Death

I had kind of a panic attack the other day because I thought, for just a few moments, about dying. I mean, really thought, not just one of those passing realizations you have that someday you will die. I imagined myself on my death bed, ill or old–I’m not sure which–and I tried very hard to think about how much I pain I’d have to be in to want to die.

You see, I’m not religious. I don’t buy into any particular system of faith. I call myself spiritual because I am fairly open to new ideas. I’d like to believe that there’s life after death. I’d like to believe a lot of things that involve faith. I’ve kind of made up my own religion, my own thoughts on what a higher being could be. But I know it’s all lies I tell myself to make myself feel better. I think that’s probably why religion never stuck to me very well… I’m not good at trusting anything on faith alone (hell, I don’t have faith in people to catch me which is why I’ve never successfully done a trust fall). So now matter how much I want to believe something, I just can’t. It’s how I’m wired.

When I look realistically at death, I realize that the most likely outcome is that my life will just end. It will be like falling asleep if it’s gentle and like being knocked out if it’s sudden, unexpected, or tragic. I had a taste of this notion when I hit a dog and crashed my bike on a commute home from work back when I lived in Denver. I don’t even remember anything other than the sensation of my bike wheel hitting the dog, and then the realization that I was going to crash, and then nothing. A big blank. I know my head hit the street from examining the huge dent on my bike helmet days later.

I woke up in an ambulance sometime after the accident. How much time went by? I’m not even sure. I figure at least 20 minutes to a half hour. I don’t know how called 911. Or when 911 was called. Or who found me on the street. But I woke in the ambulance to someone calling my name. (Thankfully, I always carry my wallet with ID one me.)

I was confused. I didn’t know where I’d been. The last thing I remembered upon reaching consciousness was waiting out a rain storm in a BP station about halfway between work and home. I didn’t understand why I was in an ambulance. People were working hurriedly over me. I had an oxygen mask on and an IV in my arm. The ambulance rocked me ungracefully around as it bounced along the city streets.

“Do you remember what happened?” one of the paramedics asked. I must have given him a blank look because he prompted, “You hit a dog…?”

And suddenly it all came back to me in fast forward. The ride home, speeding up my bike to over 20mph in an attempt to make the radar speed limit sign in my neighborhood flash, the white blur moving from my the corner of my eye right into the street… I hit a dog! I remembered.

That event shook me to my core. What if I’d taken a fatal hit to the head? Thankfully, I always wear a helmet. But a helmet does not always save a person’s life. What if I’d died? I wouldn’t even know. I just never would have woken up. And the world would have gone on without me. Game over. Unlike a cat, or a video game, I am not awarded extra lives.

Every once in awhile, my mind slips to thoughts about my own death. I think about being on my death bed and realizing I’ve got little time left. I have witnessed people die before. I’ve seen them go in fear and against their will, as with my first husband, and I have seen them slip away peacefully, as with my Grandpa H. (and, as I heard told, my Grandma H. also went). It’s easier for me to imagine going out the way my husband did–fighting, unwilling–than to imagine going of my own free will as it seems my grandpa did. No matter how much I think about it, I cannot imagine being so worn down that I want to die. When I look at death, I see darkness and oblivion. Nevermore. And it scares the living crap out of me.

It’s hard to imagine the ceasing of one’s existence. I mean, unless you’re Bono or a Beatle or some other equally as famous person, the majority of the world does not care if you’re here or not. Most of the world does not even know you exist. It goes along fine without you. And yet the world is all that I know. And all I know is my single sliver of existence in the grand flow of time. When I think about all of history, anything that came before me is just as real to me as any story I’ve read in a book of fiction. I wasn’t there when the Civil War took place, I never knew a world in which racial segregation is the norm, and, while I’ve known people who have fought in World War II and Korea and even Vietnam, these events are really just a story to my frame of reference. All I know is the way the world was when I became aware within it (which was much later than the day I was born), all the events that have happened in my life time, and the way it is now. I imagine this experience is the same for everyone else as well.

Yet… it’s impossible for me to real absorb the idea of no longer being in the world. Of no longer being. How is that possible? I feel so real to myself. I’m full of thoughts and ideas and ponderings. Where does all this energy go when I’m gone? Does it just deflate like a balloon?

It likely does. I’ve seen it happen with my first husband who was a very real person to me and all those who knew him, but to those who only know him from my description, he’s as real as a book of fiction too.

It makes me rather sad.

I admit that I fear death. Not in any way that keeps me from doing the things that I love to do. I realize that if it happens, it happens. I can’t hide from death by never leaving my house. What I have trouble dealing with is the realization that no matter how alive and real I feel now, I am going to die someday. I think that is the fact I overlook a lot. I still think I’m immortal, I guess.

I’ve been ill before. I’ve had mind-splitting migraine headaches and I’ve doubled over with a really bad fever. I’ve had the chills, I’ve been so sick I was throwing up every half hour. I’ve dealt with depression issues. I lost my first husband at the age of 26 and suffered with about 4 years of grief-related depression. Through it all, I’ve never wanted to die.

I can’t fathom suicide. Volunteering yourself to die? No way.

No matter how bad life has gotten (since being a teenager when I couldn’t think things through like this), I’ve never wanted to end it all.

Stay in bed for weeks and not do anything but stare at the TV, sure.

But die? Never.

To want to die would require me assurance that life continued after death. And I don’t have that assurance. So for me there will always be fear and trepidation about death. I try not to think about us. I’m sure most of us don’t. But it’s always there, looming in the distance, and I never completely forget it. Every once in awhile, reality hits and I find myself staring down the gaping black maw of life’s terminus, and for just a second I feel like I know what it’s like to face death. My heart pounds. All the air in my lungs turns to a vacuum. I feel cold and alone.

It’s not that I think about death all the time. The reality of it just worms its way into my thoughts from time to time. Perhaps it’s when I feel most comfortable and happy with life that I’m reminded of that nothing lasts forever. I wish it did. Don’t we all, right?

Well, with any luck, it’s a long way off for me. I’m still aiming to live to be 100. Maybe by the time I get there, they’ll have found a “cure” for death. Or at least doubled the human lifespan through many medical advances. I think, though, that no matter how much time we had to live, we’d still feel it wasn’t enough. And maybe if we could live forever, we wouldn’t appreciate all the beauty and wonders in life enough. That’s what they say, anyway. I think I would still appreciate all the beauty and wonders of the universe. Forever is a nice number.

Resolutions

I’m not one to make resolutions because I’m really not good at following through. At the start of each new year, I feel like I have plenty of time to get a lot of things done. But then time has a way of slipping away from me. When I spend 40 hours a week at work and I’ve got a lot of other distractions and things to do, it takes a lot of effort to make headway on goals.

I guess that’s a cop-out. If I felt really motivated, I suppose I would manage my time better–fit my goals within those small spaces of time between the things I have to do in a day. I know if I spent a lot less time goofing off on, say, Facebook, I might actually squeeze some writing in. Or finish that book I started reading.

Well, I think the problem is that I’m motivated, but I have no idea where to harness that motivation. Story of my life. But at this moment, I’m going to harness that energy on some promises to myself for the coming year. Nothing grandiose. I’m starting off small.

1. Get back up to speed on my cycling. In 2012, I had an average mileage total of just over 2,000 miles. Though still a substantial amount of miles to cycle by most people’s standards, 2012 was not a particularly aggressive year for me. I only did about 3 rides between 60-100 miles. I did not climb very many hills; I even completely avoided Oak Hill all year (when I did it multiple times on Tuesday nights in 2011). I totally lacked confidence. I know I have a wedding coming up with three weeks of a honeymoon out west, so I can’t promise a higher quantity of miles, but I can promise higher quality of miles. Which means challenging myself on hills again, doing longer rides, and continuing my effort to commute to work more often. I will start by working to beat my previous record of 154 miles on Calvin’s Challenge, which I signed up for this year.

2. Writing. I make the promise to write more every year. With my first successful attempt at NaNoWriMo in 2012, I feel I’ve had a little kick in the ass. It made writing a novel seem like more of a reachable goal, even though I still have to spend a lot of time editing or doing more writing after the event. I met some fellow writers who helped motivate me and keep me on task.

I pledge to do NaNoWriMo again next year, possibly finally knocking out that memoir about my personal experience as a widow that I’ve always wanted to write. I think that the fast-paced environment of NaNo would force me to write the things I’ve been afraid to write to get that story out and it will help me to linger less on writing everything perfectly, which has always been one of my problems with that piece. Also, I think my perspective has changed a bit more positively as I enter into a new marriage and the clock starts again as a married woman. I always thought I couldn’t write that piece once I fell in love again, but I am starting to realize that I was probably completely wrong about that. Being in love again brings up a lot of emotions and memories from the first time that I didn’t know were there and it also reminds me more of the realities of a relationship which brings out more details about Mike and me that I forgot. It could be really interesting to see what thoughts time and new love bring to the surface. I’m not even sure yet what I have to say about these topics but I know the words are starting to form beneath my skin.

Besides NaNo, I just purchased a book about writing flash fiction which is a form of short story I’ve recently become interested in through listening religiously to a science-fiction podcast. I’d never heard of flash fiction before, but I’m now fascinated with the form. I liken it to be what haiku is to poetry–trying to express grand ideas in a few concise words. I’ve always loved how haiku forces me to condense my ideas into 17 syllables. So flash fiction will force me to condense an idea into much less words. (And as you can see from my blog entries, brevity is not my forte!)

I just purchased Scrivener–a software specifically designed for writers. Some of my fellow NaNos used it and recommended it. It’s really great for organizing your story because you write everything in “scenes” rather than making documents by chapter which is what I was going in my normal word processing software. You can easily move scenes around and organize them into folders. I can’t tell you how often I’ve struggled with organizing the chapters I write. Sometimes one chapter is too long and I want to split it out into a separate one. This is extremely annoying in a normal word processing software in which everything is contained in separate files. In Scrivener, it’s a snap to move a scene around or put it in a new folder and you can constantly see the ultimate arrangement in an outline bar on the side of the screen. There’s a section for writing character bios and an area for posting links to research items or jotting notes. When you are ready to create a manuscript, the text outputs to a number of file types from PDFs to MS Word documents.

I’m so enthused! I already set up my 2012 NaNo story in Scrivener to begin the process of rewriting and editing! Having the right tools definitely makes the work a lot more pleasurable. I still have to write the story myself, but at least I can access all my information easily and quickly rather than poking through multiple files trying to find stuff. Having used one tool that didn’t work for me for so long, it’s really refreshing to find a tool that was designed specifically with a writer’s needs in mind!

So. I think I’m moving slowly towards my writing goal. I’m certainly a lot less dormant than I’ve been. Things are looking up! And Crow has been so supportive about my writing that I just feel so overwhelmed with gratitude for having him in my life.

3. Bass Lessons. Over the last year, I’ve become convinced that I want to learn to play the bass guitar. Knowing this, my sweetie bought me a bass guitar for Christmas! I’m so excited to take on the challenge of learning a new instrument. I used to play viola in elementary school and I admit that I regret giving it up in middle school. Viola, like bass, is the unsung hero of a musical piece because it’s tune is not often noticed–never getting to take the solo or the main part–but without it the piece would just not sound the same. I like the idea of being the touch to a music piece that makes it perfect. I also like the throbbing sound of the bass. I can always identify it in a song, hone in on its singular beat, and I want so badly to play along with that music.

I pledge to give it my all in lessons with the bass and to not quit early. I had a stint learning guitar in college and I don’t think I gave it my all (though I did learn to play some of my favorite songs, like “Sunday Bloody Sunday”). I have my very own bass now and I need to give it the chance I should have given instruments before. I know my life is busy, but hopefully by the end of 2013 I’ll at least know how to play one song on my new bass.

4. Relax. I’m getting married this year. Eek! It’s going to be stressful. Very stressful. But I need to just let things roll off of me and remember that this wedding is not about all of the things in the periphery that might go wrong or cause stress. It’s about me and Crow and our commitment to each other. I need to just breathe, relax, and have fun when the day arrives. These are the moments to hang on to in the years ahead no matter what happens. The specific details of the day don’t matter. I will barely remember the mishaps; it’s the great moments in between that will eclipse all other memories.

I need to stop telling myself that we should have eloped or had a destination wedding. The moment for that decision has passed and we are now full-throttle into the planning of a full scale wedding. Let those thoughts of doubt go. They only cause conflict, confusion, and frustration between myself and the people who hear me utter them. The theme of my life is that I need to go forward bravely and confidently with decisions I makee and not second-guess myself every step of the way. It’s time to grow up. There is no time in life for second guesses or regrets.

A little yoga might help as well. Meditation. Lots of meditation.

I look forward to the year ahead. I think this will be a magical one for me (and Crow). Fiscal cliffs or no, I’m not letting anything stop me from having the time of my life while learning something new every day. It’s the year to work on becoming the person I want to be and growing with the person I love. I will win no matter what happens.

And if I make mistakes along the way, or life doesn’t work out the way I plan, that’s okay too. I’ve learned I can roll with the punches. As I’ve learned, forward is the only direction a person can go. So, onward, ho!

Happy New Year 2013

I rang in the New Year with a cold. It started Friday night and pretty much increased with intensity as the weekend went on.

Even still, I was determined to enjoy my favorite holiday out and about, like I always do, and, of course, I wanted to spend it with Crow. We decided not to go anywhere this year because we needed to save some money with all of our house and wedding expenses both ahead and in the rearview mirror. Fortunately, Akron has a First Night event that is a mere $10/person for an entire night of entertainment around the town. It seemed just the perfect thing to do.

So we looked at the schedule and picked out some events we’d like to attend. Then, Crow skillfully laid out a plan for where we needed to be and when. (I always seem to latch on to people who are better planners than me.) I took three Tylonel and some cough suppressant, stocked my coat pockets with kleenex and cough drops, and off we went! The event started at 6pm and we arrived at the first item on our schedule–a trivia contest–just a few minutes late. We watched six people play a round of trivia set up like Jeopardy (except that no one had to phrase their answers with “What is…” or “Who is?”) which had all local-themed categories like Akron Sports, Akron People, and Summit County. I would not have done very well in this game because, being relatively new to Akron, I’m not really up on the scene. It was fun to watch, though. And there were no real points taken so at the end of the game, everyone got a prize.

After the first round, the host called up another six players and Crow pulled me up to play. Totally against my own normal inclination to just sit back and quietly watch other people participate in something I secretly want to participate in but am too afraid of looking stupid and drawing attention to myself. The host gave us a choice of themes and Crow spoke up to vote for “toys” so we played a board with topics related to toys but also contained pop music and movies as categories. Once I got over the unfounded fear of looking stupid (we were all in the same boat), I answered a few questions and had some fun playing. In the end, Crow and I each chose for our prize the Akron passport which will get us into various events at local venues for free.

Next, we headed off to the Summit Artspace building where we got caricatures of us done. We also watched a little bit of Hal Walker‘s set. Hal is an amazingly talented local folk artist who also happens to be the music director at my church. I always enjoy watching his performances.

We then watched the University of Akron’s Steel Drum Band. Totally fun. Crow loves steel drums (even wants to own one himself) and I’ve loved steel drum music since I first experienced it on a trip to Trinidad & Tobago in college. I was there over Christmas time and to this day whenever I hear a Christmas carol, I can’t help but remember walking around the streets of Port of Spain and Scarborough hearing the same carol played on steel drums, reminding me that it was indeed winter and the Christmas season, which is something you tend to forget when you’re walking around in shorts in very tropical weather. We’re definitely going to have to check out more of this University of Akron Steel Drum Band in the future. Apparently they play concerts locally. I forgot how much fun it was. I seriously wanted to dance to that calypso beat but the crowd was generally kind of passive so I just took to bobbling my head in time with the music.

We really had a full night. After the steel drums, we got a ride on a horse drawn carriage downtown. It wasn’t a long ride–just down the street–and the wait was longer than the actual ride, but it was fun. We watched the last half of the Western Reserve Brass Band’s show. Trombones also jog a childhood memory…. My dad had one which he used to play as a kid. My dad taught us how to blow on it to make noise, which was probably his biggest mistake because my brother and I used to take great joy in “playing it.” By playing it, I mean, we made it sound like a dying elephant. Hours of noisy entertainment for youngsters while driving the adults crazy. Whenever I see actual musicians playing trombones, I wonder how they are able to make actual music from such a cantankerous instrument. More than any other brass instrument, I’m intrigued by the sounds of this instrument.

I was really amazed that by the time we left the brass band, it was already 11pm! Based on my previous experience at First Night, I thought there might be a lot of standing around with nothing to do. I guess I can attribute the flow of the evening to Crow’s planning. It was really a lot of fun. We watched a 25-minute ice sculpting competition outside Lock 3, and then waited the remaining 20 minutes out listening to the stuff going on at the main stage where they got a choir to lead us in a song. Then we had the magic countdown to midnight followed by fireworks. Crow and I danced with the music blared over the speakers to the fireworks show. It was magical and I felt just as content as I did in my single days when watching the fireworks display from the lodge at Holiday Valley. Well, actually, I was just as content but a lot less lonely!

Who knew I could have so much fun just staying at home for New Years? I have gone away for so many years I forgot that about the fun things my own locality has to offer. Anyway, I have this feeling that part of the fun always comes from who I’m with. Crow and I seem to have fun everywhere we go. I hope it’s always this way–that we have a sense of adventure and a willingness to try new things.

We stopped into the Lockview–my favorite restaurant–after the fireworks to have our first beer of the new year. In addition to great gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, the Lockview has a vast beer selection in bottles and on draft. I ordered a Stone Arrogant Bastard; Crow, Bell’s Winter Ale. Unfortunately, my cold decided to get worse; my nose stuffed up badly and I could only taste the beer for about halfway through drinking it. But at least I could taste it for a little bit. I’d been eating wasabi peanuts all night in an attempt to clear my sinuses but not even that worked anymore. Bummer.

I spent my first day of the new year doing laundry and trying to fix the formatting of this blog. Apparently one of my pictures in either the last entry or my gravitar caused the sidebar to stop displaying correctly. I figured it out, I guess, by correctly some messy tags in the last entry and deleting my gravitar. In the process, I’ve also updated my template to a newer version that wordpress apparently released recently. Anyway, enjoy the new look.

I’ve been sneezing and blowing my nose all day. I’d like to hope that this last cold of 2012 becomes the last cold of 2013… but I’m not holding my breath. I have been having a rough time this past fall with colds. I think this is my fourth one since October. Ack.