Saturday, December 31, 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

The God of Cake

The God of Cake: terrific short story, told through sparse text and a lot of hilarious illustrations, like this one:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

2011 - another tough one

The way we define the start and end of years is arbitrary. A year is 365 days, more or less, but when does a year begin or end? Some cultures begin the year in February. Some mark it's beginning in Spring. In the West, we celebrate it at the end of December. A part of me feels silly looking forward to the end of one year and a start of another, for thinking that I'm about to get a clean slate, as nothing really changes at midnight on December 31 wherever you are on Earth - at least not because of the second hand on your clock.

But I do, indeed, look forward to the end of 2011. It was yet another year of being unemployed most of the time, of watching my savings shrink even further, of regretting moving back to the USA, of receiving rejection letters for oh-so-many jobs, of not being able to buy things - not only things I want, but some things I really need. Just as I was a year ago, I'm hoping the new year will be different: maybe things will change, maybe the economy will get better, maybe I'll get a job, maybe we'll get the opportunity to move somewhere much more appropriate for us... maybe I'll win the lottery.

2011 hasn't been all bad - far from it:
  • I went to Mexico. What a wonderful time!
  • We took a wonderful motorcycle trip to Yellowstone and all sorts of other wonderful places in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
  • We took a long weekend and experienced the beauty of Crater Lake and the surrounding area.
  • I had a wonderful, all-too-short visit by two motorcycle travelers from the UK nearing the end of their world-wide tour.
  • We went had a wonderful week-long motorcycle ride up to Seattle and back, seeing another side of Mt. St. Helen's, and seeing Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainer, as well as reuniting with a friend from my childhood.
  • Stefan bought me a new motorcycle (well, not new, but different) and lots of gear for it
  • Albi had a good year
  • I lost 30 pounds
  • We got our health insurance restored
  • Stefan got a better job
  • While I didn't get enough consulting to sustain myself, I got enough to look like, to the outside world, that I was quite the successful professional in 2011 - to the point that some of you out there thought I was doing really well professionally, based on my Tweets and Facebook posts.
I lost my beloved grandfather in 2011. I also experienced amazing kindness from airline booking agents in getting a ticket to go home, and had a wonderful time being with family and celebrating my grandfather's life. And I got to see my beloved Uncle Wally one last time before he, too, passed away.

That's some really good things. I celebrate those things. I hope for at least half that much in 2012, I really do.

But I'm looking at 2012 with dread. My deposit for a house is mostly gone - and will certainly be gone before the end of 2012. If I have another year like 2011, I won't be able to make any contribution for my retirement. If my four-year-old computer fails, I'm beyond screwed. The idea of another year in Canby makes me want to break down and cry - but we don't see a way out. Albi is mostly blind - 2012 won't be kind to her. And there's an election this year, and the hatred being spewed by Republicans against everything - EVERYTHING - I stand for scares me out of my wits.

My strategy for finding a job in 2011 didn't work, just as the strategies I used in 2010, 2009 & 2008 didn't work. I know that that's mostly because of the global economy and because of where I chose to live, not because of me, per se, but with Republicans going on TV and saying unemployed people are lazy, I start to wonder about myself... I'll be spending the rest of the year trying to think how to create a new strategy for finding paid work. Hopefully my web pages with Google Ads will continue to bring in money to cover all of my web hosting expenses. I'll take a class in January that's a kind of mental health first aid class, that will, hopefully, give me plenty to blog about at the start of the year and make me just a little bit more marketable. I hope I can lose another 30 pounds and that the weather will be kind enough for many rides on my new motorcycle. We have a trip planned to Northern California I'm really, really looking forward to.

I hope that the start of 2012 really does mark the beginning of some very good changes. I'm sooooo ready for such.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lovin' the Bard

It was 1981 or 1982. I was in the 9th grade, in a public school in Henderson County, Kentucky. I was in an English class. It wasn't an advanced English class, nor an honors English class. Just the normal, regular 9th grade English class. And our ordinary, normal, not-advanced public school teacher had us read and study Romeo and Juliet.

There we were, reading aloud in our thick Kentucky accents, sometimes struggling over words, sometimes laughing over phrases (especially the sexual ones). We read the play aloud, we read the play on our own, and we watched a slide show, an abbreviated version of the Zeffirelli masterpiece, accompanied by portions of audio from the film (I guess our school couldn't afford the rights to show the movie). The teacher asked us what was meant by this or that paragraph, why a character did this or that, what another character was feeling, and how we felt about what was happening.

And we got it. We understood the play, every bit of it. We understood that these were young people every bit as thoughtless and passionate as us. We understood that these were adults every bit as stubborn and closed-minded as many adults we knew. We understood that it was a tragedy, not something to aspire to. We understood the intensity, we understood the sorrow. The play was completely accessible. The teacher fully expected us to get it, and we got it.

Around the same time, I saw Twelfth Night at the University of Evansville. I admit that I didn't understand everything: I didn't get all of what was going on among Viola, Olivia, the Duke and Sebastian, but I most certainly got the set up and fall of Malvolio - and, oh, how I laughed. And laughed. And walked around for weeks saying, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." (emphasis from the actor from that production, complete with rolling "R"s).

In the 10th grade, my English class - still not an honors class, and also in public school - read and studied Julius Caesar. And, again, we go it. We understood what was going on. We understood the conniving and the politics and the egos. Same for in the 11th grade, when we read and studied Macbeth.

I went on to read Hamlet in college, and to see, and thoroughly enjoy, probably a dozen productions of various Shakespeare plays over the years. Most productions were great. Some were mediocre. But all were completely accessible to me and everyone else watching.

I bring this up because Ralph Fiennes is running around the talk show circuit (and he can feel free to run around here any time) talking about his latest movie, Coriolanus, and the interviewers keep saying things like, "Wow, it's so accessible. I didn't think I would understand Shakespeare. Most people don't get Shakespeare."

Most people do get Shakespeare. It's why his plays have lasted this long. It's why they keep getting performed on stage and keep getting filmed. The real issue: most people don't ever see a Shakespeare production. More and more schools have to teach kids to take tests, more and more English classes aren't talking about Shakespeare anymore, except in passing. Most people don't go see a Shakespeare production because they have heard, again and again, Shakespeare is so hard to understand - from people who have never seen Shakespeare.

And THAT is a tragedy, every bit as anything Shakespeare wrote.

I not only enjoyed those early readings and study of Shakespeare; reading and studying the Bard also taught me quite a lot. In addition to greatly enhancing my vocabulary, reading and listening to Shakespeare has taught me how to concentrate on phrasing, how to read subtext, how word choice can affect understanding, how complicated humans are (just like all humans now), and how so many human activities and feelings are universal. All of those lessons have helped me throughout my life, at home and at work. How many times have I had to quickly adapt to the language and phrasing of some new industry I'm finding myself working in? And I didn't see or experience anything in Afghanistan I couldn't also find in Shakespeare, and that's probably why I was able to find a way to process the tragedies all around me there - and everywhere else.

Last week, I read A Midsummer Night's Dream. Now, I'm reading Twelfth Night. I read every word, and often re-read sentences. Is it an easy read? What is an easy read? No, I don't get a passage at a glance - I have to actually read everything. But do I get it? Do I understand what's happening? Do the jokes make me laugh? Sure! This public-school-educated, public university-educated, non-English major gets it just fine.

What's next? I'm not sure. Maybe something I've never seen a production of but always wanted to, like King Lear. Maybe something I've seen many productions of, like Tempest.

But I'm lovin' the Bard. I wish more people would give him a chance.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Albi the dog at 15

Albi with her toyAlbi is 15 now. We think. We're not sure. We adopted her in June of 2003, and the profile on her kennel at the Albert Schweitzer Tierheim in Bonn, Germany at that time said she was six and a half years old - who knows if it had been recently updated. We decided she was born in 1997.

Anyway... Albi is 15 now. And Albi now loves to eat. With gusto. This is a huge change for her. She used to be a delicate eater. Nothing like Wiley, the dog I had to beg and bribe to eat, but she has, over the years, turned her nose up at a meal, or not finished. There have been dog food brands she has refused to eat at all. But now, she eats like she is eating perfectly prepared prime rib and it could be taken away at any moment. This started about nine months ago. She eats almost as fast as Buster.

She also now lives for dog treats. All her life, dog treats have been something she could take or leave. She would stare at Buster as he seemed to be about to burst out of his skin, waiting for a treat, as though she were thinking, "Dude, chill!" She grew to become fond of them, but in the last year, dog treats have become THE GREATEST THINGS EVER ON EARTH. If I open the cabinet where her treats are, she is suddenly between my legs, looking for the box - something she has never done before.

She's not losing any weight. On the contrary! She's not fat, but she's not as svelte as she was even two years ago.

Our walks are shorter and slower. Back in September, when I tried to go right and walk around an elementary school we walk around, she pulled left - the route she knew would lead us home more quickly. It was one of those things-have-changed moments. Now, I'm not sure we walk an entire mile in a day any more. But we still walk, every morning and every evening, and she looks forward to it every time.

She still likes meeting other dogs during walks, especially dogs she already knows. And she still wants to dominate young male dogs, and refuses their attempts at being the alpha - she will NOT stand for that and you better just freakin' get off her lawn NOW.

All her bathroom functions are normal and happen in the proper place. That's a huge blessing - for those of you who have had senior dogs, you know what I mean.

Sadly, our girl is very deaf and very blind. After meals, she often can't find me, even if I'm just two feet away, and she will start rushing around the house, looking for me. When we come in after being gone for several hours, she doesn't hear the doors open and close, and doesn't hear the door bell. But sometimes she hears knocks. Sometimes, she knows the garage door is opening. Sometimes. I take her off the leash on Saturdays and Sundays, when we can walk through the field next to the elementary school, and she finds her way just fine - she finds me easily, though, if there are more people around, she gets confused about which is me. I think her hearing is worse than her eyesight at this point. But there's really no way to tell.

Yet she can look out of the window of the front of the house, and see the guy across the street mowing his lawn, and she will start barking. Stay away from my house, dude.

2011 has been a good year for our Albi. I'm hoping it's not her last good year. She does not like this cold weather at all - such a contrast from when she was younger, and seemed to have an energy switch turned on when it got cold, and she would run around the back yard as though to celebrate. It's a long way to warm weather. But I'll know much more about her true health when that warm weather rolls around again.