Going To Come Back In Style…

And so a new year has begun. Better yet, a new decade has begun. I must admit, denizens, I’m at a bit of a loss as to where the “Noughties” went. Y2K still seems like it was “just last year”…although perhaps I’ve been circling about in that causality loop a lot longer than I thought. If only Dr. Crusher had spent less time drinking hot toddies with the Captain and more time paying attention to all those clues around her, maybe I wouldn’t have lost an entire decade…

(Seriously, did you think that I could start the new year without some kind of geek reference?)

Things have been noticeably quiet here at the lair as of late. I’m sure those who are regular visitors can guess as to why. But I’m not in a guessing mood, so let’s just name this black-cloaked elephant that has parked its ginormous tuchus in the middle of my lair and my life for far too long. The past year decade has been a bit of a rough one. Starting in 2001, Death decided that he wanted to hang out and be best buds with my family for a while. We lost 9 members of my family from 2001-2010…actually, 11 if you count my dog Jodie and my cat Data, which I do. They were as much a part of my heart as any human could be…and if I’m completely honest right now, they were closer to me than I allow most humans to ever become.

This was an equal opportunity culling, with Death sampling from both sides of my family. It was such a frequent sampling that I feel as though I’ve earned my very own Ph.D. in the subject. In some ways, I feel as though all of this loss somehow defines me now, which is silly considering the fact that most people don’t even know about all this. I keep so much inside that I’m willing to bet most of the people reading this right now had no idea about the extent of my familial losses.

Of course, keeping so much inside has its side effects. Since May of last year, I’ve gone through a bit of major shrinkage. Back then, I was at the outer reaches of a size 12. My jeans are now crazy 8s. It’s not as if I’m skipping meals or purging or anything morbid like that. I still eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I still drink (although prophets help me if I try to drink as much as I used to; apparently my fat was my “girdle of strength” in regard to my superhero-sized tolerance). I just…lost interest in food after my mom died.

Instead, I found myself wanting needing to constantly be on the move. I needed to walk. Walk after dinner. Walk on the weekends. Walk at the park. Walk in the neighborhood. Walk until my eyes burned from the sweat and my legs ached and I couldn’t concentrate on anything beyond these physical discomforts. Because then? Then, I couldn’t think. Then I could only collapse on the couch and let my brain lapse into the silence of exhaustion.

People who don’t know about my mother keep asking me what I’ve been doing and telling me that I look great. Truth be told, physically I feel great. I have never been this in-shape in my entire adult life, and I confess that I like it (yes, Mr. Pacino, vanity is apparently my favorite sin as well). I just wish I had been more aware that it was happening. I completely tuned myself out for a while, though. Next thing I know, I’m standing up from my desk chair at work, stepping on the hem of a pant leg, and defrocking myself in my office. Thank the prophets my office mate wasn’t there that day. And don’t worry, denizens…I’ve made sure to replace those pants with ones that aren’t so easy to lose. There will be no unintended moonings here at the lair. I can’t make any promises about intentional ones, however.

As for how I feel in other ways? There is a rawness inside me that I still cannot fathom facing. I just don’t know how. “Unfinished business” of the permanent variety is a horrible sensation, and I feel as if it’s the label of shame I now carry in regard to my relationship with my mom. My very own scarlet “A”…for what? Absent? Annoyed? Arrogant? Asinine? These are all self-imposed labels and feelings, I suppose. Then again, she’s not here anymore to tell me that I shouldn’t feel this way. And that’s what I’m having the most trouble handling. She’s gone and I feel as though I played every hand wrong while she was here.

So, for now, I keep walking. If I can’t exorcise my demons, I’ll at least exercise the hell out of them. Sooner or later I’m bound to stop, right? Besides, I can’t imagine I can shrink much more before someone straps me down and starts force-feeding me candy corn and Cheetos.

Mmm.

But was this past decade a complete bust? No. Through all of the losses that my family has endured, I’ve learned that resilience is an amazing parlor trick of the heart and those who love you never completely leave you. I’ve learned that people really do live on through our memories and even the ugliest of souls have lessons to teach.

I’ve learned that what’s meant to be cannot be stopped, only sidetracked temporarily. But it will find its way eventually.

I’ve learned that, if I wasn’t so daft at math, I think that being a Crime Scene Investigator would have been a perfect fit for my anal-retentive, puzzle-solving, obsessive-compulsive, über-organizational personality. Either that or I really need to stop watching so much CSI.

I’ve learned that, even without being a CSI, I can love what I do for a living and have fun doing it.

I’ve learned that my geekery cannot be tamed, but when channeled properly, it can be a force used for good. Or at least for good entertainment.

I’ve learned that I love being a Synner.

I’ve learned that being very vague is very fun.

I’ve also learned that I’ve got a helluva lot left to learn. And a helluva lot left to blather on about here at the lair. More books to read, more DVDs to review, more geekery to spread like a sweaty, smelly virus that’s bound to drive Agent Smith back to standing in a frock on a rock with General Zod and Alexander Hartdegen, which would be such a drag. And, dear denizens, if any of you followed this last sentence from start to finish and got what I was talking about, my heart is most assuredly yours.

So there you have it: That’s me, wrapping up my state of mind from this past year/decade in thick plastic sheeting and dumping it for Pete Martell to find when he heads out for his morning fishing sabbatical. Don’t let Andy see. His tears will muck things up for Agent Cooper. And bring me some more of that damn fine coffee, Norma. I’m having another outbreak of Lynchian insanity. Backwards. With little people.

The owls really are never what they seem. And neither is the lair. But face it, denizens…this is why you keep coming back. At least I hope so. Just remember: The rest is yet to come…

Sept 28, 01

Two days ago, I came home to find a lovely book-shaped package tucked between the front door and the screen door. This is not an unusual discovery; one-click shopping may not be the literal death of me, but it’s certainly slowly killing my attempts at frugal living. Still, this was another of my famous used purchases from Amazon Marketplace, which cost me barely more than $5 (that’s approximately 2 pence for my English readers).

My personal indulgence this time was a book that I added to my wish list in 2001: The Making of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. I added it to my list not long after I’d seen the movie in the theater. Most geeks don’t like this movie, but I’ve seen it numerous times and have yet to tire of it.

I suppose I could call it one of my guilty pleasures, but I don’t feel all that guilty about loving it as much as I do. I think it’s gorgeous and epic and magnificent. I can’t speak to its source material, since I know nothing of the video games or other bits of media bearing the same name, but the CGI alone still enraptures me in ways that new movies never seem capable of doing. I suppose this is due to a general sensory overload from the glut of BANGZOOMWOW!!!11! special effects that Hollywood keeps dumping on us. Whatever it is, I don’t think I’ve felt as awed by a CGI movie as I was the first time I saw Final Fantasy. This was a level of realism that no one had yet seen from computer graphics. Just take a look at this close-up of Dr. Aki Ross:

It’s probably disturbing how long I can stare at this screen capture, observing all the details there: skin tone and texture, wrinkles, pores, reflections, freckles, eyelashes, eyebrows…I daresay that this could very well pass as a close-up of a real person, even now. True, there were aspects of Ross and other characters that immediately gave away their CGI existence—like how the fingers always looked too rounded or how lips never matched up quite as perfectly as if a real person was speaking—but this was holistically a spectacular feat by all involved…something that each and every one of them should remain proud to have accomplished.

As I settled in to flip through this book (which is in practically perfect condition; yet another win for Amazon Marketplace), I noticed that the pages automatically flipped open to a particular spot. Tucked into the middle of the book was a slip of note card stock, the Sony Pictures logo printed at the top along with the name “Sande Scoredos.” The following note, dated “Sept 28, 01,” had been jotted down in a strong, sweeping cursive hand:

G______,
Thank you so much for helping out today with the Digital Studio SPI Overview & Tour. Your presentation was excellent and really helped us show what our facility can do.

Thank you,
Sande

The first thing that struck me was the fact that this was written less than a month after the 9/11 attacks here in NYC, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. I know it’s a bizarre and disturbing first thought to have, but I’ve been conditioned to have this exact Pavlovian response to anything pertaining to the year 2001. This note seems antithetical in relation to that time…that things so innocuous as overviews and thank you notes were still happening while the smoke still rose from our gaping wounds.

Life continues to move forward, and we do our best to keep stumbling forward as well.

Then I focused on the name imprinted on the note card: Sande Scoredos. I’d never heard the name before, but was intrigued enough by the presence of a personal note from her, stuck in a book I’d picked up online from a California Goodwill, that I immediately booted up the netbook and Googled her name.

Her accomplishments read like a history of CGI itself: Former executive director of technical training and artist development for Sony Pictures Imageworks for 12 years, she provided training and mentoring to thousands of artists throughout the worlds of animation and visual effects. She helped establish training programs at Sony Pictures Imageworks, with more than 50 courses on life drawing, sculpting, animation, effects, color and lighting, compositing, et cetera. She was involved in the visual effects development of some of Sony’s biggest titles, including all three of Sam Raimi’s Spider-man movies, which sport some pretty spectacular effects.

I learned all this by reading her obituary and a tribute posted by one of her friends and mentees.

Sande Scoredos died on August 14 of this year.

I closed the netbook and looked back at the note card in my hand: 12 short lines scratched out in rollerball blue ink, each line trailing slightly upward toward the ends, the words becoming slightly less precise toward the bottom. Just a quick bit of appreciation jotted down and slipped into the pages of a book that perhaps represented to her an extraordinary peak in a professional lifetime of devotion to these computer-generated universes. Or perhaps it was merely something picked out by an assistant. Perhaps the assistant actually wrote these lines? All assumption at this point, isn’t it?

Whatever the truth, this note has preyed on my mind ever since I found it. I’m not even really sure why. The sad, simple truth is that people die every day, and I’d hate to ever imply that Scoredos’s passing has in some way affected me more simply because I could look her up on IMDb. And yet I find myself now in possession of a book given as a gift by a woman who, it would seem, helped develop, push, and improve a field of entertainment that, throughout the years, has angered, inspired, delighted, frustrated, and mesmerized me. Even without knowing her name, I knew her work well. And, whether or not she made this particular selection herself, her note was found in a book about a movie that has brought me immeasurable happiness.

People do die every day, but what they leave behind can have impacts on people’s lives in the strangest, most unexpected ways.

Black, White, and Brooding

It must be the weather. I feel dark and brooding today. Therefore, I give you this photo that I took recently during a trip to visit Stratford Hall. This is the entrance to the Lee family burial vault, found at the end of the Great House’s eastern garden. I ran a color desaturation and a color burn of some of the darker parts of the photo, and then I added a pattern overlay to give it a bit of a worn, scratched look. Why? Because I like worn and scratched.

Definitely a contrast to yesterday’s bright burst of autumnal color, no?

All The Leaves Are Brown, And The Sky Is Gray…

This lyric has been stuck in my head for days now. Stuck to the point that I feel as though I need to put it down, here in the lair, to rid myself of its haunting presence. I’m not even a fan of The Mamas and The Papas. All I know about them, really, is that Cass Elliot did voiceover work for a guest role on “The Haunted Candy Factory,” one of my favorite New Scooby Doo Movies, and Michelle Phillips played Jenice Manheim, Captain Picard’s love interest in the first season TNG episode, “We’ll Always Have Paris.”

[Talk about the useless flotsam of geek life…]

So why this lyric from a song I don’t even have on my iPod? The season is changing. Wispy white tendrils against cerulean sky now shift to casket-colored cloud cover, perforated by random slivers of diffused sunlight. Mornings are tinged with a chill that is slow to burn away and quick to return come dusk. I think all those triple-digit summer scorchers are now nothing more than a memory.

Early morning sunlight is now almost another summer memory, darkness still slumbering even when my alarm goes off. Every morning, I stumble in a sleep-clumsy haze through the dim stillness, my usual avian serenade now fallen silent. The birds have hatched their young and the nests are empty.

My already clockwork-precise ablutions must be even more hurried, as now I’m racing against the additional school-year traffic: parents hitting the road early to drop off der kinder, and buses galumphing along like wounded wildebeests, belching diesel and halting all passage as they slow to consume surly school-bound passengers. My autumnal commute always increases in length and misery.

Usually, I’m not this maudlin about the changing of the seasons. This year has not been a “usually” kind of year. I think it’s the rapidly dwindling evening light that’s affecting me the most. Post-dinner walks are edging ever closer to the fringe of total darkness. Soon the cold and the dark will be more than I’ll care to fight. My sneakers will remain stationary and I’ll no longer have the ability to outpace the thoughts from which I’ve been running all summer.

One of the most wonderful things about an East Coast autumn is the firework-bright color shift in the foliage: a timpani of bottle rocket red and flames of sparkler orange, bombastic bursts of yellow. Landscapes like a painter’s palate, splashed with frenzies of bright and bold.

Summer’s unmerciful heat, however, has left its mark on many of the trees in our neighborhood. Dull brown leaves have already dropped, their dessicated husks scraping and rasping beneath our shoes. I worry that the painter’s palate has dried out too much this year. Fireworks may have been postponed due to the heat.

There is always a silver lining, though. October is just around the corner, home of my favorite holiday of all. No matter what age I am, I will always love Halloween. No longer for the costumes or the candy, but for the scares that inevitably accompany its arrival. Cable channels love thematic programming, which means lots of terror-ific viewing to frighten and entertain me on those cold house-bound days.

Halloween is as far as I can think right now. The rest of the holidays are too much, too close. Too everything that I’m not ready to bear.

And there, denizens, are my thoughts expunged. Lyrical demons exorcised? Perhaps. Then again, perhaps it’s time I finally added some Mamas and Papas to my playlist. Now I must return to the daily grind. Things are a bit overwhelming at work right now, which is why I have been so absent of late. Never fear, though. I shall return in a more regular capacity soon enough.

Until then, here’s a photo that always cheers me up. It’s a rejected publicity shot of Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine (Okay, who is surprised right now that it would be a Star Trek photo? No one? Good). It’s from the rare photo section of TrekCore.com. I don’t really understand why it was rejected, as I think it’s one of the best photos ever taken of Ryan as Seven. Gorgeous chiaroscuro treatment and a classy accentuation of those parts of her that held her to her Borg past while downplaying those parts of her that made her salaciously Human (especially in those skin-tight catsuits!). That’s probably why this photo was rejected. Not…er, titillating enough. Ah well. It’s still beautiful. Whoever the photographer was, they should be very proud of this composition. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Fall of the Fourth Estate

What has become of journalistic integrity in this country?

There was a time when I couldn’t start my day without absorbing as much news as I possibly could. This was predominantly during my Angry BloggerTM days, although I continued to be a voracious news hound during that lull in between those blogging days and now.

I still read and listen to a great deal of news, but not with the same insatiable need. Truth is, I think that my distrust of media outlets has outpaced my desire to be in the know regarding transpiring newsworthy events. I hate that this is the case. I hate feeling uninformed. But I hate the feeling of being manipulated even more.

The distrust began a while ago, although I definitely think it came to a clanging, crashing crescendo during the 2008 presidential campaign. I continue to believe that the coverage of this campaign was offensively manipulative on many fronts, abandoning real news for editorialized irrelevance and pandering to the most inconsequential coverage because it was more entertaining.

Call me curmudgeonly (and I’m sure many of you will), but I don’t want to be entertained by my news. I want to be informed. But when you find that you have to go to personal blogs or Jon Stewart to locate the facts that are missing from mainstream media outlets, it becomes glaringly obvious that there’s something failing within the machine that might become irreparable if it’s not addressed soon.

But when did the machine first begin to fail?

I think the diagnosis is many-layered, but I believe that the problems first began to arise with the arrival of 24-hour news coverage channels like CNN and later MSNBC and Fox News. Here was an idea that had the potential to provide viewers with unencumbered access to the most up-to-date and thorough coverage of news as it happened. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Unfettered access to the truth!

What we got, instead, was a gradual blurring of the lines between honest news coverage and editorializing that has reached insulting levels. Don’t believe me? Turn on any of these round-the-clock news channels and see what’s playing. More than likely what you’re going to find is opinion rather than news. Even when actual journalists are present on some of these shows’ panels, they’re providing their opinions on matters on which they report for other outlets.

It’s reached a point at which we’re not even allowed to come to our own opinions. Prime recent example: News coverage of a local crime that occurred last week started with the news anchor sitting next to a graphic that stated, “Disgusting Act.”

True, the incident in question was quite disgusting. But I don’t need you to tell me that. I need you to provide me with the facts of the crime and let me make up my own mind. Period. That is, after all, your job. To report the news.

However, opinion has somehow cloaked itself convincingly enough that it now mingles with the sheep, whispering its distracting song into the minds of anyone willing to listen. Why? Because it’s being sung by a “news” outlet? Printed in a reputable newspaper?

Do such things even exist anymore? Perhaps, but I believe they are slowly being eradicated by the instant gratification demands of the online generation, combined with features like “Post a Comment,” which more often than not are nothing more than thinly veiled cesspools of racism, ignorance, and intolerance. With the “anonymous” function, most comment sections on news sites inevitably tend to devolve into the modern day equivalent of wearing a hood at a cross burning. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s a White face beneath the hood anymore. Anyone can be hateful! It’s as easy as the click of a mouse button!

It’s exhausting and frustrating and overwhelming all at once. And it’s not going to get any better. True, I know several journalists who strive to remain true to that mythological creature known as “journalistic integrity.” But they, too, seem slated for the inevitable march to extinction, replaced by sensationalism and emotionalism disguised as news.

I’m not naive enough to believe that journalists must be complete blank slates. I know that journalists have their own opinions, their own beliefs, follow their own convictions, and make up their own minds. But they shouldn’t be trying to make up my mind or anyone else’s. Report the news. Nothing more. Nothing less. And if you find that too difficult a beat to walk, perhaps you should consider switching to another line of work. I hear Sarah Palin is putting together her own discussion panel on Fox News…

Muses and Musings

She started whispering to me beneath the shade of our beach umbrella, during moments when I would unplug from whatever novel I was hungrily devouring that day. I’d stare out at the shimmering sea and simmering sands and I’d listen as this new muse shared with me her story.

It has been quite a while since I heard a muse speak to me, even prior to recent events that left a splintering silence within my mind. My most recent, Eddie, went quiet quite a while ago, which still saddens me. His was a funny, dark story that I very much enjoyed. I hope he comes back to me soon, to finish his tale.

So I made very certain to pay close attention to this new voice. She’s left me no name so far. That doesn’t really bother me much. She can remain nameless if that’s her preference. Beyond a strange hatred of sand, which admittedly I share with her, she seems surprisingly…normal. I’m not used to that.

I’m not typically drawn to “whole” characters. In both my own writing and the creations of others, I’m constantly drawn to and inevitably fall in love with the most damaged of the lot: the widowed CMO, the emotionally scarred ex-freedom fighter, the alcoholic Viper pilot with the damaged past, the brooding CSI with Diastema and dark secrets, the FBI agent whose entire life hinges on locating a sister missing since childhood. There is beauty in their flaws and fractures that I simply cannot resist.

So to have a character come to me with relatively no imperfections? I’m baffled. And a tad bit concerned. Can I do her justice? We’re always tasked as writers to “write what we know.” I know imperfection. Truth is, I prefer imperfection.

Then again, the “what I know” at the moment is too much for me to write right now.

I visited my mom’s grave for the first time on Sunday. Her body is buried slightly fewer than 50 miles away from me.

In weiter Ferne, so nah!

The veterans’ cemetery has yet to place a proper grave stone for her. I’m actually thankful. The thought of seeing both my parents’ names on a grave marker is a bit more than I want to handle at the moment. His must be there because he is the veteran. She simply happened to be the first casualty.

So for the first time, I stood on the ground above my mother’s grave and glimpsed the vastness of something to which I’m nowhere near edging closer. That vastness is more than I may ever be able to wrap myself around properly. At least not alone.

Here, in my lair, this public forum of private mourning, there is solace in knowing that others read my words, that I have somehow shared my sadness without actually having to ask for permission. I apologize for the passive aggressive nature of my sorrow, but I suppose, in some ways, this is how I reach out. I have never found asking for help to be an easy task. The thought at one time used to frighten me into vocal paralysis.

Introversion is a difficult mistress and she will ride you hard and put you away wet if you allow her the indignity of that indiscretion.

But to broach these feelings alone, in the solace of my small writer’s world? Not happening any time soon, I’m afraid.

So for now I lean closer and listen to the whispers of my newest muse. She’s already made her story known to me, but I’m listening for those little clues that will lead me closer to understanding her in ways that will let me give her a proper home. Perhaps she will finally be the story I complete this year. One never knows…

When Muses Go Silent

In scanning through recent posts here at the lair, I realized that my presence has been relatively weak as of late. It’s not as though I haven’t been around. I’ve had things to say about little things: books, DVDs, lost memories rekindled for a smile. But larger thoughts have gone silent in my mind. I feel as though my safety zone has become my own personal Twitter feed: limited to 140 characters, if I can even muster that many.

Truth is, I feel as though I’m skirting the perimeter of my life right now. Things continue in my mental absence, but my focus is such at the moment that I can’t be bothered to acknowledge any of it. It’s why my inbox is filled with messages from friends and ImagiFriendsTM alike…and I can’t seem to focus enough to respond to any of them. Not with the depth they deserve. I’m not going to use this as an all-purpose generic way of responding, though. I will write back. I will.

And I will find my focus again. Right now, though, it feels too ephemeral, like spun sugar melting on the tip of my tongue. So I stop trying to reach what has decided to elude me. I let the muses in my mind go silent. Silence has never bothered me. It’s the clatter that presses against that silence that worries me. So I reinforce the silence with silliness. Like ordering a Wonder Woman T-shirt because I remember spinning with abandon as a wee pup, laughing and wishing more than anything for an invisible jet of my own. Or hanging Vulcan ears in the stairwell because I know they’ll make me smile every time I pass them.

Or watching YouTube clips from EastEnders and trying to piece together the puzzle of the delightfully disturbed Slater family because…well, because even in the excessive way of most soap operas (even the ones from Jolly Old England), there’s something there. Something intrinsically beautiful, especially in the fractured, fragile bond between Kat and Zoe, a mother/daughter relationship that, if nothing else, does indeed put the “fun” in “dysfunctional.” Besides, when all is said and done, love and family trump all else and, as Kat tells Zoe, “…it don’t matter. None of it. Because there’s a line, and it goes from me to you.”

Yeah. Not really hard to understand my sudden obsession with those wacky Slaters when you look at it that way.

I miss her every day. Every breath. With a severity that ebbs and flows, but always returns to the shoreline. I don’t say that often, but in my mind it feels like it’s all that I say, all that I do.

I saw my dad for Father’s Day weekend, the first time I’d seen him since I was there for her funeral. It was like seeing a person for the first time after an amputation. There was something missing, something gone that will never be replaced. It’s not like I’d never seen him without my mom around. We’d been on our own many times before, through all the myriad hospital stays she’d undergone since I was 10.

But those were like fractures to the bone, broken but with the promise of healing. In time. This time, the bone was sliced clean through, and all that was left were phantoms of what was once there.

Phantom pains and phantom presence.

My dad told me that, not long after my mom’s death, a squirrel appeared in the little wooded space behind their house. In the 6 years that my parents have lived where they are now, none of us had ever seen a squirrel there. It was always one of my mom’s disappointments. She loved squirrels. The house is still filled with all the squirrel paraphernalia she’d acquired through the years, either on her own or as gifts.

I remember the short period of time in which we had a squirrel as a “pet.” It had survived a fall from the nest when it was still too young to even have opened its eyes. My dad found it, brought it in, and we cared for it, squeezing formula into its tiny mouth with an eyedropper and keeping it in a shoebox until my dad could build it a cage from lumber scraps and chicken wire.

When it grew a little bigger, we realized “it” was a “she.” We named her Peepers, and for a while, she became part of the family. I can still see my mom standing in the square of sunlight from the kitchen window, washing something off in the sink while Peepers sat on her shoulder.

I don’t know how to process the appearance of the squirrel in their yard now that she’s gone. It’s a bit much for my overly rational side to try to assign it to anything more than just coincidence. But that portion of my soul that cries out to believe in the fantastical and the unexplained, the part that cherishes the message of undying love in books like To Dance With the White Dog…that part of me wants to believe that it’s more.

My dad seemed content to believe. And so that will be enough for me for now. That and Wonder Woman shirts and EastEnders clips and Vulcan ears and whatever else is required to extend the silence between the silliness and the clatter.

Observational Randomness

The radio traffic reporter called me “honey bunny” this morning.

Okay, not me specifically. It was all part of her goofy on-air banter, her way of making her usually dismal news to us groggy Beltway commuters a little less soul-crushing. As much as I loathe my commute, I always love listening to her.

Truth is, the traffic report is pretty much all I can stand listening to anymore. Everything else sounds jumbled, confusing, off-key. Podcasts wash over me, the words trickling through the cracks in my concentration and flowing away without leaving any trace of their passing. Music? Dissonant and irritating, like pebbles stuck inside my shoes.

So I drive in silence most of the time, and I keep my brain from straying to places I’m not yet ready to go by watching the world as it zooms past Sammy’s windows. This morning it was all the joggers. Like the lovely older Asian man who jogs with the precision of Swiss watches. It’s not just his predictable punctuality but his movements as well. Strides perfectly measured, syncopated arm swings, even the towel always tucked around his neck seems to flop in pre-planned rhythm.

Or the gaggle of college girls crowding others to the side as they dominated the sidewalk, trotting along like sun-dappled mares with their upswept ponytails swinging in hypnotic unison.

It’s enough to make me wish once more that I jogged. Only problem is that my knees and back used to play softball in high school. I suppose the rest of me played as well…but my knees and back still remember those years the most. Still feel those years.

Sometimes I miss playing softball. I’d like to think I was good at it. I won a few awards from those years and when I was finished, I’d made it to shortstop, which I’ve been told is a pretty important position. Really, though, I played because it was in my blood. One of the first gifts I remember receiving was a whiffle ball and bat set and a little lefty glove from my three aunts, two of whom played on various softball teams for most of my childhood.

And then there were the hours that my mom and I spent playing catch. Even when there was very little else we could do together without tempers and tensions flaring, this was our oftentimes silent truce. I can still see our gloves in the hall closet, her full-sized righthander’s leather glove with my little pee-wee league lefty glove nestled inside it.

I remember how, for my birthday after the first year I made the school softball team, she had my dad drive her all over the place (this was well before the days of Sports Authority or Modell’s), trying to find a new lefty glove for me. She wanted to make sure I was ready for the next season, ready with a grown-up glove to finally replace the one I’d been using since 2nd grade.

I can still smell that clean, new leather, still feel the supple give of the grain as I slipped my hand into the glove for the first time. I stopped keeping my glove in the hall closet. Instead, it stayed in my room, usually with a softball tucked into it to keep its shape. I’d oil it regularly and often sit in my computer chair in the evenings, absentmindedly tossing a ball into the glove as I watched television. During softball season, I was very rarely without that glove on my hand.

It was around this point that my mom stopped wanting to play catch. My throws, even when I tried to moderate them, were too hard, too fast, and she was too proud to admit this. So she simply stopped playing.

I remember not long after I moved out, I was visiting my parents and needed to look for something in the hall closet. I happened to look down and there was my mom’s glove, still sitting at the top of the junk bucket, empty except for the dusting of cobwebs across the ball pocket. Too many years had passed by that point, but I still remember wishing that I’d had my glove with me, that we could go play catch once more.

I never saw her glove again after that. I’m not sure what happened to it after my parents moved a few years ago, although I strongly suspect that my dad might have tossed it during their pre-move cleanout. He views sports equipment with a special disdain usually reserved for politicians or fundamentalists (not hard to imagine I’m his daughter, eh?).

Perhaps I’ll ask him where her glove is next time I visit. Perhaps by then I’ll be back to listening to music and podcasts. Perhaps by then even innocent random observations won’t lead me down the very pathways I’d been trying to avoid through the observations. Perhaps.

Country Music is So…Gay?

I’ve been keeping a secret from you, denizens, but now it’s time I come out.

I used to be a major country music fan.

I know, I know. That statement just sparks WTFery, right? I am the one, after all, who often reminisces quite fondly about my metal hair days and I even recently expressed my still-bright love for old school rap and go-go. But there was a period of time in my life when I traded in my metal cred and my go-go bounce for the love of a little slide guitar and fiddle.

How did this happen? Honestly, I’m not really sure. I know it involved patient but persistent prodding from a very good friend whose veins ran hot for country. It was her ultimate goal, I think, to convert as many of her friends as possible. And, for a brief moment in time, she succeeded in convincing me that country music was worth my time.

Then, however, came the Bush administration and all the über-jingoistic insanity that went with it. And there went my love for country. Music, that is (don’t think I don’t know what you jingo dingoes say about my traitorous liberal bleeding heart commie kind being America haters).

Here, in fact, is the original blog post I made on September 9, 2006, to ring the death knell for my country music love:

It’s been over for a while now. We were just going through the motions because…well, we’d been together for more than 10 years and we were comfortable together, even in our mutual unhappiness. We had changed so much, especially in the past few tumultuous years, that there really was no more common ground on which we could agree. So we met for one more time last night. It seemed at times to be as great as it had been when we first met. But there was the taint of change still there, still reminding me that it will never be truly that great again. At the end of the evening, we parted ways, perhaps not for good but at least for a while.

And so comes to an end my love affair with country music. It couldn’t have been a better ending though – third row seats for Terri Clark. In the words of Wayne Campbell, she wails. I’ve always loved her voice and her lyrics as well as how, throughout her career, she has remained different among the bevy of Nashville Barbies. It was a strength that added to her allure. I think right now though, even she is relenting to the deluge of jingoism roiling through the country camp. Though she’s not draping herself in red, white, and blue, she has definitely undergone a shift that has dimmed her uniqueness just enough to be noticeable by long-time fans.

I will continue to listen to Terri Clark’s CDs, as I will continue to listen to the country CDs that I have purchased over the years. It’s a small collection, to be sure, but truly representative of why I loved country music in the first place. I was drawn to it for its simplicity, its honesty, its honky tonk chords and whiskey-soaked vocals. Now, however, there has been a pervasive attitude shift, and the simplicity has been replaced by simple-mindedness. And that’s my stop.

I think what sealed the fate of my love affair was last night, staring at the no-neck beer keg two rows in front of me who was wearing a T-Shirt that posed the following philosophical question: “What do deer and women have in common?” From the drawing of a mounted deer head with large antlers next to a buxom blonde wearing a camouflage bikini, I figured the answer would have to include the word “rack.” But no, it wasn’t even that clever. He leaned forward and I saw the answer: “The hornier the better.”

At that moment, I understood: These were not my people and I was not their people. I don’t want to listen to the music of a people who so blatantly debase women. This included the no-neck beer keg two seats down from Mr. Buck-and-Fuck, who constantly yelled out lewd comments to Terri Clark whenever she would engage the audience in friendly stage banter. Interestingly, he never made a peep when the male opening act talked to the audience. Disturbingly, his wife never made a peep when he was harassing Terri Clark. She and others around him simply laughed at his ribald shouts encouraging the singer to strip on stage. Had I paid for a striptease accompanied by the blathering of a bellicose redneck, perhaps I would have been more inclined to be amused as well.

I’m not blind. I know that country music is a genre geared toward people with a completely different mindset from mine. For more than 10 years I was an East Coast Yankee in the Confederacy’s Court. It wasn’t until last night that I truly felt like an outsider. I guess our differences are now just too deep a chasm at this point. Does that make me a fairweather friend? I guess it does. So be it.

So Terri Clark sang the swan song of my love affair. I couldn’t have asked for a better farewell.

I keep trying to imagine what “Mr. Buck-and-Fuck” from the above blog post is probably saying right now about Chely Wright. Not one thing I’m imagining is kind.

A lot of people don’t know who Wright is, so a brief Loba rundown. She debuted on the country scene back in the mid-90s, won some awards, had some big hits (hits, you pervs…hits) like “Shut Up and Drive,” “Single White Female,” and “Jezebel.” Though never hitting the dizzying heights of fellow country songstresses like Martina McBride, Faith Hill, or Shania Twain, she had a solid career and a solid following. Toward the end of my waning interest in the genre, I remember that she was also climbing onto the “Love This Country or We’ll Burn You Alive” patriotism bandwagon (led, of course, by Mr. “Boot to the Ass” himself, Toby Keith) that I think many country artists felt they needed to ride in order to survive in the genre, with some song about a “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker on her SUV.

[Yeah, is it any wonder I stopped listening to country music? Like any true traitorous liberal, overt expressions of patriotism that involve the acronym “SUV” make my soul frown. What can I say? In many ways, I’m still blue through and through.]

Because of my distinct disdain for Bush-era country music, I really had no idea that Wright had fallen off the radar in recent years. She came out with a few more CDs, but never really hit the levels of popularity that she had in the 90s. Then, poof, she disappeared completely for several years. During this period of solitude, she reached a point in which, tired of praying and wrangling and hiding, she stuck a 9mm in her mouth and nearly ended it all.

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The thought of no more Chely Wright in this world also makes my soul frown, for distinctly different reasons. Whatever stopped her from pulling that trigger, I’m so glad she made it through that darkness.

Now, I’ve read some comments from people who think that Wright has made this announcement about her sexuality as a means of re-igniting her career and kicking up promotion for her new CD and her book. In watching the above clip, I can see a certain truth in that. Maybe it’s because I’ve written speeches and advertising materials before, but I can immediately detect the “pull quotes” from her comments, those little lines that she’s probably going to repeat so many times over the next several weeks that she’ll be saying them in her sleep. Regardless of anything else, Wright is an entertainer, and just like all others in the entertainment industry, she must market herself to audiences as part of her chosen career. This, like everything else, is another part of her pursuit of her celebrity. All part of the business…

I also see a woman who nearly ended it all because of what she was hiding from the world, and still seems quite fragile and uncertain as she struggles with what this will do to her place in a genre that, in her own words, is composed of conservative mindsets that are not readily known for kickin’ it rainbow-style at the annual gay pride parades. True, kd lang has been out for years, but she’s also been outside the country realm for years as well. Although lang won a Grammy for her country debut, she was never accepted by the Nashville elite and soon walked away from the mainstream genre completely.

And then there is the fact that even something as supposedly important to country music fans as enjoying those almighty American freedoms can get you in serious trouble. Isn’t that right, Natalie, Emily, and Martie? The Dixie Chicks know all too well how quickly country fans will turn on you. I still remember all the newsreels showing former fans burning their Dixie Chicks merchandise and running over their CDs with tractors. Why? Because Natalie Maines dared to speak her mind. And she and her bandmates paid for it, with radio stations refusing to play their music (I suspect some still would rather drink roadkill-infused moonshine than play a Dixie Chicks song) and people aiming death threats toward them and their families. All for Maines’s simple sin of exercising her right to free speech, which apparently many country fans believe is only extended to those who toe the same lines they do.

So, yeah. This is not the announcement you make when you’re trying to get country fans to buy your stuff. This is the kind of announcement you make when you want country fans to fire up the bonfires and the tractors and make death threats toward you and your family.

But you know what? I hope that country music fans prove me completely wrong, show me that things do change. However, I can’t really say that I’m holding my breath. I even tried to check out what country fans have been saying about Wright, but what I’ve found instead is a none-too-surprising silence coming from many of the big country representatives. County Music Television has nothing on Wright’s announcement on their Web site. Neither does the Grand Ole Opry (although they’ve got bigger problems right now, with Nashville floodwaters leaking into their home).

I was even shocked to see that our local country station, WMZQ, has fuck-all about Wright on their Web site. You’d think being located in the evil liberal empire of the D.C. area would have rubbed off even slightly onto this station. Of course, they are owned by blatantly conservative Clear Channel Communications, so there you go.

Of all the country sites I visited, the only one I found that mentions Wright’s announcement was Great American Country, with this piece on their blog.

Small step, to be sure. But even small steps get you where you need to go in time.

I also hope that country musicians surprise me, too, and embrace Wright rather than ostracize her. I know there are those within the country ranks who have it in them to do so: The Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton, and Garth Brooks immediately come to mind. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see. I really hope for the best for Wright, regardless of her reasons for her announcement. The best and maybe a duet with Terri Clark. “Dirty Girl” maybe?

Waking Memories

Loba plans and the Prophets laugh. I had places to go, people to do today. Instead, I’m sitting inside, watching as the “one inch” of snow that the meteorologists said we were going to get has transformed into multiple inches. I know a lot of girls who would get excited over more inches than originally promised. I’m not that girl.

I’m also apparently incredibly dirty-minded. I do apologize. However, I never said that Loba’s online lair was kid-tested and mother-approved.

So I remembered another dream. Not that big a deal to most people, I’m sure. However, Loba very rarely retains memories of dreams. For a long time I thought that I didn’t dream at all. Then Dr. Crusher and Data explained to me that if Humans didn’t dream, we’d go crazy. That was when I knew that I had to dream…I just never remembered any of what I was dreaming.

I realize now that I only remember the dreams that I wake up during. Like this morning. I was having a dream about something that actually happened. It was my final semester of college. My classes were over for the day and I was walking to my car when I ran into someone from my high school graduating class.

This probably doesn’t sound like that big a deal to most people. You go to a state university located fewer than 30 miles away from your high school, you’re bound to encounter a classmate or two on campus, right? Maybe if you went to a normal high school. I did not. The number of students in my graduating class didn’t even reach into the double digits. So this was a pretty big deal.

In both my dream and in the real experience, I remember the awkwardness of the encounter…the surprise on both sides, the slight joy mixed with discomfort. I can’t speak for my classmate, but I understand now that my discomfort was based on the fact that encountering him forced me to come face to face with a part of my life that was slowly fading, as was the person I was during those days. College is a time of reinvention and discovery, and while there were no external signs of any major transformation on my part (no pink hair, no tattoos, no piercings…I’m insanely vanilla in my appearance), inside I knew I was different from the person he once knew.

I think he could understand this truth as well. While he still looked the same as he did in high school, he had changed his name (and in fact seemed quite flustered when I called him by his old name). He was in a state of reinvention as well. So there we stood, two people identifiable to each other only on the outside, still in a state of flux on the inside. Not really all that into being reminded of those people we were trying to leave behind.

There wasn’t really anything more special than this about the dream, just like there wasn’t anything more special about the actual encounter. In reality, I think we shared about 10 minutes of conversation in which we caught up with what each of us was doing, and that was that. No offer from either side to exchange numbers or e-mail addresses. Just a smile and a goodbye. That was more than 10 years ago now. It was the last time I ever saw anyone from my graduating class.

I think this memory resurfaced in my dream world because recently I ran into someone else from my old school. It completely threw me off because: A) I didn’t recognize her at first (she was barely a teen the last time I saw her and now she’s a grown woman); and B) she so quickly recognized me. Again, insanely vanilla in appearance am I that I can still be identified by someone who last saw me when I was 17 years old. But though she recognized me on the outside, I was acutely aware that the person she saw on the outside was no longer home on the inside to the person she remembered from those days. The foundation is admittedly the same, but the rooms have been cleared out, given a fresh coat of paint, and completely redesigned.

I’m not really sure where I wanted to go with this post. It was just something on my mind as I sat here in my geek cave, watching the snowflakes tumble and twirl from the sky.