Monday, November 30, 2009

no one here gets out alive....

Or, life and death and the ever-increasing awareness of mortality in between.

Today is the birthday of one of my nieces. It is always a day of much reflection for me (whether you know it or not, Miss C), for reasons I'm not willing to get into publicly. Ask if you wanna know.

Late last night, I learned of the death of someone I admired and who had provided me much-needed help (of various sorts) and encouragement at a time in my life where I really, really needed some extra TLC and a *whole* lot more belief in my basic worth as a human being. That he survived some really horrible crap that life threw at him in the last several years was inspiring in itself. I always knew him to be kind and generous with whatever resources he had to offer that he thought you needed. Those who disagreed -- publicly, doing much damage -- surely contributed to the stress that eventually killed him via a heart attack at a relatively young age.

Same thing happened a few years ago to someone else in the same profession who always went above and beyond for me, although I just heard from him the other day and he sounds upbeat and well. It's a risk you know is out there when you become a professional caregiver, I guess. And although the ones I've known decided to do what they do for a living partly to heal themselves, they also all genuinely have been compassionate people who wanted to help others through painful times and get to reasonably OK ones. Takes one to know one, etc.

I'm at that particular life stage where I'm thinking about this stuff a lot, anyway, wondering what dreams may come when I shuffle off this mortal coil. Sometimes I miss being 22 and thinking I'm invincible and that I have all the time in the world. Enjoy it while you can, birthday girl.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A cornucopia of thanks

A cornucopia is a horn-shaped basket filled with food such as fresh corn and wild ucopias. -- fakeAPstylebook

Inspired by an old (in terms of decades known -- we're not really OLD, yet, Suz, right??) friend, herewith, my list of things to be thankful for in 2009.

In no particular order, I am thankful that:

  • Very soon, I am going to get to hug my beautiful, wonderful, 20-something boy for the first time since he was 5 days old, and that he was raised lovingly and brilliantly well, as I wish I could have done for him.
  • The wonders of technology have helped me to reconnect with old friends -- even if they live on the other side of the world now -- and make new ones. I had a chance to go home this summer and do some catching up, and it's the first time in years that I actually felt like it was "home" again and I had some roots there. Even if some of my favorite people were Indian Creeps. (NALLWOOD KNIGHTS, BABY!)
  • I have a roof over my head and utilities that aren't constantly in danger of getting shut off, and that as much as we can annoy each other, Vic comes through for me every time. And that Rich puts up with me, although I know he'd rather not.
  • The cat-in-law tolerates the occasional hug and smooch without complaining too much that I'm ruffling her Supreme Feline Dignity. In return, I let her wake me up meowing at obscene hours. I think it's fair.
  • The kitties at the shelter are much more snuggly than the cat-in-law and love the hugs and smooches and petting. Happiness is a warm fur-baby, of whatever species.
  • I once again am getting a chance, if only part-time, to do what I love best, and that the person paying me to do so (in both money and compliments) has gone from total stranger to friend in the space of a month. You rock, Ry.
  • You too, John, but I've had a lot more years to tell you that. Doesn't make it any less true, though. Thank you for giving me a chance when no one else believed in me, for always offering to bail me out when it seems like I could use it, for understanding the days when I am nonfunctional, and for your infinite patience with same. If you gotta be crazy, it's nice to have a shrink for a boss. ;-) Thanks for getting it.
  • You too, Gregory. It is a rare thing in life to meet someone and know the second your eyes meet that you are not only going to get along famously well, but end up as very good friends for a very long time to come. You have done my heart, soul and brain so much good over the years, whether by making me laugh, snarking with me over ANTM, or being tenderhearted enough to cry with me and not worry what it looked like. As humanoids go, you are one of the finest.
  • As much as I complain about it, I have a reason to leave the house and something to do with most of my days for at least a few hours a day. You have no idea how depressing it gets to face endless days of nothingness.
  • The Viqueens are the ones having to put up with Benedict Brett's ego. (Yeah, I don't CARE that you're 9-1 and he's on fire. We'll see how you all feel once the annual retirement drama begins in the offseason.)
  • Even though my first bunch of students at Marquette, who were mostly 18 then, are mostly turning 30 in 2010, I'm still around to hear from them (and students from later years) reasonably often. I'm especially grateful that many of them have written *me* recommendation letters for jobs -- it's a good feeling to know you've made a difference. It's an even better feeling when I think back to 4 years ago around this time and how close to the edge my continued survival was.
  • Which makes me thankful for Dr. Hake and Dr. Fenske and everyone who did what they had to do to pull me through a critical illness -- including not telling me what my actual odds of survival were. (I found that by reading my chart, like an idiot.) Scary stuff. And although I still have my share of "why bother" days, all in all, I'm glad to be around still.
  • I've gotten to travel some, and live in different places, and be exposed to different cultures and ways of doing things, whether those different cultures were as far as Germany or as near as northwest Wisconsin. (Trust me -- it's a lifestyle all its own there.)
  • I have not only gotten to meet Jake and Peg Leinenkugel, who are lovely people and very committed to their community, but that I still regularly get to drink their tremendously tasty brewskis on a regular basis.
  • Even though it cost me a fortune and has done me absolutely no good in the well-paid job arena, I have two diplomas that I'm really damn proud of, from two really good schools that I worked really hard at. (Well, sorta, at the 2nd. I'm thankful that I was Dr. Thorn's golden child and could get away with whatever I wanted, including doing very little to actually earn my RAship. ;-)
  • The friends I made there (hi, Nic and Marie and Mike, especially!) have been with me ever since. And the friends I made in greater Milwaukee, my adopted hometown, know me better than almost anyone and still like me, even if I met them at work (deadlines make me cranky).
  • Even though it's freakin' cold and we haven't seen the sun in a million or two years, when you open the door leading out onto the deck, you can get lungsful of that yummy wood fire scent.
  • I have had the opportunity to fulfill my dreams and meet my heroes. Not many folks can say one or the other, much less both.
There's undoubtedly more, but it's a start. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tales from the Bullseye

Random weirdness that I jot down to comment on when I have the time:

-- If you've never seen me before in your life, you're younger than me, and you don't have the personality that will allow you to get away with that sort of affectation, you had best not be calling me "dear."

-- Corollary to the above: If you've never seen me before in your life, and you insist on calling me by name, repeatedly, just because you can read my nametag, you are a guaranteed annoyance.

-- Corollary to the corollary: The military guys are always just polite as hell, and don't even make me feel old when they call me "ma'am." THAT is more acceptable than "dear," or than plays on my name that amuse you because you clearly believe I haven't heard them all eight hundred and forty-two billion trillion times before.

-- People who come through the "10 items or less" lane with 72 items should be summarily executed. It's no more fun on the other side of the register, particularly because you get to look out onto a sea of irked people.

-- Apparently every pregnant woman in the greater Rochester area shops at Target North. Why they are all also buying KY and condoms I am not altogether sure. It may have something to do with the fact that they all seem to have a passel of kids already.

-- Dude: I closed last night too, but you don't hear *me* telling people to "have a good night" for the entire  *day* when I come in at 9 the next morning. Fewer drugs, more sleep: It's a good thing.

-- Packages of undies that announce in bold caps that they are "WEDGIE FREE!": Too much information? Discuss.

-- Exactly what kind of person finds it amusing to buy a Halloween costume for his or her dog? How is that not animal cruelty? Inquiring minds want to know.

War is war, and hell is hell....

Forward, he cried from the rear,
And the front rank died.
And the general sat and the lines on the map
Moved from side to side. -- Pink Floyd, "Us and Them"

Not sure if it's the weather, the time of year, or the PMS, but damn, I've been in a mood the last few days.

The Great Bullseye requires us to make conversation with the customers (oh, excuse me, "guests") whether we really feel like it or not. It probably goes without saying to anyone who knows me that I generally fall on the "not" side -- I suck at chit-chat in the best of circumstances. But, you do what you gotta do.

Tonight an elderly gentleman came through my line. He was wearing a Korean War Veterans jacket. I figured, what the hell, it's a point of entry for chitchat -- I comment on the right-thinking Americans who come in wearing Packers gear, might as well chat up an old guy about how my dad fought in Korea too.

The man's face instantly lit up, and he became very animated as he started telling me about his particular role. He was clearly very proud of his history. As he was leaving, he thanked me and told me to thank my dad for his service.

And I lost it.

I have missed him every freaking day of my life for the last 10 years, but at this point, it's usually just the anniversaries that get me. I thought these random breakdowns were long gone.

About 3 "guests" later, an older woman came through. Our point of chit-chat was my having to be at work well before dawn the day after Thanksgiving. I said I had never been much of a shopper and didn't understand people who would willingly get up at obscene hours to go spend money on mostly useless stuff. (One thing I have learned this past year and some is that "it's just stuff," but that's another post.)

She launched into a tale of how her mother's family all live in Kentucky, and she and her husband made the trip there every year for Thanksgiving, and she took "the girls," of whom she was the oldest, out at 4 a.m. on  Black Friday. They (willingly!!) got up at 2:30 a.m., and even when the rest of them wanted to quit and go home and get some sleep, she pulled rank and kept them going, and it was always so much fun.

Except that this year, they can't make the trip because her husband's been unemployed for a long time, and she isn't really sure what they'll do. They've never made their own turkey, etc, and they don't have any family nearby, so there wouldn't be anyone to share it with anyway. She was just heartbroken about it. I felt like hell for dredging that up for her.

Early in my reporting career, I was struggling with a feature on an inspiring (here we go again) old lady. She was in her 70s, had built her own house, ran a greenhouse business, etc. I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to get across what I found so remarkable about her.

So I emailed my favorite feature writer at the Milwaukee paper. One thing nobody ever catches onto about journos is that we're really all terrible introverts. I tell people all the time, and it's true, that I can chat up anyone for a story, but if you insist I go to a party, I'm headed directly for the nearest corner, and I ain't moving. I've gotten really good at pretending -- so good that I routinely fool people. (My 3rd night at Target, which had been a particularly awful one, someone asked me how it had gone. I said, "terrible." She said, "It'll get better. You're personable, and that's half the battle." All I could think was, "Honey, if you only knew.")

Anyway, the point of that was to say that we're all also terribly insecure, and you can get us to do damn near anything by appealing to our extreme need for positive reinforcement. I emailed this guy and said "Look, I've been a fan for years, I love you to pieces, I study your stuff for tips, but tell me: How do you do it?"

He said, "Every human being has a story. I could interview you for 5 minutes and write yours. Your job is to figure out this woman's story and tell it."

It turned out very well (both the story and the advice, which I continue to use). But that's really what it boils down to: Everybody has a story. I have run into a number of crushing ones in the last week or so (more to come on that). It makes me sad as hell. But sometimes all you have to do to make someone's day a little brighter is let them tell their story, and receive it graciously.

And I still miss the hell out of my dad, and it kills me to think of all that he's missed in my life in the last 10 years. So the reminiscing is bittersweet, as is the imagining, via that elderly vet, of what he might be like if he were still around. But at least I still have part of his story to hang onto.

PS: The quote from the header:

Hawkeye: War isn't Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.
Father Mulcahy: How do you figure, Hawkeye?
Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?
Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.
Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them - little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander. -- MASH

And a little note from Bing and Rosie:
it's not my watch you're holding, it's my heart...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

photographs and memories and influences and stuff

The sun is shining and it's disgustingly warm for November here (50s!), but it's managing to be sort of a melancholy day anyway. And when I get melancholy, it's because I've gotten to thinking about something ... which led me to something else ... which led me to something else ... which required me to find a way to tie it all up together.

Monday was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The summer between 7th and 8th grade, we made a trip to visit my brother, who was stationed there with the Army. The two things I most vividly remember? Street-vendor currywurst (YUM, and impossible to replicate at home, although we tried -- Das Bierhaus in Menomonie, WI does a FINE job of it, though) and Checkpoint Charlie. West Berlin was soooo pretty -- huge, tree-lined boulevards, clean, full of life. But at Checkpoint Charlie, you could climb up a few stairs and look over the wall into East Berlin. It was hard to believe the two were even in the same country, much less the same city. East Berlin looked like it must have right after World War II. They didn't appear to have bothered to do any reconstruction.

Between that, and the ACHTUNG! signs telling you what country's "zone" you were in (and the penalties for not following the rules), and seeing the rows of small white crosses marking the spots where folks who tried to get over the Wall were shot dead by snipers in the towers that were all around -- well, it made a helluvan impression on a 13-year-old.

So, happy Veterans Day, Jeff, and Dad (Korea, 3 tours in Nam), and Uncle Joe and Uncle Bob and all the rest of you, and thanks for keeping this country from ending up like that.

Speaking of Veterans Day, Nov. 11 also is Kurt Vonnegut's birthday. Anyone who has known me for more than 2 seconds knows how I feel about K. He left a great legacy, but he was agitating to the end, and I miss his unique take on things and his willingness to speak out against injustice. I just miss him, period. And yes, I did actually meet him once, briefly, at a lecture at Washington University in St. Louis. I can't begin to claim to know him except through his writings and works, but I still miss him, if that makes sense. (And he also was a vet, but I won't bore you with the bio you can read for yourself in multiple places. :-)

Yesterday I ran across a collection of stories by Frederick Barthelme, long one of my favorite writers. I picked it up and read a couple at random and realized why he's always spoken to me: it's the details. If there's one thing I do well, it's observe--I see things other people gloss over completely or just dismiss as mundane and unimportant. Rick is proof that the quotidian can be as compelling as the grandest fantasy. When you weave a lot of small, seemingly insignificant details together, you get one big, telling picture -- but I hadn't realized till last night just how much my style owes to him. Kids are sponges, I guess, and I first ran across him in early high school.

And one thing I suck at? Endings. :-)

Monday, November 2, 2009

i suppose it had to happen.

-- Someone I know came through my line at Target the other day. At least she already knew I was working there, so it was only mildly humiliating.

-- Yesterday, two harried parents of a fussy toddler came through. Kid's name? Miley.

You know what? Miley isn't even the *original* Miley's real name. (Well, she had it legally changed so now it is, but it's not what was on her original birth certificate.) When that 2-year-old girl is a crabby 80-year-old in the nursing home, how's "Miley" gonna go over? Because Ms. Cyrus's 15 minutes are due to be up any second now, much less in 70-plus years.

This has been a pet peeve of mine for eons with girls' names. (Target story #3: Guy looks at my nametag, which has my nickname on it, and says "Is your name Candace?" I say yes. He grimaces and says, "So is my mom's.")

Seriously, folks. I can't complain about creative and unusual names :-), but I'll crab nonstop about trendy ones. Kids have significantly longer lifespans (hopefully) than dogs. If you wouldn't stick your pet with it, why would you do it to your kid?