Layers

trilobite 2

Tiny trilobite graveyard preserved between the layers of a Cambrian Shale.

There’s a spot on the Conasauga River in northwest Georgia where you can visit a late Cambrian ocean preserved in a 500-million-year old shale. Shale is a relatively soft mudstone that splits easily along laminar planes, so with just a Swiss army knife or flathead screwdriver, you can split the pieces of stone that litter the river bank and often find the remains of some of the oldest complex life on Earth.

trilobite 5

These trilobites lived half a billion years ago when multicellular life was brand new to the oceans (and long before it had colonized the land).  They died 200 million years before the Earth dreamed of dinosaurs or assembled all the continents into one big Pangea-shaped piece. Their little carcasses then drifted to the bottom of the Iapetus Ocean off the coast of Laurentia and were buried in all the soft silty stuff on the sea bottom which eventually became shale liberally salted with their flattened fossils.

 

If you’d like to learn just a little more about trilobites, check out this link:

http://www.trilobites.info/triloecology.htm

Or if you’d like to learn a lot more about the fossils from this site, here’s an excellent paper:

http://ldsp01.columbusstate.edu:8080/xmlui/bitstream/handle/11075/388/schwimmer.d._2012_anaphelaspiszone_southeasterngeology.pdf?sequence=3

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Sanctuary

oasis 1

All my sanctuaries are green and empty of people or at the edge of the sea and deserted. Some are hard to get to and some are harder. Some have names like music – Aransas, Edisto, Hatteras, the South San Gabriel River. Some are just fun to say – Abernathy, Little Pine Garnet Mine. My newest has a clunky unfortunate name that sounds like machines, all metal and rust, like a steam engine pumping, like a Victorian shipwreck, iron hull screeching against the sea, some poor lost soul’s clumsy surname – Shackleford.

What a clumsy word for the hissing of shifting sand, the hush of the clamoring surf, all that motion and energy and peace and nothing to witness it but the gulls and wild ponies. Nothing comes here that doesn’t swim or fly or float.  A fluid island, creeping grain by grain along the coast like a beast made of sand and salt and bits of shell, feather, bone and fossil, where grass roots itself in dunes and sea birds feed and shelter but just for awhile. The next storm will shift it, divide it, cut a channel through or join it with another – barrier islands don’t stay individual.

poniesFor 400 years the shaggy ponies have survived an ocean away from Spain where they began – living on rainwater and occasional springs, swimming in salt channels, eating grass dry as chaff. The wild-eyed, scarred horses – exposed on a shifting pile of sand in the heat, bearing by turns the huge summer sun or the thrashing rain and shrieking  winds with nothing but a dune to huddle behind. Sometimes the ocean wells up and washes over everything. But they drop their foals in the spring and live another year.

The Gulf Stream passes near here, a river of tropic water surges by just miles offshore just before it swings away into the massive Atlantic. It flings Florida conches and queen’s helmets onto shore, the remains of milder latitudes carried here like a message I’m not equipped to understand. But I keep trying.  I’ll spend my life trying.

Someone here salts the sea with wine and whiskey bottles. Green seems the favorite. There’s surprisingly little plastic. Just colored glass to shatter in the surf and melt in the pounding like a sliver of frosted soap for some tourist like me to find like a treasure – beach glass. And I do. And I keep it. Because it’s a bit of the message but only a tiny part.

oasis 7All the questions I see in the stars at night, I can find here washed up on the sand, but written in shell and bone instead of ancient light. The math is the same, only more apparent – almost. So I pick up the bits and bring them home. A snail made this shell from calcium and carbon it soaked from the sea. Maybe a hermit crab used it too and discarded it again. Then the warm sea river carried it here to me. Maybe I’ll put it in my garden – pick it up occasionally when I can’t remember how the ocean sounds because I’m 200 miles away, imagine the snail and the crab and the stardust in its atoms. But mostly to call to mind the quiet thunder of the surf and horses’ hooves, the tick-tick-hiss of dunes creeping grain by grain, and the windchime rake of empty shells in the undertow. The sun and salt and winter wind sucking the water from my skin until it’s hard just to swallow.

I’ll keep doing this, every time I come here or any place like it. Combing the wrackline like a priest, looking for portents in the shell and flotsam – a hollow wing bone jutting from a dune, a fossilized scrap of turtle shell, fish vertebrae, a bit of coal from a steamship wreck, a Caribbean nut – the sea tells a story, writes it on the sand all over the world in a strange and wonderful language. I think I’ll spend my life walking the tideline every chance I get trying to decipher some small part of it.

oasis 6

Deserted Island: Shackleford Banks

At the southern end of a 200-mile string of barrier islands off the North Carolina coast known as the Outer Banks is Cape Lookout National Seashore. And at the southern end of that is an uninhabited island called Shackleford Banks. I spent the day before Thanksgiving there with my parents.

The island is only accessible by boat but there are a couple of ferry services on the mainland in Beaufort. Beaufort itself is a cool little town established in 1709. It’s rich in history and very picturesque but its biggest claim to fame (and my favorite thing about it) is the fact the Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground just off its coast in 1718. The wreck was discovered in 1996 and is the subject of an ongoing archaeological research project.

You can view artifacts from the QAR in the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort  which happened to be right across the street from our ferry service. So while we waited for our departure time, we got to wander about the museum examining artifacts from straight pins and tiny glass beads to cannon that had been buried under the shifting shoals of Beaufort Inlet for 300 years. To me, that’s a lot of fun and I tried to read every sign in the 45 minutes we had before our boat left.

Our ferry was a flat-bottomed skiff that offered no protection from the frigid late November wind which I thought it was invigorating. My parents looked slightly less thrilled, but 15 minutes of cold wind and spray seemed a small price to pay.

Leaving Beaufort in our wake.

We were plenty warm enough once we arrived at the island and hiked the half a mile through the dunes to the ocean side.

The sound side of the island where the boat dropped us.

My parents hiking across the island.

And when we got there, it was delightfully deserted.

There were just two people on the other side when we arrived and they were just leaving to catch the boat back.

The Gulf Stream passes at it’s closest just off shore here before swinging away to the east bringing with it plenty of shells more common to shores farther south.

I haven’t picked up a Florida fighting conch (lower right) since I was a kid beachcombing in Florida.

A broken queen’s helmet, also not common this far north.

There were also plenty of shorebirds…

…and a lone shrimp boat being swarmed by gulls.

And to my delight, a bonus. To visit the Cape Lookout Lighthouse (and take a photo of it making my collection of Outer Banks lighthouses almost complete), we would have to have taken another, longer boat ride and our mini-vacation just didn’t allow time for both trips. But when I took a closer look at this photo, I realized the Cape Lookout Light is just barely visible on the horizon.

See the tiny tiny lighthouse on the horizon? I say this counts.

And even more delightful, on the walk back across the island, we got to see some of the wild horses that have lived on the island for about  400 years.

Locals say the “banker ponies” are shipwreck survivors. You can find a more detailed history here.

So I’ve added another island to my mental list of favorite places, and I’ll be going back first chance I get.

How about ya’ll? What’s one of your favorite places and why?

Boo 2: More Scary Movies You Can Watch with Your Teens

In honor of Halloween, here is my second list of horror movies you can watch with your teenagers – a countdown of creepy culminating in a classic everyone (I think) should watch.

Note: Unlike my first list, this one contains mostly R-rated films. I have indicated the reason for each rating and would note for, what it’s worth, that these are all films I would show our own children (who are 14 and 16) if I can just get them to humor me.

5. Pitch Black (2000) R for language and sci-fi violence and gore– This one reminds me, initially at least, of The Flight of the Phoenix, a 1965 Jimmy Stewart film about a group of travelers struggling to survive in the middle of the Sahara Desert after their plane was forced down by a sandstorm. Interesting film. The personalities of the survivors clash as they face almost certain death and then come together when hope presents itself. Good movie (unlike its 2004 remake).  Pitch Black begins very similarly – a spaceship passes through the debris of a comet trail causing it to crash-land on a nearby planet. The passengers find themselves marooned in a desert on what looks like a lifeless planet. As in Phoenix, the disparate characters interact and clash, but then this movie goes in another direction entirely. Happily so, because that’s what makes it a horror movie. Vin Diesel plays Riddick, an ultra-tough antihero, the one the others turn to when they discover they’re not alone on the planet after all.

4. The Host (2006) R for creature violence and language; subtitled – An awesomely-ugly mutant monster is spawned by pollution in the Han River. When the monster emerges from the river one day, killing many and snatching a young girl, her comically dysfunctional family pull together to try to rescue the girl. It was a blockbuster in South Korean and got great reviews when it opened in the US. It’s scary, funny, and has very cool monster-chasing-fleeing-people sequences.

3. Blair Witch Project (1999) R for language – Have you ever been camping in the woods? Not at some friendly campground with bear-proof dumpsters and bathrooms with running water and other campers within shouting distance – but in the woods, alone, well out of shouting range, before cell phones, where nobody would notice right away if you disappeared or be able to find you easily if they came looking. I have and it’s truly scary. The night is very big and dark and potentially full of bears and maniacs and all manner of evil creepies. Once, while camping with a friend, I was scared almost senseless by something creeping up on us through the brush behind our tent in the dead of night. When my friend and I finally worked up the nerve to investigate, we nailed a pair of very startled opossums with the beam of the flashlight.

 In this movie, there’s something much creepier than opossums out there in the dark. When it was first released, it was marketed as “found footage” – film discovered with video equipment in the woods of Maryland a year after three college students disappeared there while filming a documentary about a local legend, the Blair Witch. This one got mixed reviews but I thought it was very convincing and authentically scary.

2. Alien (1979) R  for sci fi violence/gore and language – I’m still a little upset with my mom that she didn’t take me to see this when I was thirteen. Consequently, I read about this movie longingly in Starlog magazine long before I actually got to see it. And when I finally did get to experience the scariest movie ever set in space, I was not disappointed. Made at a time when so many science fiction movies were either idealized, happy futures (ala Star Trek) or fairy tale space operas (ala Star Wars), the Nostromo and her crew was a gritty and convincing vision of the future. Wonderfully suspenseful with one of the toughest female leads to date, this is the movie to convince you that yes, monsters are real and they live in space where no one can hear you scream.

1The Birds (1963) – At about 3:00 in the morning on August 18, 1961, a massive flock of sooty shearwaters began to crash into homes and buildings along the northern edge of Monterey Bay in California. Residents of Pleasure Point and Capitola woke up that morning to find the ground littered with the dead and dying sea birds. At the time, it was postulated that the birds became lost in the fog and were drawn by the city lights. Thirty years later, it happened again, except this time the birds involved were brown pelicans and scientists were able to isolate a cause. The pelicans had eaten poisoned fish. The culprit was domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by a diatom that was found in the stomachs of fish in the area. Scientists found evidence that the same neurotoxin was also the culprit the summer of 1961 when those sooty shearwaters were found flying into buildings, dying on the streets and regurgitating anchovies.

The story of those poor poisoned shearwaters inspired movie history by capturing the attention of one particular summer resident – Alfred Hitchcock. A month later, he had secured the rights to a novella by Daphne Du Maurier and 2 years later he released The Birds. In his awesomely chilling story, the birds are not dying – they’re attacking the residents of Bodega Bay, a quaint California coastal town. Hitchcock managed to make the sunny, cheerful town appear properly eerie and did what no other director had done before in portraying large groups of animals acting intelligently together with purpose, creating his first, and only horror/fantasy film. And one that became an icon in horror film history. A great pick, I think, to watch with your teenager who was weened on (and saturated in) 21st century video magic if only to show them what amazing (and horrifying) films could be made long before CGI.

If you’d like to read more about the making of The Birds, see some cool stills from the movie or read the original article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel about the tragic bird event of 1961, see:

http://www.hitchcockwiki.com/files/articles/TheMakingOfTheBirds/

http://www.filminamerica.com/Movies/TheBirds/

http://www.santacruzpl.org/history/articles/183/

If you’d like to see my first list of teenager-family-friendly horror movies check out Boo! Scary Movies You Can Watch with Your Teenager

Catching Comet Dust – the Orionids

In 1066, Halley’s Comet appeared just before the Battle of Hastings. The comet passed particularly close to the earth that year and was described by witnesses as a bright new star in the heavens. King Harold of England took it as a bad omen that he would lose the battle to William the Conqueror which we know, of course, he did. And we also know now that the comet probably had very little to do with it.

Halley’s comet swings through the inner solar system making itself visible to all of us here on Earth once every 76 years. It was 1986 the last time it swung by, and it won’t be back until 2061. Since that’s kind of a long time to wait, it’s fortunate that anyone can see bits and pieces of the comet every year in October when the Earth passes through the trail of debris it left on its last pass. This morning, I got up two hours before dawn and went out to watch, and try to photograph, the Orionid meteor shower.

I didn’t see any meteors but managed to photograph three. With 25 to 30 second exposure times, that wasn’t so hard to manage. I pushed the button on the camera and fidgeted in the cold drinking my coffee until I heard the shutter close and then pushed the button again. After an hour, I came in, reviewed the photos, and found 3 faint streaks indicating meteors. Then I drank coffee, ate chocolate eyeballs (my favorite Halloween candy), and watched the X-Files on Netflix until the sun rose and my family eventually got up. Not a bad morning.

So here’s the best of my meteors:

A few other interesting things in the photo: The brightest star in the frame, to the left of the meteor trail, is Jupiter. It appears right in the middle of the constellation Taurus. Almost directly to the left, at the edge of the frame, are the three stars making up Orion’s Belt. The top half of that constellation is also visible in the frame. The star cluster, Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, is also visible at the bottom of the frame near the tree tops. (If you continue the line defined by the meteor streak, toward the bottom of the photo, it will pass just to the left of the cluster.)

I’m just learning about the night sky and at first, could rarely find anything other than Orion or the Big Dipper without help. I use several websites to gather information but my favorite tool is the planetarium software, Stellarium. Here are a couple of screen shots showing the same part of the sky in the photo.

And here’s one with the constellation lines drawn in:

How cool is that? Stellarium can be downloaded for free at http://www.stellarium.org/

Though the best viewing was forecasted for this morning before dawn, the Orionid meteor shower will continue through tonight. See more here:

http://earthsky.org/tonight/radiant-point-for-orionid-meteor-shower

If you liked this post or learning a bit about things that happen in the night sky, you might enjoy the account of the last meteor shower I lost sleep over:  Why I Stayed Up for the Perseids.

Out There in the Cold: First Lines from Short Stories Fit for October

It’s here. Fall. Time to open the windows and let the wind in, to dig out sweatshirts pushed to the back of the closet. Afternoons are quiet now that cicadas are finally gone. Trees are turning. Geese are migrating. Pumpkins litter gardens and porches. Time to take the kids camping or apple-picking or to wander through a corn maze. And it’s the time for telling stories. That’s what our ancestors did once the harvest was in and the days grew short.

So to honor the tradition and the spookiest time of the year, I’ve made a new first-line list. These are short stories that not only have intriguing first lines but that I think are ripe for October picking – haunting tales for a haunted month. And many of them are available on the internet. So go get yourself a cup of hot chocolate, get a blanket for your feet, curl up in your favorite chair, and enjoy.

 “Out there in the cold water, far from land, we waited every night for the coming of the fog, and it came, and we oiled the brass machinery and lit the fog light up in the stone tower.”

“The Foghorn” by Ray Bradbury, published first in his collection, The Golden Apples of the Sun, in 1953.
Once a year, something answers the call of the lighthouse’s foghorn.
 
“There aren’t many hitchhikers on the road to Hell.”
“Dead Run” by Greg Bear, published first in OMNI magazine in 1985 and reprinted in his collection Tangents in 1989.
A truck driver ferries souls to Hell.
 
 
“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within the view of the melancholy House of Usher.”
“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe, published first in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine in 1839 and reprinted for the collection, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, in 1840.
A tale of madness from America’s first master of the macabre.
 
  
“Mrs. Whitaker found the Holy Grail; it was under a fur coat.”
“Chivalry” by Neil Gaimen, published in his short story collection, Smoke and Mirrors, in 1998.
Something to lighten the list. An elderly widow finds the Holy Grail at a thrift shop.
 

Cthulu via lovecraft.wikia.com

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”

“The Call of Cthulu” by H.P. Lovecraft first published in Weird Tales in 1928.
A found manuscript tells how its writer discovered evidence of an ancient cult.
 
 
 
“On the way out to Tempe, I saw a dead jackal on the road.”
“The Last of the Winnebagos” by Connie Willis, published first in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine in 1988 and reprinted in her collection, Impossible Things, in 1994. Won the Nebula for best novella in 1988 and the Hugo for best novella in 1989. Despite its length I chose to include it as a short story because I can and I really like this one.
A vision of a dystopian future in which a pandemic has wiped out man’s best friend.
 
“So I’m filling the catsup bottles at the end of the night, and I’m listening to the radio Charlie has stuck up on top of a movable panel in the ceiling, when the door opens and one of them walks in.”
“Out of All Them Bright Stars” by Nancy Kress, first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1985. Won a Nebula for best short story in 1986.
A waitress at a truck stop finds herself serving an alien.
 
“Fires.”
“Cassandra” by C.J. Cherryh, published first in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1978 and later reprinted in her collection, Visible Light, in1986. Won a Hugo for best short story in 1979.
Cassandra is cursed with precognition and lives with a horrifying vision of the future.
 
“It was forty miles from Horlicks University in Pittsburgh to Cascade Lake, and although dark comes early to that part of the world in October and although they didn’t get going until six o’clock, there was still a little light in the sky when they got there.”
“The Raft” by Stephen King, published first in Gallery magazine in 1982 and reprinted in his collection, Skeleton Crew, in 1985.
The modern master of horror doesn’t disappoint in this dark little tale.
 
“Brother Jimmy-Joe Billy-Bob brought the Word to the New Yorkers on the eve of Christmas Eve, paddling his long dugout canoe east up the Forty-second Street Conflu-ence and then north, against the tide, up Fifth Avenue, past the point where the roof of the Public Library glowed greenly under the surface of the darkening waters.”
“Vexed to Nightmare by a Rocking Cradle” by Dan Simmons published in Mile High Futures in 1985 and reprinted in his collection Prayers to Broken Stones in 1990.
Not your average post-apocalyptic story. The darkest tale on the list and artfully told.

You Better Not Tell: Best First Lines of My Favorite 20th Century Novels

Once, in another life, I went to college – four of them actually, in three different states where I studied a variety of subjects, got disillusioned or distracted, dropped out, moved, got a another crappy job, quit and went back to school, until finally, in 1996, after 12 years of false starts and changes, just after my 30th birthday, I got a big piece of embossed paper that says, basically, that I’m rather good at reading.  It’s not a particularly useful degree, but it was fun to get.

Because I love books. I love everything about them. The weight of them in my hands, the smell of aging paper, the lure of the cover art or the mystery of a battered, jacketless hardback; the crackle of brittle glue when you open an old text; the marbled or illustrated endpapers; the arcane details on the back of the title page; chapters with names or numbers or introductory quotes; epilogues and intriguing prefaces, and all those lovely pages filled with words in every permutation imaginable. Books are my drug, and I’ve been a junkie since I learned to read.

So here’s another post about books – in particular, their first lines –  a follow-up to my last post about the novel beginnings of some representatives of my favorite genres, science fiction and horror. This time, I’m focusing on any novel that I’ve read and enjoyed that was published in the century of my birth.

(Some of my favorite novels didn’t make the list because their first lines weren’t all that catchy. And some of the best first lines I’ve read didn’t make the list because they were the beginnings of short stories. Not to short the short story. As a literary form, I tend to agree with Edgar Allen Poe who once called it the ideal device for telling a story, superior to the novel in delivering a singular punch. But this is a list of novels. So here we go.)

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
The Bell Jar (1963), Sylvia Plath
 
“You better not tell nobody but God.”
The Color Purple (1982), Alice Walker
 
“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”
Out of Africa (1937), Isak Dinesen
 
“My wound is geography.”
Prince of Tides (1986), Pat Conroy
 
“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”
The Old Man and the Sea (1952), Ernest Hemingway
 
“Time is not a line, but a dimension like the dimensions of space.”
Cat’s Eye (1988), Margaret Atwood
 
“We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.”
The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), Margaret Atwood
 
“I bought Mother a new car. It damn near killed Aunt Louise.”
Six of One (1978), Rita Mae Brown
(I have to cheat at least once per list, so I included these two sentences that could have been one.)
 
“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of a fleshy balloon of a head.”
A Confederacy of Dunces (1980), John Kennedy Toole
 
“Mildred hid the ax beneath the mattress of the cot in the dining room.”
Mama (1987), Terry McMillan
 
“Novalee Nation, seventeen, seven months pregnant, thirty-seven pounds overweight – and superstitious about sevens – shifted uncomfortably in the seat of the old Plymouth and ran her hands down the curve of her belly.”
Where the Heart Is (1995), Billie Letts
 
“The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum.”
The Joy Luck Club (1989), Amy Tan
 
“Millions upon millions of years ago, when the continents were already formed and the principal features of the earth had been decided, there existed, then as now, one aspect of the world that dwarfed all others… a mighty ocean, resting uneasily to the east of the largest continent, a restless ever-changing, gigantic body of water that would later be described as Pacific.”
Hawaii (1959), James Michener
 
“No one remembers her beginnings.”
Rubyfruit Jungle (1973), Rita Mae Brown
 

Now that I look at the list I’ve assembled, I’ve realized every one of these books had a powerful effect on me for one reason or another, the quality of the prose, the circumstances of the author’s life, the elements of the story and how it was told, and, always, a connection to my life. I remember when, where and why, I read each and how I felt when I read it and what I loved about each. So I guess these are very personal choices.

Do you have books like that? Did you ever read a favorite book of a friend or partner to get to know her/him better? Ever read that first semi-autobiographical novel of a poet or writer to try to see how she ticked? Ever fall in love with an author who can write more eloquently than you about a passion you share? Ever feel grateful to an author for expanding your world? Yeah, me too.

So let’s talk. Tell us about your personal books (with great first lines or not).

Far Out: Best First Lines of Sci Fi and Horror Novels (that I Think You Should Read)

The modern American reading public has the collective attention span of a stressed-out, sleep-deprived gnat with ADD. At least, that’s what conventional wisdom would have us believe. English teachers, editors and published writers all seem to tell aspiring writers every day that they’ve got to hook readers with the first line or they’ll lose them. Disgusted editors, they are told, will fling their manuscripts disdainfully into the slush pile if they’re not captivated by the opening lines. As a member of the reading public, I find these assumptions vaguely insulting.

And a little true – though I tend to give an author a few paragraphs or pages before I make any summary judgments about his or her skill. So I don’t require that a “hook” be buried in that first line to keep me engaged. But I have to admit, I love a good opener.

So here are a few of my favorite first lines from my two favorite genres, science fiction and horror. Not only are these intriguing sentences, but each begins a book that I would highly recommend reading. See what you think:

 “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
1984, George Orwell
  
 
 
 
“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
 
 
 
 
“Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.”
2001 – A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke.
 
 
“It was a pleasure to burn.”
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
 
 
 
 
 
 
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.””
The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien
(Okay I know this is two sentences but it could have been one and it’s one of my favorite openers.)
 
 
 
 
 “No live organism can continue for long to exist under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.”
The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
 
 
 
 
 
 “The story so far: In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
The Restaurant at the End of the UniverseDouglas Adams
(Two sentences again, I know. But it’s my list and I can cheat if I want to.) 
 
 
 “First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.”
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
 
 
  
 
 
“My name is Odd Thomas, though in this age when fame is the altar at which most people worship, I’m not sure you should care who I am or that I exist.”
Odd Thomas, Dean Koontz
 
“Sam Vimes sighed when he heard the scream, but he finished shaving before he did anything about it.”
Night WatchTerry Pratchett
 
“Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.”
The Golden CompassPhilip Pullman
 
 
 
 
  
 
“The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end – began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”
ITStephen King
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette.”
The Princess Bride, William Goldman
 
  
 
 
“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”
War of the Worlds, HG Wells
 
 
 
 “The regular early morning yell of horror was the sound of Arthur Dent waking up and suddenly remembering where he was.”
Life, the Universe and EverythingDouglas Adams
(Nobody opened a story like Douglas Adams.)

Parenthood: The Job You Can’t Quit

“I stink at being a parent, and I don’t want to do it anymore. All my kids are going to end up in therapy, and I’d just rather go hiking really.”

(via pictures funny16.com)

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably been here. You’ve had those days when you were just so discouraged that you couldn’t see a way through the tangled morass of hope, fear, joy, worry, doubt, and dread that is parenthood. It’s a colossal task, raising kids, and most of us are woefully unprepared for it.

There’s no magic rule book, no fool-proof training. The only models we had are our own parents. But they raised different kids in a different time when children actually played outside occasionally and didn’t carry smart phones in their pockets. The old tricks don’t always apply. And just when you do manage to become an expert on your particular kid, he/she will change. Kids do that. They grow, they develop, they enter puberty, and then all bets are off.

So here I am trying to make decisions on a daily basis that are going to affect the development and future potential happiness of our children, and I’m guessing. Most of the time they are educated guesses, sure, based on past observations of said child, the experience of other parents, and often, extensive reading.  But when it comes down to it, every decision is a judgment call, an educated guess at best, and one that is very often swayed by how much or little patience I’ve got left for the day. And lately, I’ve got to say, the reservoir is pretty darn low. I’m thinking about rationing, but I can’t figure out how to get my family to go along.

And that’s where I run into my other little problem – raising a child in the context of a family. Everybody has needs, and they don’t always spread them out so that you can deal with them one-by-one when you are well-rested-and-emotionally-prepared. That’s not the way life happens. No, life likes to descend on you like a shit-storm of need, nausea and broken appliances. It’s failing grades and juggling bills and used Kleenex and muddy paw prints on the spread you just washed. Life happens in your face, when you least expect it, or when you honestly think the very next thing will be the last straw. You know what happens when you have that thought? Something awful, usually.

Life is like someone calling your name over and over, but they never come to you. You must seek out the caller and carry out their commands. Can you get me a towel? I don’t understand my chemistry homework. Will you get those dogs to stop barking? I’m stressed, I’m nauseous, listen to my problems, fix it, fix it, fix it! It’s like being a genie with a house full of frantic wishers. And just when you think you have a handle on it all, when you have put your house in order, walked the dogs, and anticipated and prepared for every child’s (and your partner’s) every need – life will surprise you. It will wait until you have done your very best, until you are sweaty and dirty and proud of yourself, and then it will walk up, wag its tail, look you right in the eye – and then hike its leg and pee on your shoes.

So this is where I would probably be expected to add a paragraph about how it’s all worth it in the end and how the joys by far outweigh the stresses. And yes, that’s true, though I’m not feeling it so much at this particular moment. Because we all know, you have to work for that attitude. So this is my first step – writing it down. It’s therapeutic. Then I’m going to go have a cleaning frenzy all over my house, because that’s what I do when I’m stressed and don’t know what to do next. (I already had a cleaning frenzy on our yard last evening and may have been a bit too vigorous with the weed-eater and gardening shears. I’m a little afraid to look.)

So after I’ve obsessively put our house (and yard) in order for a few hours, I will be sweaty, tired, satisfied in a way only a career house-not-wife can be after a day spent cleaning, and happy to see my partner and our children when they get home this evening. And we are going to have a happy and fun Friday evening together with lots of hugs and positive affirmations. But until then, I’m going to go bleach something.

Worrywart

I was born without a sense of humor. I am, however, very high-strung. Not a good combination. A few years ago, I decided that the key to managing stress in my life was humor. I just had to learn how to find the funny in life. It was helpful that my partner has a hair-triggered wit. Funny, clever things just fly out of her mouth. But there are different kinds of funny and hers is sometimes a little dark. So I starting reading every book by every funny writer I could get my hands on – the idea being that complete immersion might help even a hard case like me. It did. I grew a sense of humor. Not only can I laugh more often, sometimes, I can even make people laugh. Happy day.

My next t-shirt (via zazzle.com)

But I have to practice pretty regularly or it goes away. The following is part of an exercise I try sometimes as a tool for managing stress. I made a list of all the things I was worried about and then tried to write a funny version. Some of the tougher items never made the funny list but a few did. And if you’re honest, a few pretty stupid things will appear too, which is always fun. Anyway, it helped to change my mood.

Some of the things I worry about:

…that my partner sometimes talks about herself in the third person (and I can’t always tell if she’s joking).

…that #2 son seems to be experiencing a kind of school-induced narcolepsy which may someday lead to a permanent position at Burger King.

…that #3 son can play Minecraft for 6 hours straight without stopping to eat or to go to the bathroom.

…that #1 son might decide to get another enormous skull tattoo.

….that menopausal is my new normal.

…that global warming will flood my favorite vacation spot.

…that I won’t be able to stand the winters in Canada when we move there to escape the climate of intolerance in the US.

…that nobody will notice that pun.

…that Nintendo is putting out a new damn expensive game system.

…that our sons will decide not to have a Halloween party and I won’t get to decorate the house. (No fun without an audience.)

…that my computer might crash leaving me to deal with the real world without Facebook, email, Photoshop, or my blog.

…that my dogs get bored.

…that unless he learns to do his homework, #2 son will be living in our basement when he’s thirty spending all his time off from Burger King playing Dungeons & Dragons or video games with Friday-night interludes to watch movie classics like Jackass 2 with his big brother.

…that #3 son will be living in the basement with him.

…that they’ve already seen Jackass 2.

…that it made them laugh.

…that whether I’ll get skin cancer was probably determined by a sunburn I got in Ft. Lauderdale in 1977.

…that I really am a hoarder.

…that my IQ is inversely proportional to my age.

…that God is real and she’s pissed.

…that hip hop won’t die.

…that I’ll never own my own bookstore or little beach motel.

…that when I clean out my email inbox, I will find messages that I really should have responded to weeks ago (Happened this morning. My apologies to Catherine, Jennifer, my brother, Scott, and Daddy.)

…that one day, instead of washing the dishes, I will take them out in the driveway and smash them one by one against the concrete.

…that I am forgetting something important (often true).

…that if my short term memory and attention span keep deteriorating at the present rate, I’ll need a full-time keeper by the time I’m 50.

…that I’m going to think of something super-clever to put on this list after I’ve published it on my blog.

So what do you worry about? What would be on your list? How do you deal with stress?