Waking Up

It’s been a while.  I have no excuse, but still have the desire to let blog followers know how life in my corner of the Universe has been.

I started a new day job as a technical writer.  I really didn’t like it at first as I wasn’t actually writing a word and, at the time, it didn’t look as though I would be.  Considering that I had been on quite the productive, creative writing roll before starting a new report-here-for-40-hours-a-week-for-money job, I admit that I got more than a little depressed about it.  And for some reason, not getting to write during the day pretty much took the wind out of my sails as far as any writing or blogging I would have decided to do in the evening.  So after my nightly job search was done (because I believed I’d made a horrible mistake in accepting my current job), I put aside the computer and stared dejectedly at the TV; remote in one hand, adult beverage in the other.

Of course, I wasn’t sleeping very well either.  It was the lack of sleep that finally drove me to confront my employers about how in the world they were going to hire a technical writer and not let her write.  I wish I had done this much sooner!  They assured me that I would be writing and possibly even editing soon, and explained why I was not doing so at the time.  Feeling better about everything, I slept like a baby that night (although that probably also had something to do with not sleeping the night before).  A couple of days later, my employers kept their word and I was assigned a real technical writing task.

But even with the problem at hand solved, the pattern of doing nothing with my evenings remained.  If someone had asked me if I was depressed, I’d have said no.  I wasn’t feeling particularly low anymore. In fact, I was feeling something that came close to contentment.  But there was very little difference between depressed me, and what I claimed to be a fully functioning, productive me.

Coming out of the slump felt more like waking up than cheering up. It usually feels this way, whether I “wake up” on my own, or whether I have some metaphorical alarm clock screeching at me.

This time I had the aid of the screeching alarm clock in the form of a submission deadline for a short story contest.  Honestly, part of me expected to go back to sleep after the “final” edits and the submission process were complete.  But I find myself faced with the other stuff I said I was going to accomplish.  I have other submissions to take care of,  a ton of reading to catch up on, a home to clean (because it is–in my opinion–a wreck), not to mention this blog.

Now, if someone could bring me some coffee…

The Death of Monte: A Glimpse Into the American Love Affair with the Automobile

My husband’s 1998 Chevy Monte Carlo, which we less-than-creatively called Monte, died in the noble pursuit of alcohol on Sunday evening.  We wanted wine with dinner, but missed the 5:00pm cutoff to buy in Connecticut on a Sunday, so we crossed the border to Rhode Island.

As short as the trip was, it was further than we should have dared go in Monte, and as we were heading north on I-95, we noticed a funny sound and smell.  This wasn’t new for Monte.  We had known for a long time that she wasn’t going to get through another inspection.  We suspected that if we took her to a garage to get one problem fixed, no mechanic in his (or her) right mind was going to allow us to take her back off the lot until thousands of dollars of other truly necessary work was done—way more work than the car was worth monetarily.  I had often said that I felt bad for even putting the key in the ignition any longer.  If she had been a human, she would have been allowed to retire ages ago.  But Joe, my husband, faithfully did tune-ups, changed brakes, and took care of any vehicular ailment he could.  He assured me that smells and sounds are common to old cars and was confident he could squeeze another 30,000 miles out of her.  But as the noise got louder and the smell got stronger, I saw his confidence wane.  (He later admitted to me that he knew that this was the proverbial “it” on the highway, but didn’t say anything in an effort not to worry me.)

We purchased our libations and came out to start the car.  She coughed a puff of smoke in protest, and wouldn’t start.  It was the one day neither of us brought our cell phones because it was supposed to be a short trip, so Joe disappeared into the pizza shop beside the package store to call AAA.

I knew this was going to be tough on Joe; he loved that car.  He had purchased her while he was in the Navy and he and Monte had done a couple of cross-country trips together.  But what I hadn’t expected, as I sat on a nearby boulder staring at Monte’s hood, was that my own eyes were growing misty.  I had underestimated how much I loved that car.  I got off the boulder, kissed Monte’s hood, and allowed my memories—and yes, even a couple of tears—to flow.

Monte is partially responsible for me falling in love with Joe to begin with.  Back when we had just started dating, I called Joe one night to see if he wanted to hang out.  He said that he would love to, but he had to finish some work on his car first.  In my boredom, I asked if he would mind if I hung out with him until he was finished. I could stand to learn a thing or two about car maintenance anyway. He told me that of course he didn’t mind, and he was out back.  He’d be the legs sticking out from under the black Monte Carlo.

As I came around the corner, I saw the legs.  I announced my arrival and Joe scooted out.  Sweat poured off of him leaving streaks in the grease on his skin as he wielded a wrench, or some such tool, and cursed in frustration.  It was like Cupid had shot me all over again!  Maybe it’s the Pennsylvania redneck in me, but damn if there isn’t something about a man working on his car that just makes me grin all over!  He had me at, “Can’t get this f*cking bolt loose!”

Joe and I satisfied one of my greatest fantasies in that car.  I won’t say what it was because, much like Monte’s final road days, it may have actually been illegal, but we were “dumb kids” of 29 and 30 so give us a break.

I got my second speeding ticket (but the first in over ten years) to Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” in that car.  But Monte didn’t die in a blaze of glory.  She died with a sad sputter, begging us not to try and start her again.  She didn’t die on the interstate.  She died in a parking lot, telling us that this was as far as she could go.  We were safe.  We were near phones.  What more could we have asked of her?

Monte made trips she shouldn’t have made.  She saved us when newer, shinier cars weren’t up for the job.  She was Miss Kitty with a shotgun and a deadly aim from the second story window, saving the hero during the Old West shoot out, with nothing but a smile, a nod, and a request for more oil—because the oil leaked.

Later, as I sat there sipping my wine with dinner, it felt wrong.  I should have been drinking whiskey.  Monte was a tough old broad and if she had been human, whiskey would have been her drink.  So, we took the little bottle of whiskey from the counter, poured two shots and had a drink to her.  What a car!

How much more proof do you need that we Americans love our cars?

We love freedom and a car is more than just a symbol of that freedom. If we’re willing to make the drive, the car will get us there in comfort, with air conditioning and seats that recline.  The United States of America is a huge country, and that’s why we have famous highways, and humble truck stops that become famous.  It’s part of why we love the freaking cheeseburger!  It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s handheld, and if a fast food restaurant can do it right, a roadside joint can do it better!  The car is a huge part of America the Beautiful in the modern age. And Monte was one of the best.

*Disclaimer: this is not an endorsement of Chevrolet.  Everyone knows I’m a Dodge girl!  But damn…I loved that Chevy!

Rest in Peace, Monte.

Big Blue

I like to cook. Organizing and laying out ingredients in order of use helps me organize my thoughts. It also helps me quiet all the rest of the stuff going on in my brain long enough to reflect on things that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

As I was browning meat for my special lasagna the other day in preparation for a visit from my dear sister-in-law, I started thinking about family, traditions, and meals cooked with love. Then suddenly, as silly as it may seem in comparison, it occurred to me how much I love the pan I was using.

I call the pan Big Blue. It is the only cooking utensil we have that has a name. The big blue frying pan had been a wedding present to my parents and is years older than me. It was passed down to me many moons ago when my parents did a kitchen upgrade and I moved into my first apartment.

Big Blue has certainly seen better days. Its bottom is a little warped. Nearly forty years worth of burn marks and stains mar the outside and make me wonder how bright the blue had been when the pan was new. The lid is missing its handle. Of course, we still use the lid. We just use a fork and an oven mitt to maneuver it.

In spite of all its dings, dents, and aesthetic shortcomings, it’s still often times the best pan for the job. No, I wouldn’t want to make an omelet in it, but it’s perfect for dishes like beef stroganoff, mashed potato pancakes, and—if I’m really flipping off my diet—fried chicken.

Big Blue is deep and weighs a ton. If it’s filled with sauce, I have to use two hands to hold it even remotely steady. And washing it—ugh! I don’t even want to think about that.

What I love to think about is all the meals over the years that had been prepared with love and care in that pan. My mother taught me to make beef stroganoff in it. I use it to make my meat sauce for my special lasagna. The first meal I ever made for my husband (while we were still dating) was made using Big Blue.

That pan made the food that made the memories. “Better”, lighter weight and non-stick coated pans will come and go—and they do. But I’ll never give up Big Blue.

The Digital Lie and Eternal Life

Eternal life via the internet. Why not? In a culture where spiritual inspiration comes to you through chain emails and your philanthropic duty of the day is heeding the plea to “please keep this moving and forward to ten people in the next five minutes,” why wouldn’t we reduce a complex concept like eternal life to our standing on the internet when we die?

No, this isn’t about the idea of being able to upload our brains and live on forever in the machine.

While the temptation to go SciFi (SciFuture?) is certainly present as I write this, it’s not really the point. The point is that (offering myself as the examination lamb as I am wont to do), my own Facebook page has a quiz result posted under my “boxes” tab that says I’m going to Valhalla when I die. While a Facebook quiz is among the most ridiculous of examples, it actually illustrates the point well. I can just see myself…dead…and a friend goes to my Facebook, because who is really going to think of taking my page down or have the passwords to be able to do it? I can see that friend giving a little chuckle, and musing over where I might actually be.

I’ll tell you where I think I’ll be. I think I’ll be spending my afterlife doing petty hauntings to people upon whom I’m still holding a grudge. I can pretty much promise you that I’m not doing anything half as cool as eternally drinking mead with long dead Norse warriors.

But what a splendid idea it is that I can present myself exactly how I want people to see me in my life via the web and also have that be what’s left behind when I die! Believe me, the thought has crossed my mind that someone might even stumble upon this very blog and remember me as a writer, although I didn’t have to have published squat to post it. Or maybe I’ll be remembered as a social commentator, although my college transcript will show one (1) Sociology class.

However, this brings us to the other side of the argument. You do not need a degree to be an observant human being, a great performer, a brilliant artist, or a poignant writer. That’s an idea imposed upon us by meatspace. Therefore, the internet is a great place to find and use your voice. The idea that you can be heard, read, “known” and remembered on the internet without any credentials can be a blessing provided you don’t allow yourself to buy into the lie. Having a website doesn’t make you talented, but if you are talented, a website is a great place to direct someone who may be interested in making use of your abilities. Hopefully, you’re still alive for that.

Memorial sites are beautiful things. Not only do they eliminate the depressing graveyard (although I personally really like graveyards), but people can post in writing and pictures how they remember the deceased. So now, people’s memories of the dead will be around for the world to see at least as long as the site remains, or until a site administrator takes down the post. After all, you probably won’t see a whole lot of memorial sites with posts that say, “F*#k him. He was a douche bag and he ran over my dog.” Showing some respect and not speaking ill of the dead are meatspace courtesies that should be observed in cyberspace too.

I love the internet. Way to go, cyberspace! I wouldn’t dream of condemning the place I come to do just about anything. And as of yet, I’ve not written the Great American Novel; I’ve won no special awards. There’s not a whole lot for which I’d be remembered in meatspace, but as long as Google exists and my pages are still up, a part of me exists.

Let’s just hope there aren’t any unflattering nudie pictures of me out there.