Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A little late night introspection

All these moments of our lives
Of the flickering of an endless sea

~~ Duran Duran, “Salt in the Rainbow”

Sometimes at night, before I go to bed, I write a few things in this little journal I have, one that has various prompts and questions. It’s obviously designed for teenage girls (“What is the best thing your crush ever said to you?” Seriously?), but there are still some interesting questions in there, ones that make me think. One that I answered tonight was something about if you could change a year of your life, what year would it be, and why?

Oddly enough, I was just thinking about that exact thing earlier in the day. For some reason, a previous job popped into my head and I was transported back to that time and reminded all over again of what a crummy experience it was. It wasn’t just one year, was a good couple of years.

I was in my late thirties and had left Indianapolis and my Microbiology job there to move back home (for a reason I’ll mention in a moment). I was around my family again, and that was a good thing. However, I quickly found out that beyond the significant pay cut I took in my new job, it was tedious and utterly boring laboratory work, completely unrewarding, and my boss was, to use the words of the used car customer in “Fargo,” a fucking liar. It was a miserable experience, and when the jerk finally fired me, it was a relief.

After the initial shock wore off, I felt liberated. I had already applied to what would be my final job, got an interview, got an offer, and started work there three weeks later. I try not to regret too many things in my life and try to chalk it up to experience gained, but man, what a mistake to get into something that wasn’t Microbiology or wasn’t even clinical laboratory work. Manufacturing lab work was just not a good fit for me. I missed the patient connection and I missed the interaction with doctors trying to figure out what was going on with their patients. I missed being a part of that and I missed feeling like I was making a difference for patients.

To add to my misery of that time, the reason I’d moved back here was a relationship. I won’t say a lot about that here, other than that on top of the job from hell, I was in the relationship from hell. It truly was a miserable couple of years for me and I was happy to break away from all of that and find my Happy Place™. Since I wasn’t in a genuine relationship for a while after being the dumpee (the job) and the dumper (the relationship), it was something that I found on my own, and that’s the best way to find it.

So would I change those years if I could? Yeah, probably...but you always have to be careful when fucking with the space-time continuum. I’m not happy with my decisions at the time, but if I hadn’t made them, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have met Ken, and I wouldn’t be enjoying life in my town, near my family, and at Nutwood Junction. I think it’s very easy to say that you regret something but it’s a little harder to say, “Okay, that sucked, but I own my decision. In the end, everything worked out okay,” and to really mean it. I’m happy that it worked out okay for me.

If I stop to think about the lessons learned, it would probably be 1) don’t make rash decisions and do give things time to work themselves out. If I had waited a little longer on the relationship thing before moving up here, I would have realized that I was swimming into dangerous waters. I’m talking sharks and riptide levels. Man O’ War and Vibrio vulnificus levels. And 2) if something doesn’t feel right, whether in your personal or professional life, start examining it and questioning WHY. It’s okay to take some time to try to figure it out, but don’t dally too long. I was already looking for another job when I got fired from that one, and I was already starting to realize that my personal situation was unhealthy on many levels by the time I said, “Enough.”

But if you asked me if I wish I could have those couple of years back? I’d be lying if I said no.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

I can hear the nation cry

I’ve heard a rumor from Ground Control
Oh no, don’t say it’s true

~~ David Bowie, “Ashes to Ashes”

It was a bad start to the week. A horrible, no-good, rotten start. The first thing I saw Monday morning when I got online was that David Bowie had died. “Another stupid death hoax,” I thought.

I was wrong.

I couldn’t bring myself to write about it until a few days had passed. Hell, I couldn’t even hear one of his songs without crying...hearing that beautiful voice and knowing that it would never sing again. When a musician I’m particularly fond of dies, I usually do a music marathon as a tribute to them. It’s a wonderful reminder of what they have contributed to the world at large and to me, personally. I couldn’t do that with Bowie. I couldn’t even read all the tributes posted in his honor. I read a few, but they all made me cry, and I knew that I had to step away and distance myself if I didn’t want to just cry my stupid eyes out. Which I did anyway.

Some might wonder how or why I would cry so hard over someone I’ve never met. One of the best explanations I’ve read about that came from a Twitter user named Juliette: “We don't cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves.” Well said, Juliette. That is definitely part of it.

For me, it was also that it came as such a shock. It was a total sucker punch for me. I stay fairly current on news about my favorite musicians, and I hadn’t heard one peep about how ill he was. I’d seen a rumor about a possible heart attack and then never heard anything more about it, so I assumed that if he really did have one, he recovered fully. To learn that he’d been diagnosed with liver cancer 18 months ago was absolutely a complete surprise. When it came to someone like Johnny Cash, I knew he’d been having a lot of health problems and was seriously ill. While his death hit me hard, it wasn’t the stunner that Bowie’s death was to me. When you aren’t expecting a hit deep to left field, it’s easy to get beaned.

I don’t claim to be the biggest Bowie fan out there. Many are much more familiar with his work and the more obscure tracks. But I have been a fan for many years, probably starting in the early to mid-’70s and continuing to his most recent stuff. I missed a couple of his more recent albums, the ones before his triumphant return with “The Next Day” in 2013, and those are on their way. I got his most recent one, “Blackstar,” on its release day, which also happened to be his 69th birthday. I listened to it that morning and loved its trippiness. I commented to a friend that if I smoked opium, I’d want to listen to the album as I lounged about on my opium couch! I look forward to listening to it in depth.

As I’ve pondered his death over the week, I’ve thought about how fortunate I am to have seen him twice in concert. Once back in the late ‘80s on the Glass Spider tour, and once in the ‘90s on the Sound + Vision tour. Ken and I had talked about going to see him if he toured again, and I’m sorry that Ken will not have that chance.

I’ve also thought about the profound influence he had upon music, culture, and fashion. My beloved Duran Duran claims him as one of their biggest influences and have said that they wouldn’t exist without Bowie. There are so many others who can make the same claim, and you can see them in the excellent graphic included in this post (click to embiggenate). Not every artist can be said to have changed the course of music history, but Bowie is one of them. The potent mix of musical talent, showmanship, art, rebelliousness, style sense...he had it all, and he changed the world. He certainly changed my world.

It is also a reminder of how our time here is limited. I think it’s fair to say that Bowie smoked most of us in terms of accomplishments and significance, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t do the best with what talent and time we have. It’s easy to grow complacent and imbue someone like Bowie with almost immortal status. He’s David Bowie! He can’t die! But he can, and he did. And so can we all. The loss of someone so influential, both to the world and to me personally, is hard.

Farewell Ziggy, Aladdin, Thin White Duke, Major Tom. Whatever you called yourself, however you reinvented were one of a kind and you were a bright star in our skies, one that will shine forever.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Golden Years

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Still standing

Just when I was starting to get back into a bit of a writing groove, wouldn’t you just know that life happened? Odd how that works, isn’t it? There’s a little more to it than that, though.

Like almost everyone, I got fairly busy around the holidays. Not unpleasantly so, but there was just enough going on that I didn’t feel like writing. I hope everyone had a nice Christmas! Ken got me some cool and unique things, and I’ll write about that in the near future.

It’s also crunch time for my reading goals. I had two. First was the Facebook reading group I belong to, in which our individual goal is to read 50 books during the year. I was starting to sweat whether or not I’d get there, but I buckled down and reached that last week. Yay me! My second goal is my personal one through my Shelfari and Goodreads pages, and that is 52 books for the year. I’m currently reading #52, so I’m going to be able to meet that goal as well. Double yay! I had a brief period where I just didn’t feel like reading, which is unusual for me. But my goals made me resolve to keep at it and not just take the time to read, but to make it. I will work harder on that in the coming year. I have a lot of books to read (that’s the understatement of the decade), including getting back into the Modern Library Top 100 list. (I’m working my way up to #1, and I’m currently due to start #57.)

We’ll be heading down to Kansas City for our New Year’s celebration, so I’ve been thinking about that and getting our plans set. We’ll be hanging out with what I’ve come to call the Kansas City gang, including Bob and Michele, Joe and Maria (actually from Chicago), and Pat and Whitney. We’ll get to see Bob and Jeff play Wednesday night, and then the Rainmakers are playing New Year’s Eve! They are an amazing live band and I’m excited not just to see them play again, but to enjoy our time with them as friends. We have fun!

Finally, although there is much to discuss in the world of politics, I find myself retreating from it to an unprecedented—for me—degree. I’m hoping that if everyone stops giving Trump oxygen, his candidacy will asphyxiate. I can’t quite express how dismaying I find his candidacy and how upsetting it is to me that he has supporters who think he’s capable of leading our country. Especially knowing that I’m sure there are people I know that are supporting him. They walk amongst us.

I’m still paying attention, of course, and watching all the debates and reading plenty of articles, but I’m finding that I’m having a hard time discussing it with anyone who thinks that Trump would make a dandy President. It’s so irrational and illogical that my brain just can’t wrap itself around it and I sometimes feel that a portion of our populace has gone stark raving mad. It is unsettling, to say the least, and I have a hard time writing about it. I’m doing my level best to be fair and to raise the discourse to a reasonable level, but when it comes right down to it, I just want to take these people by the shoulders, shake them, and shout, “Are you fucking nuts?! Stop it! Just stop it!”

I’m learning that for my own health and well-being, it’s best not to discuss it with them. My blood pressure runs a little high, and I’ll be really pissed off if Donald Trump gives me a thrombo. What a horrible way to go.

Anyway, things will settle down soon enough and I’ll work on getting back here a little more often. Lots of fun music stuff happening (Duran Duran 4-evah!), and when I do write about politics, I’ll try to keep it either substantive or funny, and leave the anger to the unwashed masses who hate that the world is changing around them and that they have to be “politically correct” (but thank goodness Trump is there to “tell it like it is!”) and who think that their billionaire spokesmodel will somehow help them feel like less of a loser by reasserting their white privilege and God-given place at the top of the heap. Everything will be okay once we build that big beautiful wall and get all the browns out, right?

[deep breath]

But that’s for another day. Have a Happy New Year, and let’s work together to make 2016 a good one...for all of us!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Beth’s Books: The Walking Dead Psychology

It’s been a while since I wrote about The Walking Dead, and with the midseason finale of Season 6 coming up, this seems like a good time!

Besides, I absolutely loved this book. It takes a serious look at the psychological aspects of the show, both why viewers watch and the toll the Zombie Apocalypse (or any other type of apocalypse) takes on survivors and affects their behaviors. Psychology has always been a casual hobby of mine, and of course, I am truly obsessed with the show, so this was right up my alley. The book is a collaborative effort of several Psychology professors and counselors, and they all offer interesting insights on varying aspects of the show.

So why do we watch? One of the authors posits that it is because we have a longing for a sense of community, deeper relationships, and connections. There are no cell phones or computers in the ZA. No television, no Internet, and none of the constant bombardment of stimuli that we are subjected to on a daily basis. The survivors have to rely on each other for everything and deep relationships are formed. When you place your life into the hands of others on a daily basis, forging such strong bonds is a major contribution to your survival.

There is also a strong sense of nostalgia for things lost. The survivors feel it as they make their way through the wasted land filled only with walkers; something as simple as the ice cubes in Andrea’s glass of lemonade at Woodbury are seen as a long-lost luxury. After Rick and Carl flee the prison and find refuge in an empty home, Carl looks at the video games in a kid’s room and the big screen TV with longing...then rips the cord off of the useless TV to use to secure the front door. The viewers feel it, too. Seeing abandoned homes and signs of the people who lived there, seeing rusted cars grown over with kudzu, seeing a world that has ended for the vast majority of human can you not feel a sense of longing for what has been lost? The premiere episode of the show is called “Days Gone Bye” for a good reason.

Another author believes that part of the show’s appeal to so many of us is that it causes us to reflect on existential questions such as the meaning of our lives and to what purpose we would continue in such a scenario. It may cause us to confront our fears and think about how we would react in the ZA. Would we retain our humanity? Would we grow hungry with power like the Governor, or would we do whatever it takes to protect our family, like Rick is trying (and not always succeeding) to do? The author draws an analogy between survival in the ZA and survival in the death camps of the Holocaust. It’s not a bad analogy because surviving both would take courage and the ability to confront the worst that humanity has to offer. How can anyone deal with such inhumanity (in the ZA, both from the walkers and from certain other survivors) and come through unscathed? It’s natural to question our own abilities to deal with such extreme circumstances.

As for the survivors’ response, they are all suffering in varying degrees from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They have all seen and done some incredibly horrible and brutal things and are under constant stress and constant fear. All of this can result in unpredictable behavior and bad decision-making, both of which can cost you your life or the lives of those who are looking to you for protection, resulting in further stress and survivor’s guilt. Many of the survivors have experienced psychotic breaks, such as Morgan after losing his son Duane, or Rick after Lori died. Michonne spent months by herself, talking to her dead boyfriend as if he were there. One of the big questions in the series has been, “Do you get to come back?” In other words, after all you’ve seen and done, do you get to survive with your humanity intact? It’s a question that is still being answered for many of our survivors.

The most interesting chapter to me was the one that considered Daryl Dixon’s transformation from angry redneck to reliable soldier, and even to transformative hero. The author looks at Daryl in the context of Joseph Campbell’s ‘hero arc,’ in which the character embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Daryl is compared to the classical hero Ulysses, who experiences hardships and tests in his travels and learns much about himself in the process. Daryl was an abused child, growing up in sad circumstances; he looks for Sophia with such dedication because he thinks about how he wished he could have been saved when he was a child. It has taken the ZA to make Daryl realize his potential as a human being with meaning to his life, and a valuable, trusted member of the group. As such, Daryl is a symbol of much-needed hope in the apocalyptic world. If Daryl can overcome what he did and grow into a position of trust and leadership, then there is hope for all of us. Daryl sets the bar high and challenges us to become our own “better angels.”

The book also does a few case studies of some of the characters to see if they fit the profile of a psychopath. Shane, the Governor, the Claimers, Negan, and others are examined using professional criteria.

The book concludes with the thought that zombies help us confront one of our biggest fears: our own mortality. We see that the zombies are simply bags of meat, without purpose or meaning other than finding their next meal (and hopefully it’s not us). We all have a desire to find meaning in our lives, to be more than another bag of meat. The book feels that The Walking Dead succeeds in showing the human struggle to find meaning in life, even knowing that our mortality is inevitable, and that our struggle matters.

So why do I love the show so much? Because it makes me think about all these things. Yes, you can say that it is “just a TV show,” but I’ve always felt that good TV can speak to us on a level that makes us address certain things in ourselves and also connects us with others who feel the same way. The best shows make you wonder how you would react in certain situations, whether it’s Walter White confronting a cancer diagnosis or Don Draper dealing with his past and the rapidly changing world around him. The Walking Dead makes us wonder what we would do in order to survive...or would we even want to? And why?

Highly recommended for anyone who is a fan of the show, comics, or novels.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Golden Door

Here is what I would like to say to the Governors who issued statements refusing Syrian refugees, including (unfortunately) my own Governor (unfortunately), Mike Pence.

First of all, super geniuses, you can’t do that. You can protest it until you’re blue in the face—perish the thought of turning blue!—but you can’t just refuse to accept them. Our refugee program is a federal one, so that means that they trump your puny little protestations. You might remember a little thing call the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution, which states that U.S. laws are the supreme law of the land. We even fought a war where that kind of came up...remember that?

I suppose you could do whatever IS in your power to choke off any aid to these refugees, but is that really the path you want to take? Could you really turn a blind eye to starving and suffering children? Would you order the National Guard to stand at the state line and turn away any of these people trying to enter your state? How exactly would that work? Planning on building a wall, are you? Checkpoint Charlies at all points of entry? People are allowed to freely pass between states, if you recall. I don’t need a passport to go to Chicago. I can just drive there! If the federal government screens these refugees (a lengthy and arduous process) and allows them entry to our country, they are free to travel about as they wish. FREE. Quite a concept, isn’t it?

I don’t think any of you really thought this through, did you?

Secondly, I’m sorry that your compassion—and many of you claim to be Christians, so I find this surpassingly curious—perished in the flames of your xenophobic ideology. Your kneejerk bigotry has caused you to completely ignore the facts about these people and about WHY they are fleeing their homeland. You see them all as enemy combatants who want to destroy our country. Apparently, even 5-year-old orphans. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a horrid display of hatred and a complete lack of compassion and humanity in my lifetime. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Finally, I was reminded of something I read a while back about other refugees trying to find asylum in the United States. We turned them away, as did Cuba and Canada. Why? Because we were worried about some of them being Nazi sympathizers and spies. We turned away the MS St. Louis in 1939 and the 908 German Jews on board were sent back to Europe, where various countries took them in. It is estimated that a quarter of them were killed in Nazi death camps.

So you go right ahead with your chest-thumping and political posturing. I’m sure there are a lot of people at the moment who are impressed by your strength and resolve. I’m not one of them. And I don’t think history will judge you kindly, either.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Like a bad flashback

Don't blame yourself
Don't blame me
But we're the ones
Who can feed the ground
So this poison tree, don't let it grow again
And from this glass and broken earth
There is a way that can be built
A better life for everyone

~~ Duran Duran, “Point of No Return”

I’m still processing what happened in Paris on Friday, and still reeling from the horrible news. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep until I get some of these thoughts out of my head, so I’m just going to let ‘er rip here for a little bit. If I word something wrong, please forgive me. Know that I am heartbroken about what has happened and I have the utmost sympathy for the French people and for all those who are suffering tonight.

  1. This reminds me a lot of how I felt on 9/11. A sense of disorientation, disbelief, followed by horror. One thing I learned from that experience, as well as the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, was that you have to step away from the media coverage. It is almost overwhelming and you need to protect yourself by not watching every moment. I watched quite a bit early in the evening, but Ken and I watched a movie after that and tried to give ourselves a break for a bit. I’m staying informed, but I’m trying to stay healthy, too.
  2. It hits close to home that the worst attack was at a concert. I know how much I love going to concerts, and it is always a joyous occasion for me. Live music, sharing a communal experience with other fans, just losing myself in the music and the fun of a live show. Music is supposed to be a celebration, and it hurts my heart that that joy was taken away from some people...maybe for good.
  3. We are going to the Notre Dame football game on Saturday, and I’d be lying if I said I felt no trepidation about it. The stadium holds upwards of 80,000 people, and what a horrible thought to contemplate some sort of attack here or anywhere. However, I refuse to live my life in fear. That’s what this is all about. They want us to be afraid, just like any other bully. I refuse.
  4. I don’t care what your agenda is, whether you’re on the right or the left, religious or not religious...stop making this about you and your agenda, okay? I’m seeing quite a bit of bullshit spinning it one way or another. Just drop it already, try not to politicize it for one fucking day, and just stand with the people of France and let them know that we’ve got their back, always. That goes for any atheists who are ridiculing prayers or wondering if your god let this happen and blah di fucking blah. Just let people deal with this as best they can and stop putting your spin on it. This is a tragedy for all of us. People died and their loved ones are grieving tonight. That is what matters.

Everyone try and be a little nicer to others tomorrow. I know I will.