Saturday, April 21, 2007

The King and I

Strange dreams plagued me this morning. Stephen King was sending me money because he believed in my talent. Instead of sending the last check, which was a really large amount, he brought it himself. It wasn't one check but a whole bunch of checks from a lot of different accounts, all small amounts. He said it was to hide it from his accountant and his wife. The stack of checks was enormous, filling a box. What was really strange was that he brought the checks because he wanted to make me his mistress but when we ended up in bed together (his shirt was off and we were kissing when he guided my hand lower--much lower) it wasn't King but someone with whose anatomy I am very familiar.

What's up with that?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Busting out all over

"Spring is busting out all o-over."

I love musicals: the singing, the dancing, the color and excitement. I've even did a turn as dancer, actor and singer once upon a time, but like so many things it fell by the wayside to be practiced and enjoyed alone. At least I always thought I was alone. I wasn't. There is always someone near or passing by when we least expect it, and oftentimes we don't even know it.

When I lived at the cabin higher up in the mountains there were other houses and cabins nearby but they were usually empty, the owners weekenders or seasonals. Very few people lived up there full time. The cabin was screened by trees and set down into a fold of the mountain hidden from casual view. Unless you knew it was there, you wouldn't see it despite it's orangey-brown stained color.

After I moved back to the city, I didn't think about the habits I had formed while I lived in solitude. I sang and danced out on the deck in the sunshine and in the snow, serenading the animals, clouds and trees without thinking about it. I felt free. So free, that when I moved here I kept on singing and dancing, but not out on the deck. I don't have one. My landlady and Pastor heard me through the windows, open to catch the warm spring breezes, and mentioned it a couple days later, saying the house liked my singing--and so did they. The other day the landlady mentioned she doesn't hear me singing any more. "Pastor lies out on the deck looking up at your windows. He's waiting for you to sing. It's time again," she said. "You don't sing much any more."

No, I don't. I sing now and then when I shower and on the weekends when I get dressed to go out, but not like I did when I moved here. Responsibilities and work have silenced me.

"We hope you start singing again," the landlady said. Pastor leaned against me, nosing my hands, urging me to pet him. "Pastor misses it." She turned to go back into her apartment and stopped. "I do, too."

I miss those long slow days full of books and singing and dancing and quiet. I love it here in this neighborhood between the parks, amid the laughter and voices of children and friends. Still, there is something quieter about my life here despite being surrounded by sounds and noise and voices. I am no longer free, fitted as I am into this homey niche in the city, one sound lost among so much other sounds.

Nel just finished her shower and the landlady and Pastor have gone to the dog park for their morning walk. The scent of coffee lingers in the air from the landlady's apartment, just a whiff of richness and home. A breeze stirs the cords on the blinds and the whoosh of cars passing in the street below drifts up. Birds call and warble while crows voice their harsh raucous caws. Cooper barks next door and the hum of computer and refrigerator underlay it all. Every voice, every sound, every noise weaves music, a different music I have become used to hearing, a music that reminds me of the softer music of those long slow days.

I miss the music, too. I miss the magical sound of one voice busting out all over with excitement and hope and freedom.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Between the covers

As a book reviewer, I am obligated to read every book from cover to cover whether I like it or not. Sometimes it's a chore and sometimes it's a blessing in disguise. Normally, I race through a book in hours. Sometimes I race through a book in days or even weeks because it is that horrible. Then there are books that seem wonderful in the beginning but lose my interest somewhere after the first third or even the first half, but I finish the book regardless. I do the same for books that start out horrible and become wonderful. That's part of the beauty of books--and writers; you don't always know the real story until you read the whole thing. The book I just finished reading and reviewing is a case in point.

This last book was a mystery. The first few chapters were horrible, the dialogue cliched with cookie cutter bad guys doing bad things and the good guys drinking coffee and eating donuts on the way to the scene of a crime in progress. The good guy has been tracking the bad guy for years and the bad guy plays with the good guy like a cat with a mouse until he finally decides to take the good guy out and ends up in a ditch. Ho hum.

Every time I started reading the book all I could think about was putting in some extra time with work or watching a DVD or picking up something interesting to read, like anything in the piles of books that teeter in tower of Pisa piles and over flow boxes and are heaped on furniture and floor. Anything not to have to finish the book. But it's my job and I do get paid regularly and fair well for reading even awful books. The only thing that would have made this book worse was doing it for free. Earning a fee for reviewing puts a short time limit on how long I can take reading any one book. Most of the time I finish three or four books a week even when I'm working a lot of hours; I sleep less so I can read. It's worth it. And then there are times when it isn't worth it and I'd rather clean the toilet or wash the dishes than finish the book. I thought this last book was the latter. I was wrong. It was awful at first but one-third of the way through became really good with a surprising ending.

That's part of the wonder and magic of books. Sometimes you see the book's cover, read the blurbs on the back and a short synopsis on the fly leaf of the dust jacket and can't wait to start it. Other times, the blurbs are the best part of the book. There are times when choosing any book by a new author is a crap shoot that more often than not pays off. Some books have rocky middles and are good or bad at the beginning and the ending or some other combination of good, mediocre and bad.

The saying goes, "As above, so below." It applies also to books.

I've met people who were wonderful on first meeting but the longer I knew them the less wonderful they became. The cover was nice and the blurbs and synopsis were great, the inside left a lot to be desired. The same is true for people who rubbed me the wrong way the first time we met, and for many subsequent meetings, but then something clicked or we found something in common and we've remained friends ever since; in a few cases we've been friends for many decades (yes, I am that old).

There will always be people who live up to first impressions: good and bad. You can spend years with someone who struck your fancy right off the bat and somewhere along the line they changed or you changed or some piece of the human puzzle that wasn't immediately visible clicked into place and you found yourself stuck. Some people have rocky patches in the middle (and sometimes a few rocky patches) but what drew you to them in the first place keeps you hanging around, waiting for the opportunity to pick up where you left off and go on to a satisfying ending. Life is magic, too.

Because I'm a reviewer I have no choice but to finish whatever book I promise to review: good, bad or indifferent. When I'm not reviewing and a book doesn't pan out or shows no signs of getting better, I put it down, take it back to the library, give it to someone who might like it or donate it--anything to get it out of my hands. I have been surprised sometimes but not often and it gives me a new understanding of the publishing business when time is of the essence and there is a room full of manuscripts to read. The author doesn't get more than a page or two, and sometimes only a couple paragraphs, before their fate is sealed.

Part of what kept me reading that awful beginning of a mystery was a glimmer of something in the writing, a hint of a promise of something good. That's why I wait for some people to get clear of the rocky times--there is a glimmer of hope, a hint of something special between us and tossing them aside without sticking around for the ending would be a big loss--for both of us. I'm glad I finished that awful beginning of a book for whatever reason. It was worth it. I know people like that, too. Don't you?

Cold strawberries

I like to start the morning with fruit. Strawberries are my favorite. Bananas are a close second and sometimes I mix the two. First, I have a banana and then some strawberries. I ran out of bananas yesterday and now all I have are strawberries. I'm not complaining. I love strawberries.

However, strawberries taste so much better when they are warm, at least room temperature. The best of all possible tastes is a strawberry picked fresh from the vine and eaten while still warm from the sun. All the strawberry taste and sweetness are at their peak of perfection. Organic store bought strawberries run a close second but they wilt pretty quickly. Keeping them in the refrigerator makes them last longer and it's almost an agony smelling their luscious scent and waiting for them to get to room temperature. Microwaving for a few seconds makes them warm but then the strawberries taste slightly off. I don't understand why, especially since dipping them in warm chocolate enhances the intensity of the sweetness and strawberry-ness. It just does.

I have a bowl of strawberries this morning and I've already eaten a few still cold. I don't want to wait, but as I taste the hint of sweetness that would be so much better if I did wait I slow down and make each cold berry last, staving off the desire to devour them all without stopping until only a few pips and a bit of juice are left. Waiting makes so many things better.

Society as a whole is geared to instant gratification. Credit makes it easier to get everything from cars and houses to DVD players and computers. For a small fee (and sometimes a very large fee) we can have whatever we desire without the wait. All we have to do is make the payments.

I just paid off my digital camera, bought on credit, and have only this laptop and my living room furniture to pay off. When I called and made my payment last week I paid off the camera. The manager asked what I would like to get next. "Nothing," I said, "and I'm paying off the rest by July."

"You have to get something," Joe the manager said.

"I don't need anything else."

"A big screen TV?"

"I have a nice TV and I use it to watch DVDs. I neither need nor want a bigger TV."

"A new DVD player?"

"Mine works just fine and I have a backup."

"How about bedroom furniture? You bought the bed but you don't have the rest. I'll make you a great deal." Joe was working hard.

"I don't think so. There would be too much to move around when I paint the bedroom. I think I'll wait."

"Keep us in mind," Joe said. He gave me the authorization number on my payment. "I'm sure you'll find something you need before July."

I could use some bookcases and a new desk that gives me enough room for my sewing machine and radio equipment and computers, but I don't need them now. I could also use a dresser, but what I have works just fine. I could use a lot of things, but I don't really need anything. I'm waiting for the day when what I owe is paid off and I don't have to make any more payments. I can save a little money and eventually get what I could use later. It will be nice not having to worry about what I owe. I know I'll always have the phone and electric and rent to pay and food to buy, but I can live with that. I can wait.

So many things are worth the wait, like seeing and being with good and dear friends. Every time I see a friend who has been absent from my life for a while it's like the first time when we realized what a great connection we share. It's like cold strawberries that taste so much better I wait for them to warm up. The waiting is agony at times, but the result is absolutely worth the wait.

Monday, April 16, 2007

We are the Organians

A couple years ago a good friend gave me Conversations With God. I decided to read it and found I agreed with a lot of the philosophy. I decided to borrow Nel's copy of the second book in the series and I read a little bit of it at a time since I have a lot of other books I have to read. I'm finding some of the information and philosophy interesting.

Hitler went to heaven, according to the book. It's not as strange as it sounds, but it does turn what most people term right and wrong inside out.

We are taught to believe, and indeed most religions teach, that there is right and wrong, good and bad, light and dark, etc. Everything has an opposite. Rules are laid down and if we deviate from those rules then we are wrong and should be punished. Indeed, most religions teach we will be punished--in one way or another: hell, karma, the law of return, etc. What if the rules laid down don't apply and there is no punishment except what we decide for ourselves?

The question reminds me of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and the Nicaean Council when they decided not to put in any mention of reincarnation because they believed you couldn't control people who believed that they would be born again into this life (and yet they talk about being born again . . . in a spiritual sense--another topic for another time). The eldest brother, Mitya, believes that there is no right or wrong and to certain men the laws do not apply. There is no devil and no hell and no punishment, just the exercise of choice (in a nutshell). When he finds himself face to face with the reality of his philosophy he has to face the "evil that men do" and the evil that sprang from his thoughts.

If there is no punishment for defying the dictates of societal law, can you control the people? Should you? Are laws and heavenly retribution and hell and karma and all the other names for punishment what keep us in line and make us unwilling to commit what we consider heinous acts? Does it really matter?

According to Walsch's dialogue, we are not here to learn or right wrongs or live out karma, but simply to experience. We are extensions of the Eternal--in the words of some religions, the Universe figuring itself out--the physical manifestations of a greater Presence created to create and internalize experience--all experience. Thinking that way puts a different face on everything we think we know and understand. If someone causes me pain or hurts me in any way, who is at fault? Does it really depend on right and wrong or just perception? Does it even matter?

If Walsch's supposition is right, then it doesn't matter and there is no right or wrong, only the experience. It's a difficult concept to grasp. Nothing we do here matters in and of itself and is only grist for the experience mill, a manifestation of reality that does not exist except as it contributes to the greater whole of knowledge.

When the colonists in the New World rebelled against their sovereign king the colonists believed they were in the right to fight for their freedom because they felt they were being oppressed. The king, and indeed his subjects in Britain, believed the colonists were terrorists and criminals who should be punished because they refused to pay their taxes and their sovereign his due. Who was right?

Take the Civil War/Norther War of Aggression, indeed any war. Each side believes they are in the right and God's backing. Do they? There is a line from Cold Mountain when Inman says he's certain God is tired of being called down on both sides of the fight.

Take any situation, even the situation in a family. A parent sets rules and expects the children to obey. One child does not obey because he felt he was being oppressed and it is right to rebel against an oppressor. The parent enforces the punishment laid down for disobedience because the parent has the power, but is it right? Does it really depend on perspective? Do the circumstances change how the outside world views the situation? For instance, if the child who is being beaten has been told not to leave the house and they leave the house to get away from the beatings, who is right: the parent or the child? What if both are right and there is no wrong?

Does it all come down to who has the power and who sets the rules?

We agree to follow certain guidelines. When we find out someone else broke the rules, didn't follow the guidelines, is it moral outrage against wrongdoing that moves us to anger or censure or is it just that someone got away with something we didn't have the nerve to do? We certainly feel pain when someone close to us is hurt, when someone we know has been wronged, but it doesn't sting quite so much when we have no stake in the outcome or relationship with the one who has been "hurt". Does our lack of involvement lessen the rightness or wrongness of the situation? Is there really right and wrong? If we follow this reasoning, does it mean chaos will reign? Do we really need guidelines to tell us what we do and do not want to experience? Do we need someone telling us what to do and how to do it?

Putting this whole idea in another light for me it comes down to how I view the actions of others interacting with me. I see things one way and they see them another. Are we both right or both wrong? If one is right and the other wrong, who decides? Certainly, we cannot pass judgment since our views are fixed. He is wrong and I am right. We cannot trust the judgment of those nearest us, people who know and like us, because their judgment is tainted by association and by not knowing both sides of the situation. They know only what they have been told and cannot weigh both points of view. People side with their friends; it is a matter of loyalty. I begin to see the wisdom in a judge and jury and why friends and relations are not allowed to be part of the jury. Can't be impartial when you have a stake in the outcome. If here is no right and wrong, only experience, then it doesn't matter. We have served our purpose. We have experienced being hurt and doing the hurting and no one is really to blame. It's simply cause and effect dictated by the guidelines we ourselves set.

There is no right and wrong, only experience. Just as power is neutral, so, too, is life. We are given life in this plane of existence so we can experience whatever we choose to know, to feel, to be, to create. Even when we think we have hurt someone or someone has been killed or died, they really haven't. Who they are, what experiences they accumulated, are still part of the Universal Consciousness. Energy (experience) can never be destroyed, only its form changes. Takes a little--or a lot--to understand.

I am reminded of the Organians on Star Trek. No one was hurt or killed because you cannot destroy energy. The energy may take the form of a person or an object or a living beast or plant, but it is at its root still energy, just as we are energy given form. No matter what I think has happened to me, no matter who I have believed hurt me, none of it really exists except as an analog of experience, the experience of disappointment, betrayal and emotional pain, and therefore there is no one to blame or punish or dislike. They in themselves do not matter because they were the tools necessary to create a specific experience. They served their purpose. Kind of puts things in a different perspective . . . one I'm still working on understanding. I still do not see how knowing this--if it is true--will pay the bills or keep me from having to pay a fine for disobeying society's laws. I'm getting closer but I'm not there yet. Still, pondering this makes it easier to forget all the hurt other people, in my perception, have done to me, and that's worth something.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mark of the volunteer

I had a very enjoyable morning yesterday. We had 19 candidates for ham radio license exams and most of them passed the test with flying colors, thanks in no small part to Mike Anderson who is chairman of the education committee. He does a fantastic job teaching the courses and giving everyone a good grounding in electronics theory and radio operation. Mike does have a problem using sharp and pointed objects and shouldn't be allowed to use them without constant supervision, but that's another story entirely. There was one other woman at the exam session yesterday and she was testing.

Over the past two years I have spent a lot of Saturday mornings with most of these guys and since I became newsletter editor (a job I was tricked into taking--but more about that later) I have gotten to know them all a lot better. We laugh and joke and tease each other and get along great. I like them all even when they tell really awful jokes, as one of the guys inevitably does. He does love his puns and plays on words and I had to hit him a couple of times with a paper folder to get him to behave.

One of the examinees came up to me as he walked out the door with his paperwork. When I first saw him as we checked everyone in and made sure they had all the proper identification, etc., I thought he was a woman. His face was smooth with no sign of a beard and he wore two little gold hoops in his left ear. He wore a baseball cap, but then so do I most of the time. It has my call sign on it and it's brand new. He stopped and told me his name and that it was nice to finally meet me. He was the guy who called me a couple months ago just after I returned from Ohio, having been told I was the head of the ham radio club. I'm not. I'm just the newsletter editor, but the owner of Ham Radio Outlet in Denver gave him my name and number; it's on the newsletter, but so are the names of all the board members and president. I guess he figured I'd know where to go. I sent him to Mike and he passed his test and got his first ham radio license (technician) at 70+ years of age. It was a pleasure meeting him and flirting with all the guys.

Yes, I flirt with the guys. I smile and laugh at their jokes and tease them about their tee shirts and ball caps and such. I am the only female on the team here in Colorado Springs so it's my job to remind them that women are ham radio operators, too, and we aren't trying to be men. We just like science and math and electronics--and we look really good in ball caps.

One VE team member made a point of showing me his tee shirt. It was a relic from 1988 that reminded me of the west side of Columbus on the Hilltop where I lived after Dad retired from the Army. Made me a little nostalgic for Westgate park where I picnicked, fished in the pond in the spring, summer and fall, played tennis and baseball, walked through the trees and around the track, necked with my boyfriends and ice skated in winter. It was a special place for me, somewhere I could go and feel a bit of freedom. I walked there when I wasn't old enough to drive and drove there when I was . . . usually in the company of my current boyfriend so we could talk, walk, kiss, hold hands and do all the things teenage boys and girls do without going so far we'd be embarrassed and arrested by the cops who patrolled the area. My piano teacher lived a couple blocks down the street from Westgate park and I always stopped at the park and breathed in the pine-scented air, especially after it rained, before I walked the three or four miles home. In the winter, I caught the bus and walked home from Sullivant Avenue, just three blocks, but when it was nice I walked down the side streets and through the neighborhoods and never thought twice about it. Neither did my parents.

After everyone testing had gone and we finished cleaning up and having a two-minute meeting, we walked outside into a sunny and warm spring day. We stood outside talking for a while until there were only two of us left, chatting about what had happened since the last time we saw each other and had enough time to catch up. About that time a little tarball, a black male squirrel, came over. He stood on the little grassy spot around a tree and looked at us. He's the second black squirrel I've seen but evidently he and his friends and relatives have taken up residence in Black Forest, which is a few miles away from where we were standing yesterday. He was a bold little fella and he wasn't afraid of us. He kept getting closer and closer, stopping every once in a while to sit back on his haunches. That's how I knew he was a male. He came straight for me, but before he got all the way over to me (must have been the way I smelled) my friend and I said goodbye and went our separate ways to run Saturday errands.

I haven't been to quite as many exam sessions in the past few months and I miss them. I miss being with my friends and the guys on the team. Someone always has a story or joke to share and it's just funny watching the guys sheepishly look at me as they go for their third or fourth or tenth donut or cookie. I don't eat the cookies or the donuts but the guys never pass them up . . . not even after having a big breakfast over at the Hungry Bear up in Woodland Park 15 minutes before. They may not be able to eat that third stack of pancakes, but they always have room for donuts. Okay, so I'm exaggerating a little; they can't eat the second stack of pancakes, but the pancakes are HUGE.

I have made a lot of good friends, the kind that like to tease and don't mind being teased. One of those friendships resulted in a brand new flat panel monitor for my work computer. When I get it and hook it up, the two big old monster monitors (17" and 19") on my desk are going to Mike Anderson to use for the computers he puts together from spare parts for people he knows who can't afford to buy one. When I get all the information off the three hard drives I have, I'll give him two of the extra computers for parts to help the cause. That should give me a little room in the living room closet next to my stash of keyboards (I go through about two a year). I can't wait to use the new monitor and I'd still be saving the money for a really nice one if it weren't for these wonderful and generous ham radio operators.

Oh, yes, I said I'd explain about these wonderful and generous hams who tricked me into becoming editor. Well, it wasn't all the guys, just one: Jim Harris. One Saturday I helped a fellow ham put up his new antenna tower. He took us to lunch at a nearby Denny's and Jim was part of the group. I wasn't a member of the local ham radio club (PPRAA) then and my only knowledge of them was through exam sessions as a (volunteer examiner) VE. My first session as a brand new VE was for the PPRAA. Anyway, the talk turned to needing a newsletter editor right after I answered the question about what I did. I should have looked at their eyes instead of eating my lunch, because I'm sure they lit up like Chernobyl.

"You're a writer?" they asked innocently. "What kind of writing do you do?"

"Articles, stories, editing, newsletters. All kinds of writing."

And then Jim lowered the boom. I never saw it coming. "I was considering taking the job but since you're a writer . . ."

Everyone looked at me.

"Well, I did want to get to know the community and local hams better," I ventured. After that I never had a chance.

"You should be a member of the PPRAA, but we'll work around that."

"Who do I talk to?" I didn't know it but I had already talked to the right person.

Three months later at a VE session in Woodland Park, one of the other VEs congratulated me on being the new PPRAA newsletter editor. "I beg your pardon," I said.

"I heard it at the club meeting last month."

These wonderful and generous guys had so wonderfully and generously hooked and landed the new fish--me. I went to a board meeting, found out I had to become a member to be on the board (the newsletter editor is not voted in but serves on the board as long as they are editor--in my case, I got life), paid my dues for the next year (they threw in December for free) and took up the position that everyone assures me I do beautifully. I think I'm being hornswoggled yet again but I do know that they're not about to let me walk away, and I'll bet running isn't an option either. I'm sure the speediest grapevine in the world has already put out the word that no one is to step up to the plate and volunteer to become editor. They'll tell me about it just before I die. I know that for certain.

Just like that furry little tarball who checked me out yesterday and decided I was the one who'd give him a nut or a treat, the guys in the PPRAA checked me out and decided I was the perfect mark. I feel like the only guy left standing alone when the rest of the battalion takes a giant step backward when the captain asks for volunteers for a long and possibly dangerous mission. I avoided the squirrel but I'll have to be a lot quicker to avoid the guys in the PPRAA. They have radios everywhere and they are not afraid to use them.

Until then, I'll keep making changes and shaking things up until I find out just how far they'll let me go before they volunteer someone else.

That is all. Disperse.