Lessons Learned

I wrote a post last night, after I got home. It had about 1,000 words, and covered a wide range of topics in easy-to-swallow chunks. And it was about as coherent as a tired toddler. Yet another reminder why it’s best for me to write in the morning, when the day has not yet begun, than in the evening, when my mind is rehashing the entire day. Even if it means I post Sunday instead of Saturday. All the frustrations and successes jumbled together in an amoebic mass, writing and slithering like a snake ball, waiting to be unraveled by sleep,* it’s difficult to make any sense of them when I intend to, much less when I allow my fingers to just ramble along. Stream-of-consciousness writing, that is, and it’s how I find out what, exactly, I really want to write. Maybe a little backward, but I do start off with a topic in mind. It also makes it tricky to title the posts.

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This Canada Goose doesn’t mind the rain. Eden Park, Cincinnati

So anyway, lesson learned, grateful I didn’t post it, because wow, it’s just not good.

I did have an idea for a topic yesterday, and it was pretty good. I daresay it would have gone viral. Fine, probably not, but I can pretend it would have. I didn’t write it down, though, and I should have. I lose ideas so quickly, sometimes. Perhaps that’s to do with the way my brain works, and is why I learned years ago that if I don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. Still, there’s a grammar rant in there, and a damp afternoon, and the importance of one famous person’s journey over a major disaster.

Saturday morning – Friday night here – there was a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal, about 50 miles northwest of Kathmandu. So far, the death toll is estimated to be close to 2,000. In trying to figure out what date to put, I pulled up a world clock, and got lost in that for a bit. It’s still Saturday in Hawaii,‡ and almost tomorrow on Kiribati, which shows just how arbitrary the time zones really are, since they’re in about the same place in the Pacific. It’s peak climbing season for Everest, and earthquakes can cause avalanches, as this one did. It’ll probably get more coverage than it otherwise might, because a Google executive died in that avalanche. It’s horribly tragic, both because of the loss of life, and because it takes a connection like that before it becomes news. There’s a reason for that, of course. It’s difficult to wrap our minds around something so big. It’s easier if a single face, one recognizable or relatable to the audience, is involved. Individuals from Katrina, the Sumatran tsunami, Japan’s earthquake and Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, they make it more real than just seeing groups of people struggling to survive, dying by the score, losing their livelihood and families in one major disaster.

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An overcast sky seems to make everything greener. Eden Park, Cincinnati

If I’ve calculated the time correctly, it happened during the broadcast of an interview on ABC – Diane Sawyer was interviewing Bruce Jenner† about his gender reassignment surgery. If it had happened in Oregon, the interview would have been interrupted. As it was, unless you were online, you heard nothing. Not if you were watching the interview, anyway. At least, I don’t remember anything. That could just as easily mean I was looking away when there was a crawl across the bottom of the screen, or in the kitchen or bathroom when they mentioned it briefly just before or after a commercial break. It was a good interview, important to watch. At one point, it was mentioned that the hope was maybe it would save a life, and I don’t think that’s too much of a stretch. A person who doesn’t want to understand will not listen, and probably wasn’t even watching in the first place. A person who does, though, someone with a family member or friend going through this, may be able to help that person feel not so alone. Maybe it helped a confused and scared teen decide to talk to someone instead of ending it. Maybe it helped a person decide to stand up against his friends and prevent a beating or murder of a trans person. Without actually speaking to someone, there’s no way to really know.

Again, though, this is an individual, putting a face and a name to something that has been more in the news lately, turning it from “them” to a person, a human being. Is it less important than news about the earthquake and aftershocks in Nepal? Honestly, I don’t know. Personally, I think both are important.◊ Both involve human lives and the loss of them. Saying one is more important than another, that the lives in Nepal that were lost, the people that were left severely injured and homeless, are more important than a teen who has been left homeless by a family that disowned him or her, a person who is attacked because of who they are, even killed, it’s a losing game. Both deserve coverage. Because it’s closer to home, Bruce Jenner received more than the quake in Nepal. It’s why I’m not particularly interested in reading the New York Times or Washington Post. I don’t live there, I rarely have a frame of reference for anything that happens. Is there news of importance to me? Sure. Is it fair? No, of course it isn’t. People are suffering every day, dying every day, from preventable or treatable illnesses, starvation, unsanitary conditions, storms, quakes, volcanoes, floods, or exposure, and it would be very easy to find all of that online somewhere. There’s a limit to how much a person can handle, how much we can process, and how much we can understand before it all becomes noise.

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Capable of begging, anyway. Coral World, St. Thomas, USVI

On a lighter note – a friend shared a video yesterday, of a man with a pet Komodo Dragon. It was weird, and that thing was huge. It was sitting on his lap, probably keeping warm. Still, we know even reptiles are capable of affection, or at least learning how to live with humans. The video itself was fine; I made the mistake of reading the comments on the source page. One person, anxious to show how knowledgeable he (she? I can’t remember) is, talked about the ‘Komodo Dragon,’ and ‘monitor lizard,’ and mentioned ‘Australia’ and ‘Indonesia.’ Once more, people, QUOTES ARE NOT FOR EMPHASIS!!! That’s almost up there with “irregardless,” which is a self-contradictory “word” and should be forever scratched from the mouths of all people. Yes, I fully intended those quotes, and the connotation therein.

In summary – deadly earthquake in Nepal, famous person going public with gender reassignment because the media won’t leave him alone so he’d rather get his own story out before it’s perverted, no writing on a Saturday evening because it’s often incoherent, and abusing quotation marks – single or double – is punishable by death. It’s not? How about using “irregardless” in cold blood? No? Man, that sucks!

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*I won’t say “good night’s sleep,” since that is apparently as elusive as Bigfoot right now.

†Using the name and pronoun he asked to be used for the interview.

‡At the time I wrote that sentence, anyway. Now it’s Sunday in Hawaii and Monday on Kiribati

◊Checking my Twitter feed (I listen to music while writing; it’s easier), I saw that a local man was in that earthquake. I’m sure there’ll be an interview. Oh wait, there already was one with his mother. Again, putting a face on a tragedy makes it more real.

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Kings and Things

This week, I used a lot of spoons*. Not wasted, just a lot of them. There continues to be stress at work, but I’m trying to change that. No, there were other things. Sunday afternoon, I went to see an updated Cosi Fan Tutti at CCM, set in the middle of the 20th century, sung in the original Italian, updated translation displayed above the stage. They quoted Beatles songs and used slang from the 60s and 70s. It was pretty cool. I especially adored Despina. Sure, I knew her, but that’s beside the point – she was still good.

The Lion King, presumably official.
The Lion King, presumably official.

Tuesday evening was the big show. The Broadway touring company performing The Lion King. I thought it was phenomenal. Apparently, how well they did depends on the night you were there. A friend of mine went the next night and thought it was a bit flat. I had a seat on the floor, on the aisle. I had the money, and an available discount from my ArtsWave membership, so I got my orchestra seat. I prefer to sit on the aisle because I want at least one guaranteed armrest, and room to look around the person in front of me. I’d forgotten that some parts of the performance go through the audience, including the initial procession. The show does follow the movie fairly closely. It begins with a call for the subjects to see the dedication of the new prince, Simba. The callers sing out to get everyone’s attention, and they come from everywhere in the Pridelands to see. In this case, they come from the lobby up the aisles. There were giraffes and zebras, gazelles, an elephant, and on my side, a rhino. I haven’t begun to figure out how to describe that moment, when you see a puppet, a costume, and a person (or four in the case of the large elephant) walking down the aisle. Your rational mind knows it’s not real. It’s not even designed to look real, but to be a representation. It feels real, though. The woman playing Rafiki was brilliant and hilarious, Scar was an ass – perfectly so – and Mufasa was majestic. The wildebeest stampede was unnerving; the way they staged it, the wildebeest kept getting closer and closer. Again, not realistic, obviously tricks of the trade, and yet realistic. They made every effort to make the show resemble the movie, to the point where the characters were expected to sound like their movie counterparts. Jeremy Irons’ oily, sardonic speech patterns with Scar were echoed beautifully, I thought, and the audience recognized that. He got as much of an ovation as Mufasa and Simba(s) at the end. Reminded me of a couple guys I dated or wanted to. There’s a reason I’m single…†

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Random daffodil because I couldn’t think of where else to put it so it made sense. Hope to get out today.

A friend of mine works the show, so I got a backstage tour, too. Another friend of mine happened to be there that night, which I didn’t know until I texted the first friend to set up a meeting. We all know each other. Same high school. Getting to see the costumes up close was fantastic. Standing on the empty stage was difficult. I know it’s hard for me to watch choral performances unless I’m involved; whenever I see them, I want to be singing, not just listening. Much as I enjoy seeing a good performance, I’d rather be in it. Well, I used to do theater, too. Stage makeup does have a distinct aroma, with a hint of motor oil. For me, it’s also as calming as sniffing a can of Play-doh.‡ I’ve missed it, quite a bit. There are a lot of community theater groups around here. Somehow, this little provincial town grew a fairly decent artistic community. Haven’t figured that out, yet, but there is a ridiculous amount of talent around here. If I didn’t have my choir, I’d consider it. Consider, probably not do. I lose too much energy at work, and I need to have enough to clean up around here so it’s at least livable if not spotless. My choir takes energy, but it’s only a 2x a week commitment on average, with summers off. It helps a lot, so it’s worth the energy.

Anyway, good show, bittersweet backstage tour.

Wednesday and Thursday, I had meetings that could help change my future, both with people in a department I’d like to be. I like my employer, I just don’t care for my job. I’d rather stay with the same company if I could, but I need a change. I have to change.

Perfect illustration.
Perfect illustration.

There’s not much else, really. Fabulous show, meetings for progress, choir rehearsal…oh, and a new trailer for a little fantasy, beginning on a desert planet with space debris. I might have watched it a few times since Thursday evening. Just a few, barely into the double-digits.I remember my concern and consternation when I first heard Disney had the rights. Are they going to Disney-fy it, or are they going to stay true to the admittedly simplistic formula? As long as it works, right? I’ve still got a bad feeling about this◊, but I’ve learned that no matter how jaded, how disappointed with life, the Star Wars fandom are really optimists. Think about it – The Phantom Menace was only okay, and Attack of the Clones caused me traumatic amnesia. Revenge of the Sith was the best of the three, and it had its own issues (pretty quick transition from whiny kid to evil killer, for instance), and yet we are still excited – cautiously optimistic, really – about a new movie. We write our numbers on a white board at work, so that we can make others on our team feel inadequate and hopeless. I may have turned one of my zeros into a Death Star…

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*Helpful little metaphor. It’s not my everyday life, but it does help explain why some days, when I’ve done nothing, I will continue to do nothing. I’m exhausted!

†As I’ve noted, if he’s kind to children and animals, respectful of human life, compassionate, employed, and able to care for himself, I’m apparently not interested. Psychopath? Ooh, baby!

‡Stress-reduction technique. Scent is a powerful tool in memory and relaxation. At my last job, someone observed that when she sniffed Play-doh, she felt herself relax and think a bit more clearly. I tried it too; it works. It’s tied to memories of innocence and peace and fun. A number of us had small cans of it at our desks so we’d have it available when things got really rough.

◊I couldn’t help myself. Someone did note on another video, however, that they didn’t use it quite right in the prequels. In the original trilogy, it was when things were going as they were supposed to, but something still felt off; in the prequels, it was when they were very obviously in trouble. Yay, obsessive fandom!

Undefeated

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Easter 2014

I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of stress lately, and it’s taken its toll. There are some spring colds making the rounds, one a bit nasty, and of course I caught it. I spent last weekend – Easter weekend – at home. Felt fine as long as I didn’t do anything stupid like, oh, get up and walk to the kitchen, the bathroom, the front door. I wasn’t feeling up to doing much at all that whole time. From Friday evening to Tuesday morning, my world was my house. Spent the rest of the week catching up from one day off. I missed the Easter egg hunt at my father’s house, with all the kids searching, the grass unmown to make it more challenging. We have three new walkers this year, and one who’s close to it. I didn’t get to see any of them. It took me a few hours to finally acknowledge that I didn’t feel well enough to make the half-hour drive to his house, much less spend a long day out and about. Didn’t sing at church Easter morning, either. It was those two things that convinced me maybe I needed to take a day off from work. Missing two things that I love? I wasn’t feeling well at all. As it turned out, I probably should have taken Tuesday as well. I didn’t feel myself until yesterday afternoon.

The stress level is taking its toll in other ways, too. Right now, I am in an amazing amount of pain. The arthritis in my lower back is flaring up, the back of my skull has been killing me, to the point where I’m having a hard time concentrating this morning, and a headache I used to get fairly regularly has made an appearance.◊ It varied in intensity. Sometimes it was just annoying, other times, outright crippling. The only thing I could really do for it was take two aspirin, two ibuprofen, and two naproxen. Because of the PKD, I’m not supposed to be taking any of those, so I don’t have any in the house. So, my head hurts in two places, severely, my back is making it difficult to stand or sit for long periods of time, and I’m expecting my jaw to snap at any moment, I’ve been clenching it so hard. I know where the greatest source of my stress is coming from, and I’m trying to do something about it before it kills me. Funny how that doesn’t really feel like hyperbole right now.

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Damp path by the magnolias, Ault Park this past Tuesday.

Still, we go on.

It’s been a difficult time for local heroes here. I’ve already mentioned FAO Daryl Gordon, who lost his life working to save others’. His memorial procession was televised. Firefighters from Columbus came down to staff the Cincinnati firehouses, so that they could honor their lost brother, and the city remained safe. Not long after that, George Brooks, a retired police lieutenant who was working a funeral procession, was killed by a motorist who didn’t want to wait. There are laws for funeral processions. Learn them.

Finally, yesterday morning we had news that shook this town, even while it wasn’t really unexpected. Lauren Hill*, Indiana native, Mt. St Joseph student, basketball player, and advocate and voice for pediatric cancer research, passed away. I was getting ready for work, finishing up breakfast or something, when I saw the tail end of a crawl mentioning her. I didn’t see the beginning, but I was afraid of what it said. I was late to work yesterday, because I had to know. I won’t say she lost her fight, because she didn’t. Maybe it didn’t end the way we’d have liked, but she won. She made a difference, and she will be remembered for it. Her courage and kindness will live on. She could have sat back and relaxed, and no one but the most calloused would blame her. She was tired, she was in pain, but she had a mission. Devon Still, NFL football player who gained fame because of the actions of the Bengals’ front office, who kept him on the payroll so he would have insurance for his daughter, Leah, befriended Lauren. She knew Leah too, of course. Devon Still was anxious about having that conversation with his daughter, how she would handle it, how he would handle it. Leah knows Lauren is among the angels now. She’s a strong little girl herself.

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Storming this past Tuesday, didn’t keep me from going out.

Just a few days before, ABC News posted a story on her. Referencing an interview she had with our local ABC affiliate, asking how she’d like people to remember her, she said “She was a hero and she showed cancer who’s boss.” No, she didn’t lose that battle; she fired some powerful shots in that war.

I generally don’t like putting people up on pedestals as heroes, posing heroically on a marble plinth. If so-and-so can do it with all those issues, so can you? That’s not fair. Everyone’s journey is different; comparing one to another is a good way to foster resentment. Still, the stories deserve to be shared. Not so much to make us feel badly about not doing more, but to remind us that we can do more than we think. I’ll never run a marathon – not that that was a goal, but I would like to do a 5K again – because that would make me sick. Haven’t quite figured out why; my best guess is the walking shakes the kidneys up quite a bit. They are kinda large, after all. No more roller coasters for me, and I’ll probably never get to skydive†. I’m not helpless, though, and it’s not hopeless. An attitude shift can do wonders.‡ There will be bad days, and far as I’m concerned, a little complaining and self-pity is probably good for us. Can’t live there, though.

So I hurt, I’m extremely stressed, and it is literally making me sick. I’m still breathing, still walking, still moving forward. It’s a beautiful spring day, the magnolias are blooming, and I have a camera. I’ll need to eat first, but then, off I go. Next week, I have meetings with a couple of people who might be able to help with removing the greatest stressor in my life. Hint: It’s not my health.

Thank you, Lauren, for all you did. Never give up.

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◊In case you’re curious, the pain starts at the base of my skull on the right side, travels around my head, just above my ear, my temple, the right side of my forehead, the center, the left side, and finally ends up at the base of my skull on the left side. When it’s not bad, I can ignore it. Not this time.

*Lauren Hill became a very vocal advocate for The Cure Starts Now Foundation, raising over a million dollars in an incredibly short amount of time. She’s gone, but the cause remains.

†Yes, this is something I’ve actually wanted to do. I gave up on solo skydiving years ago; now I don’t think I could even do tandem. Not because of the stress on the joints, but the rigging on the kidneys. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make the cysts burst.

‡There’s a difference between delusion and optimism. Saying happy things and ignoring the unpleasant ones is delusion. Recognizing that sometimes life really sucks, and going on anyway, not dwelling on it (not ignoring it, just not wallowing), and reminding yourself of what you still can do, that’s optimism. In my opinion, anyway.