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…

Moving Write Along

I joined a local writer’s group. They meet twice a month and I’ve already attended three meetings. I’ve really enjoyed working with them so far–they are kind, respectful, and insightful with their critiques. It reminds me a lot of how we critiqued each other in writing classes in college–how the Great Joyce Dyer, my favorite professor and adviser–taught us to critique. So far, I’ve just been involved as someone providing a critique of the submitted pieces. I have enjoyed this thoroughly–so many wonderful writers in our group! It’s inspiring, really, to be in the company of much great talent.

I’m submitting my own piece for review for the March 21st meeting.To be honest, I’m not even that nervous about it. I have an abundance of things I’ve been working on in the last year, between the novel I started in 2011 and my NaNoWriMo novel, and I’m really curious to see how an audience reacts to them. This group is really respectful and nice so I can’t imagine feeling upset or defensive about their input. As they said at the first meeting I attended, “It’s better to hear it from us than an editor.”

They are really constructive about pointing out plot flaws and inconsistencies. After having participated in two critiques now, I feel like if anything I need to improve my own critiquing skills. Part of the problem stems from my nervousness at talking solo in a big group of people who are all listening to me during the two minutes I’m allotted to speak to the author. I’m sure this nervousness will dissolve in time as I get used to the people in the group. But this nervousness often makes me forget what I wanted to say. I also think I’m not as detail-oriented when I read. However, I have been making notes of the things I question. Some of the people in the group are really, really detailed readers, though. That will be good for me when I submit something for them to read!

I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that I probably will never actually be a published writer (unless you count the manuals I’ve written as a technical writer as published). At this point, though, I’m just aiming at writing a novel to its completion, editing it, and then…?? We’ll see. If I have enough confidence in the end product, I might actually put myself on the path to real publication. I know it’s not easy, though, and there’s the very real possibility that no matter how many times I try, it may never happen, no matter how marvelous my story is. Many great talented people I know have tried and failed, and continue to fail, so I know it’s best not to get my hopes up for anything.

I’ll definitely self-publish (after some very strict editing). I know that’s not a real route to the kind of publication I desire, but it might be enough to fulfill me. At the end of the day, if you ask me why I write, it’s simply because I want to. I like to do it. And that’s all that’s important to me. So this is the year–despite all the crazy stuff I have going on–that I just focus on doing that writing and completing one of my projects. And then I’ll figure out what the next best move is to make.

(You have to understand that for me it’s better if I just focus on a short-term goal. I get overwhelmed by thinking about all the details of long-term goals. So I need to just focus on accomplishing one thing before going to the next level.)

I’m not giving up. I’m just being realistic. And that’s another sobering truth about being around other writers. The good thing, though, is that we all have each other for support. I think having people to be accountable to also makes me find the time to do the writing. Like anything else you want to do, despite loving to write, you still have to make a conscious effort to do it. (Oh how I long for those summers off that I had in my high school years!)

It feels good to be finally taking some action on one of my life’s goals. It’s too bad I took so long to get here. I truly think my summer of U2 was the catalyst. Following them around the country was one of the most spontaneous things I’ve ever done… The whole adventure woke up the little girl whose voice I let be stifled (by myself and by others). Now I’m dreaming out loud and I’m ignoring all the voices who snicker, scoff, or minimize my dreams as ridiculous. It’s my life and I’m taking command from here on out.

Simple Things

…bumping noses with my boyfriend…

…a night bike ride up Smith Road–a hill I’ve never before conquered–while it’s closed to traffic, riding beneath the arms of construction equipment. The excitement thudding my heart like when I did something I wasn’t supposed to as a kid.

…the little patch of road ahead of me, illuminated by the headlight of my bike. My breathe–cold, laboring–as I try to make the most of a cold fall evening before the snow comes.

…decorating my house for Halloween. Spending time with friends at the party I threw.

…the warmth of a campfire in the fire pit in my backyard. Watching the flames lick the logs and the coals undulate bright and less bright, bright and less bright. Friendly faces illuminated in the light cast by the fire.

…laughing full and hard at some silly, stupid joke shared between me and Crow.

…listening to new albums for the first time by some of my favorite artists (Florence + The Machine, Coldplay, U2).

…waking up slowly on a Saturday morning without having any specific goals for the day…

…the first cup of coffee in the morning, that first sip and the pleasure that it brings to my senses–smell, taste, the sensation of it sliding across my tongue and igniting my taste buds with its flavor…

…late blooming roses on the bush outside my house… I usually don’t get all sappy about flowers, but it filled my heart with joy on a cold, cloudy November afternoon to find two roses in vibrant pink (and that bush usually yields orange-brown flowers) as if protesting the coming winter.

…making plans for future trips…

…the smell of wet leaves…

…the smell of pine trees… (soon to be in my house when I pick up my Christmas tree)…

…the excitement of the coming holidays…. Christmas shopping, making cookies, seeing family…

…anticipation of winter fun–snow-shoeing, downhill skiing, and possibly trying cross-country skiing…

…looking over an old nonfiction piece, trying to find a place in which it would fit for publication…

Slow down. Breathe. Revel in the simple things. Life is full of endless possibilities. I’m just starting to see them all.

Learning to take it easy…

I am not a person who likes to sit around. Or a person who understands the concept of a “relaxing ride.” Every fiber of my being is aggressive. I like to attack life–take it by its horns–and beat on it with my head no matter what the cost to my own head in the struggle. I think this is probably one of the aspects of my personality that has helped me overcome a lot of emotional struggles in my life. It’s also the unstoppable force that has led me to completing 152 miles of a bike ride in a single day. It’s the inner strength that pushed me up mountains. I like think of myself as tenacious; if I’m not the fastest or the best at something, I’m definitely the most determined. That head-strong tenacity won’t let me quit even when my body wants to give up.

The downside to my aggressive nature is that I can often push myself a little too hard, resulting in injury as what has happened to me most recently. I never seem to think about the consequences of my aggression–not at the time I’m pushing myself. I suppose no one does. But over the past two years in my cycling I’ve been challenged with a knee injury and now this spine/back problem, both of which have resulted in me being unable to ride for a period of time.

I was finally able to get back on my bike over the last few weeks, but the process is slow. I have only been able to ride up to 35 miles at a time at the most. The pain in my shoulder seems to have weakened my whole body, combined with the fact that I was actually unable to ride for about two weeks there. I’ve lost some of my fitness level so even when my shoulder is back 100%, I’m going to have to slowly work myself back up to rides between 60-70 miles.

Yeah, I said slowly. The PT seems to think that my lack of training this year before throwing myself into the intensity of Calvin’s Challenge and TOSRV put extra stress on my body which caused the intense flare-up of arthritis. He also suggested that I have pinched a nerve, thus all the pain in my upper arm and back. While he encouraged my continuing to ride my bike over the next few weeks, he cautioned against pushing it too hard. And so I’ve had to struggle with not pushing myself despite the overwhelming urge to do so. Today, for example, when I was taking a rest stop in the Cuyahoga Valley at Szalay’s–about 20 miles into the ride–I was tempted to loop through the Merriman Valley before heading back towards home which would have ultimately given me about 45 miles. I had to talk myself out of it, which was very frustrating. As a compromise, I allowed myself to go on to Ira Road instead of turning down Botzam to get to Akron-Peninsula Road. I also bullied myself into climbing the steeper Wetmore in favor of the more gradual Truxell. It seems like a favorable compromise, except when you realize that the aggressive part of myself was still winning the argument with my logical half. “Easy” and “relaxed” still don’t appear in my vocabulary.

It was a good thing I didn’t push myself on to Merriman. I was feeling a bit exhausted and weak on my climb up Wetmore, and I jumped to the granny gears a lot sooner than I normally do. My shoulder started to get uncomfortably achy in the last five miles from home. I actually was ready to get off my bike when I arrived home. That was definitely disheartening. But at least I know I can probably start riding to work next week since it’s a 35 mile roundtrip–and that’s bursts of 15 miles separated by eight hours of rest. I think I can do it without causing too much strain on my body. The hill climbing required to get through the valley in my commute will help regain some of my strength.

I had a second PT appointment on Friday. I received a massage and electrical stimulation–both of which made me feel markedly better. I’m not out of the woods yet–sleeping last night was just as uncomfortable as it’s been for weeks–but my comfort level throughout the day was greatly increased. I am looking forward to Monday’s session as well as Friday. I am starting to feel more positive about getting this thing beat and behind me. And not just because of my plans for riding this summer, but also for the sake of my U2 concert spree. The pain definitely took something out of me in Denver and I was seriously worried that my other shows might be ruined, especially if I had needed surgery or something. But now I anticipate a much more comfortable experience in E. Lansing and the following shows. The PT has estimated a recovery time of four weeks with therapy twice a week and exercises I do at home.

The cautionary side note is that I will have to learn to temper my aggression for the rest of the summer. The PT says that I’m susceptible to recurring pain in my shoulder because it will still be healing. Like a pulled hamstring, he says. Having witnessed a friend going through the misery of a hamstring he pulled while skiing a few years ago, I understand the analogy quite well. This information is dully noted.

Next year, when I allow my aggressive nature to take over my body again, I’m going to have to work myself slowly into the high mileage, like I did in the years past. So that means if the spring weather is as sucky as it was this year, I cannot do TOSRV or Calvin’s Challenge. Which is fine, right? I need to teach myself that I may embark on any challenge I desire, but I must do it safely. My body is just skin, bones, muscle, nerves and I can easily abuse these. Abuse to the point of injury is not an acceptable result. Injury takes me out of the sport I enjoy so much. I will need to find the patience within myself to practice good physical training. It’s time to learn to stretch. My body has informed me that I’m overdoing it and I have to learn to listen to the difference between pushing too hard and aggressively pursuing a challenge.

Oh, but it’s all so hard!

Gone

I’m here to say that the rumors are true… As of last week, I’m now officially going to yet another U2 show this summer. Just added to my itinerary: Nashville, July 2, 2011.

Excessive? If you think so, perhaps you should read the bi-line of this blog again: The story of a girl from Mars and her passion for everything.

Let’s examine the word “everything,” shall we? It’s really two words stuck together to form one–every and thing. Encompassing literally all things. All things of which I love. There is no halfway with me. I’m an all or nothing kind of gal.

So what prompts a girl who was originally going to one U2 show in seats to willingly fork over money for one, then two, and then a third additional show? And, for godsakes, why? Pent up anticipation. The original show in East Lansing was supposed to happen in 2010 but was delayed when Bono injured his back. After surgery and several months of rehabilitation, U2 was back in the road in August last year. And then they added dates to their North American tour, one of which was Pittsburgh. So I was thinking, “Hey, Pittsburgh is closer than East Lansing, and I’m going to East Lansing, why I don’t I go to Pittsburgh too?”

And since the second ticket I bought for East Lansing has changed hands about three times, I figured I’d save myself the hassle of trying to find someone to go with me and just go alone.  And, while I was at it, why didn’t I try this general admission thing my fellow fans are always raving about? Sitting in line all day sounded kind of like a campy bonding experience with fellow worshippers of the band. Maybe I’d meet some friends. Being in GA always looks like a crazy party of dancing and jumping around. I love crazy parties. I love to dance and jump around!! I love to scream my lungs out! I’d love to be so close to the band I can see them sweat!

Then in October I joined a fan forum. And I started talking to some people on a regular basis. We’ve talked about this one before… A little arm-twisting, a little photoshop manipulation of some pictures pleading me to go, and the next thing I know, I’m buying a ticket for Philly. This time, I’m feeling secure because I will know people and have some friends to hang out with in line.

So last week, I’m sitting around, contemplating all the wonderful 360 bootlegs I’ve downloaded and listened to in the last several months, and my excitement is mounting again. I’m thinking that I just can’t get enough of live U2–the band reinvents themselves every time they take the stage. U2’s about to open the South American leg of their tour on March 25th. A lot of anticipation is building, tickling my veins with excitement. And I’m looking up which shows on the US leg take place on a weekend so that maybe I could drive to yet another without taking additional time off work. And along comes Nashville.

I think about it. Google Maps tells me it takes about 8 hours to get to Nashville from my house. I look at my company’s time-off schedule. I realize I could swap my July 4th holiday out for Friday July 1st instead. I announce publicly my thoughts of adding Nashville and find out that my friend Kristy is also going to that show; she invites me to drive down with her and her husband. And the next thing I know, I’m pushing the Submit button to send payment to a ticket site for the Nashville show.

Lock and load. My first GA experience changes from Philly to Nashville. Whee!!

So you probably think I’ve lost my mind. And that’s okay. This is about the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Which means it really needed to be done. It’s an adventure and a half. You only live once and all that. Have you ever loved something so passionately that you were willing to run to the ends of the earth to grab a hold of it for just two seconds? That describes my plight.

Okay, so I’m no longer at the point where I can claim all this as part of the research for my novel. I think that excuse is long dead. I’ll just own up to my obsessive behaviors and be done with it. However, I will point out that I’m not alone… There are many, many U2 fans like myself who are attending several more concerts than me. Some people, like a girl I know online, is actually flying in from Australia to see several shows on the US leg. At least two of the people I will meet with the group in Philly are flying in for the show from Europe.

I guess, though, that’s like an alcoholic saying that they can’t be an alcoholic because they know people who drink more than they do. Ha. But, well, U2 music won’t destroy my life…. My friends think I’m a little odd, that’s true, but they thought that for years anyway with all my other obsessive reactions to those things about which I’m passionate–cycling, astronomy, skiing. I bet every one who criticizes has something they’re secretly–or even openly–passionate about, something that drives them to the ends of the earth to seek fulfillment with. If you don’t, then perhaps you should find something.

It’s like my new t-shirt (which I plan to wear at the concerts at which I’m in GA) says, “I don’t suffer from addiction to U2; I enjoy every second of it!”

I admit that I'm addicted to this band.

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate

My mom called me (while I was at work) about a week ago, frantically imploring me to get the swine flu vaccination. I told her that I hadn’t planned to; I never get any sort of flu vaccination and, incidentally, I never get sick. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I had the flu. Sure, I’ve had flu-like symptoms (vomiting, headache, body aches, and lethargy), but these were self-inflicted from a night of drinking just a bit too much past “the line.” I get colds once or twice a year and they sometimes affect my respiratory system, but usually nothing to keep me from going to work or aborting my usual exercise routine (I’ve often ridden my bike with a nasty cold).

So that’s why, with my general healthiness in mind, early on in this swine flu panic, I had pretty much determined that the illness was the typical media hype and I wasn’t going to bother to buy into it. It seems every year there’s a new strain of something everyone’s afraid is going to become the new, great plague and I’ve got better things to worry about than the end of the world. Apocalyptic fears plagued my childhood with the threat of nuclear war; I certainly don’t need one more thing to panic about. Especially in my second life of widowhood where Death seems always to be stalking me around every corner.

My mom’s not usually the alarmist sort. Yeah, she can be somewhat overprotective of  her children, but she’s not one to easily buy into hype. Or so I would think, anyway. After I got off the phone with her, I was a little shaken. I had already been thinking a lot about cancer–and, of course, worrying occasionally that I might have a tumor growing inside of me that I’m completely unaware of–since a former coworker’s husband had recently died of this disease as well as a few people from my church who I only knew marginally. But the Big C has been on my mind as a potential unseen threat. Swine flu really hadn’t been on my radar at all. Just another flu season. I’m the complete opposite of a germophobe.

It took a few days for me to come back to my senses. I read a few articles against the vaccine (some containing a zealous fanaticism bordering on quacky) and some articles for it. I listened to various takes on the “epidemic” on NPR. I took in opinions of those around me and those of radio celebrities I respect (such as Dr. Joy Browne, the radio psychologist I worship). I then went back to my original conclusion that it was all hype, that I didn’t need to get the shot at all.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I should do. A little fearful voice in the back of my head squeaks, “But what if you don’t and you do die? Game over! Game over!” It’s the same voice that questioned whether the world was really going to end on January 1, 2000 or that still wonders if something bad’s going to happen on December 21, 2012 when the Mayan calendar ends. I’m not sure that voice is rational or reasonable.

Here’s what I don’t believe:

  • I don’t believe that the vaccine–or any vaccine–causes autism.
  • I don’t believe the vaccine is intentionally or unintentionally harmful. Taking it is not going to make you die; this is the quacky hype that feeds on a medically ignorant public.
  • I don’t believe the vaccine will make you have the flu. It’s a dead version of the virus. Biology 101, people: your body learns what the virus is and is able to build an immunity to it.
  • I don’t believe that we really accurately understand which strange/mutation the virus will take on.

The only reason I don’t bother with the normal course of flu shots is because of the last bullet point, actually–the doctors who design these flu vaccines are only guessing what strain will be out in the next year. Maybe they generally guess pretty well, but getting the flu vaccination is never a guarantee that you won’t get the flu. I always figure that I’d rather take the gamble than take the time out of my day to go do something I find really uncomfortable. And I’m just talking about going to the doctor in general before we even get to the needles. I have not gotten a cholesterol test in years because I’d rather not have blood drawn. When it comes to doctors, excepting my OBGYN, I am of the philosophy that I don’t go and see them until something’s wrong or feels wrong (and only after I’ve worked myself into a panic about it).

I haven’t bothered with the swine flu shot  for the same reasons listed above including this last caveat: I am outright and insufferably stubborn. Looking at this media craze, and how panicky people are reacting, I have the complete knee-jerk reaction to rebel against the mainstream. To not give into the hype and avoid the minions waiting for the shots in the long lines at the health clinics. To prove at the end of this “epidemic” that I was right, there was no need to be afraid.

But do I really want to play this game with my life? What if the hype is right? It’s so hard to tell fact from fiction in age of instant, round-the-world communication. I’ve always said, Joe Blow’s horse dies on a farm in the middle of Montana and the world knows before Joe Blow returns home to tell Mrs. Blow. And by that time, it’s turned into a sensational conspiracy theory about aliens, men in black vehicles, and the image of the Virgin Mary in the horse’s stool.

A few years ago, the Big Scare was bird flu. Before that, it was SARS. It’s like the media is drooling to find just one pandemic prophecy that is fulfilled. I didn’t get bird flu (though I think one of my friends did) and I didn’t get SARS. But I did panic about it for a while. Because, you know, that whole widow thing makes me extremely sensitive to unseen threats. Especially since my husband died from an unseen threat, though it was a genetic condition of his heart and not a disease.

It’s really the media’s fault that I look skeptically at anything I read or hear. If they didn’t play Chicken Little, shouting that the sky is falling every other day, maybe once in a while I’d believe something instead of regarding it with the same judgment I do for the eye-witnesses of a car crash.

The fact that it seems so hard to get the Swine Flu vaccine is making the choice easier for me. I’m not going to wait in some three-hour long line like a cow in a slaughter line. I haven’t called to check if my doctor because I don’t want to look like one of those panicky germophobic sorts. I envision my doctor saying, “You’re really not eligible for this vaccine. We’re giving it to people who are at high risk.”

As my mom points out, H1N1 has been largely a respiratory issue. I have (very, very mild) asthma. I guess that puts me in some risk category. But I just can’t see myself as going down that way. I suppose no one really sees themselves meeting their end in a particular way. But I just don’t see myself as frail. I’m pretty healthy and energetic. It can’t affect me, right?

I’m really on the fence. After listening to more people tonight prophetize pandemic doom, I started thinking about getting it again. Of course, on the way home, a local radio show host was also discussing Swine Flu and getting vaccinations. Even though it was the dullard who is oft the conspiracy theorist, and all the people who call him are freaks,  it still caused me a moment of pause.

I wish they gave them out at work or something. Then it wouldn’t inconvenience me–taking time out of my work day because doctors never have hours that are friendly to those of us minions who have a job–to get one. Maybe if a local bike shop or something had them. Then I could look around at bike toys while waiting for my turn at the needle. Hmm. That would be a great promotion. Get one “Define Your Life. Ride a Bike” item with every flu shot… I still need the coffee mug…

Scandals

I just don’t understand why we hold people in the spotlight to such high standards as to have no human failings. Yes, I’m talking about the Letterman “scandal.” It really shouldn’t be a scandal at all. It’s ridiculous that anyone should be able to attempt to bribe someone with information about a man’s philandering and that such philandering, when brought out in public, should cause the downfall of the man’s career.

Think of it on the level of the Average Everyday Joe. Maybe Joe is your friend. Maybe Mrs. Everyday Joe is your friend. When Joe has cheated on Mrs. Joe, and it becomes public in the sense that everyone in your circle of friends knows, you feel sympathy–not personal outrage–for the couple and their troubles. It is not a scandal; it’s a friend who has made a painful mistake. Joe’s job is not in jeapardy because he violated his marriage vows. I am sure Joe feels really bad for himself and the trouble he’s wrought to his wife and his family. Or maybe Joe is selfish and doesn’t feel guilty. But at the end of the day, Joe still has his dignity. He doesn’t lose all his friends over it. Maybe he and his wife get divorced. Maybe some of his wife’s friends think he’s a scum bag. But, please. No one gets their feathers in a ruffle and demands that Joe be stripped of everything he owns, or lose his job, for a mistake. Or even a series of mistakes.

Cheating on your spouse is not a crime. Except, perhaps, to the parties involved. Or, if you’re religious, you might feel a cheater has committed some grave sin. Either way, it’s really no one else’s business. If you hold celebrity in an exulted status as a hero, you’ve got your own issues. I personally feel that no one should hold anyone on so high a pedestal that they forget the person is only human and thus vulnerable to human failing. I have a lot of celebrities whom I hold in high regard myself; however, I do not think that they are perfect and I don’t hold them to standards none of us can promise we can maintain. (Because, yes, I’ve cheated on a boyfriend or two in the past. I’m not completely innocent.)

It doesn’t matter what I think of Letterman personally; it doesn’t matter what you think of him personally. He is not someone we’re paying to teach us morality. He’s an entertainer, for god sakes. What entertainer do you know who has not cheated on his/her spouse? What man, when presented with lots of willing and eager-to-please women–more women than a normal man ever has access to–is not tempted by the fruit thrown at his feet? (Except Bono from U2, who appears to love his wife greatly, but even I–a megafan–don’t expect him to be perfect. I’ve been secretly holding my breath for some day when I learn that that Bono and his wife are estranged or getting divorced; I hold my breath because I would like to see one or two celebrities stay with their spouses.)

I just get so annoyed when we hold famous people to higher standards than we hold ourselves, our family members, our neighbors. With people we know, we’re usually more willing to allow them their human frailties and forgive them. I think in this day and age, it’s ridiculous to call a philandering man’s exploits a scandal. I was annoyed with it during Clinton’s presidency (hey, a president getting sex is a happy man, right? A happy man can concentrate on the country. Who am I to judge that?). I’m annoyed with all the uproar about Letterman right now.

The only time I take joy in the discovery of a man’s philandering is when it’s some (male) anti-gay rights advocate who is discovered to be having sex with a man. Now that, my friends, is a scandal because it’s someone getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar to which he swore and made great noise against. But a heterosexual man having sex with young girls in his employ– who were probably all too willing anyway since some women are attracted to the power of celebrity? Yawn. Old news.

I applaud Letterman for taking the whole thing gracefully, even though he was pressured to do so by attempted extortion. It’s much better to openly admit you have done wrong and make light of it than to let something leak out slowly as you struggle to suppress it. I’ve learned this in my own way in life–not from illicit sexual exploits, but from other events in which I attempted to cover up a wrong I committed instead of admitting to it right away. The thing you seek to hide always comes out eventually and when it does, the fallout is much stronger and more harsh than it would have been had you admitted to it in the first place. I think Letterman recognized this when the ex-boyfriend of one of his former lovers attempted to extort him. Had he given into the bribe, it probably would have still come out eventually, which would have made Letterman look worse.

We can be better than barbarians

The biggest news story in Ohio in this past September was about Romell Broom–a death row inmate who was supposed to be executed a few weeks ago but due to the inability of the executioners to locate a viable vein in which to administer the lethal injection, his execution was temporarily suspended. (I tried to see if he finally did get executed, as this happened earlier in the month of September, but there are no recent news articles.)

This story, of course, got me to thinking about the death penalty. I used to be for it. Growing up, I believed in what I later learned was spelled out in the ancient code of Hammerabi: “eye for an eye.” A lot of my fellow citizens also seem to ascribe to this code, believing that one should pay equally for the crime which they committed against someone else. We are human, we seek retribution in our anger over injustice.

But life isn’t as simple as the “eye for an eye” philosophy suggests. Our legal system–any legal system–is not perfect enough for unfailing accuracy in convictions. Sometimes (not in the case of Mr. Broom) the wrong man is convicted because the evidence makes him look awfully guilty. Our legal system is not based on the guilt or innocence but whether or not it can be proven that a person is guilty. There’s just not enough certainty all the time to hang a man.

I hate to say it, but one of the major turning points in my thoughts on the death penalty happened when I watched the fictional film The Life of David Gale. In this movie, David Gale (played by Kevin Spacey) is a part of this radical group of individuals so opposed to the death penalty that they stage what looks like a murder (actually killing someone–the victim participates in her own death as an act of martyrism) with Gale as the guilty party. Of course, you learn by the end of the movie that the death was willful suicide and that Gale was not guilty, but it’s too late and Gale is executed for a crime he didn’t commit. The movie was, of course, blatant propaganda by an agency against the death penalty. Still, it caused me to rethink my own feelings on the death penalty, not only for the innocent man wrongly accused but for the guilty man rightly convicted.

You see, it’s my belief that a civilized society only needs to resort to violence when absolutely necessary. I realize that wars are sometimes warranted. There’s always a faction of “civilized” people with a thirst for power and the madness and drive to attain it. There are dire situations when dire action is needed. However, I believe this force should be used sparingly lest we become the big bullies in the school yard, the ones who would eventually need someone more civilized to come around and tame.

My idea of a civilized society is based on the notion that the human race has a chance to advance itself to a point where we can become, in a sense, higher beings. We have so much potential for good. I think we, as a race, should strive every day to better ourselves, try desperately to beat out of our DNA these barbaric tendencies that lead us down the path to self-destruction. Just as I try, hard, every day to better my own self–to rid myself of those qualities that make me an undesirable person such as jealousy, anger, and prejudice. We can evolve ourselves. And part of that evolution, to me, is desisting in activities that make us savages.

The death penalty is a savage way of dealing with our criminals. Fighting fire with fire does not make a wrong become right. We have the ability in these situations to take the upper hand and not return brutality with more brutality. At the end of the day, no matter how just we think we’re being in executing a convicted murderer, we’re only committing murder ourselves. Murder is always wrong.

I can never understand why some of the people who support the death penalty scream loudest against abortion rights. If you truly believe in the sanctity of human life, then you should also believe that the murder of one of your own adult citizens is also wrong. If you believe in a divine power who is just and fair, then you should assume that a guilty person will someday pay for their sins if they do not repent. And, I will point out in my limited Biblical knowledge and failed Christian education, that Jesus asked people to give everyone a chance, no matter what their past history was, because everyone had an opportunity to be forgiven. A person of faith should be opposed to the death penalty by nature because he/she should realize it’s not our position to chose life and death for someone else.

As a somewhat secular person myself (with spiritual tendencies and a generic belief in karma), I don’t think it’s our place to sentence someone–no matter how guilty we know them to be–to death. I believe that the willful murder of any life–animal or person–is not only wrong but against our better natures. I don’t believe that ultimately people pay the price for their “sins”; I think that sometimes life just sucks and you’re subject to circumstances beyond your control. I want to hope that in some way a murder is punished ultimately for what he/she has done. But that may be just the savage human inside of me who seeks “eye for an eye” justice because it seems the fairest. Though, a part of me always feels that a person is somehow accountable on some level for his/her own actions and that, in ways we can’t even imagine, he/she might pay for his/her grievous mistakes. I just don’t think it’s our place to step in as the final arbitrator between life and death–to play God–for someone else.

Unfortunately, I don’t offer any solutions on just what we should do with someone who has committed murder other than a life sentence without a chance of parole, depending on the circumstances. I realize that that’s more tax payer dollars going to keep undesirable people alive. But money shouldn’t determine whether a person lives or dies. A lot of these people are probably broken and can never be rehabilitated. And I think a person should always have the chance to fight for the case of his innocence through appeals. Perhaps every once in awhile an innocent man wrongly convicted is set free.

People always tell me I’d feel different if someone I knew was murdered. However, I don’t think so. When someone we love dies–no matter how they die–a part of us wants retribution on some banal level. My husband died of natural causes and I still found myself wanting to bring someone to fault for what happened–myself for not knowing CPR or what to do as my husband lay dying before my eyes, the doctor who turned him away as having an anxiety attack when he had his first cardiac incident, even Mike since he never pursued the matter further. I could attack whomever I wanted. I could have sued that emergency room doctor, perhaps the whole hospital, and won myself some money. And then what? Once revenge is taken, the person is still dead. You are still left with that hollow, empty feeling of someone who has lost a loved one. Nothing you can do will make that pain go away except time. Having someone else’s blood on your hands will eventually only make you feel worse. Just like when you inflicted revenge on that one nasty person who treated you badly in middle school. For a few days, you felt good for tarnishing their reputation or beating the crap out of them, but after that immediate thirst was quenched, you still couldn’t take away all the mean things they said about you, the things that sometimes still haunt your mind when you’re feel less self-assured.

And there’s still the question of whether or not the convicted person is actually guilty of the crime. I think we have possibly executed people in the past who were truly innocent of the crime of which they were convicted. I hope that in our modern society this becomes less of a possibility in the advent of technology that allows us to find DNA evidence. However, even DNA evidence isn’t necessarily fool-proof (actual criminals may be more careful of leaving evidence behind while someone who is innocent may inadvertently contaminate a crime scene).

To advance ourselves as a race, we need to step away from our savage instincts. We need to behave like civilized people and treat our even our citizens–even those convicted of a crime–with more compassion. We will never reach our fullest potential as a race if we can’t act better than our animal instincts.

It’s electric… boogie woogie woogie

The other morning on the way to work, I was listening to a podcast of the Diane Rehm show–my favorite NPR broadcast next to the Prairie Home Companion–and they were talking about the new Chevy Volt. Has anyone heard of this? It really, really sounds cool. They give it some abitrary 230 mile/gallon rating, which really has more to do with a guest-a-mate based on the fact that you could recharge this baby every night and drive up to 40 miles during the day before needing to go to the “gas reserves.” I was pretty impressed. In the typical Diane Rehm fashion, they had people on all sides, not just GM sales/marketing people, talking about this car and I feel I got enough of a perspective that I’m going to look further into this vehicle.

My current car, a 2003 Acura RSX, is nearing 130K miles. I was starting to look around for a new vehicle but not yet committed to going back to having car payments. However, the Volt is due out in November 2010. It won’t go into general release of consumers until 2011 some time. I realize, like all hybrid cars, there will be a long waiting list to purchase one. But since I don’t need a car at this particular moment–mine’s still running well enough–maybe I have the time and patience to wait. So I think I need to do further investigation here. I’d certainly like to be more environmentally-friendly.

My only concern is a lack of trunk space. I have a thing against bike racks. Mainly, I don’t like watching my bike bounce on them from my rear view mirror as I plug along at 60–okay, let’s be real, 80mphon the highway. I’m always afraid it’s going to fall off. And I won’t even get into the fact that I know if I had a roof rack, I’d inevitably end up driving into my garage, forgetting that my bike is still on there, and therefore cause the end to my bike myself. So, anyway, I always put my bike in the trunk. My Acura is a hatchback so there’s plenty of room. I know that these hybrid vehicles tend to have huge batteries that suck up all the space in the back. Previously, I’d been considering getting a Honda Fit for my excessive use of car space for all of my crazy activities (my telescope needs a lot of room in the trunk too).

I also know that the Volt will come with a huge price tag (the GM sales/marketing dude on the Diane Rehm show danced around with the lingo “in the high 30s” and another guy later piped in that it would cost 40K). Which I know is high. And probably doesn’t really outweigh the fact that you’re not buying as much gas or you get a government rebate. I wasn’t thinking of spending that much on a car this time around (since my Acura cost about half that); I wanted to buy in the 12-13K range since vehicles lose their value so fast and I’m a very bad driver that dings my vehicles constantly so that they look like junk when they’re still young.

But maybe I should put my money where my liberal mouth is. I mean, if I’m being gentle to the environment and not using up precious natural resources in the process, then maybe it’s worth the price tag. Although, I do have to ask myself what natural resources are used to create electricity. Am I just trading overuse of one natural resource for another?

Well, it’s something to think about anyway. And I’ve still got time. But I think it’s neat what the human mind can come up with when put under pressure. And you just know that GM is doing this because of the failed economy and their failure in the marketplace. They want to appeal to an audience with a vehicle that Americans might want. Finally. At least they are finally getting the picture that Honda and Toyota already figured out long ago. Even if you aren’t an environmentalist, not spending a lot of money on gas appeals to liberals and conservatives alike.

Conspiracy theories

A rocket to study global warming goes down after launch… hmmm… suspicious? I think not! Were I a conspiracy theorist, which I am not, I might say that this is a “Right-Wing Conspiracy.” I’m sure my husband and I would have had a secret chuckle about this recent installment of the Right-Wing Conspiracy. It was our favorite answer to anything that apparently thwarted a liberal cause.

We had a joke about this concerning birth control. He used to say that the Right Wing–in the form of my OBGYN–was lying to me about the effectiveness of my birth control in order to trap me into pregnancy so that I would meet their supposed agenda of reducing all feminists to being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Because, you see, the Right Wing is obviously anti-feminist and all family-oriented.

Of course, he was joking. And I’m only being tongue-in-cheek about the rocket. But, still, I did watch The X-Files all throughout college, leaving me with a naturally suspicious mind. So I’m always looking for those Right Wing Conspiracies even if I don’t really believe in the conspiracies I, or anyone else, invent. But you never know. The truth is out there.