Monday, March 31, 2014

A day in the life of a Black Hole

Mix Sweet Shop
12oz Soy Mocha
something yummy with hummus

There's stuff in my brain that I just have to write out of the way...  Maybe it's because I've been getting blasted with x-ray machines all day.

I found myself crying watching Cosmos last night.  I know - crying, again - kinda my thing.  I didn't cry during the episode on evolution - I was happily fascinated.  But last night focused on black holes and relativity and things like that, and that is the stuff I wanted to study in school, way back a million years ago.  I used to have a hard time shelving in the math and science sections while I was working for Borders.  I'd get choked up at the knowledge drifting further and further away...

The light of that knowledge is so distant now, I can't remember if the appropriate geek punchline would be Red Shift or Blue Shift.

In fairness, I had a hard time shelving in the philosophy section, too, but that had more to do with getting the Philosopher's Song from Monty Python stuck in my head.  Though I did want to minor in philosophy in school... and music... ya know, if only I had the time...

I've come to believe "if only" is one of the worst expletives in the English language.

A few weeks ago, the boys and I stopped to watch a young man on the street playing the cello.  Within a block, we heard a young woman singing light opera across the street.  We did not stop.  My smile disappeared and I rerouted the boys to the park instead.  They were both talented young performers, playing and singing beautiful music, and both experiences should have made me smile.

But I've never played a cello.

No matter how much I try to let go of the past and make the best of the here and now, I find myself mourning lives never lived.  I weep over a voice I've all but lost, a body I never had, and a wealth of knowledge that will likely remain as distant as any exploded star.  It's pathetic - it is really pathetic - but I can't seem to let go.

Who knows?  Maybe I'll get it together someday.

I got to see my big brother this weekend.  My fellow Eeyore.  It was a short visit but we had some interesting conversation.  We talked a little philosophy, a little religion, trying to find truth and happiness in this Universe.  We talked about the assertion that you can't pick and choose what you believe.  I came to this distinction...

If you claim that this one doctrine, be it religious of philosophical, is the correct infallible answer, then it would be hypocritical to pick and choose which of the tenants you were going to follow.  If, however, you recognize that there could be truth within fallible human interpretation, then it would be entirely consistent to say, "I will accept what I recognize to be valid in this and I will reject what I consider to be the prejudice inherent in that."

Put another way... "It's not about finding the one true answer, but finding what is true in the many answers..."

One example in the news of late - all this kerfuffle about contraception...  It is understandable why cultures and religions would impose the norm of being married before having sex because of the consequences of conceiving a child before everyone was ready to raise it.  That doesn't make sex sinful.  It makes abandonment and neglect the real sin.  The truth is the body is meant for sex.  It's healthy and good and necessary for physical and mental well-being.  But religions and cultures need to come to terms with the state of the world today. 

We have the medical means of exploding the population now, which means that - for the sake of the survival of the planet and all living beings - we are going to have to curtail our normal rate of reproduction, whether it's before or after marriage.  And - thank the heavens! - we have the knowledge to deal with that, too!  We have condoms and vasectomies and pills (oh, my!).  How blessed are we that we can use our knowledge to care for the sexual health of our bodies and prevent overpopulation from destroying our little planet at the same time?

I picked up a little motivational card while walking around with my brother this weekend.  It had a quote from the Dalai Lama - an earnest truth-seeker if ever there was one.  I don't have it in front of me now, but it said all that good stuff about recognizing how precious and brief is our time of existence.  It said, basically, live while you're alive - try to make it a better life and a better world.  And all that fluffy hippy stuff.  I'll put it up on a wall somewhere and hopefully, given enough bendy, wonky space-time... I'll get the message.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Recalculating... Tow jobs, changed plans, and disappearing mountains.

Rogue Valley Roasting Company
16oz Soy Vanilla Latte
Spinach Frittata

No, God didn't smite me for the last blog - I've just been busy.

For starters, I had one of the craziest trips of my life.  It was a movie-style road trip, oscillating from nostalgic to epic to absurd, and all kinds of emotions in between.  It was supposed to be emotional.  It was my first trip away from my boys, even my husband.  Not one night apart, and now I would be gone for two nights, driving from southern Oregon to southern California and back, seeing long lost friends along the way.  And I would be going for the express purpose of attending a memorial service for my late grandmother.  Emotions were sure to abound.

But what happened was more than emotional.  It was surreal, chaotic, wonderful, exhausting.

The departure was preceded by last-minute work- and doctor- schedule shuffling, rental car finagling, last minute over-packing and three hours of sleep.  And irony.  This trip was rife with irony, starting with my husband suggesting, as we tearfully parted in the parking lot of the Enterprise Rent-a-Car, that I leave my spare key set with him.  Just in case, though he had never locked his keys in either of our cars in the last six years.  I told him I'd leave them by the door before I left the apartment.  But you know where this is going.  I got the call about half an hour later that the keys were dangling from the ignition of the locked car.  Fortunately, we have lock-out service on our insurance so I didn't have to double-back to rescue him.

There be dragons on this Interstate...

Delays departing - and delays getting turned around while getting off the freeway for gas - resulted in arriving in Sacramento just in time to get stuck in rush hour traffic.  Sac-Town traffic isn't L.A. traffic, but it will turn a one day, 10-hour haul down I-5 into a two day schlepp, with an overnight nap at a truck stop.  So, "recalculating"... I made the best of it by extending my planned visit to an old friend in town.  And by taking advantage of his massage therapy training.  It was much needed and helped offset the nap in the backseat that followed later that night.

But that visit was more than just nostalgia and free back care from an old friend.  This old friend was an old boyfriend, and a special one at that.  I had made a point to see him that day because the next day was Bean's day: the day our child would have turned 6, if I had kept her.

We cried.  We wondered about all the different paths our lives could have taken, separate or together.  What if I had made the other choice?  What if I had stayed in SoCal?  Would one of those jobs have come through?  The one that called me back first thing that very Monday morning after the abortion...  Would that have been stability enough?  Would it all have brought he and I back together?  Would we have eventually fallen apart anyway?

I couldn't go back and choose otherwise now.  I would be unchoosing the life I have now, my husband and sons.  Delays, obstacles, torrential downpours arose - I recalculated.  And this is where I am on the path now.

Did I mention the torrential downpours?  Prior to my trip, my L.A. friends were going on about the crazy 80 degree weather.  Apparently, I dragged some Oregon rain along with me.  There were moments on the drive when the rain was so intense I could barely see the car ahead of me.  I have encountered rain before.  And snow, and fog so dense it was like driving into a wall.  But I have rarely navigated rain like that - especially not at 70 miles an hour.

(Oops.  Battery died.  Had to "Recalculate!"  Moved to another seat, ordered a new drink (Lemon Hibiscus Tea), visited an old friend at another table, and plugged in the charger.  And on we go...)

But California cannot begrudge any rain, no matter how inconvenient.  You may have heard already, the drought is getting pretty terrible.  How terrible?  I drove over Shasta Lake on my way down and it took my breath away.  The water level had receded so far since my last drive just a few years ago that great swaths of red soil lay bare, well below the line of trees that ringed the mountain lake.

Imagine a mountain that had always lay on your horizon, or a small hill you would hike on sunny weekends... the giant oak trees that ringed your house growing up - two towers of your skyline - suddenly gone.  That was the volume of water that has been bled away from that one lake.

So, perilous or not, as a native Californian I was just as grateful for the rain.  But it was still jarring to see.  And that was what the whole trip felt like: familiar and changed and intense.

I woke up to the sun the next morning.  And it was an epic sun.  I had had a few hours of sleep in the back of the rental car, but I woke up rejuvenated.  I had slept in Santa Nella, off the 152 (yes, I said "the 152" - I am a Californian), where I have stopped so many times before.  I knew I had about 4 hours of road to go (with the requisite stop in Buttonwillow, which is a whole other dramatic tale), and slightly more than 4 hours before the service started.

I found an old CD mix with the words of another old friend (and, yes, ex-boyfriend) written across it.  It had been made for another trip to SoCal many years before.  Dawn broke to the song "Light and Day" by the MotherfuckingPolyphonicSpreeeeeee!! (as he always used to say it).  And as I glanced out my right-hand window to that triumphant chorus - there was a damn rainbow.

As if the moment couldn't get more awesome, in the rearview mirror I saw the other end of the rainbow touching smack-down on the interstate behind me.

I pulled into the parking lot of the church in North Hollywood with 15 minutes to spare.

It was a beautiful service with more laughter than crying, and more applause than you would expect at a memorial.  There were wonderful stories of a beautiful person... "Do I pass the joint to his mother!?"... "It was Anne's Hand guiding me to buy my first can of ReddiWhip!"... "She always made sure to say, 'I love you,' when we said good-bye..."  She was the kind of lady you who would totally send you a rainbow, with a soundtrack, and guide you to her memorial with time to pee when you got there.

After a reception with more laughter and sniffles - and another surprise neck rub - I was laden with leftovers and hugs from more departing relatives.  It was time to go see as many old friends as I could wrangle into one day.  I had one definitive destination - Griffith Observatory - with an assortment of others I was going to see if I could work in.

I picked up one friend - "I have cake in the back, if you want some!" - and we successfully made it to an art installation in Hollywood.  One wall of the installation had to be propped up around the rest of the room as they had unexpected leaking from my Oregon-born deluge. 

We had hot chocolates in a coffeeshop at the corner of Cahuenga and Sunset Blvd, looking across the street at Amoeba Records and ArcLight Cinemas.  I reminisced about being a manager on the opening night of The Landmark in Westwood, and how one guy had been literally frothing at the mouth while yelling at me, because he had been told we were going to be better than the ArcLight and we were "Nothing!" like the ArcLight.  I've worked a lot of retail, and I can say with authority that movie theater customers are the worst I've had to deal with - especially the ones from Los Angeles.

We headed back to the car.

We passed the gallery again.

We turn around and head back towards the coffee shop.

"Where's the car?"

We found the parking spot.  We did not find the car.  I read the sign - the bottom sign - and it said No Parking on Sundays.  I had read it through at least three times to be sure.  It was Saturday.  I read the sign above that one.  "Zip Car" Parking Only.  I read the next sign.  Call 3-1-1 to get your car back.  Idiot.

Never trust good parking in L.A.

The mayor's voice on the recording informed me that I needed to call back between 8a.m. and 4:45p.m.  It was just past 5.  At least they would be open on Sunday.


I called up the other friends I was going to meet up with.  "Hi, Bill - I need a rescue."  I am a teenager again, and hating it.  Bill is almost happy.  He was going to have an easy night and see people and go the the Observatory, and he wasn't sure how to handle this recreational time.  Now he was on familiar territory.  We headed across the street to Amoeba Records to eat up some time.

"I'm surprised how well you're taking this.  I would be screaming and cussing right now..."

"Oh, trust me - freaking out is still totally on the menu..." 

Then I remembered my earlier offer.  "Alas... I have no cake."

It had been so long since I'd had free time in a music store, I didn't know what to do with myself.  I love music but my brain went completely blank in the face of so much opportunity.  I found an audiobook by the Dalai Lama for the drive home, and the clerk kindly found me a discount in sympathy for my plight.

Our rescue took much longer - traffic and wrong turns and just L.A. being L.A.  (I have never - never - had this many wrong turns in a single trip, ever).  Griffith Observatory was off the agenda but there were still more friends to see.  By then, however, my phone was dying and the charger was - where else? - in the rental in the impound lot.  We made due with a good old Thomas Bros. Guide and found ourselves outside a horse stable.  With 4% battery life, I called my friend for new directions.

"I think you're on the wrong side of Victory..."

Story of my life.

We found her at last and had a pleasant evening talking of writing, geek stuff, health stuff, driving the 5 (yes, I said "the 5" again), and disappearing mountains.  I was reminded how there used to be bugs on the windshield when I drove up north as a child.  And birds, and other wildlife.  I remembered the low-flying aircraft spraying the fields at daybreak that morning, as I closed the air vents.

If there was some greater message from this trip, I have no idea what it was.  The next day was full of more of the same craziness.  I couldn't get the car out of the impound lot because I couldn't use the credit card because it doesn't have my name on it.  We found an ATM but couldn't pull the money out because the bank put a hold on the account for suspicious activity.  (Fyi - if you're traveling, let your bank know - apparently, there's a form online we were supposed to have filled out).  Since my name is not on that account either, I called home to have my husband call the bank.

No answer.

For the next several hours - no answer.

I sat with my friends drinking coffee - at least Starbucks would take the credit card! - and as we stared at a colorful picture of Einstein across the street, I told them the Tale of Buttonwillow and how it had changed the course of my life completely...  I was 18 then, on my way back to my hometown of Santa Cruz to begin my college days studying math and physics.  All that Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein stuff.  I thought at the time I would one day have business cards that read, "Actually, I am a rocket scientist..."

Long story short, I still have no college degree and every friend I saw that weekend I have because of getting waylaid in Buttonwillow, almost 17 years ago.

There were still many, many more twists to come on that current trip, but things were figured out (hubby had been sick all morning and wasn't checking his phone) and I made it home, just a day later than I had originally planned.  (I spent another night in the parking lot in Santa Nella).  I did finally have my freak out - a couple in fact - full on panic attacks like I haven't had in a while.  But things are finally coming back together.  And, bots take note, Out Days have shifted to Sundays and Mondays in this whole process.

I'm still wondering what it all meant.  That lottery ticket I picked up sure wasn't the great cosmic payoff...  I knew I needed to go - I hate southern California and I had been feeling unreasonably nostalgic for it.  I thought this would resolve that.  I'm still glad I went, but I feel like the path ahead is no clearer.  I will have to trust that, as with Buttonwillow, there are now experiences in my life that will change the course of my future... and I will only be able to see their origins in the rearview on the path to come.