Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Creativity Experiment, Day Seven: Haiku

Today is the seventh and last day is the of John Remy's creativity experiment, which he has been hosting over at Mind on Fire.

The card of the day, this time chosen by John's daugheter, Catgirl, is the Six of Pentacles. I don't ususally write haiku; the form has driven me to distraction ever since I was introduced to it in elementary school. However, after considering the Six of Pentacles and its attributes, this came to mind almost immediately. Probably has something to do with some of the events in my own life over the past few years.

And so, my very small contribution on the final day of an amazing learning and creative experience:

Knowing when to give
or admit the need to take
is art of balance.

And finally, thanks to you, John, for imagining that we all could do this.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Creativity Experiment, Day Six: Commonalities

Today is the next to the last day of John Remy's Creativity Experiment. If this is your first exposure to it, pop on over to Mind on Fire and see what's going on.

Today's Tarot card is the Two of Cups, and after thinking about some of the possible implications of this card, some lyrics from Sting's first solo recording, "The Dream of the Blue Turtles", drifted into my mind.

The result is this essay:

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too
----Sting, “Russians” 1985

These lyrics from the song “Russians” might seem anachronistic listeners who were born after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.

On the contrary, the sentiment they carry are just as essential today as they were when they were written in 1985, back before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

To someone like me, who remembers the Russian Missile Crisis, in 1962, who remembers the “duck and cover” drills in elementary school, and who lived with the fear that “the Russkies” could up and decide to drop the bomb at any time well into adolescence, and who now looks at today’s world from not-so-comfortable middle age, they couldn’t be more applicable today.

Oh, you’d have to change the lyrics a little. You’d want to sing about Moslems, or Christians. You’d want to mention Republicans, or Democrats. You might even name theists and atheists, evolutionists or creationists, pro-lifers or pro-choicers, depending on which political, religious or social issue is getting the most acrimonious press on any particular day.

But the point the song would make is the same, no matter who is named in the lyrics…we have to assume that our neighbors are more like us than different from us, or we are in deep, deep trouble.

On the face of it, I’m sure many people would say, “But we know that Christians love their children,” that Moslems do; that atheists love their children, that creationists do, that evolutionists do. But, truthfully, to hear some of the rhetoric that gets mainstream media time these days, I wonder if it really registers with the most vocal segments of many of those advocating on different sides of the arguments that those who oppose them really do love their children. That they really are human just like them.

There is no question, at least from where I’m sitting, that there is some major-league demonizing going on out there today, just as there was during the Cold War. I’ve heard, and not just on television or on the radio or the internet, suggest that saying Muslims and Christians, or Iranians and Americans, or atheists and Christians or Muslims have things in common and are not natural enemies is tantamount to sympathizing with terrorism. This is an incredibly dangerous position to take, just as it was incredibly dangerous during the cold war when the assumption of many was that the only thing in the minds of all Russians was the destruction the West.

If we could all just generally admit that our neighbors, locally and globally, no matter any of our differences, are much more like us than different from us, I would feel much more positive about the direction our global culture is going.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Creativity Experiment, Day Five: Anxiety

Today's Tarot card in John Remy's creativity experiment is the Nine of Swords.

It isn't a happy card, in contrast to the nice day I've had. On the other hand, some of the less-than-positive aspects of the day's card have manifested themselves in my day precisely because I haven't been able to participate in today's installment of the experiment as fully as I would have liked.

And so, just a little reflection on how even a good day can hold anxiety and guilt:

It’s amazing, the things that make me anxious.

Today, it has been not having the time to get around to doing something really creative for today’s installment of John's creativity experiment.

It was a nice day, which I spent helping a friend move and and then, with my roommate, having guests for dinner. Still, all day long, chittering at the back of my mind was anxiety surrounding the possibility that I wouldn’t have the time or energy to properly fulfill the commitment I've made to participating in the experiment this week.

And sure enough, here I am at the end of the day, friend moved and guests on their way home, trying to think through some of the ideas that I thought about in considering the card of the day while I was guarding cars while they were being loaded to move Jen's belongings from her old place to her new apartment and while I was helping sort her yarn into storage bins once we got everything moved in at the new place.

I had some interesting thoughts and some interesting ideas about how to write about them, especially about the aspect of the Nine of Swords that touch on worrying and anxiety. Goodness knows, with my OCD, I've got plenty of first-hand expereience obsessing on things and working myself up into anxiety attacks over them. But none of the things I’ve tried to put together this evening around those ideas has worked out.

I probably shouldn’t feel badly about it at all. I fulfilled a commitment to a friend, I had fun during the day, and I’m tired enough that I’ll probably sleep very well tonight. But what I really feel, deep down, is that I’ve let myself down by not rising to the challenge of John’s experiment today, and that I’ve let the other participants down by not participating fully myself today.

I should feel relaxed after the nice day I’ve had, and instead I’m sitting here feeling that I could have and should have done better, and feeling guilty and anxious because I didn't.

Which is, perhaps appropriately enough, entirely in the spirit of the Nine of Swords.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Creativity Experiment, Day 4: "The Devil Drives at Night"

Okay, it's day number four of John Remy's Creativity Experiment over at Mind on Fire, and today's Tarot card is The Devil.

I don't know why it seemed so difficult to come up with something for today's card. Maybe it was just that it was Saturday and I was out of my regular weekday routine. Anyway, I finally did find inspiration and wrote the short story that follows.

I'll call it "The Devil Drives at Night".

It was one of those weird late-night conversations you can only find when you’re twenty and living in a dorm and it’s Friday night and there’s been too much drinking going on.

We all thought we were being so deep and philosophical and daring, talking about how we didn’t believe in God and how nothing really means anything, and what would it matter if it did, since we were all destined to be tiny little cogs in the capitalist machine.

I suppose we all meant it, although I was more agnostic than atheist even then, and I was beginning to come to the realization that even if there was no God, that didn’t necessarily mean that there was no meaning. I figured that I could make up my own and that would be as good as meaning being imposed on me.

Regular little rebel, I was.

As the night wore on and more wine and beer were consumed, we seemed to become more serious and more somber, and the talk turned from the cosmic to the personal. One talked about seeing another girl walk out in front of a car and get thrown fifty feet in traffic when they were both eight years old. Another said he’d been abused by his mother all his life until he was taken away from her when he was ten.

Yet another told about being stranded with his family in the snow in Oregon for several days when they’d taken a wrong turn and gotten stuck by the side of a road. His dad had tried to walk for help, but come back with frostbitten feet and hands. The searchers finally found them, only about an hour before the authorities were planning on calling off the search. If they’d been left out there for another night, they all probably would have died, and as it was, his father had lost both feet and several fingers.

The stories went on like this for most of an hour, getting more and more elaborate, before one girl, slight, shy, with long brown hair and a slight lisp made worse by the beers she‘d had, cleared her throat and said: “You all make me feel so guilty. I’ve never seen anyone die, I was never abused when I was a kid, and my family all gets along really well.

“And I know all of you said you don’t believe in God. Truth is, I don’t think I do, either. But I do believe in the Devil.”

A couple of the others started giggling at that, but others hushed them. I might have been because they wanted to let the girl have her say, but it also might have been because they were sure that she was going to give them something better than just that statement to laugh at.

“I’m sorry, I do,” she continued.

“And you have evidence of this?” That was Randall, who earlier had been explaining that he didn’t believe in anything he couldn’t see, touch, feel and smell.”

“Well…Kind of,” the girl, whose name no one could remember, stammered. “I saw him once.”

That brought another laugh, but it was a little more nervous than the first one had been.

“All that is,” Randall said, becoming louder as he saw a chance to humiliate the girl, “is anecdotal evidence. Unless, of course, you have a photo of him, with the negative, so that it can be tested for tinkering in the lab.”

The girl’s voice became a little louder as well, and the expression on her face shifted from timidity to determination.

“I know it’s anecdotal. I know I can’t prove to you that I saw him. But Shelley can’t prove she saw her friend get hit by the car, either, but none of you have questioned that.”

“It hardly the same thing,” Randall said. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. We know people get hit by cars sometimes; it isn’t out of the question that,” he hesitated as he tried to recall the name. “That Shelley might have seen one of those instances. But when you claim that you saw the Devil, which is a fictional construct, you have to produce concrete evidence or no one is going to believe you.”

The girl said, “I don’t care if you believe me or not. I’m just saying, I saw the devil, and I believe he exists because of that experience.”

“Okay, I’ll bite,” Sarah said. Sarah winked at Randall as she said it. “How did you happen to see the Devil, and where were you, and what was he doing?”

The girl sighed and shook her head. She looked like she knew she was walking into a trap but couldn’t quite help herself or bring herself to backpedal from her statements.

“It was on my twelfth birthday,” she said. “My parents had taken me to San Diego to the zoo, and we were headed back home. It was late, probably close to midnight, and we were on the freeway, the 405, northbound in Sepulveda Pass. My sister, who was in the back seat with me, and my mom in the front seat, were both asleep. My dad was driving. I was still wide awake, watching the cars around us.

“Traffic was heavy even though it was so late because there had been a huge wreck on the transition to the Ventura Freeway. Cars were backed up for miles. One lane would be able to go ahead a little, then it would stop and another lane would progress.

“At one point, a car pulled up beside us, and the driver’s window was right next to mine…”

“Did he have horns and a pointy goatee?” someone said.

“No, he was clean-shaven,” the girl said. “But his eyes glowed red. His whole face had a red cast to it. He turned and looked at me and I felt like he could see right through me. And he didn’t have horns, exactly, but where you might expect them to be, there were little scars.”

“And you could see this in the dark?” Another skeptical voice.

“Well, it wasn’t dark in his car. The interior kind of glowed red, like it had neon lights on inside or something. He had this look on his face, too, like he was thinking at me that I knew who he was and that I should be afraid of him.”

“And so what happened?” Sarah said. “Were there flames and car wrecks all around and general destruction?”

The girl telling the story rolled her eyes. “The lane he was in started moving again and he got ahead of us.”

“That’s all?” Randall said. “You have to come up with a better story than that.”

The girl shrugged. “That’s what happened. You don’t believe me, and that’s okay. But that’s exactly what happened.”

The conversation continued. There were more stories told, some of them pretty horrific.

I noticed that the girl who had claimed to have seen the devil got up and started to wander off a little while after she had told her story. I got up and followed her up the stairs.

When I caught up with her, I asked her, “Why did you do that?”

“What?” she said. “Talk about seeing the Devil?

I nodded.

“I don’t know. Nobody ever believes me. But it happened. I could take you out there right now and show you exactly where on the freeway it happened. If I ever saw him again, I could point him out. And I really believe he was the Devil. But I don’t know why I ever bother to say anything. Even my dad didn’t believe me when I told him, that night after we got home.”

She stopped and thought for a minute. “Maybe I just hope that someday I’ll find someone else who has seen him.”

“Oh,” I said. “Maybe. Well, good luck with that.”

And I walked away, feeling kind of sorry for her. Because I was fairly sure she wouldn’t ever find anyone willing to believe her.

Or at least willing to admit to anyone, even to her, that they’d seen him, too.

How did I know?

I knew because I knew her for the rest of college. Became good friends with her, in fact. But I never, ever told her that I’d seen the same man, also late one night and also in the car with my parents. Only I had been six years old, and it had been on the Hollywood Freeway, just as we were passing the Capital Records Building.

I have never told anyone. Not even my dad, who was also driving the night I saw the Devil.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Creativity Experiiment, Day 3: "The Multitasker"

It's day three of John Remy's creativity experiment over at Mind on Fire.

Today's choice from the Tarot deck is the Two of Pentacles. An interesting prompt. I didn't flash on anything immediately from the image (which you can see at John's blog; I'm still a bit technology impaired when it comes to things like images), but when I clicked over to read the summary of meanings that can attach to the card, it hit me immediately.

And so, "The Multitasker":

Chaos abounds
Chores must be done
Challenges ruin a plan
Crises hit the fan
(with accompanying shit)

Hair is torn
Garments are rent
Lunches are lost
Cookies are tossed
(in panic and in fear)

A typical day in the office

But amid the maelstrom
A calm and steady hand
Fends off the boss
Sometimes with a cross
(and garlic…oh! the gossip)

Answers questions
Massages egos
Juggles tasks
Sometimes hides flasks
(so something gets accomplished)

Some hate her
Some love her
But she is called by all
In the boardroom and in the hall
(The Multitasker)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Creativity Experiment, Day 2: A Reflection

Today's Tarot card is The Hermit. You can click over to Mind on Fire to see John picking the card of the day, and for an explanation of just what we're doing this week as part of his experiment in creativity.

This is my day's contribution to the experiment:

What’s so wrong with being alone?

I enjoyed being alone when I was a child. Was it a function of having been an only child? I don’t know.

Sometimes, with half the neighborhood kids playing on my front lawn, I would sneak off inside for the solitude of my room and a book.

No reflection on the kids I knew (or, maybe it is), I really preferred being alone. I spent a lot of time plotting and planning how I could manage to live my adult life without having anyone else around. Ever.

Some people thought I was a strange child. Maybe I was.

Then I became the adult I’d wondered about when I was growing up.

I still preferred being alone.

But, I found, it is a lot more difficult to be alone when you’re an adult. You’ve got to earn a living. You’re expected to have “relationships” (yes, the quotation marks indicate that I still find that concept rather fraught at times), intimate and otherwise.

Additionally, if you’re alone too much others start to be, well, suspicious.

How many people comment about the serial killer next door, “He was always so quiet. Kept himself to himself.”

I did grow to enjoy the company of others. I spent less and less time alone, and mostly didn’t regret it. There was school and work and nights out with friends. But there were still those times when I Just. Needed. To. Be. Alone.

When my mother’s health began to decline and I had to take care of her, there was no such thing as being alone anymore. Going to the mailbox or walking out to the laundry room for five minutes was as close as I got to solitude.

That went on for close to five years.

And then Mom was gone, first into care and then into wherever we go when this life is over.

I discovered that I had forgotten how to be alone.

For awhile, I spent most of my time trying to be with others. With friends. Knitting at the local shop. If nothing else, sitting in a restaurant, writing or reading a book. Just so there were other people around.

Slowly, I’m learning how to be alone again, rediscovering the joys of quiet. Solitude. Time to just sit and think.

To just be.

I still greatly enjoy time with my friends. But, on the other hand, what’s so wrong with being alone?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Creativity Experiment, Day 1: "The Knights in the Park"

I'm participating in John Remy's latest experiment in creativity, over at his blog, Mind on Fire.

Every day for the next week, he will pick a Tarot card at random, and everyone who is participating will create something spurred by that card, and post it.

Today's card is the Knight of Swords, and this is what jumped out of my mind in response to that imagery, a short story, just a couple of scenes, really, that has nothing to do with Tarot at all, but was nevertheless the first thing I thought of on seeing the day's prompt. It is a first draft, but that seems appropriate for this sort of on-the-run experiment.

So, without further comment: "The Knights in the Park":

“Mom!” Katie came tearing through the house, yelling at the top of her lungs. “Mom! I just came by the park, and there’s a bunch of guys out there in armor.”

“Yes, dear,” Mom said as Katie flew by her and into the kitchen. She was used to Katie’s flights of fantasy, and had long since started ignoring them. “It’s probably those knuckleheads in the SCA, practicing. You know how they like to beat each other with sticks.”

“No, Mom,” Katie said, banging shut the refrigerator door, water bottle in hand. “They didn’t have sticks. They had real swords. And spears.”

Mom sighed. “The SCA doesn’t use real swords, Katherine Marie. You’ve seen Mr. Smith’s swords. They’re made out of rattan.”

Katie sighed back, much more dramatically than her mother had.

“I told you, they’re real swords. I know, ‘cause one of them had stabbed another one, and the one that was stabbed was bleeding all over the place. It was gross.”

Back in the living room, Katie paused to drink.

“I asked if they needed me to call an ambulance, but they acted like they didn’t understand me. They were speaking some other language.”

“You need to stay away from Mr. Smith and his friends when they’re practicing,” Mom said. “Those helmets they wear restrict their vision, and one of them might hit you accidentally.”

“But the guy was bleeding, Mom. And moaning, and cussing I think. I couldn’t understand him, but it sounded like Dad does when he cusses.”

Mom looked up at her daughter for the first time since she had come inside.

“You’re a mess, Katie. Go wash up and change clothes. I’ve got to go to the grocery store when I finish folding this laundry, and I want you to go with me.”

“I hate going to the store, Mom,” Katie whined.

“Katie….”, Mom said, a warning tone in her voice.

Katie turned to go, and as she went down the hall she called back, “And there were horses too, Mom. And the horses had armor on, too.”

Mom stopped folding for a minute. Horses? The group that practices in the park never had horses. She shook her head, then went back to her folding.

Twenty minutes later, Katie and her mom were in the car, backing out of the driveway.

“Go the other way,” Katie said when her mom started to turn the car left out of the driveway. “I want to drive by the park and see if they knights and the horses are still there.”

“There are no knights in the part. And there are no horses. Horses are not allowed in the park.”

Mom was about to say no, when she decided that showing Katie that there were no knights, and no horses, in the park might make her daughter think twice before making up these stories. So, she drove back into the driveway and then backed out the other direction and headed toward the park.

Just as Mom suspected, there was no one in the park except for a few kids in the skateboard park.

Except, as the turned the corner and could see past the concrete of the skateboard area, there was a glint of sunlight off metal. As she drove further and could see more, there was a group of men in armor, some with helmets on and some with helmets dangling from gloved hands.

And there were two horses, held by the reins by a boy in a tunic, just beyond the knot of men, who seemed to be gathered around something, or someone, on the ground.

Maybe I should go take a look, see if someone needs help, Mom thought as she pulled up to the curb. She shut off the car, told Katie to stay put, and started across the street.

But, as Katie’s mom stepped up onto the sidewalk on the park side of the street, the gathering of men and the younger man and horses seemed to just dissolve away. One moment they seemed as solid as the sidewalks she was standing on. The next moment they were all transparent; she could see them, but she could see the lawn and trees beyond them, as well. And then, in another moment, they were just…gone.

Katie’s mom stopped still, looked all around her, to see where the group had gone. But they were nowhere in sight.

After a moment, she turned and went back to the car.

“Did you see that, Mom?” Katie said. “They were there, and then they just vanished. That was so cool.”

“Things…people…do not just vanish, Katie,” Mom said. “That’s impossible. It violates every known law of physics.”

Mom paused, sighed yet again. “Yes. I saw that.”

And then she turned and looked at Kate. “And if you breathe a word of this to anyone, you will be grounded until you are ninety years old. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Katie said.

“And I mean no one. Not Dad, not your teachers. Nobody.”

Katie caught the slight edge of hysteria in her mother’s voice and knew that this was one thing she really shouldn’t talk about.

“Yes, ma’am,” Katie repeated. “But we really did see it, didn’t we?”

Mom nodded her head, started the car, and continued to the grocery store.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I really hate spring...

Yes, I know. Spring isn't here yet. But Daylight Savings Time is, and that's enough for me.

In truth, I was glad to see DST come this year. Usually, I like it when it gets dark early, but for some reason it started bothering me this year. So, I'm okay with it getting dark an hour later all of a sudden. I probably won't still like it when it isn't full dark until nine o'clock at night, but this is now.

No, my problem with Spring is that there are plants and trees blossoming. For me, that means that allergy season has shifted into high gear. It means sinus pressure and post-nasal drip, sore throats and sneezing. It's bad enough that people look at me like I've got the plague; sometimes it gets so bad that I feel like I've got the plague.

Like today. My sinuses were bothering me before I ever went outside. Then, after I was finished working, I had to go out to the grocery store to get a few things. Now I'm back, and I feel very much like someone is dragging a piece of barbed wire back and forth inside my sinuses.

Which is probably too much information for most of you. Sorry. We tell the truth here.

Anyway, I'd love to just go back to bed and take a long nap. Like maybe through tomorrow morning. But I won't. It's knit night. I'll go commiserate with my knitting friends who have allergies even worse than I do. It won't make the allergies better. But sometimes, a little bitch and moan time is good for the psyche.

Which brings me to the key question: Why am I allergic to so many things now? I never had any allergies until I moved to this valley. None. Nada. I could eat anything I wanted. With the exception of maybe once a year, for a day or two, my sinuses never caused me any trouble.

Now...well, that's a different story. Here in the most productive agricultural county in the entire nation, I'm allergic to at least half the things grown here. I just don't understand how that works.

Monday, March 08, 2010

What qualified this man to say this?

According to an article on Huffington Post yesterday, Tom Delay thinks that giving people unemployment benefits makes them lazy, no-accounts who just sit home and collect government money, not bothering to look for a job until just before their benefits run out.

Delay’s remarks came on one of the talking-heads Sunday shows on CNN, in defense of Senator Jim Bunning (Republican, of Kentucky) and his fillibuster blocking a vote on extended benefits for the jobless. Answering a question from the host of the show, Candy Crowley, in which she asked, “People are unemployed because they want to be?”, Delay said, “Well, it’s the truth, and people in the real world know it.”

Um. By what stretch of the imagination does Delay think he knows anything about the real world? Does he not know that most people who are unemployed do not qualify for benefits anyway. Those who were working part-time, in temporary jobs, or who are self-employed (that would include me) are not eligible. Additionally, you can’t just quit your job and receive jobless benefits; you have to be unemployed through no fault of your own.

Well, I guess you have to consider the source. Delay is, after all, under indictment on felony conspiracy charges involving campaign contributions, had to resign from his Senate seat due to the indictment, was tangled up with lobbyists for most of his political career, has promoted “birther” conspiracy beliefs which hold that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and is thus not legally eligible to be president, and believes that evolution should not be taught in the nation’s public schools because doing so leads to events like the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado in 1999.

I don’t even know what else to say. Delay has given every appearance of being a crooked politician with some fairly out-there views (not necessarily on the evolution issue, as lots of people believe pretty much the same thing he does; but the “birthers” are just plain loony). But he feels qualified to go around saying that people are unemployed because they want to be, and he expects us to all just accept his word on that.

Sorry. I don’t think so.

Yet another sabbatical from posting...

Um-hum. Yeah. It has been a long time since I've posted here.

But, no, you haven't gotten rid of me yet. It's just that I spent most of January worrying about various issues, while most of February was spent in the process of moving house (well, apartment).

I could not believe the amount of crap that one can accumulate in a one-bedroom apartment and that you don't even see until you start packing to move. I think I threw out as much or more junk than I acutally moved. And the time spent shredding old mail so as to avoid identity-theft. Can someone please tell me why places have to print account numbers on every single page of mailings? It is absolutely insane.

Also, I celebrated the move by going to Gallifrey One in Los Angeles. For those of you who don't know, Gally is a Doctor Who convention...yes, we've established before that I'm a geek...held annually at the airport Marriott in L.A. Lots of fun, loads of insanity, and a good way to get rid of a lot of stress.

Now, I'm just concentrating on work and finding more work. The former is going as well as can be expected in a time of recession (no, it isn't over yet, no matter what the talking heads on the news stations say), and the latter is, well, dismal.

I guess we will see how much more time I have to post here. Maybe if I'd start reading the news again (I've been avoiding it; too depressing), I'd find stuff that riles me up enough to post.