PLACEHOLDER

Haloo, reader!  In the months of June and July 2017, in addition to working full-time in early childhood education, I am taking a college course for my professional development in that field.  I will not be able to keep up with my weekly production schedule for the Aum stories during this time.  Accordingly, “Topaz Bond” is going on hiatus until the first week of August.  I will take this post down when I resume my production schedule.  Stay tuned!

Lyn’s Essays: On Marriage (Year 3)

I can remember thinking, more than ten years ago, that I wanted a relationship like the one described in the Liz Phair song “Favorite”, in which she compares her lover to a well-worn pair of underwear.

Don’t look sexy, but it just feels right

not too dirty and it’s not too tight

why I never threw it out, I’ll never know exactly why

keep it in a drawer beside my bed

it’s faded pink now, but it used to be red

starting to fray at the seams, but I know that you still love me like you did, like before

like we will be doing it once more

In Year 3 of marriage, I think I got my wish.  Joel and I are comfortable with each other now in a way I’ve never experienced before and have trouble describing.  I wouldn’t say we finish each other’s sentences, but we do follow each other’s train of thought, and often I notice Joel pointing out something I was about to say.  We don’t argue the way we did when we were starting out.  We know each other’s signals and nine times out of ten, when one of us starts to push a button and the signals begin, the button-pusher says “Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you, let’s try this a different way?”  It’s been long enough since I raised my voice at Joel that neither of us can remember how long it’s been (I just asked him, no idea).

To use another clothing image, the relationship is like a good pair of jeans.  Great for everyday wear, and broken in.

In some ways, I feel like we still act like it’s new.  We talk about our love most days, often more than once in a day.  Joel still does ridiculous things like goofy dances and acting out stories to get me to smile.  I still tease him.  And from an economic perspective, we’re still behind the curve – neither one of us has made much career advancement.  We’re in a one-bedroom apartment with a cat while our friends are buying houses and starting families.  Spiderbee continues to buzz out of reach.  But every night we tell each other how we feel, what we are grateful for from each other, what we need from each other, and what we are sorry about.  And every day, we are in love.

Leave you lying on the bedroom floor

leave you hanging on the bathroom door

take you for granted, but I’ll always know exactly where you are

lost you once, you were hard to find

got you back, you didn’t look like mine

thought we were falling apart, but you make me feel so pretty like you did, like before

like we will be doing it once more

Oh baby, know what you’re like?  You’re like my favorite underwear

It just feels right (you know it)

Oh baby, know how you feel? You feel like my favorite underwear

and I’m slipping you on again tonight

rock me and roll me, hold me tight

tear me apart and make me new… like you always do.

Here’s to another year together.

 

Lyn’s Essays: On Thanksgiving

I started a new journal a little more than a year ago.  Every time I have written in it, I have started the entry by listing 3 things that I feel grateful for, in that moment.  There have been times in the past year that it’s been a stretch to think of anything to feel grateful for, and there have been certain motifs that have been listed time and again.  Considering that today is my country’s ode to gratitude,  I thought I’d share with you what I have felt grateful for in the past year (minus a few observations that need to stay private – won’t somebody think of the children?).  I’ve recombined the journal list contents by theme or category, and when something has been listed in more than one entry, I have noted the total number of times it’s been listed.  Some of these things I’m no longer grateful for (for example, I no longer take my coffee with Splenda).  But in this case, I think it’s the thought that counts.

ABSTRACTIONS

ribbon

  • beauty  (x5) (“…in the world”) (“exquisite…”)
  • the capacity of humans to love each other
  • coherence
  • collectivism
  • comfort (x3)
  • compassion (x2)
  • courage
  • creative endeavors
  • creative expression
  • creativity (x5)
  • determination (x4)
  • dharma dreams
  • dreams (x6)  (“…of a better future”) (“good…”)
  • “the dynamic human spirit that refuses to submit (Waking Life)
  • education (x3)
  • emotions
  • equanimity (x2) (“…even though I have very little of it”)
  • existence
  • fantasy
  • form (x2)
  • freedom (x4)
  • free will, such as it is
  • fun
  • honesty (x2)
  • hope (x14)  (“… for a brighter tomorrow”) (“…for the future”) (“…even though I don’t feel much of it at the moment”) (“…even if it is irrational”)
  • humor (x4) (“laughter and…”)
  • the human quality of imagination (x4)
  • ingenuity (x3)
  • insight
  • integrity
  • intelligence (x3)
  • introspection
  • the jewel in the lotus
  • justice, or at least my sense of it.
  • kindness
  • learning (x2)
  • leadership
  • literacy
  • love (x2)
  • loving kindness
  • maturity
  • memory (x4)
  • mindfulness
  • the Mystery (x2)
  • the original face
  • peace (x2) (“…when it happens”)
  • perseverance
  • perspective (x4)
  • the possibility of change
  • power
  • rationality
  • rational thinking (x2) (“even if I frequently refuse to engage in it”)
  • responsibility
  • self-care
  • self-determination
  • serenity
  • small victories
  • social justice
  • solidarity
  • stories
  • understanding (x3) (“…and empathy”)
  • willpower
  • wisdom (x2)
  • words

ANIMALS

animal

  • Animals
  • bees (x4) (…and all the work that they do, …and their waggle-dances)
  • birds
  • butterflies (x2)
  • cats
  • my fish
  • fluffy kittens (x2)
  • fuzzy kittens
  • “monkeys.  They’re cute.”
  • rabbits

 

COLORS

colors

  • the ability to perceive colors
  • the abundance of beautiful, vibrant colors in the world, and the vision to see them
  • aqua
  • blue (x3)
  • colors (x2)
  • coral
  • fall colors
  • green
  • maroon
  • midnight blue (x2)
  • pale blue
  • pink
  • purple
  • teal (x4)
  • white

 

CULTURAL PHENOMENA

culture

  • Access Health
  • activists
  • amazon.com
  • Andre Dubus III’s writing style
  • the Anima game system, for giving Steve a consistent set of rules plus a setting
  • art museums
  • the art of roleplaying
  • artwork
  • the Association for Individual Development (x2)
  • audiobooks
  • Azumanga Daioh!
  • BBC News
  • The Belle Jar’s editorial on motherhood, sent to me by WordPress
  • Bioshock (Xbox 360 game)
  • The Boondocks cartoon show
  • the Buddha
  • CarMax’s customer service
  • Catamaran Home Delivery for our medications
  • “Catapult” by Counting Crows
  • Chaosium, for releasing the Basic Role Playing system
  • “The charity that provided me with this fancy patterned ivory faux-satin blouse that I just got complimented on and hardly ever wear because it’s too formal and for several months was too small for me (but now I can fit back into it)”
  • Christmas presents
  • cinema
  • The Color Purple
  • the creativity of my favorite film artists, like Terry Gilliam
  • the creativity of other people
  • the creators of Chaosium’s Basic Role Playing rules system
  • “the creators of the Anima gaming system, for crafting what Steve likes to use”
  • the crowdsourcing phenomenon
  • Culdcept Saga
  • Discoveries Resale Shop (x3)
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition (x3)
  • drum circles (x2)
  • DuPage County Health Department (x2)
  • eBay (x4)
  • the Eightfold Path
  • the English language
  • Express Employment Professionals
  • “the fact that Ace Hardware carries lead paint testing kits”
  • “the fact that Amazon.com sells more than books”
  • “the fact that Meijer is open 24/7”
  • “the fact that Netflix has M*A*S*H available”
  • “the fact that Walgreens carries 24 hour timers for automatic turn-on of outlets like the one I am plugging my plant light into.”
  • Family Foods grocery store (x4)
  • my favorite band, I Fight Dragons (x5)
  • my favorite comedians, Bill Hicks and Tim Minchin
  • France
  • Frank Turner’s album Tape Deck Heart
  • Freecycle (freecycle.org)
  • “Grapevine Fires” by Death Cab for Cutie
  • the Great Plains Zen Center (x4) (for the Sangha… for everything)
  • GURPS
  • having moral standards
  • Herrick Lake Forest Preserve
  • Indian Harvest restaurant
  • “the investigative powers of law enforcement (thinking of the FIFA investigation)”
  • Irvine Welsh, for writing Trainspotting
  • Italianate curlicues
  • Joss Whedon (x2)
  • libraries
  • Macintosh computers (x3)
  • M*A*S*H the TV show (x2) (“…on Netflix”)
  • meditation (x4)
  • meetup.com (x2)
  • Montessori schools
  • movies
  • music (x2) (“good…”)
  • the music of Stuart Davis
  • musical instruments
  • narratives
  • Neopagan holidays, like Beltane
  • Netflix (x3) (“… even though they sometimes don’t have a film I’m looking for”)
  • the Pali canon of Buddhism and its account of the Precepts
  • the People’s Resource Center in Wheaton
  • percussion
  • Persona 2
  • pink hair
  • PetCo
  • Quest Book Shop
  • Rosati’s Pizza
  • SCARCE (recycling community)
  • sculptures
  • Shakyamuni Buddha
  • the song “+Dharma-Drama”, by Stuart Davis
  • the song “Original Face”, by Stuart Davis
  • sparkpeople.com (x3)
  • Steve Mattson’s “Soul Plague War” game (x3)
  • Sweet Tomatoes restaurant
  • the Theosophical Society, for selling me Buddhist supplies
  • Twin Peaks on Netflix
  • unusual time signatures in music
  • my Vegetariana cookbook (x2) (…need to start using that)
  • “the version of the Counting Crows song “Omaha” that was playing at Naf Naf Grill”
  • Vipassana meditation
  • Warrenville Park District recreation center (x4)
  • WBEZ FM, Chicago public radio
  • Whole Foods Market
  • wikihow.com
  • wikipedia.org
  • WordPress (wordpress.com (x2))
  • writing
  • the Xmas tradition of gift-giving
  • Zen Buddhism (x4)

 

EVENTS

event

  • alone time (…to work on Freedom’s People, “being alone”, “time to myself” (x2))
  • my DHD education
  • “the fact that I start work at 10:30 AM rather than 10 AM now”
  • “The fact that Joel is cooking me pancakes right now”(x2)
  • “The fact that Joel’s shift doesn’t start until 10:30 AM”
  • “The fact that my own shift doesn’t start until 12:30 PM”
  • my father taught me to read
  • feeling clean after I take a warm shower (x2)
  • finding things that were thought lost (x2)
  • future (x3) (“the unknown…”)
  • “I get to savor the final cup of raspberry herbal tea from a can I’ve had for years, today”
  • good days
  • having a day off in the middle of the week, resulting from putting in extra hours Mon & Tues
  • having a job in mental health
  • having choices
  • having front-loaded a lot of preparation for Freedom’s People
  • lazy weekend mornings
  • memories (x2) (…of my childhood, …of my grandmother, …of trying to join the ISO)
  • moments of quiet stillness
  • moments when I feel collected
  • my new job at AID
  • opportunities to educate others
  • opportunities to talk about Buddhism
  • “the opportunity to listen to [I Fight Dragons] new album, for which the digital download was so affordable”
  • past
  • “the people on Freecycle who gave me my aquarium”
  • “the possibility that Joel will go full-time at Napa”
  • the precious time in which I have balanced perspective
  • “the prelicensing course I took for Primerica last weekend”
  • present
  • relaxation
  • remembering my dreams
  • my resolve to teach Sunday School to the UUSG class
  • rest after hard work
  • sleeping in
  • the sound of thunder over the rooftop
  • sunny days
  • “what little sleep I got last night”
  • writing reviews

 

FINANCES

finances

  • 0% interest credit card balance transfers
  • being able to pay the bills
  • cheap prices and large selection of grocery store
  • credit unions
  • the fact that Joel has a job
  • flex time at work
  • having a computer in my home
  • having enough money in the budget to pay down debt
  • having a job (x5)
  • having a garden
  • having a home (x9)
  • having a mobile phone
  • having our own credit card
  • having private insurance instead of Medicaid
  • hope for our financial future
  • the possibility that my medical debt will be paid off before we move
  • the Primerica opportunity
  • PTO
  • time off of work

 

FOOD

food

  • almond milk
  • Archer Farms salted caramel blondie mix
  • butter-flavored pancake syrup
  • cheese
  • coconut (x3)
  • coffee (x9) (“iced…”) (“morning…”)
  • cold pizza
  • cream cheese
  • Crunchy Cranberry Almond cereal
  • “my decaf iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts with cream and 5 Splenda”
  • dried cranberries
  • Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain Bread (x2) (cinnamon raisin or otherwise)
  • frozen fruit
  • garlic
  • grapes (x2) (“green seedless…”)
  • Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss Garlic & Herb cheese product
  • long-lasting recipes, like the patstitio I made on Monday
  • Naf Naf Grill’s baba ghanouj
  • Olivio olive oil spread
  • orange-strawberry-banana Crystal Light
  • pancake mix
  • pancakes (x11) (“the invention of…”)(“weekend pancakes from the Joel-cat”)
  • piña colada yogurt
  • popcorn
  • pineapple
  • savory food
  • sushi
  • tofu
  • Trader Joe’s hollandaise sauce (x2)

 

NATURAL PHENOMENA

nature

  • air (x2)
  • the beautiful intricacies of biology
  • being alive (x3)
  • blood
  • blue skies with fluffy white clouds
  • my breath and breathing (x2)
  • the cloudy gray sky, heavy with rain
  • “the complex interplay of cosmic forces that allows the universe to be”
  • crystals
  • the Earth (x3)
  • the fact that despite human-driven climate change, winter and snow still exist for now
  • “The fact that the process of life figured out a way to take the corrosive gas, oxygen, and use it to create useful energy through respiration.”
  • folate (not folic acid)
  • flowers (x3) (“beautiful…”)
  • forest preserves
  • gemstones
  • giving form and coherence to the Mystery
  • green grass
  • having a body
  • “having a functional reproductive system”
  • “having a mother (being alive)”
  • having time
  • Lake Michigan
  • “The laws of matter that govern the physical universe”
  • Life (x8)
  • the life-giving properties of water
  • moonlight
  • “The mystery of what will become of this world”
  • Nature, red in tooth and claw
  • nice weather (x2)
  • oceans (x2)
  • oxygen
  • the plants I take care of, specifically (x6)
  • plants, in general (x4)
  • process
  • “the process of blending”
  • quiet
  • rain (x4)  (“… for the plants”)
  • sea shells (x5)
  • sensory data
  • sentience (x2)
  • shade from trees on a summer walk
  • Shinji, my ‘Pink Stripes’ plant
  • sky
  • sleep (x6) (“…what little I can get”)
  • soil (x2) (“good…”)
  • solar energy
  • the stability of Earth’s orbit around the sun
  • stars
  • sunlight (x4) (…dappling stones, …dappling through trees)
  • time (x6)
  • the tingling sensation of goosebumps
  • trees
  • the universe, even though I don’t really understand what’s going on
  • variety of experience
  • warmth
  • water (x4) (“clean…”)

 

OBJECTS

object

  • 100% cotton clothing (x2) (cotton (x2), …cloth)
  • 100% linen clothing (x2) (linen (x2))
  • the 3 colored glass vases I received from Kelcey a long time ago
  • my alarm clock
  • alarms
  • my aquarium (x3)
  • the beautiful and meaningful quilt my sister gave me for Christmas 2012 (x3)
  • beautiful stuff
  • blank notebooks
  • the blouse itself
  • this blue shirt Jen gave me
  • the butterfly atop my Solstice tree
  • the candle Linmayu gave me for Christmas, which I use as a meditation focus
  • clean clothes
  • comfortable clothing
  • covered rubber bands (x2) (“…that don’t tear my hair up when I make a ponytail”) (“…so I can tie my hair back without tearing it up”)
  • denim
  • my digital scale (x3)
  • my digital watch (x3) (my solar-powered…)
  • fun socks
  • glass
  • my grandmother’s jewelry
  • having a coffeemaker so I don’t have to use instant coffee
  • hot water on tap (x2)
  • “my new shirt”
  • sandalwood
  • scissors with angled blade ends
  • “this seed-bead bracelet I’m wearing that my stepmother gave me”
  • “snowshoes – don’t ask me why, this word just popped into my head, I’ve never worn them!”
  • socks (they keep my feet warmer!)
  • soft fabric (x2)
  • soft pillows
  • tags on clothing that say what type of fiber the cloth is made from
  • my teal dice set that Joel got from Hoover
  • “this journal”(x2)
  • underwear
  • Valerian root sleeping pills
  • my wedding ring
  • Zero, our 2005 Ford Focus

 

PARTS OF MYSELF

self

  • the ability to learn
  • my ability to make plans
  • my ability to perceive complexity and nuance
  • the ability to remember (x3)
  • the ability to walk
  • the ability to write
  • being able to express myself well
  • the capability to regret past mistakes
  • my capacity to dream
  • the capacity to learn from memory
  • my capacity to make good decisions
  • my creativity (x5)
  • my education
  • “the fact that I can read English”
  • Freedom’s People (aka The Blank Hour)
  • the fruits of my own creativity
  • having projects to work on, like Freedom’s People
  • having sentience
  • my imagination
  • the inner peace that writing brings me
  • knowing how to read and write (x6)
  • knowing the layout of Aldi
  • my lactose tolerance
  • my long-standing habit of saving and reusing wrapping paper
  • Nepenthe, in my mind and the work I have done so far
  • the new ideas I have for my novel
  • the “off” button in my head that tells me when I have been playing too much Culdcept Saga
  • my own capacity to forgive
  • my own courage
  • my own heartbeat, letting me know I’m alive
  • my own initiative
  • my own willpower
  • my potential to influence people
  • my senses
  • my tattoo
  • “whatever moral courage I possess”
  • “whatever sense of patience I can actually muster”

 

PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS

relate

  • Adam Dettmann and Josh Diehl-Oakley (Will brought their birthday cards home last night)
  • my Aunt Cheryl
  • the banter of Adam Dettmann
  • Brad at work – always the voice of reliable reason
  • community
  • compassion of family and friends
  • my co-worker, Lesley (x2)
  • Deb Dean
  • Erin Rosenkranz
  • my family (x4)
  • family love
  • family recipes (tonight: Oven Fried Chicken)
  • family relationships
  • my father (x3)
  • my friend, Emily Leftwich
  • friends (x2)
  • friendship
  • Hari Rao (x2) (“the friendly attitude of Hari Rao, bassist of I Fight Dragons”)
  • having a family that I love and which loves me
  • having a good marriage
  • having a mother who is alive
  • human affection
  • my husband, Joel (x49) (“for only being slightly grouchy when I woke him up at 1 AM with a cold body part as I tried to calm down for sleep”) (“the way Joel-cat talks silly nonsense in the mornings while getting ready”) (“despite yesterday’s pain”) (“being married to…”) (“…at the other end of the couch”) (“his quiet strength”)
  • Ian Price’s gaming group (x2)
  • Joel, James and Tyler for playing Freedom’s People
  • laughter
  • Linda Sidell Johnson
  • Linmayu Appavu (x2)
  • love from my Kotecki family
  • Marcy, the staff member at the Warrenville Park District rec center
  • “Mark Story, for saving my character’s butt in last night’s session of Soul Plague War”
  • “Matt Seely, for reading some of “Globe Without Goodbye” during game last night”
  • my mother (x4) (“for collecting good recipes over the years that I was able to copy for my recipe box last year”)
  • Myoyu Roshi
  • my nephew, Tyler
  • “our love for each other”
  • the people in my life who think of me as a friend (x2)
  • people treating each other gently
  • “the prompt response that Dr. Fujiura sent me regarding work as a program evaluator”
  • recipes from relatives
  • the relationship I once had with Steve Miller
  • running jokes (x2) (“… with Joel-cat”)
  • my sister, Jen (x2)
  • Steve Mattson (x4) (“for running “Soul Plague War” and being a good friend”)
  • time with my grandfather
  • Uncle Don being willing to help me fix the LED bar for my aquarium
  • the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva (x3) (“…though I am not sure why”)
  • Will Hawke’s industrious/creative side

 

TECHNOLOGY

tech

  • the ability to buy produce fresh from different climates around the world
  • air conditioning
  • the alarm feature on my digital watch
  • antibiotics
  • automatic dishwashers (x3)
  • the Calendar program on our Mac Mini
  • cellular telephones with speakerphone
  • our computer (x3)
  • direct deposit (x2)
  • distilled water
  • electronic communication
  • email (x3) (“electronic mail”)
  • my folate supplement
  • Google Image Search
  • Google Maps
  • having heat in the winter
  • a heated home
  • hot water
  • indoor plumbing (x7) (“…and hot showers”) (“running water in my home”)
  • information on the Internet
  • information technology
  • the Internet (x9)
  • medical technology
  • melatonin  (x2) “(even though I probably shouldn’t have taken it last night)”
  • mobile phone technology (x4)
  • modern laundry systems
  • modern medicine
  • running water
  • pharmaceutical science
  • “The technology that allows me to text from my mobile phone”(x3)
  • telephones
  • Wikipedia (on the Internet)
  • the X-Bone

 

As you can see, I have a lot to feel thankful for.  Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving Day, whether you live in the US or anywhere else on the globe.

Film Review: The Fly, 1958

Happy October 31, everybody!

In keeping with the fine tradition I began last year with Nosferatu, this Halloween I bring you a review of another classic horror film, this time with a dash of science fiction:  the original version of The Fly, released in 1958.  No messing around on the spookiest night of the year; let’s get down to brass tacks.

Acting

Fair warning – The Fly may be sold to you as a Vincent Price film, but to say it stars Vincent Price is a gross exaggeration designed to cash in on the film’s most well-known name (much like how the packaging on my copy of the original Roger Corman Little Shop of Horrors gives the impression that Jack Nicholson stars in it, when his part is actually quite minor).  Make no mistake, the real star here is Patricia Owens.

The only character in the film presenting an acting challenge.
The only character presenting an acting challenge.

Owens’ biggest challenge in this one was to portray the crumpling of Helene’s ideological resolve in favor of life’s sacredness, when Helene must face the monstrosity her husband has become and the impossible task of finding a specific fly (so that Andre the supposedly noble scientist can reassemble himself – which begs the question, if it’s the fly’s head on his body, why does the body act like it still has his mind – able to communicate with Helene through the typewriter, etc.?  Shouldn’t the fly head think like a fly?  I guess one might as well ask why the story is set in Canada.  But I digress).  Did Owens meet this challenge?  Personally, I wasn’t convinced.

Use of Color

Does that red look a little too red?
Does that red look a little too red?  This jpeg kind of tones it down.

Remind me to watch as few films which tout their “Color by De Luxe” as possible.  I’m sure that many great films were made in the 1950s but the hyper-colors present in The Fly really distracted me, particularly for the first quarter or so before I adjusted enough to mentally dial them down.  The reds and the yellows were the worst.  Too bright, too strong.  Not painful to look at, but as I said, distracting.  Maybe they would have been appropriate for a musical, or something starring Marilyn Monroe that ends with a wedding –  but here, they were the opposite of spooky.  Maybe for my next October 31 feature, I’ll track down something else in black and white, like Nosferatu was.  That worked much better.

Themes

When I told my husband after the credits rolled that the moral of The Fly is that all men are idiots, I was only half-jesting.  I’m sure that wasn’t the intended message, but this film’s optimistic attitude toward scientific progress, questioned only once and only by a woman, got repeated decades later in the blockbuster Jurassic Park – except in Jurassic Park the character who delivers the moral, Ian Malcolm the chaotician, warns that ‘life will find a way’ to mess with scientific plans.  Period.  In The Fly, ‘life’ takes the form of a hapless housefly.  But chaoticians hadn’t been invented in the 1950s.  There’s no one there to warn the viewer except Helene, and not even her own son takes her seriously, so why should the viewer?  The character who gets to deliver the last word on the theme of scientific character is Price’s businessman, François, and he writes off Andre’s tragic fate as due to “carelessness”.  If Andre hadn’t been careless…  Bah.  More like If Andre had possessed inhuman perfection… or If the nature of existence were fundamentally different…  But that’s the 1950s for you.  Where we weren’t cruel, we were naive; where we weren’t naive, we were short-sighted; where we weren’t short-sighted, we were greedy.  I’d like to think that decades of postmodern philosophy have made a difference.  It’s quite possible that all they’ve made us is depressed.

Overall Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0.

Have a nice holiday, everyone.  Do some fortune-telling if that’s your thing; if not, stay out of the graveyards, the cops pay more attention tonight, you’re likely to get busted.

samhain

Lyn’s Essays: On Marriage (Year 2)

At this point, Joel and I have been together longer than either of us were ever with anyone else.  We have seen each other reaching for our best, and we have seen each other mired in the mud of our limitations.  We have been tender, and we have yelled expletives in anger, and we have fallen silent when no words seemed to fit.  I believe that people change and grow over the course of their lifetimes, but that this growth is not infinite in width; there are parameters and constraints.  I feel confident that at this point, I know the shape of Joel’s parameters, and I bet if you were to ask him, he would probably say the same thing about me.

We rarely surprise each other anymore.  For Joel, this is a good thing.  Joel thrives on the sensation of safety.  The way he put it once was, “I do best when I’m coasting.” He hates risk, and when he’s placed in situations that are chaotic and irregular – like a boisterous crowd of people at a festival, excited to see fireworks on the Fourth of July – he gets panicked, and he locks up.  This can be frustrating to me, but he never tried to hide this about himself.  I knew it when we dated.  He didn’t try to puff himself up; there was no false advertising on the tin.  Knowing this about him, I chose him, and whenever I get frustrated, in time I get over it and choose him again.  Because it’s the right choice.

There have been a couple of times in the past year that I have questioned that choice more deeply, and both of those times were when I discovered he had deceived me about something intimate.  I guess one thing I have learned about myself and my parameters in the second year of marriage is how much I loathe deception.  Out of respect for Joel’s privacy I’m not going to get specific about what he tried to hide.  Both times, I realized that the lies by omission hurt me far worse than the actual transgression.  Joel understands now that the next time I catch him in a lie about this transgressive act,  we will have to at the least separate for a time.  It is my darkest fear that by being clear about this with him, all I have done is spur him on to be more careful in his deception.  But I choose to trust.  He has reassured me that he values our relationship dearly and will not risk it again.

Countering the shadow of deception is the shining sun of commitment.  It’s true that I do not feel the same level of passion that I did when we were first together.  The wood has been burnt; what remains are glowing embers.  But I actually find this to be a relief.  The level of desire that I experienced in my shorter relationships was all-consuming and ultimately exhausting.  There’s stuff that I do on a regular basis now – work on my novel, make sure the bills get paid on time, etc. – that I never did when I felt the pressure to find a mate.  The confidence I have in my marriage and the level of commitment I feel for Joel take a lot of stress off my mind.  Now, when I watch a movie about people who are dating or who end up just starting a relationship at the end of the film, you know, typical romantic comedy fare, the thought that always runs through my mind is “Phew!  Am I glad that’s over with!”  And I remember the conclusions of the psychological community, which Joel told me about when we were still dating, the idea of love having three axes: passion, intimacy, commitment.  He said that it’s been demonstrated that after 2 years the passion value decreases but the commitment value increases.  At the time, I thought that sounded like an awful prophecy of doom and gloom, and I wondered whether there was some way to beat the system.  If only I could go back in time to that day, and reassure myself that, at least in my case, the commitment value has gone up more than the passion value has gone down… so the total area of love has definitely increased.  There was nothing to fear, and I like it better this way.  To use a Buddhist metaphor, the years of my life before finding this peace were like time spent wandering around in a dark cave in which I found something that I thought was a stick to lean on and to tap against rocks.  But when the cave opened up and the sun of commitment shone down, I discovered that what I thought was a stick was actually a poisonous snake.  Thankfully, the passion snake has slithered back into the cave without any more bites.  If I could warn fellow sojourners without going back into the cave myself, I would; but the goal of my pilgrimage lies ahead.  Under the sunlight, I see a mountain, its top wreathed in clouds.  The quest for Spiderbee beckons.

Teaser: Nepenthe, Chapter 1

It’s time for a progress update!  Today I finished the first scene of Chapter 3 of the handwritten first draft of my novel, and finally got around to finishing a typed copy of Chapter 1 (I make small edits as I type, so I count the typewritten version as a second draft).  Here’s an excerpt for your reading pleasure:

She continued to walk forward toward town, far to the north side of the road, watching the approaching headlights until they hurt her eyes. She held up her hand to block the glow and her stomach sank until it felt like it was hovering around her knees as she saw the truck’s speed change. Deceleration. There could be no reason for it except her. Even past her fingers, she couldn’t really see up into the unlit cab over the blaring headlights. As the truck pulled into the gravel edging the highway and rolled to a halt beside her, Carmen stopped walking. The interior light came on now, but the angle up into the 4×4’s cab was too steep for Carmen to get a good look at the driver until he reached across and pushed the passenger door open. He was male. White, with reddish brown hair and brown eyes. His face looked withered; Carmen guessed he was in the last quarter of middle age. He wore a dark denim jacket. His truck was dark green. “Need a lift?”

Carmen hesitated only long enough to wonder whether she should try to play it like she hitch-hiked all the time, or if it would be advantageous to come across as someone who didn’t usually rely on strangers for aid. Remembering what had been demonstrated in her life as the most effective lie, she hauled herself up into the passenger seat.

The driver might have attempted to hide giving Carmen the elevator eye, but if he did, he was lousy at subtlety. At six foot even, Carmen was a very tall woman, a little pale, and had the lean build of a runner though she’d never gotten involved with athletics. Today she wore very simple black sandals, more like flip-flops actually, black cotton shorts, and a loose camisole made from artificial silk, which she’d bought from the lingerie rack of a vintage resale shop the year before and loved to wear as outerwear now that she was out from under her mother’s eye. The neckline of the magenta garment was beaded in a floral pattern, and the beads were dark gold and tortoiseshell. They decorated as nicely as any necklace, without a necklace’s hassle. But the rain had plastered the normally airy film of fabric to her body, and Carmen, who was small-chested and only rarely wore bras, badly wished for something more substantial between her flesh and the cool night air that had poured through the cab door when it had been open. Carmen prayed that he thought her face was ugly – few considered it remarkable in any way, and Carmen knew that to many men, “average” could slip into “ugly” very easily. Or maybe he didn’t like hazel eyes, or women with hair shorter than his own; Carmen’s dark hair was so short, she had nothing to tuck behind her ears anymore, which was a shame because it would have kept her hands busy right now, at least for a second…

Carmen was just regaining the presence of mind to realize that she, soundly atheist, had just prayed to a God she really hoped was listening when the stranger spoke to her. His quiet voice sounded as withered as his face. Carmen imagined that if a pile of leaves could talk, it would sound like him: “Did your car break down? I didn’t see nothin’ off the road when I was comin’ in.”

The lie came easy. “I got into a fight with my boyfriend. He kicked me out of his car.” She steeled herself for a judgmental response.

The man said nothing, just did another U-turn to get going back in his original direction, toward Flintfield.

Carmen kept her eyes on the road. Her body had locked itself stiff. She could feel rivulets of rainwater pulsing down the back of her neck. She did her best not to shiver. The silence bound the two of them together, like a force of nature. The stranger hadn’t introduced himself and hadn’t asked where she had been trying to walk. Carmen had begun to wonder what she should say when the stranger spoke, his voice still dry and husky. “Have you ever considered older men?”

Intrigued?  The chapter is 15 pages long (12 point font, single spaced, blank lines between paragraphs – in other words, a little less than 7,000 words).  Would you like to take part in test reading the draft?  I’d love to get your reaction.  Let me know if you’re interested!

Album Review: Tape Deck Heart (Frank Turner)

Tape Deck Heart was released in 2013, a couple of years after I’d heard Frank Turner on a mix CD from someone who passed on a second date with me, saying he’d realized he wasn’t really over his ex. (The song, by the way, was “Worse Things Happen at Sea”, off of Turner’s debut album Sleep Is for the Week, which I haven’t heard yet. And it’s an anthem for people who aren’t really over an ex.) I’m not sure how I would have reacted to Tape Deck Heart if I’d heard it when it was first released, because that was the year in which I got married and my confidence in my relationship abilities was running high. Tape Deck Heart is not an album for celebration; it’s an album for regrets. The most frequently-repeated motif of the album (and there are several images that repeat, like tattoos, the idea of being “broken”, the state of being lost at sea) is scars, healed but visible to other people. To get scars, you have to get damaged, “something normal people dread.” And the scars become a materialization of regret.

While I do not regret my marriage, at this point I can fully understand Turner’s resent of the cultural idealization of relationships. “Amelie lied to me, this was supposed to be easy,” he grumbles. But there is a significant difference in perspective from disputes within a marriage that have to be tabled because the dishes need to be done or someone needs to go to work, and disputes in a courting relationship that result in the partners turning away, instead of toward, each other – the kind of disputes diagrammed in track after track of Tape Deck Heart. And I suppose I felt more than a little schadenfreude as I listened to Turner going through what I remembered from my late twenties, before I made a commitment of the caliber that I have now.

Tape Deck Heart is probably the best album I’ve ever heard for its particular stage in the life cycle of a First Worlder: the point at which you’ve been an adult long enough to acquire a history and therefore scars, but not long enough to have made your peace with them. The album is turbulent, raucous, unable to decide whether it wants to be poetry or prose. It’s also great, honest, intense, and raw.

Singing from the patched up, patchwork, taped-up, tape deck heart.
Singing from the patched up, patchwork, taped-up, tape deck heart.

Press “PLAY” for:

  • “The Way I Tend to Be” – my favorite track on the album. Expressing longing in a major key isn’t easy.
  • “Tell Tale Signs” – demonstrates how using a person’s name in a song can make it more powerful. Also, begs the question of whether the narrator’s portrayal of himself as having learned from mistakes while the woman he is singing to cannot learn is realistic.
  • “Polaroid Picture” – although I have no idea what Turner’s stance on Buddhism is, I think there is a lot of dharma in this song. Reading its lyrics in the CD booklet brought tears to my eyes.

Consider “FFWD” for:

  • “Four Simple Words” – the album’s most punk sound, which of course makes a lot of the lyrics harder to understand. I suppose if you like punk over rock or folk (the other influence strands), this will sound great to you.
  • “Broken Piano” – Turner has no reluctance to get bombastic, and for most of the album his volume choices are understandable. But given its lyrical content, I really wanted something a little more understated for “Broken Piano”. The most dramatic drum line on the album kind of got wasted.

In short, I recommend Tape Deck Heart to anyone who can identify with its narrator: a young man who loves punk and tattoos, who is tired of looking for what Roger Daltrey once called “that free ride to ‘me’“, inner peace found in one’s reflection in a lover’s gaze – but who has no other solution for the restless yearning, and so continues to look there. Don’t bother with Tape Deck Heart if you don’t like your music loud or don’t enjoy British accents and references to London geography; but if you’re ready to hear someone cheeky speak from the bottom of their spirit, track down a copy. It’s worth your time.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5.