The Misfit Factor

Do you ever have those days where you’re standing outside yourself, watching your physical self in horror as you behave like some annoying or grotesque misfit? You keep trying to get your physical self to stop acting a certain way–stop yammering on and on, for example, about people your audience doesn’t even know–and you just keep doing it anyway and you know the people you are with are undoubtedly getting tired of you. But you. Just. Can’t. Stop. Acting like an arrogant ass or a pushy show-off or a know-it-all. And you really want the people you are with–whom you barely know better than an acquaintance–to like you. Really like you. Because for some reason it matters despite your multitude of friends. (Maybe you need to branch out.) Because rejection still hurts, despite being nearly twenty years out of high school.

And so you outbid yourself contracting for acceptance and friendship. Which is why you stand outside of yourself, watching yourself in embarrassment as you behave so boorishly. The mouth is running, stuttering, almost bragging. You see yourself through the eyes of your audience and you don’t even like you. But it’s too late to unwind the day; it’s too late to take back all the words you said; it’s too late to fix your behavior. Impressions are made, like it or not. Your fate with these people is sealed.

I know I probably often come off as a self-assured party girl who doesn’t give a crap about what people think of her (since, well, I do go by the moniker of Mars Girl in real life). Or maybe I don’t come off as self-assured, but I think that is the image I try to project. Maybe those of you who know me personally see through that facade. Nevertheless, the person on the inside of me is constantly struggling for acceptance. I want to be liked. I guess everyone wants to be liked. I think I try too hard. I think I get too excited about things (skiing, cycling, writing) and I overwhelm others. I can be pushy and arrogant with my ideas. Bossy.

Realizing these things about myself, I try to contain my overbearing personality. I try to listen to others and ask questions. I try to not let my nervousness fill the pause in a conversation with clutter. I try to relax. Despite all my attempts to behave like the person I want to be, I fail miserably. I try to let it roll off of me and not care. But I always do.

I wonder if everyone really feels this insecure all the time. It sure seems like some don’t. (Some people probably should.) I feel like I’m constantly having inner dialogue with myself about how to be the kind of person people want to hang around. It’s mentally exhausting.

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Confessions of a closeted church-goer

My whole life, I’ve been riddled with the deep-seeded fear of revealing to others just what I was: a non-believer. Since sixth grade when I declared myself, without provocation, an atheist, I have always felt like I’ve had to hide myself amidst the masses. I can’t tell you how many times my position–my views–have become the subject of conversation when discovered. I can’t tell you how many times I had to shrink away in embarrassment as a group of people descended upon me in an attempt to proselytize to me about Jesus “my personal savior.” It even happened once at a party within my own extended family (when, by the way, I was sticking up for a cousin who wasn’t present in her stated convictions that she had also decided she was atheist). So suffice it to say, I’ve spent a good portion of my life avoiding bringing up the topic of my religious beliefs. Or lack thereof.

Fast-forward several years.  I found myself a young widow, wandering listlessly along in the now wildly scary world, looking for a spiritual bearing. What happened? I started attending rites with some pagan friends. I moved to Colorado. I went to a UU church. I came back from Colorado and continued attending pagan rites. I met a Christian. I mingled with Christianity for a few weeks until I kept hitting the same walls I hit with it all those years ago…

And then. Well, I found a wonderful church community that spoke to me. Another UU church, this one in Kent. The next thing I knew, I was signing a book and calling myself a member. I started attending church services on a semi-regular basis because I felt profoundly called to a faith for the first time in my life. Ever.

I feel kind of sheepish about the whole awakening I had. While simultaneously attending some Christian catechisms at a local mega-church at the urging of said Christian friend, I watched a video in which a man described his elation at his conversion to Christianity. And I was so utterly stunned in that I had felt the same thing. At the UU church. If I was ever capable of a spiritual experience, it happened the moment I walked through those doors, sat in the pew, and listened with apt attention as Hal (the music director) sang one of his own songs during the beginning of the service. I don’t remember what this song was (even though I have all of his CDs now), but whatever it was, it called to something in what I always call my soul despite its spiritual connotations–that incorporeal part of me that exists above and outside of my body, the part of me that is not physical but emotional, mental, spiritual. I don’t know if this thing is something more than a bunch of neurons firing in my head (and it’s all right for me to doubt the existence of my own soul in a UU church), but Hal’s music, and this the people at this UU church, called to these spiritually yearning neurons firing in my head.

In those first days that I chose–chose, such a beautiful word–to become UU, I did feel the elation, the serenity and security, described by the recent converts to Christianity. I felt like a new person. I felt like I’d come home. I suppose finding a “spiritual” home makes people of all faiths feel as if they’ve reached a new place in their lives. Those neurons firing in our heads again, most likely.

But I live in a secular world. And it’s really weird, but now I feel as though I’ve switched positions in life. Now it seems vogue to not be religious at just the time when I’ve chosen for myself a religion. And I’m suddenly very conscious of what people think of me when I mention that I know such-and-such from church. Or when I off-handedly start a story, without thinking, “Oh, I was out with some people from my church…” Or when I decline a Sunday morning invitation to hike or bike or ski with someone by telling them that I have to go to church because I’m scheduled to greet (one of my only consistent volunteer positions within the church).

I immediately think in panic, “Oh, God (no pun intended), do these people think I’m some kind of evangelical? Do they think I’m not a rational human being?”

I find myself quipping, defensively, “Don’t worry. I’m Unitarian Universalist.”

As if that explains everything. As if it exonerates me from being like “those other people.” It really doesn’t because most people wouldn’t know an Unitarian Universalist from a Hare Krishna. In fact, if anything, it makes me look even stranger, a member of some new age hippie cult. Which, to some, is almost worse than calling myself Christian. (And some Christians fear us more than the “soul-less” atheists.)

And then I experience this weird duality of personality where I am my past self looking at my current self and I hear the accusations, “Geesh, girl, what’s wrong with you? Are you weak? I don’t need faith of any kind.”

So I feel kind of self-conscious about admitting I’m going to a church. Even if referred to in the generic sense. Despite the fact that probably most of the people in my life as I grew up told me that they attended church. So how come I’m doing something socially acceptable, like attending a church, and I still feel like I’m on the outside? Even if I don’t specify what specific church I attend (which raises just as many eyebrows as declaring I’m atheist ever did, if not more), I feel weird. Like I don’t want to be associated with those people. Which to me is really just most Christians because that’s the religion I grew up in and ultimately rejected. I find myself much more open to people who are Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist. Pagan. Hindu. In fact, being a member of the UU church has made me more accepting and respectful of other faiths (though I still struggle with giving Christianity a fair shake, I admit).

Yes. I go to church. In fact, in the month of January, I attended church four out of the five Sundays. That’s a good track-record for an errant Catholic. But I found a place I enjoy spending an hour or two of my Sunday. The conversation between services is great, the people are really interesting, and the services provide great insight about the world and other religions. I hate to say it, but being a member of a church community has really helped more than anything else I tried to bring me back among the living after Mike’s death. I don’t always agree with what my fellow parishioners say… and I’m sure they don’t agree with me… but at a UU church, diversity of thought is welcomed, not rejected.

It still feels weird to admit to people that I go to church. It has almost the same effect in some social circles–such as with my atheist friends–as whenever I tell someone knew that I’m a widow. I feel as though my (atheist) friends feel I’ve failed them somehow… like I’ve gone to “the other side” despite my multiple claims that there are atheists in our congregation. I seem to get the attitude from these groups that says, “Well, I don’t need that sort of thing.”

I do need what the UU church offers–compassion, community, worship of the life we do know exists. It’s made me whole to become a part of a place where the congregants strive for social justice and gender equality. These are my people and I belong. The Seven Principles are something I can get behind no matter what my spiritual mood of the day is.

Anyway, it’s just kind of weird that I’ve switched places with myself. I guess the whole religion thing will never fit comfortably on me, ever, no matter what I’m feeling about God, the Universe, and Creation. I’m neither out nor in. I’m the same atheist I always was, only now I’ll admit to agnostic and sometimes quasi-spiritual. My mind is always firmly rooted in science while recognizing also the beautiful artwork of life that is evolution. It doesn’t matter what I think, actually. I’m liberal. I’m loving. And I’m happy. Which is more than I could say for myself for several long post-Mike years… Awkward or not, I’m in the right place. I guess I should just stop worrying about what other people think. The most ardent of believers of every faith don’t care what anyone else thinks of them. Why should I? My religion–or lack thereof–doesn’t define me. Only my actions do.

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An example of a fortune teller. (But not ours... couldn't get a good picture of it.)

At Nuku two weeks ago, Diane and I submitted a “fortune teller” for the origami contest. These were all the craze when we were in elementary school. I was surprised that I actually remembered how to make one. Diane and I then wrote all the fortunes in haiku. I thought I’d share them all with you… Warning: These are a bit pessimistic, symbolizing my general lack of belief in the legitimacy of fortune-telling. (I can’t say why Diane is so pessimistic; however, she did write the only happy fortune–the first one below.)

Your future is bright.
Happiness is within reach.
Go out and grab it!

Superman you are not
You shouldn’t have lifted that
Dresser by yourself.

That library book
Was due fifteen weeks ago.
Say the dog ate it.

What is your question?
It doesn’t really matter;
Fortunes are for shit.

No good news for you.
Why did you wake up today?
Just go back to bed.

One million dollars
You will not receive. Sorry.
Ain’t no free lunches.

Mr. Right is near.
But, alas, not here. So keep
The search going, dear.

Your dog has rabies;
Your cat ate your goldfish.
You shouldn’t own pets.

Well, you have to give us credit. We wrote all these in five minutes. I didn’t say they were life-changing. They’re just kind of cute. Unfortunately, our ingenuity did not win us one of the nifty journals nor the hot chocolate mixes they had as door prizes…

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How I zombied myself through winter

No boyfriend. No prospects of a boyfriend in my immediate future. The cycling off-season (at least for me; I know there are some more intrepid souls than myself out there). Can’t ski whenever I want due to financial constraints (or until the Millennium Pass at Boston Mills becomes available at the end of February). Yeah, I should be working on my memoir (especially after Divine Revelation was channeled through Joanna to me yesterday). But, as Natalie Goldberg–or was it Joyce Dyer?–says, “Procrastination is a part of the writing process.”

So in light of all this, I’m pushing my way through the winter blues by watching movies. I only recently learned that the Kent cinemas at the University Plaza has $5 movie Mondays. I’ve spent the last three Mondays there and have seen:

It’s Complicated – Wildly funny in a new way that stood out with its own plot. Found myself attracted to both Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. I give it four out of five stoked doobies.

Up in the Air – Another great film with a depressing non-Hollywood ending. So of course I loved it. Found myself attracted to George Clooney and I have previously never found him attractive. I give it four out of five empty backpacks of melancholy.

Avatar (in 3D, $3 extra) – Oh. My. God. I cried in it twice because I’m a sap that way. Great statement about how big corporate-run countries (um, like America?) treat smaller, under-developed nations (like Iraq? Afghanistan? I’m just saying…) Anyone who doesn’t see the correlations between today’s events and the events of this movie just isn’t looking hard enough, or is completely unable to grasp the concept of metaphors and correlative stories (like some people I have known). I gave it five out of five big flame-colored birds that bond for life with their riders.

In addition to watching movies at the theater (looks like I may be seeing Book of Eli soon with some friends soon), my friend Kat has been spoon-feeding me Alan Rickman porn. Erm, I mean movies, but to me it mine as well have been porn. So far I’ve watched Truly Madly Deeply (rated: three out of five annoying ghost friends, for reasons I mentioned in a prior post) and Mesmer (rated: two out of five weird wizardry come-on lines that were just excuses to touch women). I’ve got two more Alan Rickman movies in the batter’s box waiting for me to devote my attention to… I’ll get there on a day when I’m really trying hard to procrastinate with my writing…

Joanna lent me all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer so that I can get completely versed on Joss Wheadon, just in time for his latest show (Dollhouse) to get taken off the air. Yay, me, for being a Johnny-Come-Lately to the whole Buffy craze. I have to be honest, I avoided it before because everyone was into the show when it was on… and my mistrusting, non-conforming genes prevent me from jumping on any bandwagons so quickly. Which is why I have not fallen prey to the Lost phenomenon. At least, not yet. I’ll probably like it in about 10 years after everyone’s over it. Seems I only like shows that last a season and then come off the air (Earth 2, Related) . Or go on too long and I’ve become bored with them (Heroes). Or end with large deflating, disappointment (Battlestar Galactica). So I end up watching a lot of eye garbage (Gossip Girl, The Real World, 18 and Counting).

So I’m keeping real busy over here with vegetative distraction. I’m thinking I should just get rid of cable. It’s costing too damned much. I’ll just go on Netflix and after I make it through Buffy, I’ll start renting old, dead TV series to enjoy (still need to see the rest of Six Feet Under). And more movies. I’ll be cultured again instead of giving people the blank look when they make a reference to a movie that only came out two weeks ago which I haven’t seen. (What? I was riding my bike the last five weekends, I don’t have time to go to a movie!)

It makes me miss the days when I was dating men who loved to go to movies. My husband was one of those–he loved performance media (which also included musicals and live theatre, ha!). One of my post-Mike ex-es also loved movies; when I was dating him, I was the movie 4-1-1. I generally love to go to movies. I guess in the summer I just feel guilty sitting around when I could be outside doing something physical. This, of course, reminds me that I really need to seek balance in my life. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing cycling; all or nothing movies. I need to spread out my attention. Hang with new people, too. Maybe sometimes I’ve used cycling as another way to close myself from the world… Hmmm… that’s a deeper thought that I wanted to get into in this entry.

Speaking of spreading out my attention… hello, telescope? I’m so sorry I’ve neglected you… *sigh* Betcha you didn’t even know I have an 8″ Dobsonian mounted reflector telescope, that I once spent entire evenings from dusk until dawn, looking at nebulae, star clusters, planets, and carbon stars on an astronomy field with bunches of other geeks. I won’t say how long it’s been. My friend T would come kick my ass. And he’d have to drive all the way from Toronto. I’d hate to do that to him.

So many hobbies, so many interests, so little time…

PS: Happy birthday, DeForest Kelley. Sorry that I was too tired after work to buy a party hat for my Dr. McCoy life-sized cut-out. I’ll make it up to you on the weekend, baby! XOXO. (Will anyone mind if I start bringing Bones to parties as my date??)

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I went for a walk tonight. Which seems to inspire lots of haiku. That is, in between my walking stream of consciousness which consisted of alternately bitching at myself about having no direction in life, thinking about something a friend wrote in an email this evening, being senselessly angry over an old (or nearly scarred-up) wound, considering the episode of Buffy I watched while eating dinner, and thinking about the fifty errands/chores I need to do around the house. I found if I focus my energy on trying to write poetry or something, my mind starts to clear. I guess maybe I should take a tape recorder so that I can write something longer than haiku… except, then, I’ll be the neighborhood crazy lady muttering to herself….

Walked past our old house
Some ten years ago, it was
My serenity.

And for some bitching-about-Ohio-ku (or boo-hoo-ku?):

Gray clouds hide the sun
Hard cold bites through gloves to skin,
Dark blends day and night.

Is it summer yet? It looks like I’m going to Holiday Valley for a weekend soon so maybe I should hang onto winter a little longer…

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Bring it on: Signed up for TOSRV again

If you aren’t one of my Facebook friends or you weren’t with me all weekend as I obsessively checked the TOSRV website for online registration to open, I am writing to announce that I once again signed up for my annual lesson in suffering and torture. I’m rider #104, meaning that I was the fourth to register just 18 minutes after the registration went online yesterday morning, for TOSRV.

Those of you unfamiliar with this ride, TOSRV is a legend in the Ohio cycling community. It was started in 1961 by a father and his (two?) son(s?) who would ride from Capitol Square in Columbus, Ohio to Portmouth, Ohio (on the river) each year at Mother’s Day to, I think, visit his mother. I guess they started recruiting a few other crazy friends… and each year more and more people joined them… until it became this crazy organized ride of mass proportions. In the 1990s, I’m told the number of riders was close to 6000 and that the ride actually closed out. As it is, today, TOSRV is about 2,000 riders and it feels like you’re never alone. And it’s not just nutty riders like me–people who ride 4,000 miles/per year–it’s everyone, from casual riders who only ride this one ride each year to people who ride tons more miles than I ever could. It’s pretty amazing.

The thing about the ride that makes it torture, however, is the challenge of the weather. It’s always held over Mother’s Day weekend; early May could bring about any sort of weather in Ohio. My first year, it was sunny and in the 60s on Saturday and rainy all day on Sunday. Yeah, 105 miles in the rain is really a test of will. Last year, the weather was warmish in the 60s and 70s both days; however, there was a nasty headwind both days. I love how Mother Nature turns the wind in the direction you’re doomed to travel each day…

Anyway, in this history of TOSRV, there’s been all sorts of “interesting” weather. Snow flurries included. The route itself is fairly easy with one section of small rollers that I find easy but which makes all the flatlanders bulk. The real challenge is getting enough riding miles in during March and April (they recommend you come into the ride with about 400) when the weather is equally as variable so that you can do 100 miles that early in the season. It’s a big push to get ready for the ride. If the ride were later in the year, it would be much less challenging. Though, I would point out that any time you do 100 miles and then follow it up with another 100 miles the next day, it’s a challenge. At least for me.

I don’t know what it is about the ride that makes me want to do it every year. I think it seems “fun” in the chill of January when I haven’t touched either bike in two months. I have to admit that one can cheat–a 50 mile/day option, the “half TOSRV” which starts at the midway point in Chillicothe. I’ve never had a desire to do it. (If you complete the half  TOSRV, you only get a red sticker on your completion certificate; real completers get gold.) 50 miles would definitely be much easier at that point of the year… But I think the torture, pain, and suffering I endure on the ride is part of the challenge that makes the ride fun.

I suppose this year I will spend a great deal of riding alone. I don’t paceline and the people from ABC who are going are in the hammerhead contingent. I always persevere. If the headwind is really bad, I’ll be in trouble. But I think I can do it just fine. I don’t want to be forced to wait on anyone or slow anyone down. I hate all the pressure of riding with other people. The person I used to ride with consistently was the same pace as me so there was none such pressure.

The registration for the MS 150 also went up this week. I haven’t registered yet. I’m trying to decide if I’m going to do it or not. Probably. It’s just so hard to beg people for donations–every year I get less and less money. Pretty soon I’m just going to have to pay the $250 minimum donation myself. I want to keep doing the ride because I support the cause with all my heart… there’s a very spiritual aspect to this ride that compels me to do it every year. So I’ll probably sign up despite all the donation-gathering woes.

Next up is registration for STP (Seattle-to-Portland ride) which opens to the public February 1st. I’m looking forward to this summer’s trip to try a ride over on the west coast where the real hills are. I know I can handle this ride because I kind of know what to expect. And, in a lot of ways, I may be expecting more than what this ride is. To west coasters, it’s a comparatively easy ride. I’m going to rent a bike. In fact, I was happy to be referred (by Matt from the Cycling in Seattle blog I read) to a bike shop that rents road bikes and it turns out they have some Giants. I plan to bring my own saddle and pedals so that I’m not too uncomfortable on a foreign bike.

Anyway, after the ride, I plan to go to some of the wineries in the Williamette Valley. I’m thinking of taking the train back from Portland to Seattle. And visit with Sarah and Alison if possible. It’s been several years since I visited Seattle and even longer since I was in Oregon, so I’m looking forward to the adventure. I expect to spend a lot of time on my own again, but I’m okay with that. Maybe it will inspire some haiku and memoir writing. I’m usually most poetic when I’m out exploring the world.

So, here’s to the dreams of a fun (more solitary, probably) summer of cycling…

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Flying out of my comfort zone

I’ve been branching out in my social network lately, taking new people up on their invitations to events and activities. I’ve purposely been signing up for events and activities I previously would have been too shy or introverted to attend. I feel like perhaps I’ve been putting too many eggs in one basket and it’s time for me to branch out–meet new people, try new activities, scare myself on a daily basis to become the person I want to be. This personal growth has really been rewarding. But scary too.

In addition to wanting to meet new people in the various communities, I’m trying really hard, as part of a more secret New Year’s resolution of mine, to become the person I want to be. What do I want to be? Well, I think that’s developing as I explore. All of my explorations, however, are taking me to the ultimate goal of getting something of mine published. I have to put my foot in the doorway to stop the doors from closing in my face and in that regard I need to be more aggressive. And I need to feel more confident in myself. You can only get confidence from forcing yourself to fly out of your comfort zone and explore previously uncharted territory. Sometimes you learn the most amazing things about yourself.

One of the activities I took part in over the last few weeks was to check out the Fagowees ski club, which is something I’ve wanted to do for several years now. I was told by another local ski club that the Fagowees are a bit of a partying group and it was suggested I might like to hang out with them (What? Do I have “party girl” written all over my Martian face or something?). I was as nervous as heck, but I showed up for one of their bi-weekly meetings by myself. I became the person I hate most–meek and quite Mars Girl–for the first part of the meeting until someone came around and made sure I was introduced to the other people at my table. The next thing I knew, I had someone to talk to. And, to top it off, one of the bar tenders happened to be someone I had met once at an ABC party! The next thing I knew, I was hanging out way-too late having one-too-many-beers with a few of the stragglers at the bar until the meeting totally dispersed. Go figure.

I don’t know how permanent my relationship with the Fagowees will be at this point, but I’m definitely willing to check them out now. I signed up for one of their weekday bus trips–to Holimont–for February. I expect to have a good time. I’m not so much into partying before or during skiing, but I can definitely say that I am totally willing to get in on the action after skiing. This means that on the way to Holimont, I will sit at the front of the bus with the other “stiffs” and on the way back from Holimont, I will be sitting in the back with the crazy people. Hopefully, I will meet some more new people, which is my ultimate goal in hanging out with a ski club.

This past Friday, I performed another maneuver outside of my comfort zone by reading some haiku poems I wrote this year (see the “poetry” category link in the right bar) at the Haiku Death Match (aka Nuku) at First Draft, which my friend Joanna hosts, in Columbus. I didn’t compete, but I did volunteer to read some of my poems during open mic. It was as scary as hell, but totally invigorating. I purposely chose my sexy bicycle haiku–a poem with sexual overtones to cycling–and it went over extremely well. I should have used it as my closer as all my other poems were much more serious and that was quite a rowdy bunch that night.

You’d probably think that as an artist I’d have done something like open mic at a poetry slam before. Not the case. In fact, attending Nuku last year was the first time I’d ever been to a poetry slam. Shameful, I know. I have to say that being around all the artistic people and their zealous passion for the art form inspired me last year and this year, it inspired me to really seriously consider my focus on writing. I’ve never before considered myself a poet. It’s not my usual form of expression and when I do it, I generally think my work sucks. However, I think I’ve really found my place in haiku. It forces me to keep my thoughts brief and on-point to convey a full-sensory experience for a reader. In haiku, the point is to tell less and show more. It really hones my thoughts to a level of conciseness I obviously need. As the readers of my blog, in which I tend to ramble, I’m sure you can appreciate a form of expression that forces me to be brief.

Anyway, I’m thinking of competing in Nuku next year. That’s going to be quite a chore. I have to write at least 10 haiku poems about anything and everything. In the competition, two poets each read a haiku and the judges pick the best one. Points are awarded to the winner; the best of five wins the face-off to compete in the next round (three rounds). There is a strategy in this format. For example, if the first poet recites a serious poem, you can respond with an equally serious one; if the first poet lays down a humorous poem, you can respond with your own humorous poem  or you can throw down a nasty poetic insult in haiku. I think it’s harder when the second poet doesn’t match the tone of the first poem as judges will naturally pick a poem that made them laugh over one that evoked some sort of sad or serious emotional response.

It’s the insults that trip me up. I’m not good at the whole “your momma sucks cows” response (note: that phrase was five syllables). And, personally, I’d rather win a round based on my poetic thought or wit. So I think my strategy will be to come up with a few snarky haiku newsworthy topics. I don’t know if I want to write what we coined on Friday as “fuck you ‘ku.” I am not sure I can. I think I take myself too seriously to do that.

It’s a daunting task. I’m not sure I really want to play to win so much as to force myself to continue doing things out of my comfort zone. I am not too good in front of a large audience; at least, I’m not as good as I want to be. Most people probably accept this about themselves and avoid public speaking all together, but I don’t want to. I like trying to do things in front of audiences. I want to present the same person in front of an audience as I do when I’m in a comfortable situation, like with my friends. I feel, I guess, kind of called to inspire through my words. Not in an overtly public way. I’m just thinking, though, that if I want to promote the would-be book I am trying to write, I might have to do things in front of an audience (such as public readings, one could only hope and dream). I take pleasure in sharing my art with people just as much as I take pleasure in listening to the art of others. Does this make me sound like a complete narcissist?

I was taught to never slap my own back or compliment myself. Be humble, always. So for me to say–to admit even to myself–that anything I do–anything I write–is good is to me as painful as a root canal. I don’t want to become too full of myself. I don’t want others to think I’m full of myself. But is it bad to say that I think I have a talent with words? I’m afraid to say those words because I’m afraid they will render me incapable of ever writing anything good–anything great or inspiring–again.

I think the next place I need to force myself to seek is a writer’s group in the area. I need to get over my fear of letting other people critique my work. I need to form relationships with people who share my love for writing and my drive publication. I’ve previously avoided these sort of groups in the past because of some bad experiences with some pretentious other writers. Writers are a weird lot of people to hang with. Even in my professional occupation of technical writing, there is a bit of catty behavior between writers because somehow we always feel like we’re in competition with each other. Or maybe that’s just me. But I can honestly say, I’ve had some silent, dogged wars with other writers I’ve worked with in the past. More often than not, we were both at fault. It seems there’s a constant struggle to get praise from our superiors one over the other. It’s very hard, I think, for writers to be friends. I’m pretty sure I could never date or marry another writer. (Fortunately, I’m usually attracted to science geeks.)

However, attending Nuku has shown me that this is not always the case. At least to an outsider such as myself, the world I see at First Draft is filled with excited, vibrant people who don’t appear to be too full of themselves. (The only ones who did seem that way were not a part of the group, such as the hipster Toledo guy who got smart with Joanna and performed a dramatic piece of dribble. Fortunately, everyone else was in tune to his snotty M.O. and he a prompt verbal whipping from Joanna; a cold, restrained shoulder from the audience; and a haiku smack in the face from one of the competitors later in the show.) I saw an environment in which writers could coexist in one room without animosity and share each other’s art–even compete–without letting out the claws. I was pleased. I was inspired.

I figure if it can happen in Columbus, it can happen in Akron. (I’m going to try there first as driving into Cleveland regularly can be somewhat of a hassle.) I’ve gotta find my people. I feel so invigorated by the artist scene. It’s time for me to really follow my dreams. I’m going to be 35 in March and it saddens me that as a kid I dreamed and dreamed of writing a book and I thought back then it would happen a lot sooner. I can’t let the dream die. I know I have talent. I know I have a story to tell here. Once I get this memoir out, I probably have a lot more stories to tell too. I’ve got to work towards getting myself to where I want to be. I don’t want to be sitting here, years later, talking about an opportunity I never even had the balls to explore.

Writing is so hard. Some days you hate it. But when you get beyond the fears and the writer’s block and all the distractions that keep you from facing it, you find yourself in this beautiful place where words just flow out of you in a burning fever. It’s a high like no other. Reality dissolves around you and you’re somewhere else, or even back in time in the case of my memoir, and the story you’re trying to tell just unfolds before your eyes. I miss that land of vision. It’s so hard to get there. But once you find that doorway in, it’s real and true magic.

Whenever I listen to a writer interviewed on a show or podcast, they always describe this place and I understand like a recovering drug-addict listening to Pink Floyd. They’re talking in their visions and I’m depressed/jealous because the plain of consciousness they are describing is one I can no longer access (easily). It makes me sad. It also makes me realize that I wasn’t crazy all those years ago as a high school kid, writing 200 page fan-fiction Star Trek novels all summer long, when I thought I could see all the action I was writing just as clearly as I could “see” the events of any book I’d ever read.

Well, anyway, it’s going to be hard work. I’m going to have to force myself to scale back my social life a little and concentrate on balancing my time better. However, I think everything I’ve done in the last several weeks to foster new relationships and take part in new experiences has really done me a lot of good. I’m really starting to know people in my church and I’m loving every moment of being there. I think that attending to my spiritual life is also helping to mend the pieces of myself that are a little broken as well as forcing me to come out of my shell a little. (I know many of you who know me do not think of me as shy, but I have my moments when I’m in unfamiliar territory.) Every invitation I accept from a new friend makes me braver and braver to reach out to people, to extend myself to others, and to allow myself to know other people. It certainly keeps me from dwelling in loneliness. A life is made richer by the people we fill within it, that’s for certain. And I’ve met (and re-met) some great people in the last few weeks.

I really feel the beginning of some good things happening here. I hope I can make some forward progress. In the darkness of winter, a light has appeared to illuminate the shadows of depression that keep me from making a move. May this light fill every chasm of my discontent and bring forth new vision!

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Fearful and faithless

I didn’t get the H1N1 (aka “Swine Flu”) shot. In fact, I mocked the whole thing and, secretly, all my peers (those my age) who got one. I feel like everyone who does this sort of thing on a yearly basis for any flu is a hypochondriac. Unless, of course, you have some pre-existing condition where your immune system may be weak or compromised. For people like me–young, healthy, athletic–it seems ludicrous to feed into such hype. I rarely get sick as it is. Once a year, maybe twice. I’m not exposed to much, having no children who bring various “bugs” into my home from school or other “bug-infested” children.

Now I know there’s been different talk about H1N1 and how it has affected people younger than me. It seems most of these women were pregnant. Some of them may have had other issues. Either way, I didn’t feel the need to alter my convictions for a so-called epidemic. (How many such scares have we had in the last year?) I feel like I have a hearty immune system. My only on-going health complaint is asthma… and despite the fact that H1N1 seems to attack people with respiratory weaknesses, I still refused to go out of my way to get the shot.

So fast-forward to this week as I find myself with a cold. My mom has stated in the past that sometimes what I think is a cold is actually a flu. I pretty much thought a flu was something I haven’t had since my childhood where you are dizzy, alternately wracked with chills and fever heat, and throwing up a few times an hour. But I looked up flu symptoms online and found that they actually represent in much the same way as a cold. In fact, “cold and flu” are both listed as the same entry on wikipedia. Not that wikipedia is the source of all knowledge. I’m just saying.

Anyway, yesterday I suffered from muscle aching that wasn’t associated with my stupid decision to exercise that morning. My face felt like it was exploding with pressure. I don’t think I was running a fever;  I never had a chance to check. I thought my face felt hot, but I’ve thought that before only to find no abnormal temperature when I checked later. I had the alternately stuffy and runny nose.

This morning I woke up feeling as thought a gorilla was sitting on my chest. (No, it wasn’t my cat.)  But that might have just been the NyQuil I took before bed. I was worried that this might develop into issues with my breathing and lungs later during the day, but it–thankfully–never did. I have just a slight cough right now. I’m sure that will get worse as the week goes on. All my colds end in at least one day of endless coughing. Yuck.

Throughout the day at work today, I could barely keep my eyes open. A few times I caught myself starting to drift off–you know, that feeling where the room starts to disappear for just a second and the sound in the room becomes a soothing, unintelligible mumble. It almost happened once during a meeting, too. Ugh. I was struggling to stay awake all day. I decided when I got home, I would just sit around and veg. Which I did. After doing the much-needed grocery shopping and stopping at a pet store to pick up equally much-needed cat litter.

So I sat on the couch, watched a movie, let my cats comfort me. But I couldn’t completely concentrate on the movie. I was having visions of going to bed tonight and not waking up. My mom, who works as a respiratory therapist at a local hospital, filled my head with images of young girls on ventilators due to H1N1. I started to worry that perhaps I have H1N1. I thought about the last communication I’d had with my various friends today, through Facebook and email, assuring Joanna and Diane that I’d be all right for a trip to Columbus on Friday, making jokes with various people about their Facebook statuses, talking to people at work so casually during the meeting about the cold. What would they all think if I didn’t wake up from my sleep because I’d chosen to not take some stupid vaccination based on the stupid principle of not wanting to be labeled a hypochondriac like all the people I silently mocked for their fear of an upcoming epidemic?

I am a person with a faith that turns on and off. Most of the time, I’m pretty convinced that there’s no life after death. I imagine dying being like the time I fell off my bike at upwards of  20 m.p.h when I hit a dog… only I wouldn’t wake up in the ambulance a half-hour later. No, this time, I’d never wake up. I’d be lost in that enveloping darkness in which consciousness does not exist. I had no dreams in my unconsciousness. No thoughts. Nothing. One minute, I was swerving on my bike to avoid an inevitable collision with a dog and in my next conscious moment, I was waking up very confused in an ambulance with paramedics all around me saying my name. I didn’t remember immediately, then, what had happened. I didn’t know why I was in that ambulance until one of the paramedics informed me I’d hit a dog. Then I remembered it all. Well, all of it until the point where I actually hit the dog. That part’s still a blank. And all the part in between is blank.

I think the reason I talk about that accident so much is because it was an eye-opener for me. It happened while I was living in Colorado. I had no family or friends around and I had to completely rely on myself to get through the whole situation post-accident. I had recently broken up with my boyfriend, who had moved out there to be with me, and he was out-of-town for work. I was totally alone. And I could have died.

The blankness of unconsciousness, that moment of waking up very confused in an ambulance and not knowing how I got there–both these moments made me realize how easy it is to die without even knowing what’s coming. Had I not been wearing a helmet that day, there is a very real possibility, judging by the fist sized dent in the helmet–it could have been my head–that I could have died. How long would it have been before someone would have found my parents’ number to call them? Would anyone know to call them? What would work have done if I never showed up the next day? With no one to check up on me, I could have been missing for a long, long time. I think this experience confirmed for me that deciding to move back to Ohio (which I already had in motion) was the best choice. Even in death, I wouldn’t want to be a forgotten person, a body no one would know what to do with.

I can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly what death is like. Just disappearing. Forever. Gone. Like petals on the wind. Like fireworks fading in the sky, leaving behind darkness. I wouldn’t even know it happened. But all my friends and family would. And they’d just go on like they always do. No, I’m not vying for pity or assurance here. I’m just saying, they would go on as my life has gone on since Mike died. My memory would linger for a while. They would feel a lot of pain–especially my mom–but eventually the pain would lessen and they’d go on living. It would be a very sad thing all around, but just another event in the series of events that make up one’s life and shape a person.

And me. I’d be nowhere. That’s absolutely frightening. Looking into the engulfing blackness my mind has filled in as the space I experienced as I was unconscious, I fear death. I fear ending. It’s so much easier to just take on any faith–or make one up–than deal with the idea that you might be blindsided by death without any of the preparation–no chance to say goodbye or let go peacefully. I am Fox Moulder with a poster in my office that proclaims, “I want to believe.”

I want to, I want to, I want to. But at the end of the day, I mostly don’t. Rather than gain spiritual insight from what was for me a near-death experience (though it was only being knocked unconscious and having a concussion), I lost some spirituality that day. No, no, I wasn’t expecting a near-death experience; I’m sure I was nowhere near death. The experience of that day just put me in touch with something I’d never experienced before, even after Mike died: I was shown the fragility of my mortality. It shook the foundations of everything I was. In a way, I’ve been running from that experience since it happened.

So today I got panicky because I always liken dying to that bike accident. I started to think about no waking up in the morning due to some respiratory failure caused by a H1N1 virus I mistakenly called a cold. I could see my mom crying and shouting at me the way I shouted at Mike’s dead body in the hospital room, “Why didn’t you just take that vaccination??”

This is not a “come to Jesus” moment. I probably don’t have H1N1 and I still don’t feel compelled to take the vaccination. I think H1N1 is just another thing in a long list of things I find to fear on a daily basis. I don’t let my fear destroy me. It doesn’t stop me from doing the things I love to do; I continued to ride my bike after the Dog Incident, though I’m a bit more careful than I used to be. I go the places I want to go even though every once in a while on an airplane, I think too much about it going down (and I love flying). Or I find myself wondering if a headache I have is cancer. I’m probably a bit more of a closet hypochondriac than I used to be. I guess the world sometimes to me feels full of danger I never saw before. And I’m ay too aware of it.

In pleasanter moments, I try to imagine that I continue to exist when I die. It doesn’t make much sense–I’ve never seen anyone dead walking around as a ghost–so my imagination of it is ridiculous. I try to picture myself relieved when the act of dying is over and I no longer have to fear it. I try to picture myself haunting the heck out of my family and friends just to let them know that they were right, that there is something beyond this life.

And then I try to think about seeing Mike in that light they say is there. I wonder if he would look like himself or something astral. I would know him right away, I am sure. We would fly through the Universe, exploring stars and watching other civilizations. I try to stay in this place whenever I think of accidentally dying too soon rather than think about that scary place where I cease to exist. It’s hard to imagine anyone–myself especially–just not existing.

It’s really hard to picture all that because it doesn’t seem to make sense. Yet it’s just as hard to conceive of all these thoughts and talents and ideas and goals and dreams and questions–everything that is me–just ceasing to exist. I try to use this realization of self and intelligence as my proof that there is more to life than what we can see, smell, hear, taste. But really, all that comprises my personality is just a bunch of neurons firing in my head. They aren’t any more real or consequential as those alien landscapes I imagine in my head for the stories I’ve never written. Or Santa Claus. So I guess I’m just looking at the importance of existence through the centric lens of my human arrogance. We may be just a happy accident of evolution and when we’re gone, we cease to be.

I hope that’s not the case. But I fear it is. And I don’t want to die. Nor do I want any more important people in my life to die.

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Truly Madly Deeply

It’s been cold here in the Midwest and lately I’ve been feeling the drive to hibernate. I can always tell I’m switching to hibernate mode when I feel the sudden urge to catch up, in one sitting, with all the movies I’ve missed throughout the cycling season. In the last week, I’ve watched District 9 (loved it), The Other Boleyn Girl (eh, not so much), Religulous (funny but a bit too Michael Moore-ish in presentation, Bill Maher was a bit snarky at times), and Hancock (cute!). On Monday, I even ventured out with some friends to see It’s Complicated (very cute!). In an actual theater. I think the last time I went (alone) to see a movie in a theater was Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince this past summer.

My friend Kat contributed to my state of hibernation by beginning me on a crash course of “Alan Rickman Education” as she calls it, loaning me a few movies from her personal collection. I’ve always had a crush on Alan Rickman which really evolved into full-blown lust with his role as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter movies. I’ve always had a thing for Goth men. (Sidebar: I wanted to be Goth when I was in high school, but I feared the disapproval of my mother and I was having enough trouble trying to fit in with my peers being dressed straight-laced as I was.) So a dark-haired Rickman wearing eye-liner and black clothes is obviously very appealing. And that voice…. Oh, that voice! What’s not to love about a deep, distinctive voice with a slight British lilt?

My Rickman Education began with Truly Madly Deeply–a movie that everyone but me has previously seen and adored. I mean, hell, it’s only 20 years old. I’ve obviously never been very good at keeping up with movies. And that was before my life as a cyclist/skier/wine aficionado.

Anyway, Truly Madly Deeply is about Nina, a woman who has, in some time period before the movie starts, lost her lover, Jaime (played by Rickman), from a sudden illness that started with a sore throat. The first third of the film focuses on her daily life as she struggles with the loss, introducing you to her world and the people in her life who care about her. I found these sequences very realistic from her bouts of angry tears while talking to her therapist to the wounded offense she takes to her sister’s request for Jaime’s cello so that her son can take lessons. I give the script-writer full kudos for the very real words that pulled on my heart-strings, reminding me of my own moments of trying to cope in those first years after Mike died.

The story takes a leap into the paranormal when Jaime returns from the dead to be with Nina in an apparently solid, human form, though it’s clear from his explanation that he’s a ghost. Oh if only such things were possible! It is so easy to be swept up in those first passionate scenes between Nina and Jaime because it is a widow/widower’s dream come true. I know I’d trade all of my earthly possessions to have just one entire day with Mike again. I think a lot of people who lost their lover just a bit too soon would feel similarly. In fact, it is not uncommon for a widow/widower to dream of their spouse returning suddenly into their lives. The human mind, apparently, has a huge disconnect when it comes to the idea of someone simply no longer existing. It’s probably why we cling so tightly to religion. We’d rather think of ourselves and our loved ones as continuing somewhere… It’s part of the reason I practice faith, despite the rather selfish nature of my yearning.

At first, the reunion is a welcome blessing. Even though you, as the viewer, know pretty much from his first appearance on-screen that there’s no way the laws of nature can be broken to allow this union to be permanent. No one I know has been “allowed” to return from the dead and stay among the living, not even in fiction. Some of the warning signs to the unhappy demise are subtle. Jaime is plagued with a perpetual feeling of coldness that he cannot overcome despite every attempt he makes to find warmth. Could it be his body–the mortal coil to which he clings–can no longer generate heat? We learn too that rats “fear” ghosts. Rats, who boldly walk across Nina’s sleeping body at the beginning of the film, cower and hide in the presence of unnatural immortality. Hmm. I get it.

Jaime starts bringing his “ghost friends” to Nina’s place. The ghosts are apparently obsessed with watching old movies. They become annoying like the rude poker buddies of your husband or boyfriend. They are over every night and they never sleep. And it’s like they don’t ever want to be alone. Almost like a normal couple, Nina and Jaime begin to argue about the unwelcome house guests. You see the relationship crumbling as Nina seeks more and more engagement with the outside world. I’m not really sure what the writers had in mind with this ridiculous situation. I mean, it was kind of comical and cute–all these annoying, pesky ghosts dressed like bums and street beggars–but I am not sure it painted an honest image in my mind of what the real problems of living with the ghost of your former lover might be… Well, as real as any such situation could be…

Regardless, this movie would have worked for me but for one bad plot decision: Nina starts to fall in love with another (living) man. Which I really, really detest. How long was she widowed from Jaime at this point in the movie? It seems implied that it wasn’t that long. Having her find a new love interest so quickly just feeds into the popular idea that the way to mend a broken heart is to replace the loneliness with new love. As someone who dated at least two men too soon after her husband’s death, I have to say that this is giving the general public, as well as other people who have lost their loved ones, the completely wrong idea. In fact, it is this idea that pushed me to start dating again too soon after Mike died. Shamefully, too soon was just seven months and I did feel pressure from my friends to initiate the relationship because I knew they thought it would fix me.

Dating before a person is ready does a horrible disservice to the “rebound” guy. Believe me, at least one of those too soon relationships I had ended because I simply was not emotionally ready to be with someone who wasn’t Mike. I think most people need at least a year to sort out their feelings after a loss like this. At least. These kind of fairytale movies promote an idea that encourages inappropriate responses from people to a grieving person, such as the insensitive ass who said to me, as I stood beside Mike’s casket at the wake, “Don’t worry. You’re young. You’ll find love again.”

I think this movie should have ended with Nina coming to her own conclusion–sans emotional involvement with another man–that she and Jaime couldn’t continue their “unconventional relationship.” There actually was a great scene in which she does start to figure this out and even Jaime quotes this beautiful poem about “letting go,” but for some reason she backs off and begs him never to leave. And then in the next scene, she’s off flirting with the new guy. Talk about mixed messages. The movie really should have ended with a tearful goodbye and Jaime leaving/disappearing/agreeing to go, leaving us viewers with a mature message about letting go of a past you can’t get back even in magical circumstances. Instead, with the new love prospect in the next scene, the implied message of the movie is, “It’s a lot easier to move on if you have another lover waiting in the wings.” It really cheapened the idealism of the movie.

I guess this is the same problem I have with Sleepless in Seattle. I think it’s a huge burden to lay the pains of an old loss at the feet of a new lover. A grieving person needs to work through their pain and feelings of loss in order to become whole within themselves enough to be able to love someone else for who they are completely. This also applies to people who are divorced. Marriage–or even a long-term relationship in which two people have shared a life together–is a literal bond between two people. A couple spends a portion of their lives working in communion together. If done correctly, there’s less “me” and more “us.” When that bond is removed suddenly–whether through death or divorce–it is almost like losing a limb. You have to figure out how to do things for yourself again. Everything. From shared life goals to simple allocation of chores, the fabric of a couple’s life is interwoven in ways you don’t even realize until one of the threads is missing. The unraveling and re-weaving is a lot of work. I had a long road of rediscovery in the years since Mike died. I’ve had to reshape my goals for myself. I’ve had to find new interests, new hobbies, and new ways to network.

I guess I’m a little reactionary and sensitive about the messages the media gives our society about death issues because I think the media is exactly where people get the ideas of how they think they should act when faced with death. It leads people to say stupid things they think are valiant, give advice they think is helpful, and expect behaviors from a grieving person that just aren’t realistic. It puts a lot of pressure on a person who is grieving and, as was in my case, often makes them feel afraid to express themselves. I can’t tell you how many times people told me I was strong when I felt like I was exploding inside. But I never had the courage to tell anyone how I felt, fearful it would make them uncomfortable or cause them to give me unwanted (bad) advice. And it often did. Which lead me to retreat further into myself.

I’m trying to remember if there’s a movie I think that handles death well in my opinion… Hmmm…. I guess I don’t know of any at the moment. But I can say, I’d like to see something truthful and hopeful without the whole “new romance” angle. There has to be a movie where you see a person’s perspective change for the better in some other enlightening fashion. We need more widows and widowers to write their stories down and tell them like they are. We all know the truth about our situations… and only we can tell it the way it really happens… Someday one of us is going to get a different story told…

As an ironic side note, about half way through the movie, I realized that Truly Madly Deeply was the movie my mother-in-law was trying to tell me about in the weeks after Mike’s death. It’s kind of strange because I’ve thought about her describing of this movie for years. I’ve wondered about this movie and even questioned the memory of her telling me about it. You never can tell–those memories of that first year after Mike’s death are so hazy, vague, and garbled. I even started to write my own version of the story, first in my head and, most recently, this past October down on paper. I think I’m still going to finish my own version of a fiction story where a husband comes back to be with his wife. It will, of course, be completely different. But I have to say that I feel I’ve come full circle, these many years later, having finally seen the movie my mother-in-law told me about. We don’t talk to each other for a laundry list of reasons these days, but it still feels like a gift she gave to me by opening my eyes to be on the look out for it. Despite my displeasure with how the movie ended, it was good to pick up another loose end in my wandering widow’s walk.

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Happy New Beer

The pile into which all the torches were thrown once the parade was finished.

This is the second year in a row that I spent the evening of New Year’s Eve skiing at Holiday Valley and I must say that it’s the most fun and best way to bring in the new year that I can think of. Well, other than being in a warm climate somewhere and doing a bike ride. But since New Year’s basically heralds the real start of the skiing season, it seems more appropriate to be skiing. I never ride my bike below 40 degrees. Or when there’s snow on the ground. I’m crazy, but I’m not that crazy. The proper sport for the right season, right?

Originally I was supposed to go to Holiday Valley with a friend from my professional organization and her husband. However, there was a crisis in her family and she needed to cancel on New Year’s Eve Eve (December 30th). So I spent my last day at work before the holiday trying to figure out what to do. I went from canceling my trip entirely to joining a group from my bike club at Peak N’ Peek (a smaller, easier resort about an hour closer to home). That would have been fun, but I was really looking forward to Holiday Valley, which, honestly, happens to be one of my favorite resorts out here in the east (or close to home). Fortunately, my friend Janet (with whom I went to Utah) stepped up to the plate and offered to come out with me to ski New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Originally, I had planned to ski December 31-January 2 and then come back on Sunday, but this plan was better because I was feeling a little expended after I entered all my receipts from Utah into Quicken.

Janet is pretty fun to ski with because, though she’s a better skier than me, she’s pretty laid back and does not try to pressure me to ski in places I’m not feeling confident to ski. If she wants to do a run I’m not ready to do, we’ve been able to work out alternate options for myself where we can meet at the bottom to take another run. And, actually, it’s worked out all right because she has managed to persuade me that I can do something when I’m not feeling confident. Last year on a trip to Seven Springs, she persuaded me to go ski all the black diamonds runs at the Gunnar chair right from the moment we got there! And I did them!

Anyway, I have to admit that after being Utah, a lot of stuff at Holiday Valley seemed a lot easier than I remembered. The first run down Yodeler I did on Thursday night, I kind of chuckled and said, “You call this a black diamond?” We keep comparing the run to Snowbird’s Big Emma–a green run that would not be classified as such out here. In fact, we’re pretty sure that the top of Boston Mills’ North Bowl (a black run) is about the same slope as Big Emma.

Not that I was completely confident at Holiday Valley. I got a little nervous taking a run down The Chute, which was a run I got stuck on last year for twenty minutes because I had hit an ice patch and was too afraid to move. The Chute is a little steep and usually filled with bumps, which it had the beginnings of on Thursday, but I skied it anyway. Janet convinced me that I needed to conquer the demon. I wouldn’t say I skied it my most graceful, but I did make it down without stopping in fear or peeing my pants. Sometimes it’s hard to get over the fear of a slope you stopped on before, even if it looks easier to you than it did the year before.

I also still blatantly refused to go down Eagle in the black diamond area off the Eagle chair. Janet kept trying to convince me it wasn’t that steep. She almost got me to do it, but as I looked down it from the top, some dudes on the chair overhead shouted, “It’s soooo scary! Don’t do it.” I hate doing runs I’m unsure of when they run beneath the chair lift because everyone on the chair watches you and they can see your hesitation and lack of experience, and, even though people who ski worse than I do take runs down such as these all the time, I just have too much of an ego to let observers see my fear. If I had gone down it, I would have been making long, hesitation zig-zags down that might have included a few wedge turns and I’d rather just do that kind of unskilled skiing on some run where only other passing skiers can see me sweat. Most passing skiers are too concerned with their own trek down a slope to notice.

After several failed starts, I did convince myself to go down Raven and Hoot Owl in the Eagle Chair area, which was a run (they are really the same) I’d done last year once or twice. The first time I took the run down, I was a little slow and deliberate so I made myself take another run with more confidence. It wasn’t too bad. I wanted to kick myself for passing it twice to take a green down while Janet did all the blacks. She was right in that it wasn’t that steep. She said Eagle had a similar steepness for longer. Oh well. It looks damned intimidating from the lift. Someday I’ll bag it, though. I’m sure of it. Sort of.

Holiday Valley’s New Year’s Eve festivities include a parade of skiers bearing torches–or, rather, road flares–down Cindy’s Run (a blue run in front of the main lodge) at about twenty minutes to midnight followed by a fireworks show ending at midnight. I just learned this year that the public is actually allowed to join the torch parade. And, I noticed, the parade actually begins after the hardest part of run. All you have to do is follow the person in front of you as they group makes slow ‘s”s down the slope. I can totally do that! According to the flier, you just have to be an intermediate skier. So now I’m thinking I might try it next year… Cindy’s Run wasn’t even icy (as it often is) this year so if the conditions are conducive, I might take part!

Throughout the firework display, there were some drunk yokels behind us shouting, “U.S.A.” and “America is number one!” I wondered briefly if my neighbors who fly the Confederate flag were behind me. I mean, really? It’s New Year’s, not the Fourth of July. I was suddenly reminded why drunken crowds often annoy me.

It was fun despite obnoxious hecklers and some people who couldn’t stop blowing those annoying noisemakers at thirty-second intervals (and I’m not talking about children). At midnight, Janet snickered, “Happy New Beer!” We were both drinking beers and had emptied them before the fireworks display. We decided to get another beer and hang in the lodge for awhile before returning to our hotel in Jamestown.

Fireworks in front of the Cindy's Run lift.

Ironically, her car’s navigation system gave us directions that put us right into an DUI checkpoint in Salamanca. It totally hadn’t occurred to me that there would be any. Not that it mattered, they were looking for drunk people. Which we were not. I still get nervous passing any area that involves having to talk to a cop. It probably has to do with those three speeding tickets I have. And once, while being let off a speeding ticket with a warning, a cop made me do a sobriety test by saying the alphabet backwards, which I can’t do anyway, and since then I’ve been afraid of being interpreted as being drunk when I’m really not, despite the fact that such had not happened the time I was tested. Janet was driving and, ironically, she usually never drinks alcohol at all. So I think we were both a little nervous. But we passed without incident. As we should.

Over all, it was a really fun two days. And I’m glad that I still got to ski, but also save a little money in not staying as long as originally planned. I’m going to have to return to “saving money” mode for a little while to recover from the vacation and holiday spending. I’m planning on taking a day trip to Holimont in February (with Fagowees, a ski club in Cleveland that’s supposed to have a lot of fun people who like to party like Mars Girl).  My friend who was unable to go to Holiday Valley this weekend said that she and her husband were thinking of rescheduling later in the season so I’ll be back to my favorite spot. Janet and I  have talked about some day trips to Seven Springs. And I am seriously considering buying one of the Boston Mills season passes when they go on sale in February–they are good for the rest of the season through all of the next.

On the cycling front, soon I’ll be signing up for TOSRV (registration starts around January 15th) and Seattle-to-Portland classic (STP) (public registration is February 1st). My summer trip will involve riding STP (2 days/200 miles), a trip to the wineries in the Williamette Valley, and spending some time with Sarah and her family Seattle. I plan to do Roscoe Ramble again this  year. I may possibly some off-road rides on my Surly…

And now I’m wondering when I’ll squeeze in some time for that writing resolution of mine… Don’t worry, I’ll focus. I’m convinced I’ll not be ready to love someone properly until I deal with this piece of my past. I just fear too much time has passed for me to properly tell the story with the emotion I had when all of it was so much closer to me in time. Of course, time has given me some perspective, too. Not sure it will help in the writing of the story… But you never know.

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