Monday, June 30, 2008


Today I walked instead of ate during lunch. There were a lot of people doing the same thing, down and around on the rail trail. I passed by the guy who straps a big radio on the back of his bike again. Only this time, I looked right at him and I'm pretty sure he was a different guy than the usual radio-strapping biker I see just about every time I go. Maybe it was the same guy, but without hat. Maybe it was a different guy, but the first guy made the radio thing cool and he started a trend. I realized I've spent much more time focusing on the radio than on the bicyclist.
I traded some good stories with my walkin' partner. The weather was perfect for walking, but when we got back under roof the sky darkened ominously and then the rain poured down.
Thoughts of the worn-out phrase, "life is short," occurred to me today. Not just thoughts -- feelings, too. As much as I hate worn-out phrases, I felt the truth of it and I don't want to look back with regret any more than I already do. On the other hand, regrets can be transformed into life lessons and maybe every life needs them in order to grow. Along with some other stuff, like water, sunlight and food.

Saturday to Sunday

The family took a trip to our homeland today, a short drive down and back. River, swimming, family bonding, married event, and driving and running in the rain on a Saturday night with old friends. Always peaceful and therapeutic to go to the river, fight off the bugs, watch the kids run and laugh and make full use of the grass, the trees, the fire, the water, the swing and the swinging ladder. No movies this weekend. I thought I'd fit in some time for Incredible Hulk, but there were no takers.
I partook in some festivities to honor the end of a life on one day and the beginning of a new life for others the next day. Now I'm tired. I'm not sure why.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


No real tragedies tangential to, or touching upon, my life have happened in a few days, so I feel giddy and carefree today. I exaggerate. But I do feel things are starting to get back to normal. Normal is great. I got a lot of sleep last night, and getting a lot of sleep in almost any given night means I have vivid dreams. Early this morning it so happened that my mind took me to a Halloween party, at which a convoluted but entertaining story unfolded that involved costumes, talking to people, having some sort of unusual adventure, and character development of people I have never met. In the subconscious mind of mine, a strange recurrence is spending quality time with the likable, gentle, intelligent, patient, funny and charming people I meet in my dreams.

Monday, June 23, 2008

What I Think About When I Drive

News of two more deaths this morning. George Carlin and a co-worker's brother. I don't believe in fate, destiny or supernatural coincidences, but I do believe in negative energy. I believe that, sometimes, negative energy begets negative energy. It's starting to creep in all around me and weave its long, shadowy tentacles onto every path I take lately. Not really. But it feels that way. I like my life and there are a lot of good things in it that work very well. It doesn't always feel that way, but it is true. I'm trying to be as careful as possible. I think about my grandmother being 96, thinking I'll get a call any day now with the message that she's not ... not ... I don't want to write the words. Not OK. Just because other people are dying all around me doesn't make it any more likely that her time is about to come. It should already be obvious. Every once in a while I think how fortunate I am that I haven't experienced a lot of (or, really, any) tragic, premature deaths of people who are very close to me. But, alas, I know that won't last very long, because every living thing must die.
I wonder if the universe is preparing me for the worst. I know the universe doesn't work like that.
Intuitively, I do know it. I think that every single experience, from the smallest experience lasting the most fractional second of time, to the length of any given relationship with another living being, form to combine the person each of us is today, like your own personal micro-universe. All the things that have ever happened to me are there, in my micro-universe, and they make up who I am, what decisions I make, and how I process information. And that would include those gene-type DNA things that happened to me way early on, I guess.
Thank you for joining me for my own personal science revelation today.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Saturday, June 21

The weekend started off with a garage sale, at which we were able to yield $18.00. It wasn't my idea. Our house is difficult to find. Our fine merchandise was mostly marked at rock-bottom prices, and our highest-priced item was a coat tree for $5. Nobody bought it. We sold one cup of lemonade but we forgot to charge for it. A fun day. The garage sale was blanketed between a trip to the farmer's market, where we purchased cheese, coffee and lettuce, and the arts/music river festival, where the weather was perfect and the arts/music was the same as ever, but did make me glad to live where I live. The day ended by watching The Love Guru, which was as bad as the reviewers said it is. I can sum it up with one description: one-dimensional. The characters were all one-dimensional, as was the plot. There were two one-dimensional plots: guru wanted to be on Oprah and be the number-one guru in the world; and he was hired to make a husband and wife get back together. Those plots were strung together by one-dimensional jokes that kept centering on stuff that really wasn't funny. Comments coming out of the theater included "weird," "bad," and "not that funny."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What We Don't See

West Virginia Day, June 20, is a holiday for some. In honor of that holiday, instead of writing about what West Virginia has going for it, I will comment about how someone who has spent most of her life in West Virginia might feel when she leaves, and what she notices is different about being away from home.
Outside of West Virginia, strangers don't smile at each other and say "hello."
Outside of West Virginia, there aren't that many mountains. Much of the land is flat, so the scenery is extremely limited in scope. I would compare it to the view of one's hand, turned flat so that all you see is your thumb, compared to holding your hand up sideways, so that you see all your fingers.
Outside of West Virginia, it is not so humid, snowy, green, or ablaze with red, orange and yellow (depending on the season) (see above sideways vs. flat hand comparison).
Outside of West Virginia, people can be generally rude, unfeeling, detached and in a hurry.
Outside of West Virginia, drivers cut quickly, abruptly, and dangerously in front of other cars in traffic.
Outside of West Virginia, people habitually shout and gesture at drivers who irritate them.
Outside of West Virginia, there are actually lots and lots of people of non-Caucasian nationalities and non-Caucasian ethnicities.
Outside of West Virginia, there are an uncanny number of luxury vehicles being driven around by people who can afford them.
Outside of West Virginia, especially in big cities, there are countless homeless people.
Outside of West Virginia, there are certain areas where it would seem unsafe and scary to stop and ask for directions.
Outside of West Virginia, especially in big cities, there is a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Outside of West Virginia, cities and communities invest millions in arts, aesthetics, zoos, museums, and cultural attractions.
Outside of West Virginia, when you tell some people you are from West Virginia, they are surprised you don't sound or look or seem like you're from West Virginia. Whatever that means.
Outside of West Virginia, if you go to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, odds are very good that you will run into someone you know who is from West Virginia.
Outside of West Virginia, there are a lot of really, really, really tall buildings, and few, if any, mountains or hills.
Outside of West Virginia, outside many of the small, small towns, when in a restaurant, it doesn't feel as much as if you're in a 1950s time warp. You don't see so many diners that offer fried chicken, french fries from freezer to deep fryer, country-fried "steak," bacon, sausage, sunny-side up eggs and bad coffee.
Outside of West Virginia, cigarette smoking in public is an oddity.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Theme of Death, Part 2

About 24 hours after I lamented the four losses, due to the four deaths tangential to my own personal sphere last week, Mother Nature added one more classmate to the list, within just a few days of the other classmate dying. He was 11 days older than me. I had known him since first or second grade, and maybe before that. I believe the one and only time we had a whole conversation was in the third grade. The last time I saw him was several years ago, at a bar, and he was wearing plastic glasses that were lit up with lights, and maybe a message saying, "Merry Christmas," or "Happy New Year," or something like that. I said hi --- he was standing right in front of me --- and either he didn't see or hear me or he just didn't feel like acknowledging my existence. At the time I believed the latter. He may have given me a quick, insincere nod; I can't be sure. But I am from a small town, and sometimes it feels like the people who grew up there with me are in a big extended family. Our grandmothers were good friends. In the third grade, I spent an afternoon with him at the senior center, painting ceramics in the art department with him. Hence our only existing conversation. Every so often, I would hear bits and pieces about his life from my grandmother, but she didn't gossip, so I didn't hear that much. She would just hint. He has a My Space page. I wonder what will happen to it.
While we are young, life seems to be a permanent situation, but all the sudden, without warning, the light goes out, and we are all left to be reminded by the randomness of tragedy and that life can be violently transitory. What is the point of the word permanent? There is no such thing. Permanent record. Permanent marker. Permanent doesn't mean what it purports to mean.
I went by a car accident today on the interstate near Sutton. I meant to leave Charleston earlier, but I didn't. I wonder how much closer I would have been to becoming part of the accident if I had left when I had meant to leave. I passed by the wreckage before the rescue and police vehicles arrived. About eight cars were stopped, lots of people were on their cell phones, people were on the grass, and a little yellow car was upside down, with its roof totally crushed. There was no room left in there for survivors, I am sure of it. I saw an ambulance and police car going to the accident about five minutes later, driving in the direction of the crash. Right before I went by the crash, a man in a pink shirt and tie sped by in a BMW and smiled at me while he was driving at about 85 miles an hour. It was a funny moment, because we both looked at each other at exactly the same time and had the same expression on our faces. Curiosity first, not expecting that the other would be looking, and then amusement. And then the accident. He slowed down for a few miles, but then resumed the high-tailing up north. Life goes on.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tangential Loss

If only I could be better at clearing out the clutter. I sigh in great weariness at all the trips from the living room to put away the dishes, the clothes, the pencils, pens, and markers, the stuffed animals, the books, the newspapers, the trash, the shoes and the papers that accumulate there in just a week's time. Once the clutter is cleared, a feeling of serenity washes over me and I am grateful for the absence of laziness in my day. I also wonder what all this is for, as I think about how short life can be. About how, in 100 years or less, me, and everyone I know, will be dead. (I'd give credit to the band that had a song with the same message but I but don't know who did it. It ended with, "so have a Merry Christmas.")
The last two days seemed to have a theme of death. In order of my discoveries, first, I learned of my very first landlord dying this week at the age of 92. He was the first landlord I had, in the first apartment I had, after I moved out of the college dorm in 1992. At the time he seemed unusual, but I didn't know anything about him. I had seen him in recent months, 16 years later, standing on his porch, looking exactly the same with his thick, black, framed glasses and lots of white hair. What struck me about him was that he was grumpy and always serious. He didn't have much of an accent, but he spoke a little differently and he always dressed professionally and wore a hat. According to his obituary, his wife had just passed away the year before I rented the apartment from him. Also, I learned he moved with this family from Italy to here in the 1920s. He was fluent in several languages. He had been admitted to law school but decided not to go. He had no children.
Second, I learned of a classmate from high school dying. I didn't know her very well. I don't know why she died, but she was way too young and it was shocking and sad to hear about it, even though I didn't know her well at all. I didn't know until yesterday that she was living only 20 miles from here. She was married and had two children. I believe that the last time I saw her was in the year 1992.
Third, I learned that a two-year-old girl who lived near my hometown died a few days ago. Comments I read with her obituary stated words of comfort like, "We don't know why God took her so early," "you (the parents) will find out when you are rejoined with her in heaven why she was taken away," or "there must have been a reason for her untimely death; only God knows." It turns out the reason is pretty clear. I read it in the news. Apparently those people didn't read the news. She died riding on an ATV with a 13-year-old driver and another child. The news article didn't exactly say she was riding on the ATV; it just said she died in a four-wheeler accident, so I suppose I have made an assumption about whether she was riding on it. Perhaps she was just in the way. Two. She is immortalized at the most cute, most loveable age, when the child has done no wrong and is just learning to speak in sentences.
Fourth, Tim Russert. It's all over the news. He died the old-fashioned way. Young and sudden. Of all the deaths this week, only Mr. Jess Williams led a full, long life, so it's not so much tragic that he passed away. Another mystery about the man was answered today; I always wondered if Jess was short for something. It is not. It's just Jess.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Color correction, they call it.

I spent more time this week than ever in a beauty shop today; actually it was a beauty college, and I had never been in one before this week. Yesterday, about an hour of my time, which was OK, and today, three hours were consumed in an old, big, beautiful building containing lots of people, energy and color all around. This time and money spent was all to correct a hairstyle misstep that was perpetrated on my children by another family member in a completely separate household. Did he ask me if he could put permanent blondish-orangish highlights into their dark brown hair? No. Did he do it himself? Yes. Would he do it again? Probably. He is an artiste.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Reading About Alaska

A few days ago, I finished a sports adventure book for a book club meeting I didn't attend. Isn't it usually the other way around -- you go to the meeting but you haven't read the book? The book is Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, written by Gary Paulsen. The whole time I was reading the book, I thought of Hemingway's style, replete with short, direct sentences that capture the story with simplicity and accuracy. It was, therefore, an easy, quick read that made me want to read my rarely used copy of The Old Man and the Sea. It's written at the fourth-grade level and is used in comparison to your own writing's grade level when you do a readability analysis in a Word Perfect document. I've read bits and pieces of The Old Man and the Sea, but not the whole thing. What has kept me away from it is that I fear it would be a one-dimensional, short and simple story with no real plot, about an aged and slow fisherman. It would probably be all over within a few minutes, or not more than a few hours, though, and then I'd know for sure. After I finished Winterdance, I read the back cover, which compared Mr. Paulsen to Mr. Hemingway. Isn't it usually the other way around, you read the back first, and then the story? And since when do I read sports adventure books? Since now, I guess.
So how was the Winterdance book? The simplicity of the story complements the starkness of the Alaskan wilderness and the nature of dogs -- straightforward living, raw honesty, you get what you see, and you know it will be gritty and overwhelming. The story moves quickly and is suspenseful, descriptively picturesque, comedic in spots, and doesn't make me want to go to Alaska.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Kung Fu with Turtle

Kung Fu Panda was in front of me on a big screen today, with lots of fighting and food and familiar voices. Violence and eating, and a little bit of comedy. There were a couple of men behind me who laughed hysterically almost the whole time. That made it a little bit funnier. After a while I wondered if they were OK. My favorite line from the movie: "Yesterday is history; the future is a mystery; and today is a gift. That's why it's called the present." The turtle said it. I like turtles, or at least my idea of turtles. Slow and wise, never in a hurry. Modest; never arrogant. I know that's true now that I have seen it on the big screen.

On the Road with Camera and Corning Ware

In a form of forced family fun yesterday, I packed up the group and traveled to Tucker County, where we partook in the minimalist but meaningful tourist attractions of the area and where the temperature is 15 degrees cooler than it is at home. We went to the Mountainmade Gallery, where such items as $140 cereal bowls can be purchased; to Blackwater Falls, where one can buy velvet deer, bass magnets, and mood rings, and can enjoy a free workout down and back to the semi-spectacular falls; and to the best pizza peace-promoting eatery anywhere around (you can buy T-shirts that say "Make Pizza, Not War," $20). We were there on the day of its 20th anniversary. The menu says on the front page: in business since Ronald Reagan was president. I liked the sign in the Blackwater Falls gift shop: no food, drinks, or shoes with wheels. I've heard of Meals on Wheels, but since when do drinks have wheels? The most-enjoyed part of the trip, probably, was the first and second visit to Lakeside Creamery at Deep Creek Lake, especially the boat-docking parking lot for ice cream. Many photos were taken, but I was the only one with no camera.
Near Blackwater Falls, I picked up a hard-to-find Corningware cooking pot with removable handle for $1 that matches and works with stuff I have at home. Someone asked what the seemingly indestructible Corningware dishes are made from. I guessed it was metal with an enamel covering. I had to look it up. It is glass that is kiln-fired at temperatures high enough for the glass to form crystals. It was designed for America's space missions, as it can withstand drastic temperature changes. Apparently, CorningWare was taken off the market because it wasn't popular enough; either that, or it shattered at extremely high temperatures and was removed from the market because of safety concerns.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Minneapolis, Mason, WYEP and Marcy P.

Yesterday I tested my near-excellent memory when I heard a familiar voice on wyep. The familiar voice belonged to Mason Jennings, which was an unfamiliar name. I stopped what I was doing and listened intently and tried to place the voice. It was the same voice from ... from ... from ... from ... it'll come to me .... about 20 minutes later, I remembered: Marcy Playground. So, as curiosity often consumes my brain and pushes every other thought in my multi-tasking mind to the wayside while I wonder about these kinds of tangential connections, I looked it up. I found out that Mason Jennings has apparently no connection to Marcy Playground, except that its main band member/lead singer/guitarist/songwriter/producer Jon Wozniak and Mr. Jennings happen to be from Minneapolis and both released music in the late 1990s. And I like both their music very much. I remember owning the Marcy Playground album and playing it incessantly in 1998 and 1999, during a period when I was having a mid-20s-life crisis. Then, I knew my life as I knew it had to change and I knew it would change. I knew it would have to change violently if I were going to get it to change. I spent many mornings researching graduate schools, and on one of the many Marcy Playground-listening mornings, I discovered the path that would lead me to where I am now. Paperwork, testing, applications, travel, more paperwork, waiting, wondering, getting accepted, and moving. At that time I started an anonymous journal on a friend's Web site. I wonder what happened to it. It got buried in the little cartoon town he was building on his Web site. It was in the library. The town is gone and there's an actual photo of a railyard in its place. That's what happens to towns and cities. Things get built, things get torn down, and other things get built in their place.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The time for picnics is closing in on me. Will I get to a picnic?

It's only been June for a few days and I talked today about August being just two months away. I already fear that the beautiful, bright weather will soon be a memory and everything will be gray and brown once again. I used to know people who had picnics. They would invite me. But that was a long time ago. Easter, in fact, was the last time. And before that, October. That was a catered picnic. For a wedding. There was a big fire and it was very cold. The fire wasn't cold at all, but the temperature otherwise was very cold. I brought coffee for everyone and kept it coming.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Trying to let all that self-perpetuating negativity about yesterday and Sunday fade away today ... my mind was occupied by middle school talent. What is a talent? After today I know that a talent is evidenced by standing in the middle of the middle school gym in front of 300 people and doing karaoke. Or something close to it. Talent happens because of the time commitment of lessons or practice. It gets noticed a little better when you happen to be considered beautiful and you have charisma, or you have something a little extra, like a good prop. Talent consisted of about 15 acts of singing, three dancing acts, eight piano acts, one violin, one cello, one harp (Stairway to Heaven, which always gives me a vision of the late 1980s), one juggling act, and one yo-yo guy.
I was overwhelmed by the feeling of what it feels like to be 13. I sat in the bleachers in the gymnasium for a total of four hours today because I sat through two events, one in the morning and one in the evening. I think that has to do with the fact that I can't turn my back a certain way now and I have this sharp pain in it and I feel grumpy. The air in the gym was stagnant and hot, and the unmentionable mix of odors swirling all around me was suffocating.
I thought about the talent shows from my junior high and high school. The high school acts were a lot more creative and entertaining than the ones from junior high. I'm pretty sure no one who went to my high school when I was in 12th grade will ever forget the guy who wore overalls and did the Vanilla Ice song. I ran into him about eight years ago. He recognized me, but I didn't recognize him. He made me remember by referring to what was either his most proudest or most embarrassing moment. He talked about the Vanilla Ice reference like it was on his business card or something. Talent takes courage.

Monday, June 2, 2008


I thought some today and yesterday about the ill will generated by seemingly harmless remarks made about someone else when they're not around. I could tell a story to illustrate: After an obligatory moment of consideration about whether to talk about your friend Adam to your other friend, Julie, you say to Julie, "Adam told me that you didn't return his last 10 phone calls." You suddenly realize you didn't allow enough forethought for your comment when your friend Julie responds, "That is most certainly not true. I return all of his phone calls."
After the conversation, you think, Maybe I shouldn't have said that. Maybe Julie will tell Adam that I told her Adam said that. Even if she doesn't, she might stew about it for awhile. Julie's feelings will be hurt. Julie won't trust Adam anymore and will wonder what else Adam has said about her. Julie will confront Adam. Adam will become annoyed that I repeated something he said.
You feel guilty. You tell Adam that you told Julie what Adam said. Adam might have already known, if Julie talked to him first to vent her frustration at him for saying that in the first place, so he never speaks to you again in a candid and honest and friendly way like he used to. Julie doesn't trust you anymore. And so it goes.
My little story didn't happen, but it played out that way in my head, with visions of all the bad feelings that sprang up, real or not, from one thoughtless comment. I thought about this yesterday, feeling guilty for something seemingly harmless I said about someone to someone else. It wasn't about someone not returning someone else's phone calls, but it was about things I knew about the other person. I later told myself that I wanted to take a few more minutes to think about what I repeat to other people about someone else, so that my mind doesn't get consumed with thoughts of all the negativity I probably just generated.
Then, today, in a completely unrelated situation with completely different people, I did it again. I didn't feel bad at all when it happened, but I felt really guilty a few hours later and it bothers me tonight. Am I a bad person? Or am I just human? Do I think too much about insignificant trivialities? What difference does it make?
It's not done in a way that intends to cause harm. I've known people who have done this type of thing with the mischievous intention of causing damage, which is a different subject altogether. It's just conversation. Sometimes the comment or action is repeated because it seems wrong not to say something, when you know something about the person and they don't know that you know it. It's like making a confession to them. You feel better for telling them that you know something about them.
Human nature or not, talking about someone when they're not around can be a dangerous weapon, especially if the truth is twisted (intentionally or not) in the process. The answer is that if it bothers me that I do this, then only I have the power to change. Maybe it is normal, human behavior. But I can evolve if I can get myself to change for the better. I think.

One friend commented about what he considers the real problem to be --- it's a lack of the kind of trust that comes with knowing someone well. Maybe true, maybe not. Still doesn't exactly solve my problem.