The Money Pit

Oh my god. I’ve massively forgotten about this blog. I’ve neglected it for so long that I fear no one is reading it or even checking any more. But my life has been crazy the last several months. And this isn’t the typical “Oh, she got married so now she’s happy and has nothing interesting to say anymore” deal. I haven’t had time to do any writing. Any. None. Not even my novel. Sadly. Or letters to my pen pals Sarah and Mr. Kincaid (my high school English teacher with whom I’ve been corresponding since I graduated high school).

Our house has become the Money Pit in a big, big way. First, it was the plague of mice. We–that is to say my cat, Nicki–found one mouse climbing out of a space underneath the master bathroom cabinet. We set out some traps and caught 18 overnight. We broke down and called Orkin to assist, which put us on an overly-priced plan where they basically set glue traps and poison out, which we could have done on our own for much less. But we panicked, having never been plagued with mice before.

Then, came the Great Flood in May. The storm that came through and wreaked havoc on the Cuyahoga Valley and most of the surrounding area, turned a leaking problem we were aware of in the basement into a much more serious problem. During the storm, a literal waterfall formed on the hill behind our house, dumping into the walls of our basement. A hole formed on the wall out of which spouted water like a fountain. While we were finding buckets, the basement filled to our ankles with water and then sewage as our septic tank backed up into the basement as well. The storm rain had flooded the side of the yard where our septic tank is, filling the tank from its access points. Of course, the sewage water had nowhere else to go but back through the pipes and into our basement.

When all was said and done, there was 16″ of water and sewage in our basement. We tried to rescue some of the stuff on the floor as the water quickly filled but we did not get to everything. We had a room filled with items in Rubbermaid tubs, since we knew that we had a problem with water in the basement, and the tubs were on boards held by bricks about 6 inches off the floor.

Throughout the night, I could hear crashing noises. The Rubbermaid tubs had become buoyant, since the water was higher than our makeshift shelves, and they tipped. The next morning, after we had drained the basement with an extra sump pump, that room was filled with tipped tubs. A lot of our personal items were damaged. It was a mess.

It’s taken us weeks to clean up the basement as well as go through all the damaged items. We’ve had to rip out all the dry wall (we found black mold in several places, some of it could be older than this flood) and some of the lumber in the walls. We removed the vinyl floor (which contained asbestos and had to be removed while damp) and we’re still cleaning up the glue goo (which also has to be wet because it may also contain asbestos). Our basement looks like a war zone.

I’ve tried really hard to not hate my house for all the financial stress and problems it’s caused us since we bought it. There have been many issues–heating oil costs over the winter, new windows it desperately needed, a leak in the water line. And, on top of everything, our upstairs refrigerator quit working that same week. I feel like the honeymoon period with this house is over and I no longer see it as I once did. Now it feels like a burden sucking the life out of me. We’ve had to cancel our vacation for this year. I’m not going to meet the deadline to complete my novel by October 31st. I’m just so depressed.

But then, this past weekend we took the time out to go to Canal Park to see the Akron Rubber Ducks play. The towpath, which is not even a mile from our house, goes directly to downtown Akron. So we took our bikes down to the park and met my parents there. It’s only 10 miles from our house and a very enjoyable ride through the woods, away from all the roads and craziness of traffic, until you get to Akron. It was such a beautiful day and I had to remind myself that was the reason why living in the valley is so great: all the access to resources we have. The weekly farmer’s market is only 2 miles from our house, also a bike ride away. A new nano-brewery opened up in the Merrimen Valley, just a few miles from our house as well. I could spend the whole summer down here and never have to leave.

I keep thinking that one day Crow and I will get this house all fixed and perfect. And then it will be a happy place to be. I try to remind myself that all that house needs is a little TLC. It is in an ideal location with an admittedly beautiful yard. We have bird feeders and every day I see all these colorful birds of many kinds. I see hummingbirds at the feeder I made for them all the time. Every night, we hear owls and coyotes. We have a huge garden. This place could be paradise.

I just hate having to sacrifice a lot of my time to get the house to that perfect place. I’m not someone who enjoys fixing things up. I’ve found a love of gardening and flowers since moving here, but I still have no desire to do any construction. My motto in life has always been, “Why do it yourself if you can pay someone else to do it.” Except, well, there’s not always the money to pay someone else to do it.

People always tell me that I will have time for writing my novel later. As a widow, I have a really hard time accepting this comment. I know that I’m alive today. So whatever I want to do today should be done TODAY. I could get Alzheimer’s  (my grandma had it) and then I won’t have the capacity to tell my stories. There are a lot of random accidents that could occur. You just don’t know. So it makes no sense to me to ever put something on your list of things to do when you retire because you just don’t know that you will live long enough to get there. I’m not being fatalistic; I’m being realistic.

Ever since I lost Mike, my life has been filled with a very urgent need to fulfill my dreams. If I want to go somewhere, I just go. No time like the present! I’m young now and I’m healthy. Live for the moment!

The house just feels like a waste of my time and energy, even though I know it’s an investment for the future of my and Crow’s life together. I’m impatient. I can’t wait. I want to go places, see things, experience life, and then I want to write it all down. I don’t have time for fixing up a house full of problems.

I guess the lesson learned here is that you should buy something huge like a house with your logic instead of your emotion. The house seemed so perfect for us, located right along a road used frequently by cyclists and in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park that we love so much. It had the screened in porch I’d always dreamed of having. Sadly, both Crow and I admit that had we known we would have this many problems with the house, we’d have not bought it. Hindsight is always 20/20. We had some warning signs, though, of the problems we have had and we should have listened. But like star-struck lovers, we overlooked the glaring issues because we fell in love with the idea instead of the reality…

Sell-out

One of the biggest criticisms I hear from people who hate U2 is that they feel the band is a “sell-out.” Over the last several weeks, I’ve been contemplating just what people mean when they accuse U2–or any other band of equaling popularity and fame–of being a sell-out. And I’ve come to one conclusion: people inherently hate when someone is much more successful than they can ever dream to be. I can back up this theory with many other non-musical examples, such as how people leer at those who have money or are apparently successful with their careers when they themselves are not successful. Resentful people seem to think that others who have achieved relative success have somehow gained their success in some magical way: they were lucky, they knew the right people, they were somehow favored by a higher power. Because we–yes, “we” because even I’ve fallen victim to resentment–only look upon these people from the outside, we never see all the sweat and hard work it took a person to achieve their goals. To us, it looks like magic. But really, in most but the very few exceptions, a person has worked hard to achieve their goals. They were not magically bestowed on them because they prayed to the god of success or sold their soul to Satan.

In the world of music, I have noticed a tendency for people to only like bands before they are popular. Like it’s hipper or something to love the band when they are struggling and working in small venues waiting for their break. And I can agree on some level that it’s great when you find a band early in its inception and you get to enjoy the intimacy of a small, local venue. When you can walk right up to the band and get their autographs. It’s fun to be a groupie and follow them around with your little group of 10-20 people. I’ve been there. I’ve seen lots of bands at places like the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, loved the fact that I could see the expression on each band member’s face from all the way across a room. These are great days, made even greater when the band really starts to catch on beyond your home and others see the brilliance in them that you do.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that every band does not want to achieve success in the numbers of artists like U2 or The Beatles or [insert name of a famous artist]. Every artist wants to be able to make a living off of their art and not struggle with it as a second-hand hobby to their “day job.” Every artist of every type. Plain and simple. No one wants their art to be only locally appreciated and then withered away into obscurity. As much as they like their own group of original fans, every band would love to achieve success. One some level, ever artist is a narcissist; if they weren’t, they’d never take their art out in public.  I can’t speak for exactly what every artist personally hopes to find in success, but I can say that for myself, I’d like my writing to reach a wider audience so that I could, if possible, touch other lives in a significant way. A rather noble goal, yes, but that’s what art is all about–it makes you feel and it does touch you. We like music because it resonates with something within ourselves. We love a good fiction book because for a period of time, it distracts our senses so completely, we are drawn into its make-believe world and entertained. We love a good non-fiction book because it teaches us something or speaks a truth to our own experiences, and makes us feel less alone. We love a good movie for similar reasons to why we love music or a fiction book. Stories and music are largely about the human experience, something we can all share and acknowledge together.

I’d be more than honored if I could give back to the world in that way. And I believe Bono considers the same things when he writes his own lyrics. U2 always strives to remain relevant in the world because they believe that music is more than just a river of sound to float on; they believe it’s a conscious experience, a way to reach people, an outlet to inspire. I truly believe that art has a social responsibility to the world. If art does not teach you something about yourself or about someone else, it’s not really doing its job. If it doesn’t make you feel anything, then there’s simply no point. Art should anger you, inspire you, make you cry, elate you, and otherwise move you. U2 music does all of these things for me.

I think people have problems with U2 partnering with products like Blackberry and iPod, too. Or they are angered by Bono’s affiliations with organizations such as the ONE campaign, Product (RED), DATA, etc. I won’t go into the humanitarian causes Bono is involved with–I’ve discussed that before and I personally have no problem with a band using their name and position to push for social reform (I would gladly do it if I had the position and power, I assure you). Because it needs to be done. Plain and simple. As for product affiliations–well, you have to keep in mind that managing a band of the magnitude and popularity of U2 is a business like anything else. At that level, it’s no longer possible to just be an artist for the sake of art, especially in this day when it’s so easy to pirate music off the internet (which, by the way, does take away from the profits of your favorite band significantly). Bands have to find other ways to generate revenue. It’s also perfectly acceptable to me for them to partner with products. I’ve never been one to buy a product because my favorite band or personality is affiliated with it–I’m not that easy. (Though I do own both a Blackberry and an iPod, but it has nothing at all to do with U2… It’s an information world and I’m a tech geek.)

Big companies like Blackberry and iPod also help to fund concerts, providing an access to technology for big shows, and, really, might help contribute to lower costs for the concerts themselves. In the grand scheme of things, U2 concert tickets are not as expensive as the tickets to other shows. I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure Lady GaGa is far more expensive than U2. Plus, U2 always offers a General Admission option which is extremely cheap (I paid about $60 for my Pittsburgh ticket, which includes about $20 in up-charges from that damned pirate called Ticketmaster). They put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen live, anyway, so the money spent is well worth it.

What makes U2 shows so great? They put their heart, soul, blood into every performance. They rotate their set lists out and try new songs. Every night is different even when the set list matches one that has been played over and over. Bono “snippets” other songs–U2’s or those of other artists–within the ones he sings and he changes these out quite frequently depending on the mood of the audience, the conditions of the venue, or the particular events of the day (ie, multiple John Lennon lyrics were snippeted into songs during the concert in Brisbane, Australia on December 8th to recognize the “anniversary” of John Lennon’s death). Unlike other bands who play the same set every night in the same way without changing a single facial expression, U2 brings a fresh performance on even the oldest songs. And Bono’s voice on the current concert tour is better now than it’s been in years. He’s on fire. Totally worth any amount of money spent on the concert.

U2 has not “sold out”–they’ve strategically planned out their business.  I totally resent the words “sell out.”  These words are merely the jealous rantings of people who wish they had achieved better in their own pathetic lives. Hipsters who would rather buy the obscure vinyl albums of unheard artists out of the trunk of some dude’s 1970’s yellow low-rider. I’m sad for artists that never got to see their day in the spotlight. We all want to achieve success on some level. I suppose I’d be called a sell-out if I did manage to get something of mine published. Or if I sold the rights to a theoretical best-selling novel to a movie company for it to be made into a screenplay and subsequent movie. That’s not selling out, that’s accomplishment and success. It means you made a product someone wants. U2 has been making a product people have wanted for over 30 years. And God bless them for it!!

Share the Road

So once again a story about a cyclist goes national, and a morning show host feels it necessary to discuss, which of course leads to all the local yokels calling up to voice their unbridled hate for cyclists. Nevermind the despicable details of the article that describe a situation in which yet another motorist gets off with little more than a hand-slap after hitting a cyclist. This happens all the time, by the way. It happened locally with the motorist that killed the cyclist on TOSRV back in 2008. There is an attitude with motorists who are non-cyclists that cyclists deserve their fate. Even if the motorist can be blamed for not paying attention the road (do I hear texting? emailing from your phone? talking on your phone?), somehow the blame is always put on the cyclist for the very fact that they are on the road.

The saddest part of this whole debate is that motorists consistently make the blanket statement that cyclists do not obey the traffic laws. While it’s true that some cyclists do not obey the traffic laws, a vast majority of them (like myself) DO obey the traffic laws. There are many motorists who don’t obey the traffic laws either; I see them every day; heck, I’m probably occasionally one of them. But to say that no motorist ever obeys any traffic laws is ridiculous. Likewise, it’s just as ludicrous to claim that all cyclists do not obey the law.

For me, it’s the simple laws of physics. I completely understand that a vehicle weighing a couple tons has more mass on 145-lb me on a 10-lb bike. I understand that I’m not capable of going the speed of traffic in most situations (unless going down a hill-eh hah hah!!). I realize people want to get around me. So, I generally hug the white line unless there are some really bad potholes in my direction of travel, in which case, I move more center to the lane until I pass these obstacles, and then I’m back to riding just left of the white line.

Just left of the white line. I’m a vehicle, I’m allowed to ride on the road. It’s at least state law in most states. I cannot be expected to ride in the berm on the side of the road where many-a-careless motorist has tossed their trash–some of which, I might add, is glass. I’ve every right to be on the road as the car. You can get around me when I’m riding along the white line without even, really, needing to cross the yellow to pass (though, it’d be nice if you gave me 3 feet of space when passing).

When I ride in groups of cyclists, I tend to ride behind someone. I usually don’t ride next to another cyclist unless I’m on a country road where there isn’t a lot of traffic because it’s just as much of a pain in the butt for me to have to slow down to get back into single file as it is for a motorist to try to pass me when I’m doubled up. So this generally means that I don’t try to ride side-by-side another cyclist on Riverview Road in the Cuyahoga Valley–there’s just too many cars. However, be assured that when I do ride next to another cyclist, as soon as I see a car in my rear view mirror, I start angling to move in front or behind the other cyclist to make that single-file line all motorists prefer.

Why not use the bike paths? I’m always asked. Well, I do use bike paths sometimes, often as a warm up or part of my planned route because they tend to be a good way to get from one location to another location fairly quickly. But the problem with bike paths is that they tend to be crowded with recreational cyclists, runners, people walking their dogs, and a handful of spaced-out clueless people who aren’t paying attention to anything that’s going on around them. This is all good–I condone people getting out into nature and enjoying a beautiful day. (Well, except for the handful of space cadets–they should probably stay home where it’s safe.) However, these people are generally obstacles I have to get around–in much the same way a car has to get around cyclists. It makes me frustrated because I have to keep dropping pace to get around people (in a nice, polite fashion) and it makes them frustrated because they have to deal with some pedaling hammerhead when they just came out for a peaceful, casual ride/walk.

There’s a huge difference between the type of riding I do and a recreational cyclist: speed. I’m generally going 17-19mph on the flatness of a paved bicycle path; recreational cyclists are generally going 10-13mph. Recreational cyclists may also be looking at things–the trees, flowers, their significant other, their kids who are weaving unsteadily back and forth across the path. This is all good. But in the end, we just disturb each other with our differing objectives. (I started out as a recreational rider, so I totally understand.)

Bike paths do not usually offer much by way of challenge. They tend to be flat, railroad graded terrain (since many of them were built on old railway paths). Because they are so flat and do not give me much of a challenge, no matter how pretty they are–being among the trees and through parks–I get bored. Pretty quickly. I like to climb things. Hard things. Horrible roads people fear to take in their car. So a flat bike path is usually just a means for me to get from one place (my house mainly) to some place where I can do really interesting riding (the valley).

Bike paths also don’t really go anywhere specific. They go from one park to another, or through a city, but it’s generally the furthest route from anything I would need to usefully get to as a bike commuter. In my commute to work in the summer, I take the bike path to get to the valley, and then I swoop down into the valley, and then climb back up to the city where my job is located. There is no bike path that goes to where I work. But, alas, there are roads that go to where I work. Hmmm. So I take the road.

There simply is not enough bike path for a person such as myself–who rides between 3,500-4,500 miles per year–to remain entertained. Yes, I know the towpath is about 40 miles long. I do take segments of it on Beau (since it’s also unpaved, which means my road bike can’t do it). But to ride the same route every day–and I ride almost every day mid-season–would really make anyone lose interest fairly quickly, no matter how beautiful or how challenging it is. Heck, I even get burned out on riding in the Cuyahoga Valley because I use it to get to work 2-3 times a week. I often have to take my bike out somewhere completely different on the weekend just for a change in pace.

Don’t get me wrong: bike paths are great. I certainly advocate the creation of more of them. They get more recreational cyclists out who have no interest in riding on the road or being anything more than a recreational cyclist. I do like to use them for part of my route (and sometimes they are a welcome change from the rigors of having to be ever vigilant while riding on the road). But they are definitely not–and should never be seen by anyone in the public as–a replacement for cyclists riding on the road. I can’t tell you how tired I am of hearing a local motorist rant about how they paid their precious tax money for a bike path only to be enraged that it didn’t take any of the cyclists off the road. People are using bike paths; just not the road cyclists.

I’ve been in cities where sharing the road works. I’m sure it’s not perfect. I’m sure there are still angry motorists in these cities as well. However, I will say that when I did visit these places (Seattle, Portland, not to name any names), I noticed a much more pleasant attitude towards cyclists. Not once pedaling those city streets did I ever feel my life was in as much danger as I feel riding my bike down one of my busier streets near my house. Ironically, when I drove a car around Seattle, I felt the most ill-at-ease. People expected me to be on the road and they were okay with it. It was a cyclist’s paradise. I didn’t want to come home!

I love my state of Ohio. I just wish sometimes that it wouldn’t be so backward about things. There’s an inherent attitude in Ohio against change. People don’t like it. So if you paint a sharrow on a road, people are all up in arms. “What?! You’re gonna invite them cyclists on the street? Then I can’s run them down!” Heaven forbid someone choose a more ecologically friendly way to travel around town than a car. Is my ability to function without gas (at least in the summer, since I’m a wimp) threatening to you?

Whenever I encounter these angry drivers, I always think that they’d all probably be a lot happier if they too took to a bike and rode around the streets… All those exercise-induced endorphins pumping through your veins make it really hard to be angry at people. When I commute to work by bike, I feel so great when I get to the office. I’ve had my morning work-out and I feel ready to tackle the day. I approach my work with vigor and excitement. There’s nothing better than that feeling. I think if everyone experienced this elation, road rage would be obliterated. And just think what it would do for our obesity problem in America! Everyone should walk or bike to work. Or even learn to ride a motorcycle (it uses less gas).

I just don’t get people. I’m just appalled when I hear the kind of comments that come out of motorists’ mouths about the fate they’d like to see befall a cyclist. People actually wish death on someone riding a bike simply because having to drive around a cyclist made them two second slower on the way to where-ever it was they were going. Death! Seriously? You wish that cyclist to die? There are lot of people in the world who make me mad–biggots, chauvinistic men, fundamentalist Christians, Republicans (well, some of them anyway), Sarah Palin–but I certainly do not wish these people dead.

So I just can’t listen to those people ranting the radio. I had to turn the whole discussion off because at 7am on a day when I couldn’t ride to work (it’s too cold), I didn’t need to start my day with my blood boiling. Getting into a rage just doesn’t suit me well. The way I’ve come to deal with these kind of things lately has been to turn off the radio. I’ve been doing the same thing with politics because I just don’t want to listen to angry banter on both sides. (It’s funny because a friend of mine has been telling me to do this for years!)

Is it stupidly optimistic for me to hope that at some point–especially with these rising gas prices–that motorists and cyclists could simply learn to coexist? (We need a catchy “coexist” symbol for cyclists and motorists–anyone creative out there?) I can’t be responsible for the cyclists who do not stop at stop signs/lights, cut cars off in traffic, ride in groups of two or more across the span of the road so that cars can’t pass, etc. However, you can rest assured that when I’m on the streets, I’m not doing any of these things. So, please, for my sake–and the sakes of other cyclists like me who respect the law–please do not take your anger against cyclists who you have witnessed not obey the law out on me! Stop texting, stop checking your email, stop talking to your friends; put your two hands on the wheel, look out the front window, and please be aware of me and my friends! I’d do the same for you if you were a pedestrian, whether I was in a car or on a bike. You may only get a slap on the wrist by law if you hit one of us, but I’m sure the weight on your conscience would really be far greater than you boast when you boldly call these radio shows (or respond in the comments of online articles) claiming you’d like to hit a cyclist… We’re all just out there trying to get somewhere.

I believe

It’s weird.

But when I’m feeling really low…

I find that I pray to…

No, not God.

Don’t know if I believe in God.

Don’t know if I believe in much of anything.

When I’m down low, I pray to Mike.

Which is to say, I believe in LOVE.

I don’t believe in much, don’t put much stock in anything I can’t see or feel.

But I believe in Love.

Isn’t that the lines to a U2 song? “God Part II” — Bono’s response to John Lennon’s song denouncing God, the song for which Lennon was highly criticized (because one of the lyrics was “I don’t believe in the Beatles.” He may have said he didn’t believe in God but I don’t remember.)

I believe in that. I believe in Love.

I believe love conquers all.

I’m a helpless romantic.

Love.

It’s simple, right?

Sometimes it seems easier to hate than to love.

I find myself, in my most miserable moments, calling to Mike. People might think of this as worshiping false gods.

I don’t know. My love for Mike is the only thing I believe in. Our love was the only real spiritual thing I’ve ever felt.

The power of love carries me through the day.

Even when I have no one to love.

Even when I have nothing but generic love for fellow man.

I believe in Love.

Is that wrong?

Is that stupid?

I don’t know.

Other idealists (Bono) believe in it.

I can follow that.

Maybe God is love. Don’t know. The only real love I’ve ever felt–besides that of my parents–is the love I got from Mike.

But maybe that was just an illusion.

A convenience of time and place.

I still believe in it.

I do.

Public v. Private Tragedies

I posted this on my blog’s FB page, but since I only have 17 friends on there, and I know more people must read my blog, I’m reposting with more details to the blog. I always struggle a little bit with the anniversary of 9-11 because it happened in the same year–just five months after–that my husband died. Having dealt with my own grieving issues throughout the years, and having been brushed off a number of times by would-be listeners, I can’t help but feel a little jealousy when I see “Never Forget” banners on people’s FB profile pictures, memorial statuses on FB, and I hear radio programs discussing various feelings about that day. It strikes me most because while people seem to think nine years is a long time for me to be missing Mike, they seem to have no problem with the length of nine years when discussing the grieving of a nation caught off guard by a terrorist attack. Now, I don’t mean to suggest in any way that losing my husband was as tragic as the loss of lives or the fact that America was attacked by terrorists; however, my loss was felt very strongly by me personally and, in a way, it hurt me more than 9-11 ever could.

I guess I just think that people need to consider some of the ways in which they deal with people in their own lives. If you’re still affected–as you should be–by what happened on 9-11-01, then why is it so strange to find me–a young widow–still affected by her own loss of 4-14-01? I bet you still remember every second of what happened to you on 9-11-01–where you were when you found out and what you thought, how you dealt with the rest of your day. I still remember every second of 4-14-01 as well. I remember waking up a few times throughout the early morning hours of 4-14-01, getting up to go to the bathroom, Mike waking up as I slipped back into bed. I remember around 7am, the last time I got up to use the bathroom, that Mike grumbled about the early morning sunlight–“Gets too damned bright too early,” he muttered  as the sunlight through the blinds fell into his half-opened eyes. I remember our moments of intimacy, our rings clinking together, our last words. I remember Mike crumbling down next to me, the color of blue that washed over his body making him look very alien, the frantic call to 911.

I remember the long drive in the ambulance to the hospital, the twenty questions the skeptical EMTs threw at me trying to suggest Mike took drugs, the mishap at the hospital intake where one of the nurses mistook me for the parent of a kid who’d come in, how she misinformed me that “he” was okay, only to find out that “he” was not my husband.

I remember the cold, austere room I was ushered into without explanation. It was decorated in bleak yellow tones–like the popular color of the 1970s–and the couches were worn and uncomfortable. I remember the social worker and the chaplain. I remember the doctor who came in and told me my husband was dead. I remember pain, confusion, a weird brightness that fell over my eyes and took over everything. I remember shouting angrily at Mike’s cold, dead body in the silent room into which they’d put him when they could do no more. I remember my heart breaking, the dimensions of my future shifting, my stomach convulsing every time I smelled food.

I remember attempted phone calls to Mike’s mom, but I had the wrong number so I kept getting some lady in an apartment his mom used to live in. I remember calling his father. My son is dead, cried Ed in my ear. A mournful noise a daughter-in-law should never have to hear from her spouse’s parent. It echoes in my nightmares still.

I remember the long drive home in the passenger seat of my dad’s car as I wordlessly tried to piece together what had just happened. He was just here, I kept thinking. And now he not. How does that happen? I remember wanting a “do-over” for the day. If I could do it over, I’d change one thing and that would fix everything. The butterfly effect.

I remember people sitting in my living room–Mom, Jonathon, Wendi, Dad.  I remember people trying to get me to eat the sandwiches they brought from Subway, but I dry-heaved as soon as the smell of the sandwiches filled up the living room. I remember Jonathon placing phone calls to all our friends, family, associates. I couldn’t do it. I hid upstairs.

I remember waking up the next morning and crying because it wasn’t a dream. It was real. Mike’s side of the bed was a cold, empty space where a tiny spot of blood from the IV the EMTs inserted lingered on the sheets. I remember Mike’s cat, Tanya, sitting in his place, looking lost, seeming to understand that her master was never coming back, mourning with the rest of us.

I remember 9-11-01 too because I relived the nightmare of Mike’s death in the eyes of imagined men and women who were now also, like me, experiencing crushing lost. I wondered where Mike might have been if he’d been alive. Would he have been on any of those planes, or merely trapped in another state over night because no more flights were leaving? I imagined what it must have been like to be on United 93. What if Mike had been on United 93? Would I have received some cryptic phone call from his cell phone before the plane went down?

I know I personalize 9-11 quite a bit and I do feel bad for it. It’s not really my day to remember my own pain, but one to reflect on the fragility of our existence in a world filled with potential dangers both foreign and domestic.  I don’t think I would have really empathized with the families of the victims of 9-11, though, had I not experienced my own loss prior. Because of my experience, I saw 9-11 in maybe a different way than other people did. Yes, it was an attack on our country and it represents a larger struggle with a small but fanatical group of people in another part of the world. However, to me, 9-11 is about unexpected loss. And that’s all I can see in it. Whenever I remember this day, I remember loneliness–absolute and frightening. I remember grief and my feeling of disconnect with the rest of the world–which I’d been feeling since Mike’s funeral–just got wider. That day to me, always, represents the lowest point in my widowhood. I was never more alone in my entire life as I was on that day. The one person’s arms who could have saved me in that moment was the one person who was the reason I felt so alone.

So when people get on their patriotic high horses for 9-11, I can’t help but feel a little miffed. What makes it okay to remember a public tragedy after nine years, but not a private one after the same amount of time? Why is my remembrance seen as dysfunctional while the remembrance of a public tragedy seen as patriotic? And why are public displays of the stages of grief (ie, the anger I see in so many of my fellow Americans) acceptable while my own occasional dealings with a stage of grief been viewed as inappropriate?

Personally, from what I’ve seen over the last few weeks, particularly with the ongoing debates over constructing a mosque at the WTC site and the Qur’an burning demonstration by that little aberrant Christian group, I’m starting to think that most Americans are still in the anger stage of grief. I experienced the anger phase in 2005. I picked up cycling heavy–even buying my first road bike–and have since left that stage behind. You may not have guessed it, but I’ve been in acceptance stage for over two years now. It’s from the acceptance stage that I’m finally able to start writing about my life with Mike as I’ve wanted to for years. I don’t think I could have done it any other stage… well, I could have, but I don’t think I would have done it any justice.

Do I still experience depression about the loss from time to time? Sure. Do I still miss him? Yes. Is it dysfunctional? I don’t think so. People we’ve loved and lost all become a part of our personal consciousness; we can’t erase all memory of these people nor should we be expected to pretend they never existed. That’s why I always bring up Mike when a thought about him occurs to me and I no longer care at all if it brings discomfort to those around me. A person’s discomfort when I bring up a memory is a reflection of that person’s dysfunctional response to death, not my supposed inability to let go of Mike. I let go of Mike a long time ago–I know he’s not coming back. But I did not–and will not–let go of his memory because I don’t have to. No one would expect me to let go of the wonderful memories of my grandparents.

I think that American society in general has not yet reached the acceptance stage of grief after all this time. We (yeah, maybe even me sometimes) are still looking to the heavens and bemoaning, “Why us?” We want to find the person who caused the pain and cause them double pain, even if we take out collateral damage and marginalize a whole group of people based on their association with the radical group that brought about 9-11-01. A spare few seem to not even realize that putting the blame squarely on one group of people is just as ridiculous as if I blamed all emergency room doctors for Mike’s death (since the doctors who he came to about his chest problems before he died never found the actual issue that would have saved his life).

Anger is a bad stage to live in. When I was in it, it ate me alive. I was smoking cigarettes regularly, drinking far too much alcohol, and pushing away all the people in my life who cared about me by telling them they didn’t understand me. I had this very teenager attitude of “it’s me against the world.” Or, even, it’s me against the Universe (or God, the Divine, etc). I see this same attitude in many of my fellow Americans and it’s sad. We need to collectively move beyond this anger stage and reach an acceptance of what happened. It’s only from the acceptance phase can any of us truly heal. We can work together to make a better world by using our love instead of our anger to lead us.

So even though the world doesn’t see it in my actions, I’m actually in a better place with my own grief than many Americans are in their own grief over 9-11. I guess I can feel comforted knowing that. I just wish there wasn’t such a huge gap in what is considered socially acceptable for expressing one’s feelings between a public versus a private tragedy. Maybe we can become better human beings by accepting the fact that death is a part of life and, like it or not, you have to deal with it. So when a young widow mentions her loved one when you’re having a good time at a party, remember that just like the events of 9-11, her loss is also never forgotten. And it’s okay for her to never forget.

Diabetes Cat + Volunteerism + Life = Stress

I have been searching for a pet sitter willing to feed my cats and give Cleo a shot twice a day… and so far, no luck in that department. The first person I approached–a pet-sitting small business owner–refused to take Cleo on because she’s apparently a “liability.” What the hell does that mean? If she dies in the sitter’s care, she’s afraid I’ll sue? Whatever. It makes me wonder if someone would be afraid to babysit a five-year old with diabetes. Too much of a liability risk? A cat? There must be some awfully bitchy, vindictive people out there ruining it for all of us.

I have to admit that I felt really hurt by this unknown sitter’s swift judgment. I mean, she claimed on her website to be able to administer medications to pets for the owners. Giving Cleo a shot is easier than trying to give a cat a pill. Or even eye drops, which I’ve had to give to Cleo for her persistent cherry eye. Cleo doesn’t even notice when I give her a shot. It’s barely a bother. Liability, my ass. I feel as though I’m the mother of a special needs kid who has been picked on in gym class by the popular older kids. Rejecting a potential sitting job from me is like rejecting my kid from a prestigious private school. I’m admittedly hurt.

And now I’m afraid other pet sitters will back similarly back off. So I’m freaking out because I can’t ask my friends to watch my cats unpaid for a week and a half while I’m in Seattle. Coming in twice a day is a lot of work. I’ve already got myself scheduled for three small weekend trips (just registered for Roscoe Ramble) in addition to my long vacation. I guess I’m going to ask my vet if any of the vet techs would like the job for $20/day. But I’ve been stressing about the thing all day.

I feel kind of trapped. I can’t help but feel this is the same kind of panic I would feel if I ever accidentally got pregnant. I just don’t like to be tied down by responsibility. I buck it the entire time. Even when I was married, I struggled to call my husband to tell him when I was meandering home from work or when I’d suddenly decided to meet up with friends somewhere. He bought me a cell phone because he never minded me changing my evening plans to go out, he just wanted to know what I was up to. Admittedly, I’m still bad about calling people to let them know I’m running late. I just like to be able to spontaneously change my mind about something at a moment’s notice. Some would call that fickle, I suppose.

On top of the stress of my cat, I’m currently in the middle of coordinating my bike club’s Adopt-a-Highway clean up project, the Memorial Day bike ride, and I’m filling in as interim ride leader for the Wednesday night ride while the regular ride leader recovers from an injury. Not that I mind doing these things–I’m ecstatic to be serving my club in this manner because I truly love to ride and I love sharing my love of riding with others by giving back to the club. However, in the middle of stressing about my cat, I’m also worried about pulling these other projects off right. All of them are mostly ready to go without much more work, but I have a few small loose ends to tie up, such as where we’re going to eat at the Burton lunch stop on the Memorial Day ride and letting Country Maid in Richfield (which is where our clean up area starts) and the county coordinator for Adopt-a-Highway know what day the club’s coming out to clean. Agggh!

I feel so much pressure to run everything perfect without any mistakes because the people in my club can often be very critical. And I never let criticism roll off of me; no, I hold onto the criticism and let it eat away at me. I’m also not one who takes criticism well. I stress constantly about perfection. I still love ride-leading; I love it better at the end when everything has worked out.

I’m also dealing with my own inner demons. In addition to enjoying the great people in my club, I have to deal with the presence of the ex-boyfriend, once friend, who hurt my feelings so badly that I have no desire to talk to him at all anymore. Ever. When I see him, anger wells up within me. The kind of anger that makes a person irrational to the point of insanity. The kind of insanity that makes you feel like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. NOT that I’d ever act on that sort of thing. I’m just saying, that’s how I feel. Feelings are one thing; actions another. All said, I’d say I’ve contained myself quite well. Not that I’ve acted civilly, either. I’m just not the type of person who can smile and pretend nothing’s wrong when I feel this kind of anger boiling inside of me. Mostly, I just play the fifteen year-old’s game of avoidance. I pretend he’s not there. Even when he’s talking to people standing right next to me. It’s dumb. But I’m so afraid that if I say something, I will say something truly awful and everyone will be shocked and deem me the total jerk. Or worse.

And I’m totally capable of being completely and utterly mean. The whole way home from a ride last weekend, I was imagining an entire dialog of madness with said ex-boyfriend after I spent the afternoon in the same room as him. I was so angry. I believe he was there with his new girlfriend, which just drove the knife in further. Oh, the email messages I wanted to write. It took everything I could to step back and just let the situation alone. It’s a good thing that vengeance demons (Buffy reference) really don’t exist because I could totally see how one could fall into one’s spell. It’s so easy to say things you really don’t mean when you’re angry.

It’s not all his fault, either. It was a mutual decision for us to break up. We gave it a good run of two years, but we were too different. Politically. Religiously. Some people say that opposites attract, and while that may have been the case at first, it really worked to totally erode our relationship to a point where I think we both started to really lose respect for each other. I can’t speak for him, but that’s what happened on my end. The final straw that broke the camel’s back–the one thing that ruined all potential for a relationship of any kind, even friendship–was just emotionally crushing for me. And it’s probably my fault for taking things so hard. The whole thing ended badly.. And I just wish to heck I didn’t have to run into him anymore. Especially when he’s decided to start bringing his new girlfriend everywhere (they weren’t going out, then they were going out again, I think)…

I’m working really hard on not being so angry any more. But I’m not perfect; I’m only human (or Martian) and I’m subject to human failings. I know that anger eats you alive and is really pointless to waste energy on. That changes nothing with how I feel. I hurt, I feel anger about the hurt. I can’t pretend it’s not there. I just have to learn to contain it. At least I’m able to repress the anger to show a good face. I hope.

Anyway, to make myself feel better, I went to Pier 1 tonight and bought the papasan for my library that I’d been obsessing about for weeks. Shopping therapy. Always works for me. I couldn’t fit the top part into my car, though, so I won’t have the whole thing together until my dad stops by the store to pick it up for me. I’m super excited about the way it will look in my library, how it will feel to sit in it while reading books. I got 10% off for opening a Pier 1 credit card. Eh, why not? I should have bought the foot stool, but I was having buyer’s remorse. Maybe I’ll go back later this weekend and get the foot stool. You need something to put your feet on to get really comfortable in a library, right?

My cycling’s been going well. I rode Monday and Tuesday evenings, topping off my Tuesday with a trifecta of the Valley’s southwestern hills: Wheatley, Everett, and Martin. Martin’s a real “pisser” of a hill. I actually said that under my breath when I got to the top–“This hill’s a pisser, ” I said, panting. It must be from watching too much Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Spike. (Did Spike ever say “pisser”?)

I rode to work Wednesday. It was a chilly morning. I had a flat on the ride home while climbing the hardest part of Truxell. I fixed the flat in 20 minutes so I think my maintenance lessons paid off in some way. I didn’t pinch flat the spare like I did last Thanksgiving and I made it home with daylight to spare so all is good.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do for riding this weekend. I would like to do two days of 50+ miles each (no more than 60), but I don’t know if that is going to be possible. On Saturday or Sunday, I need to take glucose readings on Cleo every three hours so that the vet knows where she’s at in her treatment. I figured I’d do this Saturday and maybe fit in a 55 mile ride to Bedford Reservation where I can climb Gorge Road. I’d like to get up on Sunday and do a 57-mile club ride, but I’m going to a spa party Saturday night and I don’t know how late I will be out or how I’ll feel in the morning (read: there will be wine to drink). Next weekend should be my 80+ mile ride before TOSRV. I’m going to try to either hit a club ride Saturday May 1st or do a ride with Medina Bike Club that starts in Norwalk or Oberlin on Sunday May 2. I’m hoping to get it over with Saturday because I’ll be at a play in downtown Cleveland that starts at 8pm. I can’t fathom getting up early enough to drive to Lorain County after coming home at 11pm the night before.

Either way, I’m probably in shape enough for TOSRV. I’ll probably have around 800-900 miles by the time the ride starts. I think I’ve been training adequately. It’s not that hard of a ride–the weather is the worst thing to contend with. I’m slightly worried about riding by myself if there’s obnoxious headwinds. I know it will work out somehow because I’m damned stubborn. Sometimes that’s a good quality. Most of the time, it just makes me a major pain-in-the-butt to be around…

Googled

I just did a little Google search on “mars girl” to see if my new blog turns up in the results (and, alas, it does not) and I came across someone who claims to have a written a novel about me.

Put Karl Rove and Groucho Marx in a smoke-filled room, spin well on 24-hour news cycle, and you get Mars Girl.

I don’t think anyone has ever compared me to Karl Rove before! Or Groucho Marx. Except when I forget to shave. (I’m cursed by the German hairiness. Thanks, Grandpa H.)

Seriously, though. I think a law suit is in order. I am the only Mars Girl.

And, dammit, I just gave this author (potential competition) a plug!

Phrases that need to be retired

This is an entry I started writing in December of last year but, for some reason or another (probably had some real work to do), I never finished it. When I transferred all my entries from blogspot, this entry resurfaced among some unfinished drafts I forgot about. In the spirit of a recent entry by Catheryn, I thought I’d finish and post it for fun… Since I’m on a roll with writing blog entries lately…

Anyway, enjoy. It’s a lot more entertaining than reading more of my gay-rights rants with which I’ve been spamming my Facebook account in reaction to the results of Maine’s election on Tuesday. I can’t say I’m surprised. But every once in a while, the hopeful part of me would like to not only be surprised by my fellow humans, but think better of them as well. Not gonna happen. So I need a few days to fume.

Here are some phrases I’m really sick of hearing and would like to see immediately retired from our lexicon of speech. Whenever I hear them, they grate on my nerves for unknown reasons. I think they sound dorky when they slide so casually from a person’s lips.

  • “Hit the ground running.” (Even though people have told me that I take on projects this way.)
  • “Balls to the wall.”
  • “Move on.” (In reference to anything that makes anyone sad whatsoever. Sometimes it’s okay to wallow, folks!)
  • “[He/she/it] threw [him/her/it] under the bus.”
  • “That chick is….” fill in the blank: hot, smoking, flaming, etc.
  • This isn’t a phrase, but I’m tired of all people who say “fustrated” instead of “frustrated.” There’s a stupid commercial on the radio (about a Playboy channel reality show, actually) where the girl says “fustrated” and I have to say that it’s “fustrating” me. I feel like a grammar teacher. Please learn to say the word right! The same with all you people who say “warsh” instead of “wash.”
  • “The New York Yankees win their 27th World Series.” It’s been one day and I’m sick of it. There’s no great feat in pulverizing everybody constantly when you can buy whoever the hell you want.
  • Referring to sexual acts as “whaling,” “boning,” “poking,” or “banging.”
  • “Cost cutting measures.” Just say it: Lay-offs.

Also, I think it’s about time to get ride of those stupid “Support The Troops” ribbons. I am still kicking myself that I never bought the one I saw at Spencer Gifts a few years ago. It was black and said, “Some asshole stole my Support The Troops ribbon.” I do support the troops–even if I don’t support the war–but people who drive around with those ribbons are pretentious to me. No offense. It’s like saying, “Hey, I’m more patriotic than you are.”

Okay, and I know that I feed into the arm bracelet fad by wearing a Livestrong band. I realize that the thing is starting to outlive its original usefulness. But. Well. It brings me closer to *Lance*.

Foiled by Time Warner Cable Again

Folks, my internet connection has been down all frakking weekend… I have a service call on Wednesday to hopefully fix this, but my patience is running short with TWC. I have never had a strong and consistent connection at my house and it’s frustrating. Maybe time for a DSL line. Having no internet on a holiday weekend is unacceptable. I amhaving serious withdrawal and I have an entry I’m excited to post. Not to mention updating my miles counter which should be at 1047.53 as of yesterday… Ugh! The humanity!

Hope your Memorial Day weekend is going better than mine… 60+ mile ride scheduled for tomorrow!
———-
Sent from my Verizon Wireless LGVX9900 device.

Journalism is silly

When I read a sentence like this, I’m ever-so glad I never pursued that career in journalism I thought I wanted as a child:

Best known as the genocidal dictator who butchered millions in his quest to unite Europe under German rule, Hitler also had a largely unsuccessful career as an artist in his early years.

That wins the award of the silliest dependant clause lead-in sentence I’ve ever read! Who the hell doesn’t know who Adolph Hitler is? Do you really think you need to feed us the general background information about the person involved, as you would for, perhaps, some third world figure the average human being doesn’t know about. I mean, an equally stupid sentence would be something along the lines of:

Best known for his suffering death by crucifixion on charges of sedition and his subsequent alleged return from death a day later, Jesus Christ began his career as a carpenter under the tutelage of his stepfather in Nazareth.

I mean, come on, how stupid does the Associated Press really think we are?? I am so glad that I don’t write in a profession that makes me state the obvious. Woe is the day that the entire educated human race doesn’t know who Hitler is (for we should always remember the man in order to avoid ever letting such horrid people into power again). Or Jesus Christ for that matter (since even non-Christians such as myself can find life lessons in his teachings). Geesh. This is why I don’t subscribe to or read the paper, people! It’s great reading… for a sixth grader.

Thanks for making me chuckle, Martin Benedyk. God bless your Journalism degree. You could teach a class now that you’ve mastered the art of providing background information to the assumed ignorant reader. (I remember when we had to write sentences like this in the one and only journalism class I took in high school… and flunked… because I didn’t like the watered down approach to writing forced by journalism.)