting, the next it felt like the sweat was freezing in seconds on his burned skin. His meager repair kit had stabilized it somewhat, but the parts were running out. There were no replacements.

He craned his neck forward to sip from the hydration tube poking up from the suit collar. The water, laced with electrolytes and a mild stimulant, seemed to his tongue to taste faintly of piss. It always made him uneasy. He knew the suit recycled everything so efficiently that he must be imagining things. Good thing the stimulants were chemically rigged to not increase urine output, Ranger recalled. No way could he handle the thought of having to change out the filters more than he did now.

Not that it mattered much. The scout ship was near complete ruin. The team, dead, except for Ranger and the Alférez. The rest scattered somewhere in the rocks and ice, swallowed up by chasms and the bellies of the things in the chasms. Ranger checked himself again. He was alive, but the Alférez, only nominally so. 

The body moved and muttered but its eyes were now frozen orbs of a nacreous blue-white. Ranger could see them through the slightly cracked lenses of the suit binoculars. See them, that is, when he could bring himself to look. The Alférez had fallen down the scree, shouting gibberish and swatting at something no one else could see

Ranger sighed. He rubbed his hands hard on his thighs in an effort to bring some warmth back into his fingers. He was years away from home and the thought of it made his heart ache so sharply he tasted iron on his tongue. Years. He had been gone for years, searching for minerals and life forms the Directorate had deemed important. Yet he had never found the thing to quiet the loneliness in his core.

Glancing up at the sky, he saw that the sun was about to set. In his reverie he had failed to account for the lateness of the day. He was exposed there on the butte overlooking the plain below. He forced himself to stand, gathering up his survey gear. The gear was filling up, Ranger noted with a pang, but he held little hope he would survive long enough to get it safely into the Datanet.

The slug thrower leaned against a lichen-coated boulder. Ranger hesitated, knowing he was nearly out of ammunition. The weight would slow him down, burning up precious calories, but without it he was truly defenseless. He looked out into the blue twilight congealing down below the mountain range. There were shadows stirring down there, shadows that could swallow him in the blink of an eye if he let them. he picked up the gun.

Ranger sighed, strapping on his gear before setting off up the rough trail that led to the only shelter he could find in the wasteland. At a small rise, he turned to get one last glance at the Alférez. The gun was raised in a half-salute, then he froze. Something was hunched over the body of his friend. It appeared to be eating.

Ranger swallowed hard. He turned and ran, calories be damned. The cave was not far away. It would keep him alive until tomorrow, at least. Tomorrow after sunrise he would awake, cold and alone, but for the last time. Tomorrow Ranger was going to find his way home.

05 October 2013

Two Years Before the Mast or Something Like It

8:06 PM. Night is falling earlier on this slow slide into fall. A mirror of my days, methinks.

Monday, October 7th is an anniversary of sorts. The day will mark two years since I last plied the profession of architect full-time. Well, with one very small exception, plied it any time, to be precise. The demon of this particularity caught up to me in broad daylight. A mental mugging, minding my own business at a stoplight.

Hardly seems fair, I know. Enormous effort has been expended in the past two years, first on searching for a position suited to my training. Then when that became increasingly fruitless, Sisyphean even, my efforts were slowly diverted to searching for a position suited to my skills and interests.

You see what I did there? With the "training" segueing into "skills and interests"? I knew you could.

It was an inevitable transition, in hindsight. Anyone who has been laid off more than once knows that looking for a job is a full-time job. Old habits die hard, and I was up early and working the job lists and directories and cold-calling and frankly it ground down my resolve and self-esteem to the point where I had no energy to even be desparate anymore.

I was, though. The sheer effort in looking for an architecture job, with no results to show for it, haunts me even now. It is draining to think about it. The knowledge that no one seemed to be interested in a talented, skilled and licensed architect with 20+ years of experience (i.e. Yours Truly) is a puzzling and disheartening burden to carry. At the time, it was all I had and all I knew how to do.

Not that I have forgotten how to do it, mind you, but I have had almost no arena in which to practice it. So in essence I gave it up. I had to, so I could focus on other ways to preserve my sanity and hopefully make money. Thus, writing and photography began to eclipse what I was trained to do. Possibilities formed in my mind, of an intersection between the Want To and the Must Do sides of the coin of life.

I can say I have had some minor successes in that regard. I have exhibited in a local gallery, made some contacts in the art world, garnered some part-time work in photography, sold a few prints. So there are signs of encouragement. The writing has not had the same level of interest, it continues to be a slow go, but there have been some nibbles.

Still, the hard work continues. My figurative heels are sore and bleeding from all the nipping they endure, courtesy of the imps and demons that seem to shadow me, messing with my dreams. I fight them off as best I can, but every so often the shield slips and they get through.

Today at a stop light, a chunk of the sky fell on me and I flinched. Breathing hard through a squall of panic, my mind reeled over and over, thinking I must be nuts for trying to make so much out of nothing. The voice (you know the voice) whispered from the backbrain cave that maybe it would be best to give up carving a new path in this old jungle, when there is a perfectly good path somewhere behind me.

All I need to do is turn around, retrace my steps, and I can put down the machete. The path back there is dusty, rutted and beaten down. The rocks in it, the thorns flanking it, well they can't be as bad as the unknown overgrown thickets I am thrashing through, can they? It would so much easier to go back, would it not? Simply trade the promise of uncharted territory for the drab security (which is not so secure) I used to know?

The light changed. The breath wooshes out of my lungs. The car rolls forward, I make the turn, and try to put the past behind me. Two years before my own personal mast have taken me over strange new seas and into uncharted lands fraught with promise. It would be a shame to give up the ship when there is something wonderful on the horizon.

02 October 2013

Queasy Piñata

Today's attempt at writing has its roots in grandeur, and probably its end in mediocrity. My ambitions outstrip my ability, all because my head feels like a piñata. This is a source of great distress for me. I had grand plans and a good idea last night, but no time or energy to write it out. The backup plan was to write the kernel of the idea down in one of my handy-dandy little notebooks, then turn out the light for some sleep.

Except for one little detail. My bedside notebook had gone AWOL. Not in the drawer, not on the nightstand, not even on the floor beside the bed. I told myself that I would remember in the morning, but you can guess how well that turned out.

Upon awakening this morning I found myself in possession of a low-grade headache. It started in the base of my skull and wrapped itself around the left side of my brain, edging its way into the frontal lobe. Manageable in the morning, by late afternoon it would balloon into quite a whopper. Like someone was beating it with a stick.

A fine sandwich for lunch had no effect on it. Pain medicine? Pffft. My go-to solution of taking a nap was of no help. In fact, when I arose from the nap, my head felt even worse. The throbbing in the piñata bobbing around on the top of my neck made me slightly nauseated.

Nauseated, not nauseous. I use that word deliberately. 

Never let it be said that I cannot learn something new. As someone who aspires to be a writer, I am always on the lookout for new words and word-related knowledge. Recently, it became illuminated for me the difference between 'nauseated' and 'nauseous'. Shocking, I know, that I did not know the shading between those two siblings.

Simplifying a bit, but it turns out, that to be 'nauseated' means to be feeling sick to the stomach, i.e. inclined to vomit. 'Nauseous', on the other hand, means to cause feelings of nausea, i.e. something revolting or physically disturbing. 

A very fine line, would you say? Me, too. Admittedly the latest dictionaries seem to indicate that over time, the usage of 'nauseous' to mean the feeling of sickness rather than the cause of sickness has become so commonplace that the two words are near interchangeable. So for years, I had been saying "I feel nauseous" when what I really meant was "I feel nauseated". 

The realization made me nauseated. Heehee.

So when I sat down to write today, trying to think through the fog of fatigue, forgetfulness and headache, the only thing looping through this weird brain of mine was a riff on the new thing I learned. That is about as good as it was going to get, seeing as I lost another essay idea to the void.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, left me a little...nauseated.