blank'/> Mirth, Melancholy, and the Mundane: August 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Bones in the Dirt"

Time to do something different.  Since I want to use this place as inspiration to start writing again, I thought it might be time to pull out something I worked on once and then set aside.  What you're about to read is part of a short story or a novel or something.  I'm not sure.  Jack interest me, the business deal going down interests me, but I'm not really sure where this is leading.  There's something powerful about bones in the dirt, it would seem...

In any event, read if you will, comment if you like, but above all...I hope you enjoy.


            Jack slid across the booth and leaned against the corner, feeling a cold draft on the back of his neck from the window.  From his seat, he could see the whole place, including the front entrance and the swinging door that led to the kitchen.  The place was crowded tonight – there was a stream of constant movement from families, couples, old folks, and groups of young friends.  There were even a few loners like himself.  As he watched, he stifled a yawn.  He was tired.  He’d spent much of the day getting ready for tonight, and he hadn’t slept more than a couple of hours the last two days.

            A perky blond came over and gave her eight-hour-shift smile and asked if he wanted to try the baked salmon.  He declined, but ordered a Jack and Coke.  His friends always laughed at this, ribbing him to order a “Me and Coke.”  He hadn’t thought this was funny the first time, or the 900th time they’d said it.  Then again, there was precious little to laugh at these days.

            As the waitress headed off, weaving between the coats and chairs, Jack ran a hand through his sandy brown hair and shifted in the booth, his jeans squeaking lightly on the vinyl seat.  He looked at his watch and then up at the door.  She was late.

            That stirred up a thousand misgivings and doubts about whether she’d show at all, but he pushed these dark thoughts aside.  Of course she’d come.  It was early, the place was crowded and well-lit.  No reason not to.  Everyone knew this was the busiest place in town and she said she lived nearby.  As he continued to look absently at the crowds around him, a woman walked in.  She shook off the cold as she looked around and for a moment, he thought it might be her.  But, she waved and smiled in recognition at a guy at the bar, moving quickly to join him.  Jack couldn’t quite suppress the sigh.

            The minutes ticked by.  The waitress returned with his drink and he sat sipping it slowly, alternatively watching the bubbles in the glass and the door each time the small bell caught his attention above the din.  About fifteen minutes after the hour, the door opened for the twelfth time and as soon as he looked up, the woman who had entered looked his way.  Somehow, he knew it was her.

            She was small; young looking.  She wore a long dark coat that must have been tailored, and dark gloves which she was absently-mindedly removing as she spoke to the maitre’d.  She unbuttoned her coat, and when he saw the red sweater he raised a hand and nodded to her.  She began to head towards him.  This was it.

            He stood as she approached and held out a hand.  She took it firmly in her own and shook it exactly the right number of times before releasing it and sliding into the booth opposite where he’d been sitting.  She said nothing.  He took his own seat and for a moment, the two merely observed one another.  She had reddish hair and dark eyes; her skin was the color of coffee with too much cream.  He idly wondered what she thought of his dark goatee and the thin rimmed glasses he’d just gotten.  He dismissed the thought and leaned back, waiting for her to break the silence.

            “Nice place,” she said in a voice deeper than he’d expected.  She looked around, her expression one of approval.

            “It serves,” he replied, realizing that her meaning of nice likely had little to do with the ambiance.  Then again, neither did his reply.

            The waitress came back at this moment and his companion ordered a gin and tonic on the rocks and the waitress bustled off to the bar.  They fell back into silence, still appraising, still waiting for the humming tension to break.  When it came, she sipped her drink thoughtfully and then took a deep breath and spoke.

            “The item which we discussed is of great value to more than myself.  You must realize that.”  This seemed half a plea and half an admonition.  He nodded.

            “Of course.  How could I not?  I’m no expert, but I know enough to realize we’re talking about more than just bones in the dirt.”  She coughed delicately and he swore her cheeks flushed faintly.  He wondered what he’d said, then mentally shrugged and waited for her to enter into what he knew would be a series of intense negotiations.  He did not intend to relinquish his find easily.  He cocked his head to one side as she inhaled slowly, as if picking her words carefully.

            “Bones, indeed.”  She was stalling.  He could almost see the gears turning in her head as she looked first at him, and then idly at the crowd around them.  When her eyes came back to him, he saw a resolve there.  “This is not the place to talk further.”

            He raised one eyebrow and looked at her thoughtfully, leaning back against the corner formed by the wall and the booth.  It was her who had been insistent that the initial meeting be in a public place.  He had been intrigued enough by her tone to forgo the usual channels.  As he watched her, Jack felt a vague sense of unease ripple through his awareness – the insistence that something here wasn’t right.  Maybe it was the resolute wariness now etched in her features.  Or maybe, he thought wryly, it’s nothing.

            “Sure,” he said, forcing himself to sound casual as he returned her gaze.  “What did you have in mind?”

            “Now,” she said, still with the clipped tone of having made a decision that she was now running with.  “You have a car?”

            He nodded, a faint amusement rapidly replacing the unease from just a moment before.  He threw a twenty from his money clip onto the table and reached for his distressed leather jacket.  She stood and pulled on her own jacket and waited for him to lead the way.

            It had snowed while he was inside and the swirling chill cut through the one drink he’d had while inside.  He shuddered once, then led them briskly to the black Jag parked across the quiet street.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Course Catalog I...

It's time for me to post something a little less heavy, and since it's going-back-to-school time, I thought it might be fun to share some teacher things.  Don't worry, if you're not a teacher or a student, or are one of those and don't want to be, this isn't heavy-handed with the pedagogy.  I love that word, though it gets used far too often throughout the course of my work...

Without further ado, I present to you a catalog of courses I would someday love to teach...

Gender Roles and MMOs - Some of you know me wholly through online games, and have often heard me talk about the fascinating experiences I've had as a 'bio girl'.  It seems that once someone figures out that I'm really a girl, I become their confidante, learning more than I ever really wanted to know about their relationships, their goals, and their failures.  Or I become instantly incapable of playing the very game in which I've out-leveled them on every character I've played.  Or I become a target for wooing.  Either way, I'm often over-protected, laden with gifts, and something of a curiosity.  Usually.  The strata of 'gamer chicks' is an interesting one and I would love to study, with a group of like-minded students, just who these 'girls' are and what their experiences have been.  I would also love to explore the psychology of gamers and gender.  What makes a male pay a female?  What draws that same male to see the revelation of his 'true' gender to be something akin to a confessional?  What is it about gender that is so (for lack of a better word) heavy in games that are, at some level, about role-playing?  What does this say about gender in society as a whole?

'Blasphemers: Depictions of Religion in Popular Culture' - This one is developed enough to have a name -- though I also like the colon-phrase of 'Irreverent Believers'.  There are a number of popular texts out there that offer a stolid belief in the core of religion but do so with such a fundamental shift in some important aspect of that religion so as to become the target of picketers and angry believers.  These are some of the texts I would consider including in such a course.
  • Dogma directed by Kevin Smith - "He still digs humanity, but it bothers Him to see the s**t that gets carried out in His name - wars, bigotry, televangelism. But especially the factioning of all the religions. He said humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it."
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown - "Nothing in Christianity is original"
  • Eddie Izzard - "“I think on the seventh day, God was running around, going, 'Oh, my God! What haven’t I…? Rwanda! I better create Rwanda!'
  • Lamb:  The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore - ""It's very difficult to stay angry when a room full of bald guys in orange robes start giggling. Buddhism."
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman - "Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you - even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers and triumphs overall opposition."
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian - "I was hopping along, minding my own business, all of a sudden, up he comes, cures me! One minute I'm a leper with a trade, next minute my livelihood's gone. Not so much as a by-your-leave! 'You're cured, mate.' Bloody do-gooder."
  • Monty Python and The Holy Grail - Where god himself says "Every time I try to talk to someone it's 'sorry this' and 'forgive me that' and 'I'm not worthy'..."
  • "God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule" - Published in The Onion right after 9/11- "'To be honest, there's some contradictory stuff in there, okay?' God said. 'So I can see how it could be pretty misleading. I admit it—My bad.'"
  • South Park and the Muhammad debacle
Can you imagine the conversation in such a course?  Tricksters alive and well -- dancing in the realm of fiction but still causing waves.

The Medicine of Laughter:  Humor as a Tool of Healing -- This would be an honors course that explored the power of humor as a tool for coping and healing.  The role of the Trickster as a tension-breaker who gets us to laugh and think at the same time, who makes darkness more palatable, and gives us the momentum to move on in the face of tragedy.  It's also used as a coping mechanism by those faced with tragedy, addiction, and darkness all time - gallows humor, dark humor, morgue humor.  The horrible things said that aren't meant that just help us get through the everyday trials and tribulations of a difficult life.  I've talked about this with my friend Mary -- a co-taught course.  Humanities/English/Mythology and Chemical Dependency Counseling.  I love it.

Zombie Lit - Oh, wait...

"A Horrible End":  The Search for Meaning in the 21st Century - There has been, lately, a rash of long running (or sometimes not) television shows with endings that have frustrated many the viewers of said shows (though not all, of course). Shows like The Sopranos, Seinfeld, The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, and Lost have ended in ways that have raised questions, ire, and dissatisfaction for many.  Others have simply not even tried to end -- such as Millennium and Brimstone.  I haven't gone far with this one, but I've had a number of conversations with friends where I posited the idea that these shows were trying (consciously or not) to give us a unifying mythology and, as such, they could not easily be neatly ended to the satisfaction of the wide range of people who faithfully followed them.  We live in a time when many are seeking meaning -- a time when some of the old systems aren't working anymore.  Joseph Campbell summed up what I think these shows are trying to do.  Or what I think their followers wanted them to do:  "And what [the new myth] will have to deal with will be exactly what all myths have dealt with - the maturation of the individual, from dependency through adulthood, through maturity, and then to the exit; and then how to relate to this society and how to relate this society to the world of nature and the cosmos. That's what the myths have all talked about, and what this one's got to talk about. But the society that it's got to talk about is the society of the planet. And until that gets going, you don't have anything."  And so, the stories keep trying and the followers keep waiting...

Women Who Kill - Murder and the Role of Women - This one has just popped into my head.  It would be an exploration of the history of women who kill and how society placed them in a predicament wherein they felt there was no other option.  Infanticide, patricide, mariticide.  We would look at famous cases and not so famous, and look at some fiction as well like the play "Trifles" by Susan Glaspell and "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner.  I'd also use the book Women Who Kill:  A Vivid History of America's female murderers from Colonial Times to the Present" and explore the archetypal figure of the Mother and her negative image.  We would talk about Kali, Demeter, Medea, and others.

Courses change often and registration starts early, so please contact your adviser soon...


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reluctant Remembering...

Tomorrow is August 11.

To most, it isn't really a big deal -- summer is in full swing, but there's a touch of autumn in the air. Just a touch, in the evenings, when the breeze comes in and the summer sun has set. It is the last weeks of freedom before school (or work) starts up again for those who have tied ourselves inexorably to education for the short or long term. It is the dog days of August....full of sun and surf, heat and happiness, blue skies and beautiful evenings.

For me, though, August 11 has another side to it. A dark and hazy side that I can't remember and yet can never forget. It is, in many ways, my own personal 9/11. Oh, no one died, but my life changed forever on that day and I cannot help but wonder at how life unfolds itself into the path it follows.

It was on August 11 -- at 6:38 in the evening -- that everything changed. Before that I was just another insecure graduate student trying to figure out how to get through school and life without ending up alone or jobless when the time came to pay up. I was home on summer break, working for my dad, and spending time with my recently married sister, my brother, and my folks. One way I was not typical, however, is that I had just gotten my license that June. I hadn't needed it before -- working with dad and my brother and going to college where there was no point to having a car.

So, a newly licensed graduate student driving her gently used, hers-for-only-ten-days car into the village to hang out with her brother. We would watch movies and play games much like we always did. I had a 6-pack of Mountain Dew on the passenger seat and a huge plant in the back seat. I don't remember why, other than it was going in my brother's place. Three quarters of a mile from home, I came on the same four way stop that I always came to when I drove that direction, which was 90% of the time. Sometimes I went straight, sometimes I turned. Both routes took about the same time and I honestly am not sure which one I was going to take that evening.

All I know is that I can't remember anything. Except for maybe one thing -- the deep metal groaning sound as they took the roof off my car some 45 minutes later. And even that I can't be sure of. I learned later what had happened and most of you know -- a drunk lawyer with a suspended license driving his wife's car slammed into my car at a right angle. He hadn't even slowed down for the stop sign and when my car came to a rest it was 20 feet away and in a ditch. The passenger side of my Ford Tempo was unmarked. The driver's side was mauled and dented and crushed. Any harder, it would have flipped and likely broken my spine. If my window had been closed, my head would have hit it.

But, none of those things happened and I carried on. I have carried on for fifteen years, now.

Fifteen years.

For fifteen years I've dealt with it and done the best I could. I had PT for awhile, I went to a chiropractor for awhile (she told me I had chronic whiplash and twisted hips), I take pain medication only when I can't stand it anymore, and I take hot baths and showers often.

Most of the people I spend any time around know about the accident, and they may not realize that I'm loathe to bring it up most of the time. It's just that it's such a part of my life and I often feel the need to explain why I move around a lot, why I sometimes limp, why I lose my bubbly nature here and there, why doing anything for any length of time is hard. I'm just in pain and tired. The recent breast reduction surgery was a direct result of this chronic pain. I've always been a little heavy up top, but I don't know as I would ever have done anything about it without the suggestion and support of my husband and the excellent insurance through work. It has helped. I still feel pain regularly, but it comes slower now (though feels more strong, but I may just be adjusting).

But, on August 11, I will still be remembering how my life changed. Over the years I've gotten angry and sad alternately at various times, but on this date, every year, I just get a little sad. I remember that I don't remember what it was like to not have pain. I remember being good at limbo. I remember carrying my sister around. I remember my first car. I am not depressed, by any means. I have so much in my life to be thankful for -- wonderfully vibrant friends, a loving and supportive family that is together in more ways than one, a beautiful home that I love filled with furry children who make me laugh. I have a great job, overall good health, good prospects. I have a wonderful husband who is always supportive. I live in a beautiful area that has so many fun things to do in it. And it just keeps getting better -- for even in the last six months, I have come to find close friends at work that have filled a void I didn't realize I had. In short, I love my life.

Just...forgive me a little sadness for what might have been if I had been left physically whole. If someone hadn't violently changed the course of my life through carelessness and addiction. If I could have moved on differently in that one tiny way. If, somehow, I could still limbo.

Just give me that moment and then, like a summer storm, the clouds will pass and the sun will shine again.