Saturday, June 30, 2012

Change the Channel

Back when I was working as a nurse I used to have dreams about driving.  To an extent these dreams made sense as I was young, had a steady paycheck, a nice car and was always heading some place seeking adventure.  Most often in these dreams I'd be cruising down the freeway with a destination in mind.  However, as I approached the exit the ramp would be closed.  Figuring I could take the next exit and circle back, this wasn't a problem.  But the next exit ramp was blocked with large orange and white barrels too.  Continuing on down the freeway I'd start fretting time or the uncertainity of what surface streets to take to get to my destination.  Exit after exit would be closed.  Or I'd be stuck in an inside lane unable to change lanes due to traffic.

I had variations of this dream for years.  Sometimes the setting was rural.  Other times I'd be driving a loop around a city like Seattle or Los Angeles.  I never reached my destination.  The real pisser was, often I could see where I wanted to go from the freeway.

One day my dentist pointed out none of these dreams take place in Portland, Oregon which was where I lived at the time.  He found that interesting.  He theorized Portland was exempt because of how well I knew it.  Portland is an easy city to get around in, there's always another road.  Dr. Jerry suggested the next time I have a driving dream, instead of getting stressed I should alter the setting to Portland or tell me to drive on to Portland.

It took a bit of practise but gosh darn, it worked!  I ceased clenching my teeth and waking up in pain.

My dad used to dream he was falling.  Night after night he'd plunge off a bridge, building or viewing ledge.  Sometimes he'd be falling towards a busy street, or waves breaking on rocks, or the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Dad would jerk awake before impact.  In complete panic mode he'd first assess he was still alive and then he'd lay awake for hours.

A friend suggested Dad imagine he was flying instead of falling.  Dad tried but once he was falling and terror set in he found it difficult to break into the dream.  Then, courtesy of a cartoon, Dad discovered the trick.

While his method did not halt Dad from having the dreams it did put an end to the panic.  And it drove Mom nuts for the next thirty years.  What did he do?  At the point in the dream as he is plunging over the edge Dad first used his hands to turn his body so that he was falling feet first.  Then he flapped his feet like he was swimming until he returned to the ledge or bridge or rooftop. 

I know a lot of people, myself included, who use the "change the freaking channel!" method to break out of bad or stressful dreams.  With television being a major part of our lives, this is amazingly easy.  You don't like what you're watching - change the channel.   

Our brains are wonderful things. They will latch onto the absurd.  My friend Shirely yells "ollie, ollie, oxen free" to get out of scary dreams.  A big Star Trek fan, Josh orders the holodeck computer to end program.  Another friend discovered merely saying "this is dumb" works for her.  Rosemary gets a bit more creative.  She evokes the power of the word "Calgon".  Remember the commercials "calgon, take me away"?  I like it.  It doesn't work for me but I still like it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Down With Gravity

A friend and I was talking the other night about things we did as kids.  Personally, I never got up on the roof with a bath towel, blanket or sheet convinced I could fly.  Honestly I can say my reluctance came from seeing other kids do this and the end result was usually painful. 

One year, back when I was 7 or 8, we had a real wet winter.  There was major flooding along all the rivers.  Creeks and ponds took over pastures and roads.  Before things got too bad, my dad moved all animal feed stored at ground level in the barn into the garage.  Feed is expensive.  Trying to replace it during the winter is even more expensive.  Next we moved the animals to the back porch.  People thought we had a huge covered back porch for entertaining.  Think again.  There was a creek between the house and barns.  As the water rose the animals would have been stranded on the other side.

When the rain finally slacked off me and a few friends got a brilliant idea.  We got a rope out of the garage.  Leaving shoes / boots behind we headed barefoot into the over-saturated west pasture.  There we played eenie-meenie to decide who would go first.  The first participant climbed as high as he could go in a sapling pine tree carrying one end of the rope.  He then formed a loop and tossed it over the top of the tree.  Those of us on the ground pulled back on the rope bending the tree.  And then we let go.

The object of the game was to launch the kid in the tree into the pond.  Never mind that it was winter and the air temperature was around 40 degrees.  Did it occur to us we might miss the pond?  Sure it did.  That was the beauty of picking then to play the game.  We all had experience in falling hard onto sun baked red clay and decomposed granite soil.  Trust me, it's like hitting concrete.

Not a one of us landed in the pond that day.  Several face planted and skidded.  There were full body flops.  We were literally in knee-deep mud.  No one got hurt save for a few scraps from tree bark.

We had so much fun the next day we opted to launch from taller trees.  One of the neighbors called my dad at work and squealed on us.  Allow me to point out it took Dad nearly a half hour to drive home.  He pulled in the driveway undetected by us.  We were having too much fun.  But we still hadn't achieved splashdown in the pond. 

To Dad's credit he did not yell at us to stop what we were doing before we broke our fool necks.  He stood on the back porch talking to the horses and laughed.  Only when he realized a tree we'd selected might put the launchee in danger did he shout for us to halt.  Dad was an engineer.  He knew all about vectors, magnitude and trajectory.  He gathered us on the porch, drew a quick sketch of the pasture and cautioned us to stay out of particular trees. 

Days later with the water level receding Dad donned his boots and took us out in the pasture.  Standing on the high ground above the pond he pointed first to the tree he stopped us from using and then to concrete blocks the tops of which were barely visible below the surface of the water.  The blocks were there to allow the pond to be drained onto the fire break protecting the house in the event of forest fire.  Dad realized certain trees would have launched us into harm's way. 

Remarkably I don't recall Dad ever saying "Stop that. Are you idiots? You're going to break something."  Maybe he was just thankful we all made use of the garden hose, washed off the mud and stripped to our underwear before going in the house.  I don't recall any of the other parents going ape shit and ordering their kid(s) to stay out of our pasture.  I do recall a supply of old clothes and towels in our servant's porch right next to instructions on how to use the washer and dryer.

A few of years later Dad put a stop to our winter time game citing we were damaging the trees.  We were heavier and older.  We were beginning to understand gravity.  Dad knew it was just a matter of time before a launchee panicked, tensed up before impact and got hurt. 

Now that I am older I believe I know why Dad let us play the game as long as he did.  I think that very first day he stood there on the porch telling the horses "look at how much fun they're having.  What I'd give to join them."  He was about the age I am now.  I imagine when he was a kid in Southeastern Washington, Dad and his brothers played similar games.  There for a moment while he watched us, Dad remembered being 7 and defying the laws of gravity.   

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Can bugs see?

What's the deal with every bug in North Carolina, and a few that purposefully migrated up from South Carolina, flying into me? 

I'm sitting outside trying to enjoy the evening.  The temperature is comfortable.  There's a mild breeze.  It's dark so no one is wandering around with a leaf blower.  Basically I'm minding my own business just being mellow and - whack!  Some frigging bug flies right into me. 

Excuse me for being in your flight plan.  Is rudder control not working? 

It's not like these bugs are trying to land on me.  Apparently they either think I'm going to move or they fail to recognize me as a solid object.  Observation points towards the latter.  Early evenings I can watch bugs fly into the side of the house.  There's some kind of beetle that will repeatedly knock it's self out of the air to lie stunned on the ground.  Sometimes in the morning there's a half dozen or so dead bodies on the back porch.

Bugs aren't like birds.  They aren't flying into windows.  I'd get it if they were whacking themselves senseless against glass.  These guys have a thing for SOLID: house siding, humans and dogs.  Oh yeah, and parked vehicles.

One of my little friends, short, blond, approximately 7 years old offered the following theory.  He said bugs used to be magical people.  When they misused their magic for punishment they were turned into bugs.  It's because they can still fly and they remember being able to pass through walls that they run into things.

Just so you know, he did qualify the theory by saying not all bugs used to be magical people.  I was relieved.  Given the amount of bugs in the world I was afraid for a bit that there had been a whole heaping mess of magical people breaking the law.  It sorted of made me wonder if there were any good magical people left.  He assured me there still are good ones because his mom says so.

Friday, June 15, 2012

You. Who.

She  pedals the bicycle slowly down the middle of the street weaving between imaginary dotted lines.  Sharp eyes peer vigilantly from under a faded green visor searching yards, porches and open doorways for anyone to whom she can call "You. Who".  The sound of her voice causes me to hunch my shoulders and wince.  She can be heard a block away, two blocks if the wind is right. 

I can never remember her name though she's undoubtedly told me a hundred times.  My brain goes into panic mode whenever I hear her distinctive "You. Who."  Given enough warning I immediately grab the dog and run for cover. Sometimes, thankfully not often, there will be no neighbors outside in the block preceding mine allowing her to make it to my house in stealth.  One minute I'm enjoying a perfect evening and the next I getting blasted with "You. Who."

Not Hello, hi or hey; she's never says good evening or calls anyone by name.  It is always "You. Who."  Just like that. You.  Who.  And delivered in a yodel-like trill.  Perhaps the yodel is why it carries so well.

"You. Who." and the bicycle is guided into a figure-8 for she never actually stops to talk.  Remarks are flung my direction.  If I'm lucky I get to respond.  See, that's what drives me nuts.  I do not like being talked at.  She may prove to be an interesting person if she'd just stop for a minute.  But it's "You. Who" a few comments and then she's gone.

I want to know how she got into the "You. Who" habit.  Who told her this is a cool way to greet your neighbors?  The last person I heard repeated use "you who", I was 16 and working in a nursing home.  If you're counting that was 1976 and the patient was 70-80 years old.  This gal isn't much older than me.  Maybe it's typical to wherever she grew up in the South.  I'd ask but I can barely understand her for her thick accent. 

So what we have here is a 50-60 year old Southern woman who yodels "You. Who."   Maybe if I laid out spiked strips, poured up a glass of sweet tea and had a Southern-to-West Coast interpreter on hand, I could learn her story. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday Ponderings

My collection of people is fluid like a kaleidoscope constantly in motion as they go about living day to day.  A remark here, a gesture there or glimpse into their thought process fuels my creativity. 

It's how people respond to changes, good or bad, that captures my attention and has me waiting poised with fingers over the keyboard for the next installment or final outcome.  Presently there are two people I'd love to shake the living daylights out of, or hold them with one hand while repeatedly slapping them with the other. I want to get right in their face and scream "What is with you? Snap out of it already!"  Good thing for them there is an entire continent between us.  Yeah, it's a good thing for me too.  I refuse to go to jail for assault on an idiot.

The irony is I could write about them here.  I could tell their entire story, provided I don't divulge their full names and they would respond with "See, I'm not the only one going through this." 

Ok, I'll give them that.  I'm sure currently in the US alone there are a few tens of thousands people in the same situation.  Seriously, I'm not being sarcastic.  Everyday people lose their jobs, their homes or their marriages.  Often the loss is a combination of all three.  While this is a sad statistic it really has no bearing on why I want to slap two people.

Person #1 has gone out of her way to bring about catastrophic events.  When the water is rising most people pray it will stop raining.  Apparently she went shopping for dynamite to blow the dam.  I've never seen anyone so determined not to accept and act on sound advice.  In fact, the measures she has taken pretty much ensures her drowning. 

Person #2 is pissed off.  Reluctantly I will admit there initially was grounds for her anger.  And then I learned the rest of the story and went "huh?"  Now she wants her pound of flesh, or ton if she can get it.  The part she's failing to comprehend is how extracting revenge will affect her.  Like Person #1, she's running around shopping for dynamite.  Luckily to date she's only found cherry bombs.  I wish I had a way to prove to Person #2 how her mindset and actions are going to bite her in the butt big time and with long term consequences. 

Will I write about these two?  Maybe.  If I do, they will be very minor characters given a few lines in passing.  "I saw your neighbor's house listed under foreclosures.  What happened there?"  Reply, "Oh she got religion and decided God was going to supply her needs so she quit working." 

We all go through ups and downs. We all have times we need a shoulder to cry on, a different perspective or just someone to let us rant. Sometimes our inner house requires a good airing. Think of it as Spring cleaning. Open up the windows, pull everything out of closets and drawers. Out with the old, slap on a coat of fresh paint and you're ready for new experiences. 

It's when you turn your inner house into a hoarder's nest that you become flat one-note personalities and that acts as a repellant to good, positive things entering your life. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Packing Light

For years you have criticized me saying I'm too emotional when I get frustrated and cry.  You tell people I'm difficult when I fail to respond fast enough to suit you.  It feels like a lifetime in which you've made a point of treating me like I have an "off / on" switch like a vacuum cleaner that can be stored in the closet. 

Sadly for years I have taken your contempt.  I've acted as if your ruthless words were falling upon deaf ears.  I have acted upon every demand to the best of my ability despite knowing you will find fault.  There was never a compliment without a slap down. 

When you said "I love you" the words were actually a declaration of your love for you. 

I have often wondered what you see when you look at me.  Thankfully I cannot see me through your eyes.  You have done your best to behave your worst. 

But my universe does not revolve around you.  My future is a wide open road.  The most important question is, what will I pack for the journey?  Pain and anger are as useful as painting the windshield black.  Regrets are like trying to drive with flat tires.  Still, there is in one tiny box a little bit of you I take with me.  The keepsake is a reminder of how not to be.

I want to drive with the windows down and my sunglasses on.  Yet care-free is not interchangeable with "could care less".  There are those I care about and for them I will make detours along my journey.  At times they will join me and then veer off to follow their own path.