My Most Memorable Year

On my way to work the other day, I was thinking about the fact that, ten years from now, if people are asked what their most memorable year has been, a good percentage of them are going to say 2020. That’s heartbreaking, because this year SUCKS. I’m sure most of the memories from this year won’t be happy ones. I’ll be happy to get past this year and move on, no matter what that looks like. I think that’s the scariest bit. We have no idea what the world is going to be like after this year.

Fortunately, 2020 is not my most memorable year to date. If I had to pick one, it would be 2014, because it was overflowing with the really, really bad, but ended up really, really good. It was the most pivotal year of my life.

For starters, in 2014 I went to visit my favorite aunt, Betty, in Connecticut. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the last time I saw her face to face. I wish you could have known her. She was amazing.

Unfortunately, while I was there, I got a phone call from the Jacksonville, Florida Sheriff’s Office telling me that they found my boyfriend dead in his truck, still clutching his asthma inhaler, in the pharmacy parking lot a few short blocks from my apartment. Upon hearing that, I instantly came down with the flu, and couldn’t hear a thing for three days, which made flying home in tears quite fun. It felt like I was ground zero at a nuclear blast, such was the devastation this caused in my life.

There was a huge family conflict over whether or not I should attend his memorial service (thank God I ignored them and went), and the taking of all his possessions (and a few of mine) by his adult children. Other than that, I really don’t remember much about those next few months, except a lot of tears, forgetting to eat, and a constant ringing in my ears. I did go to work, though. I had to. Fortunately, there can be tears in bridgetending.

Not long after that, my landlord, who lived in the other half of the house, figured out that I’d probably not be able to make the rent without my boyfriend’s assistance, and she kicked me and my two dogs out of my apartment with no notice at all. I was too devastated at the time to fight it.

Fortunately I had a place to store my stuff, but I got to experience a brief stint of homelessness there. Nothing quite like sleeping with two dogs in a crapped out Buick LeSabre to make you appreciate all the comforts of home. Then I did a bit of couch surfing and realized who my friends really were.

Finally, I found a place to rent that I could just barely afford. I hunkered down in anticipation of an existence in which I would be all alone, working a dead end job, and living paycheck to paycheck. I was resigned to my fate.

I was talking to a coworker about just that when he mentioned that there was a job opening for a bridge operator in the City of Seattle. I had never been to Seattle. I had never even been to the state of Washington in my life. I didn’t know anyone there. But man, was I ever due for a do-over. My life was going nowhere fast and I was miserable. So what the hell, I applied. What did I have to lose?

And, what the hell? They hired me. Sight unseen. Over the phone. Just like that.

Now I had to figure out how I was going to move across the continent. Fortunately, my sister and my husband not only loaned me money, but they gave me a more viable van. And for the rest, I dipped into what little savings I had, and also did a crowdfunding campaign.

That campaign was amazing and humbling. Not only did friends from decades ago come out of the woodwork, but also total strangers gave me money. Without all that generosity, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Because of that, I do my best to pay it forward every chance I get.

House hunting from a distance is not at all fun, but somehow everything fell into place (including the breaking of a lease I had only signed 2 months before) and the next thing I knew, I was driving across the country with two dogs and entirely too much stuff.

The cross country trip was amazing. (Read more about it here.) You have no idea how vast this nation is until you drive 3100 miles across it. It’s magical. I will never forget that experience.

And then, on this very day (August 24th) in 2014, I arrived in Seattle. I was scared half to death, and second guessing myself the entire time, but I was also extremely excited for this fresh start. And my life has been, despite a few false starts, an ever-increasing high ever since.

Because I came here, I’m actually making a living wage for the first time in my life. Because I came here, I published my first book. Because I came here, I bought a wonderful little house. Because I came here, I met my amazing husband-to-be and was married for the first (and only) time ever.

No one at my wedding had known me more than a year or two. That kind of smarted. But, as a dear friend says, onward and upward and into the future!

I’ve met some wonderful people here and have had too many exciting experiences to list. (You may want to check out the archives of my blog for that.) And I’m happy to say that I feel as though I’ve made an excellent life for myself.

So, yeah, 2014 beats 2020 all to hell. And because of that, life is ever so good, and I am exactly where I want to be. You just never know what’s in store for you. Truly, what a ride…

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklers

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Ranting Just Got Harder

I like to keep this blog positive. I like to write about amusing observations, fascinating things I’ve learned, and great places to visit. But about ¼ of the time, I’d say that my posts are full on rants. Politics. Environmental concerns. General stupidity. What can I say? I’m nuanced.

I usually have about 10 blog posts waiting patiently in queue for their time in the spotlight. But here lately, there are some posts that I keep having to push further and further back in line. There are rants that have been waiting to vent their virtual spleens for weeks now. It feels as though I’m throwing a tantrum in a straight jacket.

But honestly, how can I complain about anything right now, with COVID-19 hiding in plain sight? What is more concerning than an invisible death threat? How can I expect you to take other things seriously when you’re worried about your health and livelihood?

I’m spending a lot more time sitting at this keyboard and staring at a blank screen, trying to figure out what you could possibly find of interest in light of the fact that the entire world seems to have been turned upside down. I’ve been writing a lot lately about COVID itself and how it is impacting us, but even I am getting a little sick of hearing about COVID. Except for those of us who are in deep denial, our lives seem to have become all COVID, all the time. It’s exhausting.

The irony is not lost on me. Technically, this is a rant about not being able to rant. I don’t know what else to say.

Wash your hands.

soap-box

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A Voluminous Tragedy

I’m heartbroken right now, because I just read an article about a 77,000 volume library in Porterville, California that has burned to the ground. Libraries are sacred things to me. They house knowledge, which is, in my opinion, the most valuable thing a human being can possess. They allow us to explore our universe. They make children dream and wonder. They feed our curiosity.

The only downside to collecting so much information under one magical roof is that when books burn, they tend not to stop. And that is, indeed, what happened in Porterville. But the more I learn about this fire, the sadder I become, because this was a tragedy on a whole host of levels.

First of all, the library, having been built in 1953, did not have sprinklers, so even though the fire department was only a block away, the firefighters were unable to combat this blaze. In fact, two of them died in it. Captain Raymond Figeroa was only 35 years old, and Firefighter Patrick Jones was only 25. Even worse, Jones’ body was not found until 24 hours later, so his loved ones had to suffer through a “missing” status before the truth came out. My heart goes out to both their families and all their coworkers.

I think firefighters are among the best of us. It’s been my experience that a firefighter’s primary motivation is to save lives and help the community, and they often put their own lives on the line to do so. Two men, so young and of such high quality, were taken from the world, and that is a loss to every single one of us.

But it gets worse. It seems the fire started in the children’s section, and just after the blaze started, two 13 year old boys were seen fleeing the scene. They’ve been apprehended. They will be charged with arson, manslaughter, and conspiracy.

If they did this, do they feel any remorse? If so, they’ll carry that burden for their entire lives. If not, they are animals. Either way, their lives will never be the same. Their potential, too, burned in that blaze. It saddens me that they were not taught to respect books, libraries, human lives, or their communities.

To recap, this one event has produced a long list of tragedies:

  • The fire itself.

  • The destruction of the library.

  • The inadequate fire protection system.

  • The death of two young firefighters.

  • The grief of the loved ones they left behind.

  • The fact that it was most likely arson.

  • The alleged arsonists are two 13 year old boys.

  • They face arson, manslaughter and conspiracy charges.

  • Their lives are effectively ruined by their own idiotic actions.

  • The community is left without a library, and is emotionally distraught.

Sometimes I just feel like weeping for the world.

Library-fire

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Don’t Give Me Grief

Etymology fascinates me. Where do words and phrases come from? I’m constantly intrigued.

Just the other day, I heard someone say, “Don’t give me grief.”

Grief and its verb, grieving, are states that I’m all too familiar with. It’s a natural part of life to be devastated by the loss of someone you love. It’s also something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

But to say that grief can be given, as if you can box it up and hand it to someone, like the world’s most ill-conceived birthday present, is a bit of a stretch. It’s also kind of insulting to the griever.

No, grief is too personal for that. It’s not something that is presented to you, fully formed, from some outside source. It’s what you feel. It comes from your very heart and soul.

No two people grieve alike. There’s no standard timeline (and anyone who tries to force you into one is clueless and rude). There’s no right way or wrong way to grieve.

Your grief is all yours. You most likely don’t want it. You can’t be blamed for wishing it would go away and leave you alone. But grief is the state in which all of us get to reside, at one time or another. In all probability, you enter that realm without warning, and have to blaze your own trail, in hopes of coming out the other side, much altered, but hopefully stronger for it.

Grief is caused by the loss of someone. It strikes me as wrong to say that it is given to you by someone. After all, it’s not as if you can say, “return to sender.”

Don’t give me grief about this. I know what I’m talking about.

A box o' grief

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There Are Dreams and Then There Are Dreams

I pass by this plaque every time I visit the post office in Kent, Washington.

Plaque

I have very mixed emotions about it.

Of course I’m happy that coworkers cared enough about Douglas J Hansen to memorialize him after his death. I do like the quote, “Don’t ever give up on your dreams.” But the older I get, the more I realize that there are dreams, and then there are dreams.

Doug Hansen was 46 years old when he died. No one should die at 46. My life was only just beginning at that age, and I’ve had so many amazing experiences since then. Life is priceless.

He died after having climbed to the top of Mt. Everest. That’s a formidable achievement, especially when you consider the fact that it was his second attempt. He died on the way back down the mountain.

Normally I’d say good for him. He had a dream. He went for it. And he reached his goal before he died.

But the story is a little more complicated than that. According to Wikipedia, a storm was headed toward the mountain, and everyone knew it. They just didn’t realize how severe it would be. As it increased in intensity, one of the most experienced Sherpas on the mountain that day encountered Hansen and ordered him to descend. Hansen shook his head and continued upward.

He took too long. By the time he reached the summit and started his descent, in a raging storm with depleted oxygen reserves, it was too late. He paid for it with his life. A total of 8 people died on that mountain that day. Ignore experts at your peril.

I understand why Hansen would be reluctant to give up. After all, it was his dream, and he’d already failed once. Also, climbing Mt. Everest isn’t cheap. On average, it costs $70,000 to $100,000. It must be frustrating to shell out that kind of money twice only to fail twice. Obviously, he was very determined.

But was it worth his life, or that of the guide who stayed with him? I’m thinking no. I say, live to dream another day.

Do I think we should all huddle on our couches, afraid to take risks, devoid of aspiration? No. But you should do a thorough cost/benefit analysis before putting your life on the line. I think it’s foolhardy to give up everything, absolutely everything, especially when you have no idea what your future holds.

Life is full of possibilities. But instead of exploring those possibilities, Doug Hansen’s body has never been found. It’s frozen stiff somewhere on Mt. Everest, and there’s nothing but a tombstone for him in the same graveyard in Renton, Washington where Jimi Hendrix is buried, and a memorial plaque outside a post office in Kent. That seems like a poor trade off to me.

What do you think?

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Time’s A-Wastin’

His Facebook page is full of lighthearted posts. Funny things he felt like passing along. Videos of cats. Smiling selfies. Humorous observations. The next post is bound to pop up any minute.

I barely knew him. He was a friend of a friend. We had pleasant exchanges in the comment section. I knew I’d like him. We’d yet to meet face to face. Vague plans had been made, and had yet to be carried out.

And now he’s dead, in his 50’s. Natural causes, they say. But there’s nothing natural about dying in one’s 50’s.

It’s all so fleeting. So unexpected. One day you’re taking a selfie, and the next you’re gone.

Life is precious. Don’t waste time. Savor every moment.

Wasting Time

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Contemplating my Death

Having recently gotten married, and having comingled our assets and combined our bank accounts as one does, it was time to update our wills. In my case, this was long overdue. My old will was all about assets I no longer have and people who are no longer in my life.

Writing a will is the responsible thing to do. It takes a great deal of pressure off the loved ones you leave behind, and it helps to ensure that your wishes are carried out. No sense in causing a familial World War III when you don’t have to. You’d be amazed at how petty some people can be while picking over your leftovers.

But contemplating one’s own death is no fun. Looking the grim reaper square in the eye and acknowledging his or her inevitable visit is a bit unsettling. I greatly prefer pretending that I’ll live forever. (But then, that scenario doesn’t really sound very pleasant, either, given how often I forget to floss.)

It’s particularly squick-making to have to imagine the whole death process. Do I want to have my life artificially prolonged? No thank you. Does that include withholding nutrition? Images of me wasting away as I circle the drain. Ugh. Yeah. Withhold nutrition unless I ask for it. But that’s a really hard thing to say to future me.

And what to do with the body I’m vacating? Good lord, but there are so many options these days. It’s like shopping for shoes. Except you’re disposing of the shoes. In a really upsetting way. And you’re trying not to freak out your relatives in the process.

There’s a lot to think about while making that choice. I mean, I’ll be beyond caring. But I’ve kind of grown attached to this body. I want it treated with respect. But I also don’t want it to take up space, or get pumped full of completely unnecessary and toxic formaldehyde, or cause undue expense.

I always thought I’d go with cremation, but then I learned what a huge carbon footprint that process places on the planet. So now I’ve decided on aquamation. That’s a new process. Your soft bits get dissolved, and only your bones remain, which are reduced to “ashes”. From an environmental standpoint it’s a much gentler exit from this planet. As this website explains, “Unlike cremation, there are no emissions with  aquamation. It uses about 1/8th the energy. If cremation were a diesel truck, aquamation is a Prius.” If I have to be a vehicle, I suppose I want to be a Prius. (How very Seattle of me.)

But can you imagine the details and descriptions I had to wade through to arrive at that choice? I mean… ugh. Nothing quite like picturing yourself getting disposed of like meat that is past its expiration date.

The next step is writing a personal letter explaining who I’d like to receive which of my tchotchkes. I’m struggling with this. How do you adequately convey how much someone has meant to you with a thing? It just doesn’t quite cut it.

But in the end, that’s all that will be left of me, save the memories. And that makes me want to create as many of those as I possibly can. So now that I’ve mapped out my journey into Death Land (and dragged you along for the ride), it’s time to get on with the business of living.

http _fc00.deviantart.net_images3_i_2004_122_1_e_Death

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The Accelerated Life Plan

I’ve had this dream more than once. It’s really odd, as dreams usually are. But I always wake up thinking that it makes a certain amount of sense, and I kind of wish it were true.

In the dream, I’m about to be born, and I’m asked if I’d prefer the standard, or the accelerated life plan. Naturally, I want details before I commit. I mean, that’s a heck of a question to be hit with before you’ve even taken your first breath.

It turns out that the accelerated life plan allows you to get all the nasty biological functions out of the way up front, so that you can focus on actually living your life. For example, you spend an entire day sneezing all of your sneezes, and then you never ever have to sneeze again. Granted, that day wouldn’t be much fun, but think of the weight that would be lifted off your shoulders afterward!

Having had the hiccups for a full 24 hours once, I can verify that Hiccup Day would be excruciatingly painful toward the end, but what a relief to get that over with. Acne Day wouldn’t be pretty, so it would probably be best to do that in isolation. Headache Day might become rather controversial, because that could be construed as cruel and unusual punishment. I would dread Cold and Flu Day, but I could handle it, knowing that 24 hours later I’d be fine. I would just whine a lot.

Yeah, I’d probably sign up for the accelerated life plan. It would be nice to be able to stand up and face the icky stuff of life and get past it. I like the certainty of it all. “That’s me, done,” as a friend of mine likes to say.

From there on out, it would be smooth sailing, until, of course, the inevitable Death Day. I doubt many people recover from that one. If they do, what happens the next day? That’s the question.

sneeze

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Avoiding Hell

After several late night visits from bats inside my house, my house, I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t live like that. Bats flying around my head at 3 a.m., landing on my pillow, barricading myself in my bedroom and being afraid to get up and go to the bathroom… It just got to be too much. I refuse to be a prisoner in my own home.

Don’t get me wrong. I like bats. They’re great for the environment. I just don’t want to be roommates with them. Especially if they’re not paying rent, and refuse to conform with my sleep cycle.

Despite the fortune I spent on contractors last year in an effort to solve this problem, these furry little rats with wings had taken up residence again, just as they probably have been doing for years on end. So it was time to serve them their eviction notice.

Thank goodness I’ve got someone who loves me enough to have my back, because I couldn’t have done this alone. We spent hours up on my roof, reinforcing the blockages I had imposed last year, and adding more. We put rigid walls of hardware cloth around all six of my mushroom cap vents.

I was hoping that hearing all that activity, and realizing that the sun was setting, the bats would take advantage of the thing we were saving for last: Their batty little front door, also known as the poorly done flashing around my chimney, and the badly constructed flue to my fireplace. (Two thumbs DOWN to Riasat Ali, also known as Al, of Arcon Chimney, for his shoddy workmanship and deceptive quote.)

But no. Instead of leaving the premises, they simply stayed in the attic and chittered and squeaked until we were finally forced to block them in, where they’d most likely starve and die. We couldn’t work in the pitch black on a pitched roof after they left. So block them in we did.

But it was killing me. Hearing them scream. Knowing they’d suffer. I couldn’t stand it.

So as we finished up, I closed my dog Quagmire into the back yard. Then I went into the house and turned off all the lights. I then left the front door wide open, and opened the inside access panel to the attic. Then I went outside and watched them fly out my front door, one by one.

It made me shudder, thinking of them streaming through my living room like that. But at least they’d live to eat mosquitoes another day. And I wouldn’t bear the guilt of having them suffer a slow and painful death. That’s got to count for something, right?

After leaving my house exposed to nature until 2 a.m., I reluctantly poked my head into the attic with a flashlight, and all was quiet. I heaved a sigh of relief. No hellfire for me. Not that night, anyway.

Later, I heard a bat hit my bedroom window. From the outside, for a change. The next day I told my boyfriend it was probably a bat protesting his eviction. He had a different theory. He thought it was a bat thanking me for saving its life.

Yeah. I can live with that spin.

http _pre13.deviantart.net_726a_th_pre_i_2013_328_5_d_another_bat_out_of_hell_by_allheartsgoboom-d6vgsip

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