Another Way

One of the things that surprised me about Chris when I first met him was that he was funny, but not snarky. He was smart and witty, but not bitingly so.

Then I met his friends from high school, when they were having a game night. These were some heavy-hitting smartsters, most of whom had advanced degrees and had gotten together since they were teenagers to play brainiac board games together.

Intimidated much? Absolutely!

They were nice. They were patient with me and explained how the games were played. They welcomed me and said they were glad to have me there.

What the hell. Did they think I was so far below them that pity was the only response they could give?

I was not used to this. I was used to constant pecking order, and power struggles between friends and enemies.

The word frenemies hadn’t been invented yet, more’s the pity.

These guys got together and played strategy games that involved devious backstabbing and shifting alliances. They played at it.

On the board.

In real life, they were good friends, and continued to enjoy one another’s company as the years went by.

I got away from my teenage mean girl cliques. By the time I met Chris I was trying to make it in my corporate career.

I thought I’d left the cliques behind. I did not know. The disenfranchised adolescents gave way to disenfranchised employees. And like the teens, my co-worker comrades dug in and made a lifestyle of mean.

Mean people suck.

Chris’s friends showed me a new way. I could easily extrapolate from the present adult relationships the teenage ones that had been.

People can be nice.

Even teenagers.

Even my boss.

Just because they hadn’t been doesn’t mean that all people of that type will follow suit.

 

Hello, World!

That’s one of the things you say when you talk to the public through a new technology.

I don’t remember if my blog started that way. But it may well have.

The point is, my blog started. And it continued to address the world for years.

Until 2010.

The blog didn’t stop in 2010, but my employer began to stalk it and behave in threatening ways until I felt the best way to keep my job was to shut down my blog.

It was against company policy for them to threaten me in that way.

When I said Hello World, the world got to respond.

It responded with power. My employer, or people my employer employed, abused their power and used it to bully me into silence.

I have always been careful about what I say on my blog. I would not talk about my work in a way that would damage it.

However.

There are times when anything you say can and will be used against you.

At that time, when an anonymous person from my employer was looking at my blog every day, in addition to how I was treated on the job, I knew they were looking for a way to torture me. Ironic, because they had every legal right to fire me. Anytime they wanted. That’s how employment works.

But I think the people who were in power didn’t have *quite* that much power.

That’s also how employment works.

So, one or more people were working to build a case to…damage me.

Like a cat toying with a mouse.

I hated how they were bullying me at work. But I most hated that they were taking away my speech.

I know how free speech works.

They were not taking it away. They were breathing their hot halitosis breath down my back to say they could use it against me.

I could have kept saying whatever i wanted.

I did talk to a lawyer.

In the end, I decided my free speech was worth less than my job.

I rolled up like an armadillo. I went underground.

The world is a big place. There are a lot of ways to say hello.

Side by Side

The first time Chris and I went to Disneyland, he was very excited. I enjoyed it, and yet I had to ask “Is it art?”

I’ve written about Disneyland before, and that conversation before. Where art is and is not depends on the eye of the beholder. I’ve since expanded my view of art.

There is another side to the amusement park that’s hard to ignore: It’s expensive. It is commercial art, if it’s art.

Yesterday the family and I went to Knott’s Berry Farm. That amusement park is super close to Disneyland in Anaheim, but it was first.

While the highway system of America was being developed a whole category of Roadside Attractions sprung up with it. Back before cars had air-conditioning or other comforts, it was very important to have a place to stop and recharge on a car trip.

When my family lived in Humboldt County I loved to keep an eye out for Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox as we travelled through the redwoods.

And getting from the San Francisco Bay area to Hwy 5 took me past the delightful Casa De Fruta¬†a true roadside attraction. I heard it was so popular a roadside attraction that they actually moved the road to give it it’s own exit and keep traffic flowing.

That’s how Knott’s Berry Farm started. It was a chicken dinner restaurant run by Mrs. Knott, and people came from miles around to eat there. The wait times could stretch for hours. So Mr. Knott started building rides to keep the customers amused. It grew organically, naturally.

Walter Knott was interested in history. His amusement park had and still has a western museum, a ghost town and slightly outside the park he build a full replica of Independence Hall.

That’s what mattered to him. It wouldn’t even have occurred to me to ask if Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park was art. The founder made it about history and then even he became part of its history after he died.

Chris and I wondered about this very American park, and what might happen to it in the future. How long will the vision of Walter Knott linger in it? I’m sure his children think it’s changed a lot, but for me, the first time visitor, it feels drenched in history.

Walt Disney made his park non-organically. He had a vision and made it the way he wanted it to be. Also, he started out as an artist. He did make the cartoon animations of Mickey Mouse at the very start of his career. So it’s natural to wonder what he was trying to convey with Disneyland, and if his creation has achieved what he wanted.

Disney wanted a wholesome place for adults and children to play, so he made Disneyland. There is a long and continuing history of sketchy and unsavory amusement parks. Other parks in this area have that reputation.

Knott’s Berry Farm, though, doesn’t. It’s clean, homey and safe. Mr. Knott set the tone, he kept the standards high and the visitors respected it.

How interesting that these two similar parks came to be in their unique way.

Waiting for the Grail

The story of King Arthur and his search for the Holy Grail never gets old. The idea is that this noble King, who wanted equality in leadership–the round table–puts all his resources and bravest men on the job of finding this one sacred object.

If only he could find the Holy Grail!

Yet, it’s not even clear what the Grail will do for anyone. And when I watch those movies or read the books I can’t help thinking that the quest has unnecessarily put everything on hold.

Didn’t Arthur have a kingdom to unite? Wasn’t he supposed to focus on building equality and bringing prosperity for his people? What a massive waste of time and resources to have a quest for this one object, which may or may not be achievable or even exist.

Perhaps King Arthur manufactured the whole grail quest to keep his restless knights busy. Sounds very likely. The greatest danger to his power was his knights. The powers that be have known to do this since before history began.

Maybe the whole thing was just a distraction.

The Holy Grail has become a metaphor in common usage. It’s something out there, a quasi-hopeless goal. A magical thing that will make everything all right.

I’m done with it though. I have spent years looking for the right approach to solve personal problems. If I were having trouble with a particular person, I would convince myself that there was a perfect solution. If only I could find the perfect phrasing to explain that my point of view is correct!

It’s another grail quest. Maybe the trouble with that person is that I need to cut off connection. If it takes repeated tries of perfect magic sentences, then perfect magic sentences aren’t the answer. The answer is to look elsewhere.

However if I stay stuck in my quest for the perfect thing, I never get around to looking elsewhere. Just like King Arthur, I’m in a rut of choices and actions that get me nowhere.

Perfection doesn’t exist. The right answer is not one thing. It’s a series of beliefs, actions and choices all working together–constantly updating and changing that get me to an approximation of happiness and satisfaction.

I don’t need some extra-terrestrial woman in white to give me one sacred object. I was given what I need when I was born. I don’t need to meet some standard of purity to be granted my heart’s desire.

My heart’s desire is my heart’s business. If I can avoid wasting time on impossible quests and requests, I can get to that important business.

I got home late last night. I’d been out with friends, an amazing consciouness-raising evening. I didn’t get to sleep until almost 1 am.

Then I heard Veronica let herself out of her room. What? It’s 5:30. I got up to see what was wrong. She pointed at the window and said, “Look it’s morning! I want to see a movie.”

“It’s late. You need to sleep more.” So do I.

She began to cry. There had been a nightmare. I took her weeping body back to her bedroom, and tried to find a way to comfort her.

“I called for help. No one came.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. I was sleeping.”

More tears. She looked more and more exhausted as she declared how impossible sleep was going to be.

She told me her dream, it did sound pretty scary. I thought about whether I was selfish for not letting her get up and watch a movie. But her eyes were so tired. We finally agreed that she needed a snack. But we made a bargain that she would try to sleep afterward. Milk and graham crackers were procured.

When she finished, I took her back to her room. She began to weep, “Mommy, I don’t know how to fall asleep.”

She climbed into my lap and I put my very comforting bathrobe around her. I told her a story about a tiger I knew. “She is a very beautiful tiger, and she is strong and powerful. You know what she told me? She told me I am powerful too.”

Veronica started crying again. It was hard for her to get the words out, but she finally said, “I am not powerful.”

“I think you are powerful.” Was that the right thing to say? I held her. Her breathing became more regular.

Yes, she did fall asleep. I gave it a few minutes, and then transferred her to her bed.

She slept for 2 more hours, and so did I.

I am so grateful that this is unusual now. We used to have to help her sleep every night like that. But now she is a far more independent and powerful sleeper.

 

Didn’t See That One Coming

The first time I visited the Grand Canyon it seemed a very long drive. The surrounding desert is monotonous, with very few plants mostly flat expanse of land.

I was a grown up, yet somewhere in my mind I was thinking “Are we there yet?”

Then, suddenly, we were. The inexpressively grand canyon, so deep and inconceivable, I can barely believe that I am seeing the far end of a reality.

So far.

So wide.

I imagined how it must have felt for someone the first time. Not knowing that it was there, and walking forward to suddenly see what could never be imagined.

No warning.

Many things in life there is an expectation. We set out to climb a mountain. We see that mountain, and its peak, every step we are taking to climb it. The biggest surprise is how very long it takes to climb it, or that we might not even be able to finish the ascent.

Life gives us those sorts of things a lot. Graduating from college can be like that. A mountain of work that looms ahead of us, which we slowly work at and plan for.
A child takes 9 months to be born, and then all the planning for the upkeep of your child is laid out steadily after that.

And then there are the other sorts of things. The great shocks. Death comes that way, sometimes. My friend Ted died in a car accident in his early 20s. No warning. He had overdue rental video games.

Like happening upon the Grand Canyon. How can this be? Ted was so alive. And now he is so very gone. I will never forget the day he left.

I wrote about how this July 4th, we celebrated in a usual way. In a previous edition of The Weekly Wonder, I talked about how we would remember that July 4th fireworks celebration because of the limited fireworks and the drought.

The month continued on in very ordinary ways, until it didn’t.

On the 27th, I was running in the park like I did every day, and I was assaulted. A stranger grabbed me from behind, threw me to the ground and tried to rape me.

No warning. Everything changed.

A rift. A crack. An inverted monument in the fabric of my life.
I still don’t know what it means. Only time will tell. But I will remember it. For the rest of my life.