4th of July, 1054

We Americans can get awfully full of ourselves, especially on this, the most patriotic day of our year. Yes, three cheers for independence and freedom, and for fireworks and hot dogs on the bar-b-que. I do love all these things.

(Skip this paragraph if you’re as tired of righteous indignation as I am, but…) I won’t get into the fact that this country was occupied long before we came along, and that it’s been feeling a lot less free of late. I won’t rant about how the entire system is rigged for the 1 percent, and how we fight amongst ourselves rather than show that small percentage that by dint of sheer numbers, they shouldn’t be the powerful ones. And… blah, blah, blah.

Happy 4th of July.

But I did think that perhaps we might gain a little perspective by seeing that something else really amazing happened once upon a 4th of July. It’s something that most of us don’t even know about, but it was ever so much more spectacular than any fireworks display that we can put on.

I’m talking about SN1054.

Yeah, I know. That’s not a very gripping name. It doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. But it certainly kicked some cosmic butt when it exploded.

According to Chinese astronomical records, July 4, 1054 was the first day that this supernova was observed from this planet. It was also recorded by the Japanese, and is found in a document from the Arab world as well. It may even be recorded in a pictograph by the Ancestral Puebloan people that is located in current day New Mexico. At a time when global communication didn’t exist, it seems that all eyes were focused skyward.

There was good reason for this. This supernova seems to have remained visible in the daytime sky for two weeks, and was still visible by the naked eye at night for two solid years before it finally faded. Can you imagine? Man, I’d have loved to have seen that!

And the best part about it is that even amateur astronomers can see the gorgeous remnants of this supernova today. It’s called the Crab Nebula. It’s in the constellation Taurus, and you can find a detailed description of how to spot it here, if you have access to a telescope. (Or you can cheat and use a star gazing app on your phone.)

The Crab Nebula is the first astronomical object that was ever identified with a historical supernova explosion, according to Wikipedia. That’s pretty impressive.

This gorgeous nebula is about 6,500 light years from us, and it’s estimated that the main star must have blown up about 7,500 years ago. But for me, at least, it will forever be associated with the 4th of July.

The Crab Nebula in Taurus

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Anticipatory Stress

The 4th of July is the worst day to be an American bridgetender. Drunken boaters and pedestrians are out in force. There’s plenty of stress and aggravation, and a lot of people to avoid injuring due to their own foolishness. While you are out enjoying your fireworks, we bridgetenders are trying to avoid nervous breakdowns.

And yes, I got to work the 4th of July this year. Lucky me. I spent a lot of time politely bellowing at people through the bullhorn. It may not sound like it, but I do it because I care. I’d really rather not kill anyone if I can avoid it.

At a certain point, I realized that a great deal of my tension was purely anticipatory. I knew the night was going to suck. And sure enough, it did. But stressing out over things that have yet to happen is counterproductive at best. Fight or flight should be reserved for the moment when you spot the mountain lion, not for when you’ve heard that there might be one within a 10 mile radius. Caution is great, but becoming adrenalized before the fact does nothing but make you feel exhausted and sick to your stomach.

So I spent a great deal of the night checking in with myself. What is happening now? What are my rational concerns at this moment in time? Breathe…

This takes practice. I never really thought about how much time I waste anticipating disaster. All the more reason to try to stay centered in time.

Hope you had a better 4th than I did!

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10 day album challenge #1: Eva Cassidy, Songbird

So, a friend of mine nominated me to do an album challenge. “The task is to post once per day for the next 10 days about the top ten albums that have an impact on your life, and to pay it forward by nominating someone else each day to do the same.”

When I got this challenge, I must admit that my heart sank. I have never considered myself a very sophisticated music lover. I know what I like, but I have a hard time putting into words why I like it. Who am I to comment on another artist’s art?

And then there’s the fact that I absolutely HATE chain letters. At least this one didn’t threaten me with death or dismemberment if I didn’t comply. But still.

I don’t like to be told what to do. And 10 days’ worth of writing is a heck of a commitment. But at the same time, I was intrigued at the thought of stretching my writing wings in a musical way and flying right out of my comfort zone.

Okay, so I’ll play. But no one is the boss of me! I’m changing the rules to suit me. First of all, I’m not writing about this for 10 days in a row. I will write about 10 albums, yes, but only on the occasional “Music Monday”. And I refuse to nominate anyone else, because I try to avoid adding stress to the lives of the people I love. Having said that, if you’re reading this and would like to take up the challenge, go for it!

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So, for my first entry, I’ve chosen the album Songbird, by Eva Cassidy. Yes, I’ve written about Eva Cassidy before. She died an untimely death long before I ever heard her beautiful voice, and that adds an extra special poignancy to every song she sings. Her voice is like sinking into a fragrant warm bath after you’ve had a particularly stressful and strenuous day. Ahhhhh… She really was a songbird.

The reason this album is on my mind at the moment is that the 4th of July is coming up. What does that have to do with Eva Cassidy, you ask? Well, when the fireworks start, my dogs are always terrified. I mean, totally and completely freaked out. And I know that some people react the same way. But last year I discovered something. Eva Cassidy is the balm to my dog’s spirit.

I had only been in my house for a couple weeks, so I knew this would be a particularly challenging fireworks experience for Quagmire. He had yet to feel completely settled in our new home. So I knew that I’d be staying home and making an extra effort to keep him calm on that most despised of holidays.

I decided to close us both into our new bedroom, turn the lights down low, and listen to soft, soothing music. It is my humble opinion that there’s no music more soft or soothing than that of Eva Cassidy. So that night we listened to the Songbird album on Youtube over and over and over again. (For what it’s worth, Quagmire’s favorite song on the album seems to be Fields of Gold.)

And it worked. Quagmire curled up at my side and fell asleep despite the pops and booms coming from beyond our little valley. Now this album will be forever linked with the 4th of July in my mind.

The next time you’re feeling anxious, listen to Songbird. It’s like musical Xanax, but in the best possible way.

Thanks, Eva Cassidy.

Songbird

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Exploring Vancouver: Fireworks without the Patriotism

I absolutely love fireworks. I think of it as art, writ large. Light is the paint and the sky is the canvas. It’s the purest form of joyously explosive creativity. That’s why the 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays here in the US.

So when I heard of the annual Celebration of Light in Vancouver, an international fireworks competition, I thought it was the perfect time to visit my friend Martin, who lives there. The celebration is on three separate days in July, and I was only able to catch one of them, but it was very much worth it.

On the night I attended, it was Australia putting on the show from the middle of English Bay, and they did a fantastic job. I couldn’t help but compare it to the dozens of American Independence Day fireworks that I’d seen throughout the years, but there was something different here. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first.

Eventually I figured it out. This event had not one whiff of patriotism. No flags. No “Proud to Be an American” blaring out of the loudspeakers. No drunken political rants. No us vs. them. No “we are better than you are”. It was refreshing.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love my country, and I consider myself lucky for having been born here. But I’m not always proud of everything it does. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the Republican National Convention, for example. Every time I thought of doing so, my stomach would ache.

And perhaps because I am an American, I believe strongly in freedom of speech and expression, so it rankles when patriotism is forced down my throat, even when I already feel it. I don’t like to be pressured by society. I can already imagine the negative responses I’m going to get just for writing this.

At the Celebration of Light on the night in question, it was estimated that 300,000 people attended. 300,000 people who were not trying to be or think a certain way. 300,000 people who had nothing to prove. They were just out to enjoy some fireworks and revel in the mild summer breezes. It was really, really good to be there, spending time with a dear friend in a relaxed atmosphere.

Incidentally, on July 3oth, it will be the USA competing in this event. I wish I could go. I’d be curious to see if they try to inject any patriotism into it. The Netherlands competed on the first night. I wonder who will win?

What follows are a few of the pictures I took at the celebration. But in case I didn’t say this while you were my gracious host, thanks, Canada. Thanks very much.

New Paths to Independence

Independence Day is my second favorite holiday, bested only by Thanksgiving. What I love most about these holidays is that there’s no pressure behind them for gift giving or decorations. You can go all out or tone it down. Just good food and good friends. Who could ask for more?

This 4th, for the first time in a decade, I will have the day off. Woo hoo! And even better, a friend of mine has invited me to a party, and that person’s house is close to the fireworks. I’m excited.

Oddly enough, the thing that excites me most, despite my strong tendency toward introversion, is the opportunity to meet new people. I’m actually looking forward to that. After all, new connections mean a chance to send your life careening in exciting new directions. You never know. And these days, I’m unusually open to that type of adventure.

I enjoy the prospect of stepping into the unknown. It feels like the epitome of independence. And that, after all, is what this holiday is all about.

Happy 4th of July, everybody!

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The Bare Bones of a Tradition

Independence Day is one of my very favorite holidays because it doesn’t come with any pressure. In-laws don’t fly in. There’s no need to buy gifts. The dust bunnies can continue to reside languorously under the bed. You don’t even have to cook if you don’t want to. You can make it as elaborate or low-key as you want.

Since this was to be my very first 4th of July in Seattle, I wanted to make it special. For me, special is low-key with fireworks thrown in for good measure. I put a lot of thought into this. I didn’t want to fight traffic (which is horrific in Seattle even at the best of times) and because I would be alone, I didn’t particularly want to deal with crowds, because I’d feel lonely enough as it was.

I formulated the perfect plan. I found the one parking space in the entire city that no one else would think of, and a circuitous route to it that was far from the madding crowd. I found the one location that I’d almost be guaranteed to have all to myself, and it would have a sort of, kind of, semi-good view of the fireworks (which is why it was virtually deserted). And it would only require the tiniest bit of trespassing. (But hey, I’m a fat old woman alone with a lawn chair. It’s not like I constitute a terrorist sleeper cell.)

I got there two hours early, and sat in a nearby park. I didn’t want to do the trespassing part until the very last minute. It’s a lovely little park with a nice view of the water. I sat there reading my kindle and watching the boats go by. I also could observe Venus and Jupiter on the horizon as a balmy breeze kept me cool.

While waiting, it occurred to me that all traditions have to start somewhere, and perhaps this would be the start of a long-standing one for me. I could definitely get used to this. It was a delightful evening.

I looked into the future and imagined doing this someday with a friend by my side. Or even better, a lover. Or even better than that, a lover and a few friends. And some hamburgers. Yeah. That would be perfection. Maybe someday. Heck, if I’m dreaming, let’s throw in a boat and an even better view from the water!

But I had to stop that line of thought or I might get sad, focusing on everything I still didn’t have. Now was not the time for loneliness. Now was the time to trespass and see some fantastic fireworks!

So that’s what I did.

And before you even ask, no, I will not reveal my secret location. It’s priceless. You couldn’t even get it out of me if you tried torture. This is my tradition, not yours.

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Independence

It’s Independence Day here in the United States, and everyone seems to amp up their patriotism on this holiday. I tend to look at the day a little differently. Yes, it’s the day that we declared our independence from England, and rightfully so. Otherwise we’d be a lot more uptight and talk funny. (Joke, British readers!) But I think that we can all agree that independence is a beautiful thing.

In fact, independence is one of the things I value most in this world. I love being able to make my own choices and do my own thing. I actually enjoy living alone. No one dictates my wardrobe or my diet or my sleeping patterns. I have command of any and all remote controls. I get to burp and fart with impunity. I don’t have to ask anyone for permission to do anything, as long as I’m not breaking any laws. I come and go as I please.

A lot of people in this world, especially women, do not have that luxury. In many cultures women are treated little better than prize heifers to be passed from their father’s house to their husband’s house, there to be turned into housekeepers and baby making machines. I would chafe under these restrictions. It’s one thing to be a wife and/or mother when you’ve freely chosen to do so. It’s quite another when you are forced into it simply by dint of tradition or economics, and it’s even more unpalatable when it’s thrust upon you at a very young age.

So on this day, I tend to celebrate not only our nation’s independence, but my own. And I can think of no better reason to set off some fireworks and eat some gloriously unhealthy food! Happy Independence Day to you!

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Happy 4th of July from the Main Street Bridge in Jacksonville, Florida!

[image credit: coj.net]