Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My Halloween Poem Turns 10... And Needs a New Title

Happy Halloween! (And Happy Birthday, Monee!) I wasn't going to post my Halloween poem this year, because most of you have seen it before (probably more times than you'd like), but I'm going to after all, for two reasons:

1) Today is its 10th birthday (or writtenday, in the case of a poem, I suppose)
2) It desperately needs a new title

For those few who have not been subjected to this poem yet, I wrote it in highschool as a Halloween homework assignment. It was actually supposed to be a short story, titled "Monsters and Such," but I had no creative juices for short stories and this came out instead -- still titled "Monsters and Such" in the hopes that I would still get credit even though I'd severely bent the rules of the assignment. It shocked the living daylights out of my teacher (who gave me full credit) and classmates (several of whom asked me where I copied it from). And even after 10 years, I have to say I still think it's pretty creepy to think that I wrote something like this when I was sixteen. :)

If you can come up with a better title for this poem than "Monsters and Such" (it really shouldn't be that hard, since that's such a terrible name, but it's been 10 years and I have yet to accomplish it), please let me know!


I’ll tell you a story of which the dead boast,
of ghouls and demons, of witches and ghosts
who creep into closets in the black of the night,
and fill little children with horrible fright.

These ghosts, with their vengeful spirits afire,
with hearts full of malice, bloodlust, desire;
These are what’s under the bed of your youngest.
One waits for bedtime, and then out he lunges!

He carries the child in arms made of mist,
and whispers through lips that the Devil has kissed,
“Heaven be damned, you’re in my power now.
To Satan, the King of all Hell you shall bow.”

Through Hades the innocent youngster is borne.
He sees all the people whose lives have been torn
now cowering in misery, fear, constant fright,
with hellfire and brimstones as their only light.

Souls that have sinned, and those that are damned,
all serving the Devil in this barren land.
Their decaying bodies rotting down to the bone
cause a stench no one wants to admit as his own.

As the young boy feels his stomach grow weaker,
he locks eye to eye with the deadly Grim Reaper.
The long bloody scythe held high in his hand,
the child knows he will never escape from this land.


On a more cheerful note, I got to wear a Halloween costume for work today, because I was helping out at my co-worker's Employee Giving Campaign event. It was quite refreshing to walk around in my pirate costume all day instead of my normal all-too-professional gack. Arrrrr! :) Unfortunately, I missed the "Tour of Untimely Departures" at the cemetery near my house, because I had class tonight -- and it wasn't even a very good lecture. Grrrrr.

I hope nobody knocks on my door tonight, because I didn't even think about buying any candy! But then, I'm going to bed soon, so I wouldn't answer anyway! Happy Halloween from the world's biggest party pooper! :}

Monday, October 29, 2007

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Did anybody else get this in the mail today and wonder what on earth has happened to Planned Parenthood?

I suppose it was effective in one way, because it got me to at least open the envelope instead of chucking it directly into the recycling.... but, still. What a bizarre (and potentially very self-defeating) way to request donations, especially when the first things you see inside the envelope are

and a donation form.

Is it just me, or is this slightly disturbing?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Successful Surprise... And a Surprisingly Fun Trip Home

Well, I'm home safe and sound from a "surprise" visit to California for Pa's 80th birthday -- happy birthday, Pa! :) Of course, by the time the weekend actually rolled around I think just about everybody knew I was coming... except Pa -- I have to give Monee a huge amount of credit for managing to keep the secret. It was wonderful to see everybody, to talk about some of the things that have been filling up my consciousness and my subconsciousness recently, in person, with the people whose insight and wisdom and support I value most. It was also good to just get "away" for a brief time; there is something about physical separation from one's normal surroundings that enables a fresh perspective. So, I'm thankful for both of those side benefits of the visit. Of course, it was all too short, and I had to come home this evening, but at least I have my Thanksgiving visit to look forward to. And I actually had a highly amusing flight home, which cheered me up considerably.

You know you're in for a good plane flight when, just before takeoff, the flight attendant asks you to "please be sure that your window shades are all the way open, because we're going to go really... really... fast." :) Shortly thereafter, while rapidly ascending, a few packets of peanuts zoomed past my aisle seat on the floor, toward the back of the plane. I watched them pass, saying a silent "oops" for the person who dropped them... until I realized that the flight attendant sitting in the front facing the cabin was pulling handfuls of peanut packets out of the cabinet and sending them down the aisle like bowling balls. Pretty soon everybody in the aisle seats caught on and was trying to catch the peanuts, so hardly any more made their way back to where I was, but it was fun nonetheless. When we landed, during the big "whoosh" when the plane is slowing down really fast (I think that's an accurate and non-contradictory statement), the attendant turned on the intercom and said "Whoooaaaahhh, boy!" and started making horse whuffling noises and clip-clop-clip-clop sounds as the plane slowed down. I like flight attendants with a sense of humor. :)

So, it was a good visit. And, with all such things nowadays, I came home with some things clearer in my mind and others newly opened up for questioning. But answers are beginning to formulate, so I am hopeful. Thank heaven for family.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Strengthening my (follow your) heart muscles

“Really big, but not very strong.” That’s how a physical therapist described my calf muscles earlier this year when I finally went in to investigate my prolonged shin problems. I was shocked and, to tell the truth, slightly offended: after ten years of morris and social dancing, I never expected anybody to accuse me of having weak calves. (It was like when the makeup designer told me I needed to use stage makeup to “enhance” my eyebrows when I was in the Revels – I wanted to say, “Are you kidding? People already tell me I look like Frida Kahlo!” (Check out the photos on this page and tell me if you don’t agree.)) But since then, I have dutifully done my physical therapy exercises every morning to strengthen my calves and shins and hips (I leave my eyebrows unenhanced, however).

I think I also need to work on strengthening my “follow your heart” muscles. In theory, these muscles are incredibly large – I want more than anything else to change my life to align more closely with my ideals and goals. In practice, however, I continually run into obstacles that (I allow to) prevent me from moving forward in that direction. Obstacles such as what I call my “psychological money block” – the need for financial security and the knowledge that I will have enough income in the future to support myself (note to self: think in the present). Perceived obstacles such as not having enough of the nebulously defined “experience” to pursue the path I want (what kind of a Catch 22 is this where you need experience to gain experience?).

So, I’m working on baby steps toward a more sustainable lifestyle – sort of like emotional/spiritual therapy for my follow-your-heart muscles. I’ve already reduced my hours at work under the guise of going back to school, though the deeper reason is that I simply don’t believe in the 40-hour work week. Granted, the time that this has “freed” up has been rapidly absorbed by other things (such as the aforementioned school), and I would love to work even fewer hours, but at least it’s a somewhat healthier balance (while still providing most of the financial security I cling to). A future step (maybe not the next step, but definitely a step) is to get out of this job altogether and find something better suited to me (mmm, wouldn’t it be nice to have a job that I would do even if I weren’t getting paid for it?). Meanwhile, I’m investigating volunteer opportunities, starting with Hands on Greater Portland, which offers one-time or short-term projects rather than asking for a long-term commitment (thanks to Graham for reminding me about the Hands On network). A future step (once I free up more time for non-employment) is to commit to a more in-depth volunteer program(s) to which I can devote more time and energy, and which would provide the opportunity to gain experience, get to know other people with similar interests, and let me feel that I’m giving something substantial back to my community. I want to move toward a more service-oriented lifestyle, and volunteering seems to be a good way to start.

For some reason, I’m really good at making up excuses not to follow my heart. But I’m not going to do that anymore. That’s my commitment to myself from now on, and anybody reading this has my full permission to hold me to it (please!).

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude

That has got to be the coolest name for a ballet that I have ever heard. :) And it's one of the three ballets that I got to see for free last night! Due to a string of simultaneous lucky coincidences (unexpectedly encountering John outside his building as I was riding my bike home, while he was on the phone with his friend Marenda, while Marenda was searching for somebody to share her pair of free ballet tickets for that night), I was invited (well, okay, I really kind of invited myself...) to go see A Midsummer Night's Dream by the Oregon Ballet Theater. Only, it wasn't just Midsummer -- it was their "Germanic Lands" program, which included two short ballets, then an intermission, and then Midsummer (1 hour long). So, we got three ballets for the price of one - which was free! :)

The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude was actually my least favorite of the three (and the women's stiff, flat, bright green frisbee-like tutus were mildly distracting), even though it had the best name. The second one, Almost Mozart, was really cool. I guess you could say it was in "acts;" each act was introduced by a brief, haunting Mozart phrase from the orchestra, and then the majority of the dancing was done in silence. That in itself was very different, and it could have been terrible, but the choreography was fantastic. The first act was two men, joined by both hands the entire time. It was amazing what they could do within those limitations. In the second act they added a woman, who was sometimes linked with them, sometimes dancing inside or weaving in and out of the circle of their arms. Again, very cool. And it was pretty neat to be able to hear the dancers as well -- their feet, their breathing -- which you don't normally get in a regular ballet because of all the music.

And, of course, Midsummer was great. I was impressed at how they were able to tell the story so well without words, in only an hour. (Granted, I haven't seen Midsummer performed as a play for quite some time, but there was a recognizable story line that was easy to follow, which is a great feat to accomplish.) The goal was to make it a very family-friendly and kid-accessible show, so there were lots of kids in it as fairies, and they threw in lots of silly things as well, like a ballet-tango between the fairy queen and the donkey, which was hilarious. All in all, it was a highly enjoyable evening.

It's nice to be reminded me that the world does tend to put us in the right place at the right time, even if we don't know it at the time. :)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Top 10 Reasons I Like Biking (Even When it's Rainy & Cold)

In no particular order...

1. I get exercise without having to spend "extra" time on it -- I get at least an hour of "automatic" exercise every day just getting to & from work & school.

2. There's less bike traffic on the roads and bridges when it's rainy (and yes, in Portland, bike traffic is a commute consideration).

3. When I'm biking in the cold and rain, I can feel every part of my body so much better. A lot of the time in our current weather, I'll just wear a t-shirt and fleece vest, so the skin on my arms gets the invigorating wind chill while my body heats up from the inside -- it's such a fantastic feeling. And when the rain starts soaking through different parts of my clothing as I ride, I become more aware of those parts, how they're feeling, how they're working, getting me to my destination (albeit soaking wet). It's biking with the rain, not against it. (And no, I haven't caught cold from it yet.)

4. Doing my part to put as little carbon dioxide into the air as possible.

5. There's a bizarre sort of righteous satisfaction in "toughing it out" and biking in all weathers, when other people wimp out.

6. Not having to get on a damp, steamy bus that's crowded with sopping wet, crabby riders. (Oh, yeah, and not having to pay for the bus, either.)

7. Enjoying afternoon rainbows that drivers are going too fast to see.

8. Facing a new and unknown commute challenge every day, depending on the fickle fall weather here in Portland.

9. OHSU pays me to commute by bike when I would do it anyway.

10. I crack myself up. Somehow, I am always able to find something amusing while I'm biking (usually myself). In general, when my face isn't screwed up against the driving rain, I'm laughing. Sometimes I interrupt the "rain scowl" with laughter at how silly a face I'm making. I also talk to myself almost constantly while I bike, and apparently I'm highly entertaining It's great.

So yeah. Bike commuting. I highly recommend it. Even in the rain. :)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bioneering in Spirit

This weekend, I will not be traveling to San Rafael for the 2007 Bioneers conference. I opted not to, in favor of using my vacation time and air miles to visit Quena in Maine -- and I'm very glad I did! But I will certainly miss Bioneers, for the intensive weekend of inspiration and rejuvenation, for the fantastic lectures by some incredibly intelligent and forward-thinking people, and for the community of ecologically-minded individuals from all walks of life, all working toward the same goal - "Revolution From the Heart of Nature," as the Bioneers website puts it.

Last year, Eugene, Oregon held a "Beaming Bioneers" event - a satellite conference that "beamed in" the plenaries from the main conference and then held its own workshops and lectures in the afternoons. I was holding this out as a less expensive option for me this year, but for some reason, there is no Beaming Bioneers in Oregon this year. I wonder why? One might think that, in a state so "green" (in so many senses of the term), it would be easy to garner support for such an event. But perhaps not two years in a row. Sigh. I shall have to content myself with downloading audio tracks of some of the talks after the event, and getting my annual dose of Bioneers inspiration that way.

If you're interested, check out the conference website. I think you can still drop in for portions of the day, if you're in the area - I would highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Need to do Something Worthwhile

Do you ever get that niggling sense that you’re just not quite making your contribution to the world, not quite pulling your weight? Like there’s something else that you should be doing to take care of other people, animals, or the environment, but you just don’t quite know what it is?

I do. Sometimes it’s just a general feeling of unease that I’m not doing my part, or curiosity about what the world would be like if I made more of an effort to make it a better place. Other times, it comes in incredibly intense bursts of longing to break out of the life that I’m living, to shed the artificial parts (the job that doesn’t fit, all the “shoulds” that go along with playing the career ladder game that I don’t believe in, the hesitation to follow my passions for fear I might fail) and devote myself completely to a worthy cause that’s larger than my own struggles. Bursts so intense that the tears come from nowhere, brimming with an indefinable emotion that is a mixture of frustration, regret, excitement, fear, urgency, hope, and raw, aching desire.

At these times, I am convinced of the absolute necessity of restructuring my life to expand my horizons and make a worthwhile contribution to the earth, and I understand why people commit their energies to two years in the PeaceCorps or a lifetime of volunteer service. I ask myself, what can I do? What am I willing to give up or change in my life so that I can dedicate my energies to causes I believe in? Could I spend a month, six months, a year or more of my life volunteering my time to preserve rainforest biodiversity or restore threatened habitats in critical regions of the world? What would it take to move my life to a place where I could do that? What can I do in the meantime?

Needless to say, these things are on my mind this weekend, thanks in part to Graham’s post about Thinking Beyond Borders and a conversation with a friend about EarthCorps (which, unfortunately, I am too old for – now, that’s a scary thought!). Volunteering and travel do seem to present an appealing combination of experiences, and one that I think I will look into further.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Morning Adventures

I have had an interesting series of morning "adventures" this week. The first two were not planned, nor terribly enjoyable, though I did manage to find the humor (or irony, as the case may be) in them and keep smiling.

I have had a hard time admitting to myself that my commute to work takes longer than the half-hour that it used to (including the tram ride and changing clothes), so I have had a hard time getting out the door on time in the morning. On Wednesday I was determined to be at work on time, or even 5 minutes early, so I was all set and ready to go 10 minutes before my customary rush time. But... when I got to my bike I discovered a large shard of metal sticking out of a very flat back tire. Sigh. So much for being early.

I decided to just switch out the inner tube entirely, since the hole was so big... but when I got out my box of spare bike stuff I realized that the spare tubes I had were for my old tires and were the wrong size. So, I had to patch the hole as best I could and use the same tube. I figured that, as long as I was already half an hour late for work, I may as well make it 45 minutes and stop by a bike shop on my way in to get a spare tube in case the patch didn't hold. So I took a slight detour on my route to go by CityBikes... but it turns out that they don't open until 11:00. Neither does the CityBikes Annex, 13 blocks down the road. So much for being prepared.

Luckily, my tire held out and got me to work, though it was definitely leaking. I pumped it again before I left work, and rode straight to the bike shop downtown, where I bought a replacement tube, a spare tube, and a refill for my patch kit. I had just enough time to bike back to PSU and change my tire again before class. All's well that ends well, I suppose... though I think I still have bike grease under my fingernails....

My Friday adventure actually starts with an adventure last weekend -- getting my heater to work. To make a long story short, a technician had to come out to check it out, and eventually to reconnect the sparking cable so that the heater would light. He turned the heater on before he left, but I immediately turned it off again because I was baking and the apartment was plenty warm already. So the pilot light is on (and the heater makes a constant background noise -- just like the sound of your neighbor taking a shower in the next apartment over, when you can hear that the water is going -- it's driving me nuts), but I haven't turned the heat on. This is for a couple of reasons: 1) I'm cheap (I mean, frugal), and I would rather wear long johns and sweaters (as I'm doing now) than turn on the heat, and 2) the heater is placed right next to the attic door and the entry stairs, and does a very good job of spewing heat directly onto the landing, from which I guess I would just have to hope that it goes into the other rooms rather than up to the attic. 1 + 2 = I don't want to pay to heat my attic and my entryway.

Okay, enough background. So, on Friday morning I decided to test out the heater, because Antonia was coming to visit, and it's not polite to freeze one's house guests. So I got up, shivered through bed-making and tooth-brushing, and then turned the heater on to "2" before going into the living room to do my stretches. About a minute later the wonderful morning peace is shattered by the incredibly loud and obnoxious sound of my smoke alarm. At 6:00 in the morning. I am sure my neighbors were not very pleased with me. I was not very pleased with my heater. Apparently it had collected some dust (and goodness knows what else) over the summer of dis-use, and was burning it off. It smelled terrible. So, instead of having a nice toasty warm apartment that morning, I had to open all the windows and turn the fan on to get the smoke and the smell out. It was not a warm morning.

On Friday when I got home, and when the outside temperature had risen a few degrees, I turned the heater on again (after disconnecting my smoke alarm), and ran it with all the windows open and the fan on for a bit, to try to burn off whatever was in there and get rid of the smell. I hate to just blow the heat right out the window (I'm paying for it, after all!), but I do want to be able to use the heater when I really need it, without having it smell up the place and set off the smoke alarm. I think most of the nasty stuff did burn off, but it still doesn't smell too good when the heater is on. And I haven't put the battery back in my smoke detector yet, either....

My Saturday adventure was much better -- both planned and pleasant, thank goodness. I went to the library book sale -- wheeeee! :) It was held in what used to be a Wild Oats store, and it's supposed to be the largest used book sale in Oregon, with about 100,000 items. It goes all weekend (it started with a members-only pre-sale on Friday night, and ends with a 75% off day on Monday), but I wanted to get there at the start, so I went this morning. I thought about going back this afternoon, because they kept putting out new books, but I didn't make it back. Maybe tomorrow. :) I didn't find any of the books I was looking for in particular, but I did come away with a few fun things, and one useful one -- a GRE prep book with CD, which will hopefully inspire me to actually study for the exam that's coming up next month. :} It was fun just to wander amongst the books, never knowing what you'll find, and being in the company of so many fellow bibliophiles. Not that anybody actually talked to each other much, with everybody in his own little world, moving along the tables with eyes roving the titles. Good bookish energy, though. It's been far too long since I've been to a library book sale. I didn't think they even had them here, because the library has a full-time book store (called the "Title Wave") -- but this is the Friends of Multnomah County Library, and apparently they do sales twice a year. It's just not advertised very well on the library website for some reason, so I never knew about them before. But now I know, and I'm very glad I do. Hooray for library book sales! :)

So, I think planned weekend morning adventures are good, but other work-day morning adventures are probably to be avoided. :} On the bright side, we finally have a new garage door, so after nearly two months of lugging my bike upstairs every day I finally get to park it in the garage again! :)