Journal Archives - November 16-30, 2002
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November 16, 2002 ... My nighttime adventures have recently taken an odd turn: I have started to dream in parallel universes.
The night after Halloween, I dreamed that I had visited some sort of religious orphanage. It was a home for young girls, set in an enormous mansion with distinctly Victorian sensibilities, centered around a church room and a large central courtyard. The principal events of the dream were the visit of a religious official, and the attempted escape of one of the young girls who was dissatisfied with her life.
I don't mean that she was again dissatisfied; I mean that the events of the dream were the same as when I went through it the previous time. The same figure visited; the same young girl tried, with the help of one of the kitchen maids, to escape. However, this time, there was one small element of the dream that was slightly off -- and that point of divergence threw the dream onto an entirely different tack.
The orphan, who I would estimate to be around 10 years old, had been plotting (in both versions) with one of the hired hands in the kitchen, another 10-year-old girl who was possibly the cook's daughter. The orphan was tired of being traumatized by the orphanage's matron, a strict older woman with a grudge against this particular child.
In both versions, the child and her friend waited until an opportune time, while the other children were busy and the matron was out gardening. They snuck into the matron's room, grabbed the large hammer that was typically used to open the building's doors, and used that to get into the chapel.
The doors were built solidly, with no handles or locks; a large chime across them served as both. The chime, a horizontal bar at waist level that ran across the entire width of the door, controlled the doors automatically. To control a door, you would ring the chime by striking it with something; that would cause it to swing open or shut.
The two kids whacked the chapel door's chime with the hammer; it blasted out a great peal of sound that nobody else was around to hear, and they walked into the deserted chapel. From there, they had to go through the chapel's other door into the inner courtyard, and from there could reach the outer courtyard and escape.
This is where the two dreams diverged.
In the first, there were no problems with the escape plans; I lost track of the children as they ran out of the orphanage, presumably toward a better life. The second time around, though, they rang the door to the inner courtyard open -- and the escaping orphan tripped on her way through the doorway and fell down hard. Something must have broken, or perhaps she fell unconscious, because she was helpless to move. I couldn't see the details.
To make matters worse, the matron -- who was supposed to have been out gardening -- was doing so there in the inner courtyard. She was out of sight of the chapel door, but she heard the commotion of the girl tripping, and started walking over to investigate.
I was seeing the dream from the servant girl's perspective. She was panicking, trying to find some way to close the chapel door -- because for the orphan to be in the inner courtyard wasn't particularly a transgression, but if the matron saw the chapel door open, she'd discover what was going on, and they would both be caught and punished. But the servant couldn't simply ring the door again, because the door was open to the courtyard, and whacking it with the hammer would make a noise loud enough for the matron to hear -- and she would, again, discover what was going on. The servant frantically cast about in the chapel, looking for a small, delicate hammer with which she could lightly tap the door chime, causing it to close without making a large enough noise to detect. Ultimately, she found one in the nick of time, and managed to close the door, abandoning the (probably unconscious) orphan out in the courtyard to be discovered by the matron, but having preserved their secret and saved them both from some harsh discipline.
Later on, the servant was cooking in the kitchen, and the matron stormed in, very upset and just seeking someone to complain to so she could take the edge off of her stress. After all, it was turning out to be a horrid day. She'd already been running ragged, what with the official's visit, and now on top of all this one of her children had fallen down, hurt herself, and passed out, and she'd had to call in the local doctor, and this was all making her look very bad in front of the official, and boy, was the orphan going to get a tongue-lashing once she got up. The servant listened to all of this in guilty silence, scarcely daring to believe that the matron hadn't somehow pieced together the escape plan and the servant's collusion therein, and feeling extremely uncomfortable, thinking that if she spoke up she was going to say something wrong and reveal the plan.
So the servant silently prepared ingredients, acting as though she were deeply concentrating on the meal, and began frying vegetables. It was getting dull; there was really nothing to do, with the matron watching, except sit there and continue preparing dinner. So it was at that point that I quite literally waved my hands, said, "Okay, I'm going to look busy now," to fool the matron into seeing the servant stay heavily occupied, and stepped out of the role.
I had been seeing the entire events of both dreams from the perspective of the servant girl. And yet that wasn't who I was; I had been, apparently, doing what can best be described as "astral riding" -- projecting into another person, seeing through their eyes, and even occasionally taking control to perform actions with their body. I wasn't the servant in the dream; I had just been stepping into the part because that's where all the action was.
How do I know this? Well, there were some highly suggestive pieces of evidence. For one thing, no matter how bizarre my dreams may get, and no matter who or what I'm supposed to be, there is one constant that I can rely on essentially without fail: In my dreams I always see the character I'm playing as myself -- that is, my character always appears in my dream-camera as a human, looking like I physically look now. (I am always central, and always me, in my own dreams -- but the camera is always in third-person view, hovering about two feet above and behind my left shoulder.) If I am meant to be something other than me-the-human, I will have to piece it together from clues like how people treat me, what extra capabilities I have that my human form wouldn't, etc. This is such a strong absolute that even when I have, in dreams, been a dragon, the only difference I can perceive is that everything around me scales down accordingly. (When I fly, I do so by charging to build up speed, jumping, gliding, and flapping my arms.) So when the principal character of a dream (the one that the dream is experienced from the perspective of) doesn't look like my human body, something extraordinary is going on. When I actively step out of that person's body and go elsewhere, I am led to assume that I am leaving a body that wasn't mine to begin with.
Of course, there's also the more directly obvious fact that I left the servant role and walked over to the library, where the religious official was studying -- and the official was, in fact, me.
I've accomplished a lot of impressive feats in dreams, and I've even done a pretty good job of lucid dreaming recently ... but spirit-riding is a new one on me. I may have to try experimenting with this more the next time I'm able to go lucid.
The rest of the dream was fairly uneventful, although I did (as the official) convince the matron not to punish the orphan for her escapade. Which seemed like the least I could do -- after all, she shouldn't have been injured and caught in the first place. It was just that something went wrong with the replay.
November 17, 2002 ... When you work at a newspaper, the urge to report on the news is strong. There's a lot that happens out in the world, and a great deal to be amused or affected by.
Among the amusing things I discovered yesterday was that there exists a product called "Super Osama Bin Laden Kulfa Balls." I cannot adequately explain why this is so noteworthy; I think it's the name. The "Super" carries it over the top.
Speaking of over the top -- Slashdot carried a story today pointing out Microsoft's revenues by category. Windows has an 85 percent profit margin; Office is close to 80 percent ... and all but one of their other categories is operating at a large loss. The Slashdot writer claims this smacks of monopolistic business practices, and I find it hard to disagree -- heaven knows that if I were heading a company that large that was bleeding cash through its pores in one or more departments, there would be some reorganizations and paradigm shifts in order; Microsoft's unwillingness to do so seems to me to speak of their determination to continue operating at a loss for some time, hoping to drive out competitors by making it uneconimical to compete with them. (If the products cost roughly the same amount to produce, and Microsoft sells theirs at a loss, then competitors either have to operate profitless or allow themselves to be badly undercut. It's classic strong-arm market tactics.)
Meanwhile, in brighter news, 50 women posed nude for peace. The article linked -- which ran in the Point Reyes Light, complete with a picture of the event -- is fairly detailed, but misses out on the off-beat tone of the Associated Press wire story on the matter.
The story contained several great quotes, the most prurient of which was the following: "By the time we'd stripped, with a lot of squealing and giggling and whooping and hollering, it was really raining," said the event organizer.
... If more peace rallies worked that way, I don't see how our nation could ever be bothered to go to war.
I did go outside and watch the skies tonight. Twice, actually. There were no clouds, but an almost-full moon washed out the sky. Undeterred, I let my eyes wander around the heavens. I did, in fact, see a meteor. "A" as in "one."
I'm disappointed because ... well, it wasn't the magical event it was supposed to be. Everything was right; the skies were clear, I was awake during the peak hour, and we live in the middle of nowhere, so despite the full moon there was a minimum of light pollution.
There should have been a show that was every bit as neat as astronomers were predicting. (Or, if one is inclined to believe our local TV news station, "astrologers." Oops.) So what happened?
I stayed outside, on both attempts, for several minutes straight. I was looking in the right general direction (just checked the web despite Google being down -- voila; where to look -- okay, I was about 30 degrees off, but to compensate for this error, I went out for a third time, looking toward the source; and only saw one additional dim, short meteor). There were, in fact, shooting stars -- albeit dim and occasional ones. It wasn't that anything was wrong; it just didn't catch my interest, inspire my sense of awe and magic.
I suspect setting had more to do with it than mindset. It was too cold to randomly stand around outside for long; too suburban to pitch a tarp and sleeping bag in the back yard and make a camping trip out of it; too unique to shrug it off as not worth the effort. The chickens didn't help, either -- somewhere down the road, a distant neighbor's roosters were crowing painfully off-key, as if they were lying in the yard with a broken leg and trying to call for help. I never really got to establish the mood. It wasn't even worth my attention just as stargazing; cold and chickens will tend to drive even the most inveterate dreamer inside.
Even the Internet seems grumpy about the wasted opportunity. I've been having connection problems off and on for the last hour or two; I think our 'net connection just went down entirely, so I'll finish typing this up offline and post it in the morning.
A pity about the meteors, really. I was looking forward to the show. I even made certain to advertise it in Sunday's paper -- a local astronomical group was having a viewing party down at the Auburn Dam Overlook. I hope they had better luck with the skies than I did.
November 19, 2002 ... Today, my roommate transformed a car into a minivan; a cat stole my stash of gold; and I was interrogated by police over a titanium spork.
Details to follow. I just wanted to make the immediate comment that I think my weirdness magnet is starting to reactivate.
November 20, 2002 ... I used to call myself a Thiderean.
Thideras is -- depending on who you ask -- either a distant god who I managed to contact during my early explorations into draconity, or a specious product of a desperate and imaginative mind. I'll tell you the former, but then, Thideras factors significantly into an early epiphany that shaped my identity, so I'm certain that others would charge me with being insufficiently skeptical.
This piece isn't about skepticism, though. I still believe in Thideras; perhaps I'll play the apologist some other time and cover the subject. What I was reflecting on today was the fact that I have basically no desire to call myself a Thiderean any more.
My most obvious motive for this is that I just don't want to bother talking about it, most of the time. Strange as it may seem, though, this is not really a response to the skeptics; while it is annoying confronting the people who judge me negatively based on my beliefs, I'm certainly not embarrassed enough about who I am to hide it from the world. If anything, I think my silence is a reaction to the opposite class of people -- those who believe me.
See, I don't want them taking my religion too seriously.
... If it is a religion. My Thidereanism is somewhere in that strange limbo between religion and philosophy. I believe in this god; I think he's worth my while to follow; I like his ideals. But I was never in it because he had The Answer. He likes me, he helped me out, and we agree pretty closely on what's important. It was never about truth. It was about being a good person and making the world a good place. (Okay, maybe that's Truth, but that's go-do-things Truth rather than comprehend-reality Truth. And it's impossible to sidestep epistemology completely when you make the declaration that you believe in something. Which is why this is so hard for me to classify.)
It's not that I don't want people believing along with me that Thideras exists and his principles can help them out too. It's not that I think the virtues embedded in the religion aren't universal. What makes me hesitant, more than anything, to talk about my religion is that it gets in the way of what's most important about it.
Religion, properly, is about making the world a better place. It's about improving the individual and improving the community. (Even the religions that say "this world sucks, it gets better when you're dead" are ultimately about improving the world; why else would they have so many laws and so much discussion about what's right and wrong? If God says "Be a good person to get into Heaven," isn't that improving the world, whether that's the stated purpose or not?) To the extent that I promote a religion, I want to do so to help make people happier and more fulfilled.
But if I have a message that makes people happier and more fulfilled -- such as "act honorably, live with compassion" -- then why dilute the message by prefacing it with "Thideras says"? Why be forced to explain the background of the message, defend its legitimacy, and then risk losing it entirely if someone follows the tangent and decides they disagree with one of the follow-up points? Why give someone a chance to break in with "That can't be true because you're not quoting MY god"?
What purpose does it serve to put the nourishing food into a pretty shell, and then have people's attention drawn toward the shell, often never digging down to what's really inside?
I don't want to proselytize. I never have. I think selling a message based on its presumed authority is the worst sort of cop-out. If that message really does make the world better ... then it doesn't need selling. The examples set by its adherents are proof of its worth. (Incidentally, this is Thiderean doctrine, too; which is why it's the only religion I've identified with since I was old enough to make my own informed decisions about such things.)
So, I don't want to call myself a Thiderean.
I want to be a Thiderean. The best one that I can be. More broadly, I want to be the best person that I can be, and if my beliefs ever get in the way of that I certainly hope I have the grace to discard them.
I want to be a silent, shining example, or at least a good one. I want to be happy; I want to be creative; I want to be effective; I want to be trusted and respected. (I think I've done a pretty good job, but this isn't the place for self-congratulatory back-patting.) And if people notice, and if people decide that I'm someone that they want to be like ...
Ideally, I don't want to mention Thideras until long after they don't need him to cling to any more.
I especially don't want to promote the idea that he -- or anyone else, for that matter -- makes us happy. I do owe the big guy one in that department, for reminding me of something important at a time when I really needed it, but ultimately it wasn't up to him how I felt or how I acted.
We've got free will for a reason. No matter how much we may try to ignore it, no matter how much we may choose to carry out another's moral directives and ignore or subvert our instincts, no matter how much we may tell ourselves that following certain rules will make us happy ... we always choose, in the end. To the extent that we have the ability to choose in the first place, we choose to be happy or sad; we choose to build loving environments around us, or not; we choose to make the world better, or not. No god can change that.
So I don't want to talk much about Thideras. My religion is too important for me to be religious.
November 21, 2002 ... Thank goodness for smart deer.
Today's newspaper had an item in it stating that police (and other relevant) officers were warning motorists about deer. Seems there's been quite an abundance of them lately, and the things are going into rutting season -- which spurs a lot of them to cross roads when they otherwise wouldn't. A dozen of 'em have been killed in the last several days up in Colfax.
The article talked a great deal about the necessity for safe driving, maintaining a "high visual horizon" (apparently, copspeak for "watching what's going on far down the road"), and, well, not hitting deer. Or at least the hope that people would avoid them.
Given that I'm the paper's page designer, I read this article Wednesday night when I was laying out the story. It was also Wednesday, incidentally, that I first noticed Cerulean's "Why the Long Face" about deer as road hazards.
So what happened to me when I drove home later that night?
As I said, thank goodness for smart deer.
I round a bend during my 1 AM drive home along a desolate foothill road, and what should be in front of the car but a youngish buck, blithely trotting across the asphalt. I had just enough time to start slowing down and wonder which way to swerve -- he was directly in front of the van, in my lane; but going right would take me off the road, and he was facing left, so I might still hit him if I went into the other lane. The deer, meanwhile, looks up, stares into my headlights --
-- blinks, and bolts. He's trotted out of my lane by the time I reach him.
It was my first road encounter with a deer in all the time I've been here in the Sierra foothills, but nevertheless, "high visual horizon" was my mantra for the rest of the drive home.
November 22, 2002 ... I believe that, when building worlds, knowing too much about your creations can be dangerous.
Case in point: I'm editor and head designer of The Tomorrowlands Universe, a shared-world urban fantasy setting where magic and creatures of myth just suddenly returned to Earth one day in 1996 in what people have come to call The Changes. I've currently got something of a work backlog to clear through, but once I've gotten the latest batch of stories posted, I'll be working on putting out an official timeline. It will start on December 16, 1996, when the Earth (and her satellites) suddenly and mysteriously lost two-thirds of a second.
Dec. 18 of that year was the "First Sighting" -- a live news broadcast in the American Midwest captured on film a dragon walking through the background of the shot. There was no confirmable evidence of magic or therianthropes before that day; in fact, for several months, it was accepted as a given that the First Sighting was the event that triggered the Changes themselves. Nobody noticed anything untoward on Dec. 16. Nobody even had any evidence to suspect that anything occurred on Dec. 16, until an astronomer tracking down the source of a small anomaly in radio telescope data (a small hiccup in the regular rhythm of a pulsar he was observing) found that the glitch was mirrored in data taken from all radio telescopes worldwide.
The missing time was subsequently confirmed by very precise astronomical observations. (The Earth should have moved in its regular orbit for those brief moments; the fact that it didn't shifted it a very tiny bit from its expected position. Such a small amount that the viewing angle to our closest neighbor, Venus, at its closest approach, would have changed by less than one-thousandth of an arc-second. This is roughly the width of a human hair held by someone standing a hundred miles away.) It had to be confirmed that way because there was no local evidence for it. It's not like people's clocks kept running during the blip; they were on Earth, too, and missed the 2/3 of a second just like people did. CDs didn't skip. Radios and flashlights didn't hiccup. Life just went on, as normal, except that the rest of the universe got to go on for 2/3 of a second that Earth didn't.
All of these are things that residents of TTU discovered about the world they live in. All of this so far is useful to know; these are things that characters would have heard, and it's only natural to want to plan their reactions to it.
It's here that questions get tougher to answer.
The most obvious, naturally, is: "Why did it happen?" But even the seemingly innocuous "What happened during that missing time?" carries with it pitfalls for the writer.
The problem with answering these is that you are necessarily coming from a position of omniscience.
Answering questions like that, for a writer trying to grow a world, is like answering (here in ours) "What caused the Big Bang?" By definition, that was the start of space-time, so anything that might have triggered it is outside our observable reality completely. If we had a definite answer to that question, it would profoundly alter our (scientific) understanding of the universe. It would give us insight into our (sentient or impersonal) creator. It would give us a glimpse outside of our story into a reality bigger than our own.
Looking at that from the other side: When you write stories, you're breathing life into the characters. Your experiences, your thoughts, and your knowledge all shape them.
When your character examines something like that missing two-thirds of a second, what they are able to know (or find out) is limited by your knowledge. If you don't have an answer for what happened, they can't either. Conversely, if you have it all planned out, you start thinking in terms of "they know this" or "they don't know this." When you start trying to put yourself into their shoes, you can try to exclude the knowledge of that particular answer, but you can't exclude the fact that there is an answer there to be found. Characters' beliefs either become right or wrong; there's a certainty there that isn't found in our life, and it usually makes stories more black-and-white and less fundamentally interesting.
The search for answers is a subject that speaks to all of us. Characters trying to discover knowledge evoke a sense of empathy. Finding the answers, though, is inherently boring. Sometimes the sense of resolution is necessary, but it takes all the magic out of the tale.
Without the magic, you might as well not be writing at all.
So be wary of knowing too much when you set pen to paper. We're at a loss to explain every detail of how life works, here, today; why should fictional worlds be any more certain?
Finally got the new power supply in, at about 3 AM. Moved it back to the desk about ten minutes ago; have spent the time since then reveling in the subtle joys of being able to listen again to MP3s while working. (Yes, that's how old my backup computers are.)
People complain about how quickly computers get obsolete; there's certainly something to that. It's extremely difficult to go back to an earlier generation of computers once you've gotten used to what the newer ones can do. But I've had Ouroboros for four years now (nearly four and a half, actually), and I'll be using it as my primary desktop machine for at least another 12 months before I feel confident enough in my finances to upgrade -- and, aside from the occasional pangs of hardware envy and the slowly fading desire to play Diablo II, I haven't really noticed its lack of speed.
I use my computer for a very simple range of tasks. Foremost among them is text manipulation (writing, e-mail answering, and programming). The tools I use are simple -- BBEdit and ssh, basically. I also occasionally play around with images -- scanning, drawing or photo manipulation. I doubt I could run the newest version of Photoshop with any speed, but my current setup is adequate for the minimally complex tasks I perform.
Aside from that, I don't ask much of my computer. I sit down with an NES emulator once in a while and get my classic gaming fix on games like River City Ransom. And, of course, listen to music. For quite a while I kept a stack of CDs at my desk and would rampage through entire swaths of my music collection at a time. Now, I do much the same, except I (A) have far too much music to rampage through swaths, so it's more like slogging through muddy paths; and (B) I listen to them from a hard drive's worth of MP3 files instead of switching discs every twenty minutes.
MP3s are one of only two areas where I notice a speed issue. They are fairly processor-intensive, all things considered, because of all of the decompression that goes into constructing the sounds from the small file on disk. All three of my computers can, in fact, play MP3s, but Ouroboros is the only one that has the oomph to do so and also perform other tasks in the foreground without noticeable lag. (Most other tasks. Anything else that eats the processor, such as heavy image manipulation, will drag its feet.)
The other thing that slows me down is -- strangely enough -- Web browsing. The one great advantage I'll admit to Internet Explorer having over Netscape is speed. It doesn't necessarily work any faster, but it really has a way of making it seem that it is; it uses a quick and dirty rendering method that throws everything up on the screen while it's still loading all of the images and embedded content, while the (admittedly older) version of Netscape that I use has to load everything and then sit there and chug for a bit and figure out how it's all going to look. Netscape gets to be a real processor hog when it's figuring out complex nested tables, such as the ones my forums use. (And, worse, it refuses to even start parsing a table until it finds the closing tag -- which means that if someone messes up their HTML and the table isn't closed out, it won't display the page.)
Aside from that, I really don't do anything that challenges Ouroboros.
Sooner or later, I'm going to clear myself of this debt I moved to California with. My next big purchase after that will be to save up for a recent (or new!) computer -- perhaps a next-generation laptop. I'll probably start getting used to it. I would probably have the same hard time moving back to Ouroboros that I did this week trying to work on an even older machine. ("What?! Netscape is dawdling? I can't play MP3s and use Photoshop's Heal brush at full speed? Outrageous!")
But the majority of the work I do will still require, in essence, a glorified word processor.
Word processors have gotten a lot bigger over the years; they've gotten a lot more feature-filled. But they haven't really improved upon the act of sitting down at a keyboard, striking the keys, and creating thoughts out of words and letters. Not since the introduction of correction ribbons in typewriters has something come along that has really revolutionized the act of typing.
There are some things that obsolescence has a difficult time changing.
November 24, 2002 ... Don't let the implied boredom fool you; I've actually had a nice day. My parents dropped by to visit, and my roommates and I took them out to the local disc golf course. But this is what my muse wanted me to post.
November 25, 2002 ... For no discernible reason, I have a strong aversion to guacamole.
I'm sitting here eating leftovers from when my parents and roommates and I went out to a local Mexican restaurant last night. I saved some chips, sour cream and guacamole along with the half of the chimichanga I didn't eat. I've been surfing the Web and snacking on chips and dip, happily munching down the green paste. But every once in a while I'll stop, think "hey, that's guacamole," feel revolted, and get the urge to spit the stuff out.
When that happens, I quickly remind myself, "It's avocados." Then it's okay.
It's not the food itself that I have the problem with. It's the concept of guacamole.
I don't understand it. Guacamole is not an inherently gross food item, like squid or brains or intestines might be. On the contrary, guacamole is easier for me to eat when I think about where it comes from. Guacamole doesn't have an inherently nasty texture, either; it's roughly the same consistency as ketchup or salsa. It does vaguely remind me of eating raw tomatoes, which I dislike -- but I don't have the same problem with salsa, which is raw tomatoes.
It's the sort of thing I'd blame on a bad past-life experience, if I thought any of my recent past lives were on worlds with anything vaguely resembling guacamole. But the stuff doesn't evoke any memories -- just a strong, non-specific aversion, not unlike what country music fans think of rap, and vice versa.
This time last week, I had wrapped up after a long night at work and was walking out of the building toward the van so I could drive home. I head out the front door of the Journal office onto High Street. There is a car idling at the curb. Two women are in the car. The one in the driver's seat rolls down the window as if to ask me a question. I politely stop and see what she wants.
"Jane" (I never got either of their names, but it'll make it easier to keep track) starts launching into some explanation of how she thinks "Susan," who is sitting in the back seat next to a baby carrier, is on drugs, and she was going to drive Susan home but Susan refused to tell her where to go, and now she has called the police so someone can take care of Susan, and she works for a major airline, and a great deal of probably somehow relevant information that I can merely nod in sympathy at. Meanwhile, Susan has gotten out of the car, and is trying to corner me with her side of the story, that Jane had promised to drive her home but suddenly flipped out -- and while Susan's talking to me, Jane locks the car doors. Susan goes ballistic and starts screaming at Jane in very colorful terms to open the door, because her baby is in the back seat and "kidnapping is a federal crime." Both women are now completely ignoring me, and I'm trying very hard to keep the peace before I become an eyewitness to something more bloody than a domestic-dispute-in-progress. Needless to say, I am very relieved when the police arrive a scant minute or two later in response to the 911 call that Jane had made earlier on her cell phone.
Two officers get out of the police car and walk over. "Gabriel" looks and sounds like he's having a very long night. Everything that comes out of his mouth is an order. (At one point, he snaps at Susan, "Don't light that cigarette" from 15 feet away. She asks why, and he responds, "It's bad for my health.") "Dennis," despite looking tired, is at least trying to smile, and listens patiently to people instead of cutting us off when he has something to say.
The two of them talk to the women. Individually, at first, and then -- after hearing Jane's allegations of drug use -- both at Susan. I explain, at my earliest opportunity, that I had simply walked out of the building and gotten dragged into the situation, and that I'd be happy to give my view as a witness if it was needed but that I really hadn't seen anything vital to the controversy. Susan, meanwhile, is being forced to roll up her sleeves and show the officers her arms. Checking for needle marks, I guess.
By that point, I'm basically trapped there until the officers dismiss me; I have no idea what the policemen's plans are, or even what they're hearing of the situation. I offer my jacket to Susan, who is shivering in a T-shirt; I offer her a drink from the water bottle I'm carrying, which she gratefully accepts; and I sit against the wall for at least fifteen minutes while good cop, bad cop, alleged druggie, and cell-phone lady go back and forth.
Where does the titanium spork fit into all of this? Well, I have gotten into the habit of taking it in to work with me every day, since I typically eat a lunch at work consisting of TV dinners and other such utensil-requiring foods, and since the office doesn't provide any flatware. I own a titanium spork because I won it in a contest of Antwon's some time back, and I hung onto it because it's a great backcountry utensil and I have aspirations (when I don't break my arm) of backcountry hiking. Since I was leaving the office at the end of the day, I was taking the spork home with me (there is no secure place in the office where I can safely stash small, pilferable items). Thusly, the titanium spork was in my pocket while I waited outside in the cold.
Toward the end of the scene, after I had finally obtained permission from Dennis to drop my armful of stuff off at my vehicle around the corner (and return with another jacket, because Susan still had mine, and I was starting to freeze), I was collecting my possessions from where I'd put them on the ground while waiting. I bend over to pick the items up from the ground. The titanium spork slips from my shirt pocket and falls to the sidewalk with a clatter.
"You!" Gabriel, from the other side of Jane's car, barks at me. "Wait there against the wall."
"But I'm just going to --" I protest, trying to explain my intention to return.
"Don't go anywhere," he orders.
I put my stuff back down and settle back in to wait again, a little weirded out. Gabriel finishes talking with Jane and walks over to me.
"What's that ... spoon ... thing?" he asks me, pointing to the ground where the spork lay.
"It's a spork," I explain. "I bring it in to work with me so I can eat dinner with it."
"Oh," Gabriel says sullenly. "I thought it was something else."
After that, things go a little more quietly. I get to retain my spork and go to my van. I eventually get my coat back. I miss the big resolution while I'm off shuttling stuff to the vehicle, but Jane did eventually drive away, and as far as I know Susan got her ride home in the police cruiser.
Unless she got arrested for spork possession and deported to East Timor. Frankly, with as surreal as the entire experience was, I wouldn't have been surprised.
So, apparently, back in 1997, when the Clinton administration was considering a law that would give the U.S. government a back-door key into every encrypted Internet transmission, one senator stood up and said "enough is enough." He stated, eloquently and forcefully:
There is a concern that the Internet could be used to commit crimes and that advanced encryption could disguise such activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone jacks outside our homes for unlimited wiretaps. Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?
Now, more than ever, it's important to consider these words, and to support the sort of politicians willing to make them. In an era where the head of our "Justice" Department has famously declared that "those who scare Americans with phantoms of lost liberty only aid terrorists," people willing to stand up and speak out for the Constitution are more valuable than ever. Yes, friends, we should be thankful for defenders of liberty such as that brave once-senator, John Ashcroft.
... You know, American politics has been pretty quickly degenerating into self-parody lately. There's just nothing to be said to some of the revelations coming out of Washington these days.
November 28, 2002 ... I am thankful for Thea.
I am thankful that she is always with me. I am thankful that whenever I hear a song that makes me miss her, I can reach out, and the slightest brush of my mind will bring her to me so that we can listen to it together and sing it in harmony.
I am thankful for indie music. I'm thankful that there are such great numbers of beautiful alternatives to the mainstream songs that the RIAA tries to push onto the radio and then tries to keep me from burning (from my legally bought albums) onto MP3s so I can listen to them more easily while I work on my computer. I'm thankful that many sites offer free music I love, and that so many regional bands are so dedicated to their craft and produce such great albums and live shows.
I am thankful that I have the leisure time to worry about what format my music is in. I'm thankful that, despite all evidence and suggestions that we're hurtling over the brink, the world has not yet degenerated into World War III or into anarchy. I'm thankful that the empire is decadent and declining, because at least it means there's still an empire, and quality of life is consequently at a historic record high.
I'm thankful for the Internet, foremost among the explosion of technology that has improved our lives. I'm thankful that it's big and loose and uncontrolled, with a million million nooks and crannies and places to get lost along the way. I'm thankful for the groups of fringe believers that gather around its edges. I'm thankful for finding them, because I think that finally having a peer group (out among the dragons and other unconformists) was among the most critical factors that turned me from a misanthropic adolescent into an adult willing to accept humanity. (That and finding Thea.)
I'm thankful for search engines. I suspect that neurologists will collectively wake up one day and realize that how the brain figures out what data to access is a much more interesting question than how the data is stored. I further suspect that the brain's internal search mechanism is going to almost perfectly resemble the nth generation of Google, which is going to surprise Google's programmers less than the neurologists.
I'm thankful that my birth family and my human friends accept me as a person despite all of my strongly held beliefs and opinions. I'm thankful that they're all such good people.
I'm thankful for all of the people who have touched my life in positive ways. If you're reading this, you're almost certainly one of them. Thank you.
Not everyone who has helped me will ever read this. To those people, I offer a karma point redeemable toward whatever internal or external judgment awaits us at the end of it all, and a silent promise to pay it forward to the best of my ability.
I'm thankful for the ability to make a mistake, kick yourself for a while, learn from it and move on. Even if we make the mistake a few times before we get the hang of the lesson.
I'm thankful for the people I love.
And, especially, I'm thankful for Thea. I'm thankful she never gave up her pursuit of me, even -- especially -- knowing that she couldn't rely on a positive response back. I'm thankful she loved me enough to try to change, and that I finally noticed how much she had.
Someday, love, we'll share another touch, or kiss. Until then, it's enough to know we're together for good. Our spirits touch, and there are no words for it, save: Thank you.
November 29, 2002 ... Last Saturday night, six days ago, I called 911 ... again. What is it with me and incidents involving the calling of 911 this month? In between crazy drivers and domestic disputes possibly but not necessarily involving sporks, I've been talking with the police a lot during BaMoJoEnt. And I'd never so much as called 911 once before this November.
This latest incident was, at least, a lot less dramatic. I was driving home past midnight on a Saturday night, late enough that the rural road I was travelling was deserted. I had crossed the Bear River Bridge and was driving toward the stoplight at Wolf Road when I glanced off to my left and saw the twin beams of headlights punching through the scrub at the side of the road.
I didn't have the presence of mind to stop; I only got a long glimpse as I passed by. There was a car about eight feet beyond the shoulder, over a slight embankment and tilted at about a thirty-degree angle, the right-hand wheels up on a short berm. One one hand, the car didn't look at all damaged. On the other hand, one doesn't park eight feet off the road, through a stand of manzanita, when one can just pull over to the shoulder. Especially since the car was facing the same direction I was -- i.e., for it to have pulled over onto that shoulder, it would have had to cross a lane of oncoming traffic.
In retrospect, it's a lot more obvious that it was a single-car accident than it was at first glance. It took me about thirty seconds to realize I had to do something, and by then I was already well down the road, and embarrassed about turning around and pulling over just to check on somebody that, for all I could tell, might have been parked in a driveway I failed to notice, and was checking a road map while his car idled. Despite my uncertainty, sense of duty won out, mostly due to the odd tilt of the car. I decided that my best course of action was to report the incident to the people who were in a position to do the most good if the driver was injured. So, I pulled off at the intersection, drove into the gas station, found the pay phone, and called 911. I politely gave the operator as much information on the situation as I could, thanked them for their time, and drove on home after they assured me they'd send someone out.
The incident still haunts me in the back of my mind -- because what I've told you is the sum total of the resolution I've gotten on the event. I don't know what ever happened to the driver of that car. I don't know whether it was an actual accident, or something weirder but less serious. I will probably never know whether I did the best thing I could have done under the circumstances. Would I have done more good by stopping and checking out the scene myself? Did the delay in my response cost the driver's life as sie slowly bled from a puncture wound or lay, gasping, in the final stages of the heart attack that had cost hir control of hir vehicle?
These are the sorts of scenarios that played out in my mind during the rest of the drive. I still cannot dispel them. My only defense -- but at least it's a comforting one -- is that I acted in a reasonable and prudent manner (that pay phone I stopped at was in fact the first one I would have been able to reach, even if I had stopped and/or turned around), and that if something untoward happened, it was not due to any negligence on my part.
The incident also gave me cause to reflect on how much our actions affect the lives of people that we'll never meet.
Our brains are pattern-seeking monkey brains. We seek order. We want explanations for why things happen around us the way they do. But, unavoidably, a large part of our lives is influenced -- or even fundamentally changed -- by total strangers, in ways good, bad, and indifferent. How many of us ever get to meet the burglar that robs our house? The writer whose inspirational piece in a magazine we found at the bus stop causes the epiphany that turns our life around? The politicians that pass the regulations that cost us $300 in taxes and get the EPA to inspect our drinking-water wells? We can't avoid touching the lives of people we'll never meet; we can't avoid being touched by people who will never see our faces or hear our voices.
This is a fundamentally scary thing, I think. We know our friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, local businessmen, and neighbors. We trust them -- at least enough to interact with us in culturally safe ways and act with reasonable respect and courtesy when they pass us on the street. But there's a world of six billion people out there. A big world; big enough that if we just kept walking down a line where everyone on Earth was placed shoulder to shoulder, we'd die before even getting close to the end. All of these people have the capability to reach out and touch us in some way. We don't know a single one of them from Adam.
I reached out and touched someone in a very important way last Saturday. I may have even saved their life by calling 911 five minutes before the next car would have come along. They'll never know my name -- or probably even that anyone called. They may only be alive today because of the statistical happenstance of a person driving down that road soon after they crashed; and the statistical happenstance of that person going out of their way to make a phone call to the authorities.
That's a pretty tremendous burden to have on one's shoulders.
And we can't escape it, not for a minute.
I am not an empathic person, but I consider myself to be a very compassionate one. Knowing that I'm on call 24 hours a day to act prudently and charitably to my fellow residents of Earth is a responsibility I gladly accept, but it's impossible to get through the day if you fixate on it. I think the vast majority of people never bother to think about this awesome responsibility, except when its use (or its breach) affects their life in a profound way.
I suspect that's probably for the best. Living up to that calling requires literal sainthood; perfection and continual grace. I think if people felt the need to be saints, we would all fall continually short, and the discouragement of never reaching that goal would spur an apathy toward good behavior that would send our society spiraling downward even faster than it currently is.
Being a basically good person is a hell of a lot easier than being a saint. The vast majority of people are basically good. I'm glad it works out that way.
November 30, 2002 ... I woke up early this morning (albeit with a little prodding) and hopped in the car. Destination: Thanksgiving dinner number three.
On Thursday, which was Thanksgiving proper, I was holed up in the office; holiday or no holiday, someone's got to put the newspaper together. One of the rewards for the few people who worked that day was that one of the reporters made arrangements with Auburn's Community Dinner -- a free local 2,000-person feast sponsored by the Salvation Army -- and brought a turkey dinner in to everyone in the office. It was a lonely and slightly stressful day, but I got to stuff myself.
Friday night, after I got home from work, the roommates and I took off for Marysville. We had planned to have WalksFar along as well, but he had to cancel out on his holiday plans at the last minute for medical reasons. So it was just the four of us -- Lox, Kai, Kras and I. We went to Hometown Buffet, which was creepily empty for a Friday night -- they had so many empty seats that diners were just told to grab whatever table they wanted, rather than needing to be seated by a waiter. Fortunately, they had an ample variety of meats and side dishes on the menu; I had two plates of meat and sides that were neither turkey nor ham nor stuffing (except for one spoonful of the latter, to see how it was).
Then, today, I arrived at my parents' house to find family, extended family, and family friends. An eclectic total of nine people sat down at the dinner table, several of whom had never before met each other, and who had little in common besides knowing (or being related to) my mother and/or father.
It was mentioned at the beginning of the feast that it might be difficult to meaningfully start the meal off with a prayer of Thanksgiving. After all, our group contained nine people and nine different spiritual orientations: an agnostic, an atheist, a Mormon, a Foursquare evangelical Christian, an unaffiliated Christian, a Course in Miracles practitioner, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, a polypantheist, and a dragon.
My father, in lieu of a prayer, gave a short speech on the origin of Thanksgiving, its traditions, and how it has stayed alive throughout the centuries. It was a nice touch. During the meal, my stepbrother's wife Julie commented that Thanksgiving is one of the nicest holidays of the year, because it's truly and completely non-denominational; the idea of it transcends any one group and has the capacity to unite us all.
Of course, there were the inevitable religious discussions, but everyone was courteous, and nobody said anyone else was wrong.
I have one latecomer to add to the list: I'm thankful that it can be so simple for a group of people to set aside their differences and just spend time being grateful together for the blessings we all share.
I hope that the world as a whole sees more of such behavior.
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