“Soldiers Letters”

1864 CivilW Env Molly Glick
On the side is written: “Soldiers Letters”

I’m posting this letter for some reason. I guess it’s something about perspective, or maybe it’s simply that letters used to be so vital to life and now they’re so not. In fact I think if I wrote a letter to someone, they’d wonder just what on Earth is wrong with me. (“Geez, why doesn’t she just text/iMessage/follow me on Facebook?”)

Well, I will, probably. Eventually. In the meantime, for what it’s worth, here’s a letter I didn’t write to you, or anyone. It was written with a pen and inkwell on U.S. Sanitary Commission “stationery” in 1864 from a Civil War camp in Pennsylvania.

In 1864 a stamp cost 3 cents, but it seems a soldier’s letters were delivered with or without it. Among my paternal family research files was this letter sent from a “Camp near Petersburgh” on September 7th to Molly Glick, from her cousin, a soldier named Monroe Glick, both of whom are relatives I haven’t yet been able to place in the family tree. Except for some opening pleasantries, the contents of the letter are transcribed entirely below. I kept the original spelling, but due to the different line breaks, what you won’t see carried over is how Monroe capitalized the first letter of each line like a poem, the letters each written in elaborate cursive script like you’d seen on the first page of a storybook. On the other hand, he wrote the pronoun ‘i’ in lowercase pretty much throughout:

1864 CivilW Ltr M Glick side 2of2
“We have had some hard fighting…”

“…I love to get letters and also to answer them for it is a lonely life is a soldiers life and there is a great deal of enjoyment in receiving and answering letters from our dear friends at home. And therefore Cousin I would kindly advise you to answer all letters written by our Braves in the field for the people at home have not the least idea how many hardships we have to undergo for our country. But we do them willingly … in good spirits. We have had some hard fighting here since I wrote to you and have gained some important points here and grant does not mean to abandon these lines unless he moves onward towards Richmond. Hhe is having a railroad built the length of our lines[.] it will run within two hundred yards of our Reserve Ammunition Transfer. The road is staked out already and will soon be done. Since I wrote to you we have moved our Ammunition trains about 5 miles farther to the left of our lines. We now lie in the rear of our Corps in an open field and I have not got our old house to sleep in as I had when I last wrote to you. But have to sleep on the ground in our tests. We had a very rough night of it last night for it rained very near all night. I am not as well this morning as I have ben for some time.” [Here he stopped writing and continued the next day - spelling and punctuation become worse, and the size of the writing is smaller]

“September 7th I did not finish my letter yesterday and I will finish it now. I was sick all night and have been all day until this evening. I feel very bad now but I will try and finish it. We have had good news from Shermans army in Atlanta and night before last there was cheering all along our lines. I have written one or two letters to cousin Philip Snyders and have got no answer from them yet[.] I want you if you see them tell [them] to write to me for I don’t know just how to write to them and I want Philip to make me a pair of Boots for this winter as soon as we are paid off[,] for I can’t stand to wear shoes this winter and I know that he will make me a pair of good Boots. I want a pair of Kipp Boots[.] tell him that he must write soon for [next?] I to get paid of this month or next. since I got your letter I have received a letter from my sister and our folks are all well. you speak of the old grove at Pleasant Valley [Ohio] and how well we enjoyed [---]. It will be a long time I fear before we can enjoy ourselves again as we did then. You ask where Jenny is[,] she is still at the same place was but I have not had a letter from for some time Well I will have to close for this time and will write a longer letter the next time give my love to all enquiring friends yours truly so named at present From your cousin Monroe Glick

Co. I. [or J.] 60th Regt. O.V.I.[Ohio Volunteer Infantry] 2nd Brig 3rd Division 9th Corps

Miss Molly Glick

[on the back] This is my picture don’t laugh at it”

[end - no pic included]

Pumpkin Spice, Philosophenweg, and that Thinning Veil Thing

 

I guess I'm getting to that...
Talk about nerdy autumn-inspired reading

I am not a big reader. Never have been.  I read inside my head with drama, word by word, line by line, like Morgan Freeman is in there narrating.

It takes me a hyperbolic year to get through a book I really like.  I guess that’s why I’m short on fiction and long on non. These non-fics pictured are all books I really like and haven’t finished, in some cases for so long that I must really, really like them. Is autumn a good season for finishing things? I feel like it is, and it isn’t. Like anything, it probably depends on what you’re talking about.

I have heard that, right now, up to this very moment, it is a good time to start things: a new moon, a new season, and a new hue colors the very air and the rest of my surroundings.  But when it comes to finishing things – like these books, for example – I am inspired by the very air to tackle them one by one. The timing seems right for the ethereal subject matter prevailing in all of them.

Is it just me, or is the elusive “thinning veil” of lore making all the sunsets look cool to the touch? Is the slower vibration of atoms allowing me to not only to see but to think more clearly? I’ve been through a few autumns in my life, but when they finally roll around after summer and change things, it always feels like I’m pondering these changes, and maybe everything, for the first time. So maybe autumn is a season of both old and new? (Hmm, I never thought of it that way. . .)

In a thoughtful (thought-fall?) mood, I guess I naturally turn to the spiritual-philosophical books on my shelf. I’m a psychological counselor by training, but even that sounds too, I don’t know, touchy feely for these moments. I’d rather seek wisdom, and drink in the kind of musings scholars and poets used to have when walking along paths winding through trees on the outskirts of town – what the Germans called philosophenweg.

Philosophenweg
Philosophenweg

Autumn makes me pretty unoriginal. I wear more orange, crave pumpkin spice, bake sweets (and eat them, gain 5 pounds, and never lose it).  I made a pumpkin cream cheese torte yesterday. It’s almost gone, so now I want candy corns. It’s the color and honey sweetness I like most, and the heart-palpitating sugar rush I like least. It’s bad enough to keep me from buying a bag  (because, clearly, I have little self-control and will eat the whole bag). I guess I do have some self-control, then.

In this ever-digitalized age, I’ve begun (see? something new again) a practice of reading daily from a real book – you know, with pages you can turn down and words you can highlight with an ink pen. I’ve heard it helps you retain focus, concentration, and your basic feeling of contentedness. Because I wax philosophical in the fall, especially just before Halloween, I have spirit and magic and immortality on the brain. In light of that, these books are my current calling.

I’ve delved the least into Will Storr vs. The Supernatural: One Man’s Search for the Truth About Ghosts, but since I’ve already started it, this may be a good time to get back into it. Will Storr’s writing style is a little journalistic for me, though, so it takes a certain objective mood.  Besides, I get the feeling he’s always about to say something snarky, and I’m not in the mood for that. I’ll save it for tomorrow’s real-book reading.

Today I read about FWH Meyers, a Victorian Age cofounder of the Society for Psychical Research, and all his rich, elitist, sciencey friends at Cambridge, Trinity, and Harvard who used scientific method to prove or disprove spirit phenomena, mesmerism, thought transference, and psychic abilities. A lot of people know about the origins of the Spiritualist movement, the prevalence of charlatans, and the “real ghost hunters.” But a lot more people don’t know that the hunt for ghosts began not only out of curiosity and desire for meaning (which the Civil War, Darwin and AR Wallace had just squashed to some degree), but – for scientists, at least – also as a kind of public service to shield the gullible Everyman and Everywoman from paying a month’s salary on a fake psychic reading with their fake dearly departed granddad.

One of my favorite of these original ghost hunters is William James, the proclaimed “father of American psychology” and the first president of the American Society of Psychical Research. To read James’s writing can be rather snoozy and even enraging if you don’t like lofty treatises on the varieties of religious experience or how and why to vivisect a cat, but to read about him is enthralling. From his depressive romance with life to his mix of scientific bent with philosophical yearning to prove something as ethereal and immaterial as life after death, if nothing else, you have to admit the man aimed high.

Of course I have to balance out all that man-centered history with woman power, and Victoria Woodhull embodies this. In Other Powers, I learned she was the first woman to run for U.S. President,  one of the first successful women stock brokers, and a proponent of free love who ran brothels and often worked in them. On top of that, she was actually a pretty good psychic. Cornelius Vanderbilt, railroad financier and one-time richest man in America, employed Victoria as his spiritual advisor, or more like his spirit-communicating advisor. She advised him based on psychic and/or predictive messages, which sometimes directly led him to expand his empire and wealth. He wasn’t shy about admitting it. When someone asked him the million-dollar question, “How did you do it?” (i.e. make all that money)  he replied: I consult the spirits.  Okay, Mr. Crazypants,” I’m sure was a retort at some point, but the man literally burned money in his fireplace, so. There’s that.

Talk about talking to the dead, there’s not just a psychic here and a psychic there in a little town called Lily Dale Assembly. In Lily Dale: The True Story of The Town that Talks to the Dead, it does take a village . . . to talk to the dead. (In case there’s ever a movie made: tagline c. 2014 Lisa Borja) Journalist Christine Wicker visited Lily Dale community to interview many of the inhabitants of what is actually more of an unincorporated community that started (in Victoria Woodhull’s day) as the Camp at Cassadaga Lake in New York state. Whether they’re all really good psychics is not for me to say, but I found it fascinating to read about the history and how many famous people have been there (and still go).

Ah, the magic of – well, of magic. I can’t spend this whole magical season of rust-colored leaves and cool sunsets reading about history. I still need one more point of balance, and for that there’s Harry Potter. Harry Potter books started a literary non-realism craze we’re still in, to some extent, but nothing in my opinion has done it with such a popular focus on pure imagination for its own sake – not to prove anything to anyone except that magical thinking (when not a function of a mental health disorder) is kind of fun. Even though I am still, after upteen years, in the middle of the series (shhhh!), I have as recently as days ago dreamed of trying to enter a kind of 9-and-three-quarters-platform dimension just by running at it head first. So, judge me or don’t – a snob or two of the Society for Psychical Research probably would – but like I said, it’s all about balance. Balance, and inspiration.

That said, it’s a beautiful autumn day, and I haven’t done my real-book reading yet. Or, maybe this would be a good time to start something new – right now, in this very moment. I hope I do, but considering the height of my still-unread pile in front of me, maybe just not a book. How about baking?

Pie. No – pumpkin spice muffins. Pumpkin spice something.

Move Over Hasselhoff, It’s – the Trivago Guy?

From Picturesnew.com
From Picturesnew.com – Warning: enlarge photo at your own risk

He has a guitar named Josephine and a zest for life. Some say he sorely needs a belt; others complain that he’s “creepy.” Still others took the time on Facebook to compliment his new haircut. He lives in Berlin and he’s kind of famous in certain circles – or Kreise – like Germany’s GZSZ, a long-running daily soap opera to which German fans often entreat him to return.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m not talking about David Hasselhoff (“The Hoff,” pictured here in all his hairy 80’s glory). I’m talking about Tim Williams. Yes, the Tim Wi—

What? You don’t know who Tim Williams is? Alright, I guess that’s understandable. Either you don’t watch television, don’t live in the U.S. or Germany, or you’ve seen the commercial and you just haven’t cared enough yet to cry out: What is up with the Trivago guy???

This was exactly my reaction when I saw the commercial on TV but especially on Hulu, where it is played umpteen times per show – and trust me, there are many, many shows that feature it. This is also exactly how I found out everything I’m ever going to know about Tim Williams, a.k.a. The Trivago Guy, which is saying a lot, since all I knew about him before was whatever I could glean in one minute of confused viewing. That is, one minute of commercial time, repeated over, and over, and over. I became so impassioned with the mystery of this unusually unkempt actor that, one night while bingeing on season six of The X Files, I grabbed my phone, googled “Trivago guy,” and got three definitive hits in this order: 1) Mommies-in-orbit.com’s “What is up with the Trivago guy?” 2) Tim Williams “official” Facebook page, and 3) Southernplainsphotography.com’s “The Disheveled Trivago Guy.”

It was clear I had my man.

I’ve included the commercial for those who don’t know the man with deep forehead wrinkles and a Miami Vice five o’clock shadow:

Sean Ramsey of Southern Plains Photography used his blog to air peculiarly strong feelings about The Trivago Guy: “so that I can move on with my life. [He] looks like he’s been on a three day party binge, or at least been sitting at a bar with a glass of whiskey two weeks after his wife left him.”

A reader making one of about 250 comments on the site expresses a similar imaginative scenario: “He looks like he just walked onto the set after a night at the strip club; his clothes don’t fit quite right and he was in such a hurry to get there that he forgot his belt, hoping he makes it to the shoot in time so he can pay for his next hit and whiskey bottles he needs to keep up the rugged carefree lifestyle he leads and hopes he can hang on to.”

And hopes he can hang on to?

Another baffled commenter lays it right out there, mincing not one word: “What is this dirty-looking man doing?”

Indeed. A better question might be this: What is it about this “dirty-looking man” that has inspired so many people to write a kind of impromptu, free-verse, not-a-fan fiction so creative and passion-driven that you might hear it on slam poetry open mike night?

Before we get into that, let’s be fair. Not all of us have vilified Tim Williams, a.k.a. The Trivago Guy, a.k.a. The Disheveled Trivago Guy. While, for some of us repeatedly exposed to the commercial, he conjured images of white powdery lines on glass coffee tables and Jack Daniels-fueled rock-bottom benders, others were more satisfied with his appearance. Someone with the Germanic-sounding name J Ehrmantraut commented: “I think he looks like a real person, not a model made up to please everyone. He is also very good looking.”

There were many colorful descriptions running the gamut from “hot and sexy” to “arrogant and ugly,” and ideas proliferated about things one might wish to but can’t possibly know from the commercial, such as whether he has “third-stage gum disease,” bedbugs, or “has just been on a plane for six hours (after being on a three-day bender).” Needless to say, opinions hugely varied. (On a side note, a substantial fraction of self-identified gay-male commenters seemed to be quite smitten with the unshaven jeans-wearing discount-slinger.)

A lovely "travel belt" might be appropriate
A lovely “travel belt” might be appropriate

Actually, let’s be really fair. This guy has been called creepy, ugly, arrogant, dirty, sickly, and freakish, among other unnecessarily mean descriptives. Mommies-in-orbit.com suggested he is someone “to keep your daughter far away from” and offered a link for readers to check out “his definitely creepy Facebook page.” So I did, fully prepared to deepen my distaste two- or threefold at least.

I couldn’t. I didn’t see one (not obvious, anyway) prostitute, stripper, whiskey bottle, shot glass, 8-ball, horse whip, crack pipe, or creep. He doesn’t even seem to have creepy friends. (For what it’s worth, in response to one assumedly German person who complained that assumedly American commenters are obsessed with the word “creepy,” I agree – but I’m just quoting the stated facts.) Instead, I saw a proud white-haired man’s son; a man with his own smiling teenage son or nephew; a 48-year-old ex-pat in love with music, Berlin, his guitar . . . and life, man.

Yes, I also saw a guy who posts before-and-after photos of his haircuts and how awesome the number of “likes” on his page is. Yes, I saw lots of selfies from every angle imaginable, and no, he does not look good in a wife-beater. (Sorry, Tim, but not from that angle.) Just like I can’t claim really to know anything about this guy from a one-minute commercial, I still can’t say I know a whole lot from looking on his Facebook page. And I’m probably not going to.

But that’s okay, because I can say this: The commercial used to really bother me, and now it doesn’t. At all.

So, what is it about this guy? Nothing. Again, a better question might be: What is it about those of us who are so bothered by something different, and by a brand ambassador whose appearance is nonhomogeneous to the impossible standard we have been given and come to expect?

I don’t have an answer, except maybe to look deeper. Just, look deeper.

The facts remain. He didn’t have a belt. He was wearing a weirdly colored, too casual ensemble for a TV spokesman, especially for a product that pretty much exists ten times over (think TripAdvisor, Expedia, Hotels.com, Yelp, Orbitz, etc.) I thought they didn’t put enough effort into the commercial, and I was sure he didn’t put enough effort into playing the part of The Trivago Guy. I even made up a backstory of my own: his great uncle left him a small trust fund and, consulting no one, he used it to jump on the Dot Com startup bandwagon fifteen years after it had already left the barn, been spooked by a rattlesnake and run off a cliff.

I, too, thought he was creepy. And for that, I am sorry.

But more than that, I have wonderful news.

Just today, I saw two things that let me know there is indeed hope in the world. First, and most shocking: THERE IS A NEW TRIVAGO COMMERCIAL. And guess what . . . he’s wearing a belt!!!

Aaand . . . check this out, if you’re one of the – let’s face it, folks – select American Hulu series-bingers like me confused enough to ask, “What is up with the Trivago Guy?” and actually look for the answer. (Trust me, just check it out. And no, it’s not p-o-r-n.)

It turns out those Germans were right: there’s a LOT more to The Trivago Guy than his questionably designed commercial. He even wears guyliner. So move over, David Hasselhoff, because your day as Germany’s favorite weirdly charming, musically cheeseballish, American B-list (ok C-list) actor is OVER.

IT’S TIM TIME. (No, not that musician Tim Williams. The other musician Tim Williams.)

As for Tim Williams, who will never read this because I’m fairly certain I know him well enough to say he doesn’t google himself, but just in case: Gruess dich, mein Freund, Der Trivago Typ. Ich wuensche dir, Alles Gute zum Leben. ~

One of These … : 2 – Choking

[Part 2 of a series introduced here.]

Even though there was no ham sandwich
Even though there was no ham sandwich . . .

In the case of Cass Elliot, fiction is stranger than truth. She didn’t die from choking on a sandwich, but rather of “natural causes.” I can’t help it that her urban legend lives on any more than I can make myself stop thinking about the idea of choking as a possible cause of death. The end will come somehow, and it’s not inconceivable that something I do more than three times a day might once go terribly, freakishly awry. Is it? Remember the guy who was killed by a flying toilet seat? (That was real, wasn’t it?)

While in the long run it might actually make me feel better, it wouldn’t be all that nice of you to point out how ridiculous it is to be concerned about choking to death.  I can’t call my “problem” by the literal term pseudodysphagia because my anxiety in no way affects me as an eating disorder, which I just learned is a thing – so please, any sufferers out there, know that I am not talking about you or making fun of something that really causes trouble eating.

I have no trouble eating. In fact, in an ironic coincidence that is likely no coincidence at all, I am eating potato chips and watermelon right now. Just think about it: If I were to choke on anything, it’s going to be one of those two items. And what’s more, I’m alone in the house so there’s no one here to save me. I’d have to choke slowly while running out the door, down the stairs, down the driveway and possibly across the street before I might find someone to help.

Clearly I don’t have problems using my imagination. I really don’t need to imagine what it feels like at all to be alone and have my airway suddenly partially blocked, to struggle for breath for what seems like minutes as my face turns into an overripe tomato. It’s happened – at fairly longish intervals throughout my life, but still. The suddenly impaired ability to breathe is a memorable, albeit brief, moment of terror that I have experienced several times in my life.

It happened a few days ago, and I wasn’t even eating. I just attempted to inhale and it didn’t pan out. Oh, the things we take for granted. I think I had finished a bowl of Allegedly Seedless Watermelon (a label I’d prefer they put on all such watermelons), Seedless my assso there might have been a seed hiding in the back of my throat. My husband watched for the international sign of “I’m choking” and later said he was 2 seconds away from Heimlich-ing his way to breaking my xiphoid process (a collateral fear and likely result of performing said maneuver, but that’s beside the point).

It also happened once long, long ago as I watched a favorite movie with friends on a cool summer night in the safety of my own home. I started to laugh (another famously safe activity) and something briefly caught in my throat. I panicked and felt my heart skip a beat – or maybe a moment of dizziness, I can no longer remember – and the scary, trippy thoughts I had as a kid of “I could die at any moment” returned to me for the first time in years.

I was okay, of course, but I wasn’t “okay.” For months, many times a day I would experience the same feeling of physical insecurity, even if I was just going to sleep or walking outside. I got over it, but I never forgot what it was like to live like that. I’m slightly more mature now, twenty years later, to the point that I can simultaneously be aware of mortality and feel content or happy for days at a time. I don’t actually think I’ll get out of the personal death experience, or that anyone else will, but I can say that and not spiral immediately into existential crisis.

I sometimes even have a sense of humor about it. Sort of. I mean, part of me recognizes the delicious mystery it might inspire were I to suddenly die by choking while writing a blog about choking to death.  Let me reiterate that this is not my idea of a great way to go, and that I’m totally cool with it not being today or even soonish.

Another part of me says that, like air travel, the likelihood of choking to death increases as time goes on – only in the case of choking, part of the supposed uptick may also concern aging in general and loss of muscle tone in particular, and not just from a total number of choking opportunities.

Thankfully, my saving grace is a third part of me, which does indeed recognize that any activity causing me to seriously use the phrase “total number of choking opportunities” is probably not one I need to drag on endlessly, or ever again. After all, the only good thing to come of thanatopsis is to remember that life is too short – for everyone, regardless of when and how it ends – to waste time worrying.

One of These Will End Me: 1 – Plane travel

1940s flight attendant
Claustrophobia, anyone?

I’m getting on a plane again.  Yeesh.

Apparently things have improved  since the first commercial flights, such as the 1941 flying closet pictured here, but it doesn’t mean air travel is any easier for a person like me: practical, grounded,  ever-evaluating potential danger in the immediate surroundings, always having Jerry Seinfeld-like thoughts about how accepting we are of the absurdly unnatural situations into which we put ourselves.

I’d say flying for hours in a giant winged cigar thirty thousand feet above ground with a probably overworked pilot guided by tired air traffic controllers qualifies as an unnatural situation. Point your finger and laugh, but any time I am asked to trust people I won’t even see to operate 100,000 pounds of machinery into which I am securely strapped, I tend to feel anxious.

Even if my flight pilots and controllers all dream of marshmallows and puppies tonight and eat good breakfasts, I doubt that we strangers – my fellow passengers and I – will get along naturally as we sit in drastically confined spaces,  share a quart of air and two tiny bathrooms,  and give nary a thought about each other’s well-being until required by law. Yes, I’m watching you, exit row hogs: It’s not what you say when the flight attendant asks if, in the unlikely event of a water landing, you’re up to the task of guiding us calmly through the emergency exits  before you yourselves hit the rubber slide (down to frigid and/or shark infested waters). It’s how you say it.

My biggest problem is not fear of flying, it’s the lack of realistic alternatives and choices. First of all, yes, I could drive or take a train – if I had 6-10 extra days to travel.  Yes, I could just stay home in front of the television or computer watching other people live interesting lives. Maybe I could be happy vicariously wandering the globe through Rick Steeves and go-getting participants of “The Amazing Race.” But even a guy like Rick is not going to pick up any souvenirs from Chile for me or bring chips to the Memorial Day barbecue with my relatives. I have to push myself to do some things on my own.

I can easily get myself onto the plane, but once I’m there and the doors have shut, I don’t like how I’m committed to fully accept anything that happens next: the mechanical noises that are louder than I remember, the weightless takeoff feeling in my stomach that mimics physical panic and fear, the constant turbulence, the passengers who are screeching, barfing, or invading my personal space. The God-knows-what that I can only imagine too well from the enactment of dangers on several hundred movies and television series readily available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

Because I don’t enjoy air travel and it’s not often that I do it, I treat it like a monumental tic on the timeline of my life. It’s right up there with various weddings, graduations, new jobs, birthdays, funerals, and once-in-a-lifetime vacations. My subconscious gets ready for a life-altering event, not from the reason for travel but from the plane ride itself. For some reason, I’ve always thought of takeoff as a mini-death, or the moment I leave a piece of myself behind forever as I speed forth into an unknown future.

It may be a colorful way of thinking about it, but even I know it sounds way too dramatic. I’m not exactly flying into the unknown. When I booked my flight, there wasn’t an option in the destination field for “Oh, I don’t know, you decide.” I know where I’m going. It’s really quite common and simple: I’m flying to Minnesota where I’ll visit people and do stuff and return to Oregon five days later.

hooded figure scytheIf all goes well, my Sadistic Inner Voice chimes in. I hate that voice. I guess I’m doing alright, because I continue to fly despite my anxiety. I don’t listen to the Sadistic Inner Voice, even if it’s telling me the more flights I’m on, the more chance there is that something will go wrong. What if I win that lottery – the one where I’m on that one-in-a-million flight that crashes, or one-in-several-million that gets hijacked or goes missing?

Well, if I do win that lottery, I’d like my memorial bench to be placed on Mount Pisgah with a gold plate reading (ironically): You Create Your Reality, a nice donation to go to Project Beagle Rescue in California, and I’d like everyone who knows me to know I did the best I could. I wanted to write more than this, but if this is all there is, so be it. Play Let it be at my funeral. 

Of course I’ll feel stupid and regret the wasted energy of worrying when it’s all over and I’m safely home with my objets de confort (husband, pets, bed, house, car). Of course, I made up that phrase and my French is terrible. Of course, I probably will fly again, and be just as anxious and see portents of doom everywhere in the days before I leave.  Why are the dogs acting funny – do they know something I don’t? Is that cloud shaped like a hooded figured holding a scythe? Why do I feel compelled to watch Castaway again?   

But I’ve made my choice, I’m getting on that plane quite literally if it kills me, and (if all goes well) I’m going to be very, very happy to come home and gather with my family around the television and watch people doing interesting things while I eat popcorn in my pajamas.

[This is Part 1 of a series introduced here.]

 

Sincerely, The Lady Who Took “Your” Parking Spot

punch you in the faceI am walking from my car into the store when a blue van pulls up in front of me and what looks like a petite soccer mom opens the passenger side window, sneering, “Thanks for taking my parking spot.”

Okay, I found a really good spot, but anyone would have to laugh if they saw how it happened. I’ll spare the details, but this lady ended up parking two spots down from me – she literally had to walk twelve “extra” feet to the store – in the spot I saw open up right in front of her and which was blocked to me from the way I came in.

All sorts of things occurr to me. First, I stop in the store entryway and wait, shocked, looking out in the lot to where this woman was parked and thinking, “Did that really just happen?” She spent an extra long time in her car before she got out – embarassed, maybe, at the sudden thought that we might run into each other in the store. It took so long, I finally had to walk away before I ever saw her get out.

Now I’m in the store looking for dinner, looking at people walking by and wondering who else is going to yell at me. Soon, I start to get mad, thinking: Is that her coming around the corner? Of course she buys the economy box of individual sweetener packets. Probably drinks Nescafe and doesn’t recycle or – nope, that’s not her. What if I run into her by the paper towels? What should I say – “Get a life!” or, “Way to spread good cheer, lady.” What if she says something snide to me again and I end up pulling her hair or something? Situations devolve rapidly in my imagination.

I want that two-liter bottle of A & W, but there’s someone standing in front of it. Is it her? Should I yell, “Hey, get the f— out of my way so I can get my root beer.” Of course not. Why would it occur to anyone, let alone that woman, that you can just yell at a stranger about something so tiny and trivial? Did someone just die, and she’s in the Anger part of the grieving process? No. I bet someone just told her off, and she’s paying it forward. Well, if they didn’t tell her off, someone should . . . and that person should be me.

So I (no kidding) go and look for her. I want to run into her now – maybe with my shopping cart. Except I now find myself totally unable to identify anyone that looks like her, so I (get ready for this) make extended, kinda mean eye contact with all petite brunettes in the store just in case they’re her. I remember I still need paper towels, so I go back to the appropriate section, get them, and wander back slowly down every aisle. Yes, I realize how demented that seems.

Thank God, I finally reach a turning point by the fruit roll ups. There is no doubt, this mini-incident rattled me. I wasn’t trying to “take” anyone’s parking spot. I thought it all worked out swimmingly, so imagine my surprise when Miss Minivan pops out of nowhere and makes me out to be that guy who nabs the good parking spot right out from under you like a dog sneaking food from the dinner table. I just don’t do that. In fact, I usually park far away around the corner to avoid any competition.

When these bad feelings finally culminated into, “Thanks a lot lady, now I’m in a bad mood like you and it’s gonna be like this for the rest of the night,” I had to stop and have a lucid conversation with myself by the nut butters. I had to admit that, if I have learned anything in life, it is that I do NOT have to let someone else’s bad attitude become mine. I can do better than that.

After picking up a box of fancy fruity snacks I normally wouldn’t buy, I sauntered over to the greeting card aisle. I found the sympathy card section first. I knew there would be all kinds of uplifting messages there, and I was going to give one to Miss Minivan. I found a glittery one with butterflies and flowers and the words, “Don’t forget,” on the front, and the rest of the sentence, “You Are Special” on the inside. It was $2.59. It was the day before payday, and I had $12 in my checking account. I bought it.

Okay, I did giggle over some of the other sympathy cards and how they could have sounded deliciously sarcastic in the wrong context. Even “Sorry about your loss,” made me snicker aloud conspiratorially. But I did not give into temptation. I kept it simple and straightforward. After all, this was about me restoring my good mood, not getting revenge or one-upping her. I wrote the first sincere thing that came into my head, simply: “Try not to sweat the small stuff so much.” All I could come up with on short notice was a total cliché, but at least I resisted the urge to sign it:

Sincerely,

The lady who took “your” parking spot

I put the card on her windshield. And by God, if I didn’t just have the greatest, most relaxing evening after that.

Coming Soon: “One of These Will End Me”

Seth MacFarlane gets a lot of flak for being over the top and distasteful, but I have to hand it to him for once again using his magical Hollywood powers for twisted good.

The upcoming film A Million Ways to Die in the West (from Macfarlane’s “historical novel” -?!?- of the same name) is likely just as deep as it sounds, but also likely to provide something of a catharsis for people like me: people who have, to some degree and at some point in their lives, developed an unhealthy preoccupation with the old specter of Death.

By watching a humorous portrayal about an uneasy subject, for me a source of ongoing anxiety, it eases a little weight of a truly time-wasting worry.  When you have repeated worries about something as huge and scary and mysterious and inevitable, sometimes you just need to go there and put a spotlight on it. Maybe you go there and find a lot less substantial that you thought. Or you find out you have a lot of work to do on managing your fears and getting on with life, and you’d better get started. But if you go there and – for a moment, anyway – you can sit with it and laugh? Well, come on. Something’s gotta lighten us up.

I love the historical setting of the film, but I’m not in the old west. I can proudly say I am not the tiniest bit afraid of getting crushed by a huge block of falling ice. The upcoming series on Meditative Dishwashing will be me sitting with the stuff of what I hope to find are silly but contemporary nightmares and making myself (and others-?) chuckle at times at the absurdity once those anxieties come to light. From drowning during a Carnival cruise, to choking on a watermelon seed while series-binging on Netflix,  to anaphylactic shock after a lurking allergy to _______(fill in the blank), I’m going to start continue this fight  with thanatophobia by wielding a little humor. Self-deprecating and slightly off-putting, but humor, nonetheless.

Fair warning.

Excerpt from The Spirit Writings Book 1: Beyond Pleasant End

Originally posted on The Spirit Writings:

Let me start by saying I am not dying. Nevertheless, it is true that I keep this diary now of what happens to me because the life I have led thus far will soon end and another will begin.

The loveliest and most musical phrase—”no more school”—has finally become a reality for me, and yet I remain as blessed as I am cursed. In that respect alone, nothing has changed. At minimum, I hope to succeed in at least two things: by recording certain memories, events, and dialogues here, I will never forget them; and by keeping the appearance of a diarist, I may be able to continue with the spirit writings.

I must learn to stop them, however, from accosting me in the midst of sleep. Last night when the moon was high, Crete knocked at the inside of my skull and I bolted upright, waking from what was…

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Blog Hop: DIY Interview Meets Cyber Leapfrog

Where DO ideas come from?
Where DO ideas come from?

Writing starts for me somewhere in a big Montana sky of drifting thought clouds. Okay, that sounds more like my Oregon sky, but maybe you get my drift. Haaahaaa, get it? Anyone? (Just the crickets, then? Sigh.) Anyway, my creative ideas would be just as fluffy, insubstantial and temporary as clouds if I didn’t write them down – like I do here, in fiction writing, or how I used to do in this handy little self-explanatory booklet you see, originally going back to somewhere in my single digits.

Thanks to the talented Jae Erwin for the invitation to this unique installment of meta-meditative dishwashing. What do I think about what I think? That’s not so much what this is about. What do I write about what I write? Now, that’s more like it. . .

Blog Hop Rules:

Answer the four questions below, link back to the person who invited you, and link to the people who will be posting the following Monday.

My answers follow. (Can you stand it? Is it cloudy today?)

1. What am I working on?

I’m continuing a YA series called The Spirit Writings. I recently did what I’ll now call a test run by publishing the first three parts as e-novellas on Amazon, but they have since been unpublished.

I also continue researching the American Victorian Age, the history of Spiritualism, and anything to do with the Society for Psychical Research, and write about these as they relate to the genre of historical fiction. I do like the weird, paranormal, spiritual, and such things. I also manage to dig up some of the underside of Victorian history in pictures on Pinterest.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Historical fiction is a pretty neat and tidy itty-bitty genre that generally lives up to its name. It just so happens to be a very, very small niche. What I write puts a kind of realistic spin on the spiritual, with romance, humor and mystery sprinkles. I also ensure meticulous research in the eras I write about, in order to get everything as right as possible.

3. Why do I write what I write?

Until very recently I could sum it up as, “Because I have to,” but I’m no longer sure about that. In The Spirit Writings, I write about what fascinates me: a girl who sees dead people gets bullied and bravely challenges all the barriers she encounters, with the assumption that they’re no more substantial than the spirits haunting her. I write about this because I think young adult girls and women need to read about people like them who overcome difficult challenges, follow their dreams and listen to their inner voice, all while reasonably challenging perceived limits and outdated norms. I think women and girls need to read about more strong, interesting women and girls in history.

I place my characters purposefully in the late 19th century before computers, cell phones, movies, cars, telephones, and cameras, because these are all highly distracting, so boring to write about, and not even vital to living and breathing on Earth. Honestly, I’m a little terrified that kids – no, all of us – are forgetting that last part. I include myself in that. I feel strongly that the time period (right around 1880) brings a needed perspective. CONFESSION: In my wildest dreams, if the world were Nicolas Cage expressing its burning love for more-bigger-better-and-neverending technology, I would be Cher slapping it in the face yelling, Snap out of it!

4. How does your writing process work?

Mornings. Definitely mornings are best for writing. I started my first novel with the words: “This is an experiment to see if the blank electronic page is as daunting as the blank paper page.” That said, I no longer fancy myself among the Joyce Carol Oates crowd of longhand writers. I also stopped writing in self-created notebooks of yellow paper entitled, “Idea Book.” So yeah, it is ironic that I write best on my computer while hooked up to the Internet. It helps me keep the flow going because I can quickly look up whether a character can write with a pencil or what kind of flak might she get wearing her hair down in public. I tend to stop and revise a lot while writing, so much that I need Cher to slap me and yell in my face.

With that we are HOPPING ONWARD to the next round with a wonderful worthy Wisconsin writer named:

Judy Driscoll! – who can be found at . . . ~ The Expert Within ~ . . .

 

I hope these words are clean when I'm done with them