Sheele’s Green: The Color of Death

In the Victorian age, people started having gas lights in their homes. This was dangerous and could be deadly for obvious reasons. But then there were any number of deadly things to be found in the Victorian homes. One real killer, oddly enough, came about because of that gas lighting.

Before gas lighting, most people wanted to paint their walls white, because houses were extremely dark, and they needed all the light surfaces they could get to reflect the candlelight. But according to this Youtube video entitled “The Deadly Fashions of the Victorians”, once gas lights lit up the home, people wanted to enjoy bright colors. Wallpaper became all the rage.

According to this article in Smithsonian Magazine, a man named Carl Sheele developed a bright green wallpaper, and people began calling the color Sheele’s green. The problem was that that color green was made with arsenic. William Morris, the most famous wallpaper manufacturer of the time, often used Sheele’s green in his designs.

Morris either didn’t believe, or denied, that arsenic in wallpaper could harm anyone. It is interesting to note that in the video mentioned above, they mention that Morris owned an arsenic mine. He only stopped using arsenic green due to public pressure.

Sadly, Sheele’s green also appeared in paint, clothing dye, candle coloring, and printers ink. This substance was especially toxic to children and the elderly. Bright green rooms were known to wipe out all the children in many families. According to Wikipedia, it may have even played a role in Napoleon’s death.

There is a book called “Shadows from the Walls of Death” that was produced by a doctor who was trying to warn people about toxic wallpaper. It contained 100 samples of said wallpaper. You can read all about it in this article in Atlas Obscura. It is said to be one of the most toxic books in history. If you touch it with your bare hands, it can kill you. Fortunately, only 4 copies of the book remain, and they are housed in extremely controlled environments.

So, Morris denied the science at the time because he had a profit motive. Sounds a lot like those people who are denying global warming and saying, “Drill, baby, drill!” Or people who are denying the danger of COVID-19 for political reasons. Evil is motivated by greed and power and, make no mistake, those motivations can kill us all.

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Dying in Space

Here’s something to think about. 18 people have died in space so far, including 14 NASA astronauts. But there has yet to be a case where one member of a crew has died, leaving the rest behind to cope with the body. And that scenario doesn’t seem to be a part of the regular NASA training protocol. It’s more of a “We’ll figure it out when it happens” plan.

But seriously, what to do? What to do? According to this article, entitled, “What Happens to Your Body When You Die in Space?” there is no easy solution. Burial in space is a problem because the body will get sucked along your flight path, making for a creepy sight seeing tour for the next ship that comes your way. (If you’ve enjoyed the show The Orville as much as I have, you’ll know that they have several dead bodies orbiting their ship. Ugh.)

Storing the body on board for a trip back home leads to smell and biohazard and takes up much needed space and weight allocation. Burying the body on the moon or mars could lead to bacteria being introduced to those planets, with unknown consequences.

There is a company that’s looking into freeze drying a body in space, and then rattling it until it’s reduced to about 50 pounds of frozen ice particles. That would be like cremation without fire. And the article also talks about cannibalism, which, let’s face it, is a gruesome last resort.

I think this can of worms needs to be opened, and soon, before someone dies in space individually. It’s bound to happen sooner or later. Personally, I’d kind of like to know what could potentially happen to me before signing up for a trip on an interstellar cruise ship.

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The Elders and the Youngsters

I just saw an animation that brought tears to my eyes. It was the song Father and Son by Yusuf/Cat Stevens. Yusuf sings the father’s part and the younger version of himself, Cat Stevens, sings the son version, taken from a recording of himself from decades ago, obviously.

In the song, the father is trying to urge the son not to go off and do something impulsive that will potentially alter his entire life. (At the time he wrote it, he was imagining a boy who wanted to run off and join the Russian Revolution, but really any scenario will do.) The father says, basically, stop and think. Take it slow. You still have a lot to learn. Be calm. Think of the consequences. “For you will still be here tomorrow but your dreams may not.”

The son, on the other hand, says that he’s been ordered to listen his whole life, but he doesn’t feel like he’s been listened to. He says he knows himself, and that it’s time to make a change. His part is all about the frustration of not being heard and not being taken seriously, and the desire to make his own way.

The reason this animation struck me to the core is that I think, for the first time, it really hit me that I’m not young anymore. That’s a really hard pill to swallow. It took me long enough. I’m 55. (And I know the older readers will say that 55 isn’t that old. I get that. Everything is relative.)

I think everything is getting more poignant with me over time, because we are all on the cusp of radical, terrifying changes, and no one can predict what’s going to happen next. It feels as if the sand is shifting beneath our collective feet, and that’s unsettling at the best of times. It feels like things that used to be just slightly risky are now becoming a matter of life and death. I’m profoundly scared.

It’s really stressful, in particular, to watch the younger people in my life right now. (And by younger, in this case, I mean 40 and below.) So many of them are making crazy, impulsive decisions and not thinking about the long term impact. They are speculating based on a world that no longer exists. They’re risking their lives. They’re settling for relationships that aren’t the best for them. They’re tying themselves down to parts of the country that aren’t politically and/or economically and/or environmentally and/or socially feasible for the people that they are or will become.

I’m frustrated because I see so much potential in these people, and I know they are capable of so much more. I have to resign myself to the fact that their choices aren’t my business, really. I just see them making many mistakes that I have made, and I want to save them the agony that I know they’ll be going through. But in life, there are no shortcuts.

Add another layer onto the anxiety cake by realizing that I’ve had someone die quite expectedly on me in recent years. Poof! Gone. Just like that.

That changes you. It forever colors the way you look at the world. And it makes you realize that no one can fully understand your point of view until they’ve had that sort of experience themselves. People think they can imagine what it’s like. They haven’t a clue.

Life is so precious. It’s so fragile. It’s like a soap bubble. It can all be gone in a pop. Everyone knows this, but those of us who’ve seen that moment of pop are not allowed the luxury of forgetting it. And it truly is a luxury.

Yes, everyone has to make their own mistakes, and also have their own triumphs. But there are so many people that I’d like to shake (and hug) right now. And I can’t.

At the same time, to add complexity to the situation, I am really proud of some of the things the younger people are doing, attempting to make lemonade out of the lemons they’ve been handed. I’m impressed with their innovation and their ability to think outside the box and come up with something different. Even though they’re making a lot of mistakes, they’re also making progress. I just have to remember that the world will keep revolving and evolving, with or without me.

But I can’t say this enough: Life is a gift. It should never be squandered. It shouldn’t be risked. It shouldn’t be taken for granted. Especially now, in the midst of a pandemic with a heaping helping of political unrest.

Good God, am I becoming conservative? Please, no. Anything but that.

I think I’m just valuing things much more than I once did. It’s all so fleeting and final. It’s all so slippery and hard to grasp. Odds are extremely good that I won’t live until I’m 110, and I really don’t want to, if I’m honest. But that means I’m on the downhill slope. And as hard as I’d like to fight it, the slide is inevitable.

But, having climbed up the other side, I would very much like to show those who come behind me that there are easier trails. I want that with my whole heart. At the same time, I understand that blazing your own trail is the whole point. But until you get to the other side, you don’t quite realize that the hill is made up entirely of the consequences that are occurring because of your own actions and choices.

I carry with me a wealth of life experience, as does everyone on my side of the hill. And that experience includes both success and failure. But when you’re young you don’t see that as valuable. You’re too busy making the climb for yourself. It’s a waste and a shame to not learn from others, but everyone has their own hill to climb, and it’s time for me to accept that it’s high time to let go and focus on my next phase in life.

“Hey! You there! Watch out! That’s the exact spot where I tripped and broke my leg! Can’t you see that if you fall, it hurts me, too?”

Oh, never mind. You’ll figure it out.

It’s just all so damned bittersweet…

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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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