One Mile Closer to the Sun

There was a moment Tuesday afternoon when I thought I was going to die.

I was standing on a platform 7434′ in the sky, looking down at a distressingly thin pair of cables about to whisk me on a 60-mph, 1400-foot drop, wondering how I’d gotten myself into such a jam.

ZiplineMaybe I’m being a bit dramatic (“no maybe about it!” Tara says), but waiting in line for the Extreme Zipline at Utah Olympic Park in Park City forced me to confront my fear of heights dead-on. When we were planning this vacation months ago and my wife suggested we ride the zip line, I was like, “Yeah! Let’s go!” But my macho bravado faded in increments with each additional foot of elevation gain. In the end I not only survived but enjoyed the exhilarating rush and incredible view, and when I reached the bottom was ready to go again.

This whole vacation has been nothing short of amazing. It’s also been very hot, in the 90s and 100s everywhere we’ve gone, but I have not let the extreme early summer heat dampen my enthusiasm one bit.

We’ve been on the road for one week now. Home feels distant and far away. As great a time as we’re having, living out of a suitcase gets old after awhile. Audrey misses the cats. We long for the comfort of our own bed. Hell, I miss sea level; we’ve been one mile closer to the sun for the better part of a week now.

Our adventure began last Thursday when we drove to Baker City, Oregon after work. We spent the night and continued on to Ely the next day, meeting up with Tara’s cousin for lunch in Twin Falls along the way. Her dad greeted us with homemade fish tacos and booze. Great “homecoming!”

The main purpose for our trip was a wedding on Saturday; one of Tara’s close friends was tying the knot. The ceremony was nice and the reception, held in the Ely train depot, was a lot of fun even if it had a decided country theme about it. Think cowboy hats, belt buckles, and a DJ spinning plenty of Brooks & Dunn. We had fun regardless, and I even got to line dance. My feet had other ideas, but we clumsily pushed through somehow. I can cross that one off my bucket list.

The remainder of our time in Nevada was spent visiting with family and friends. Our last evening there we were sitting out on Mike and Doreen’s back porch after sundown when a bat swooped in and chased all the females away. I have never heard such a loud and prolonged scream. All I can say is, those are some impressive lungs you’ve got there, Doreen!

Monday afternoon we left Ely and drove to Park City, Utah, passing through the Bonneville Salt Flats along the way. Fascinating area, and I couldn’t help but scrape some of the salt off the ground and stick it on my tongue. Tasted exactly like the salt that comes out of the shaker back home. Go figure. Next up was the Great Salt Lake. It’s an impressive body of water but boy, does it smell bad. And swarms of gnats reside along the shoreline. I waded in up to my knees. The water was very warm – I’d guess at least 85. Tara and Audrey chose to watch from shore.

90 minutes later we arrived at our condo in Park City, a quaint ski village east of Salt Lake that is best known for the Sundance Film Festival. There were no celebrities in town this time of year, and no snow either. Try 90 degrees instead, even at 7000′. Summer, I hate you. Our condo was nice, but had a few weird quirks. Hot water came out of both taps; when I called the front desk, they said to turn on all the cold faucets and let them run for a few minutes. This worked, but got tiresome as we had to do it almost every single time. And though the place advertised central A/C, the thermostat couldn’t be set any lower than 69, and the air-conditioner struggled to cool us to even 76. Add A/C to the list of things I miss about home.

Nevertheless, Park City was picturesque and quaint, and we enjoyed our time exploring the area. Had a great dinner the first night at Wasatch Brew Pub on Main Street, and because our condo had a kitchen, we cooked most of our other meals there, including some delicious steaks and corn on the cob thanks to the onsite gas grills. Highlights of our visit: the aforementioned trek to Utah Olympic Park, a stroll through downtown Park City, a ride on the Deer Valley Ski Lift, and a hike to Donut Falls in Big Cottonwood Canyon. But the best part was catching the sunset (and moonrise) from atop Ensign Peak in Salt Lake City last night. I can’t decide which was more impressive.

SLC Sunset

Moonrise

Both were pretty stunning. And well worth the mile-long hike to the top of the peak, especially with the lights of Salt Lake City twinkling far below. Last year, I struggled to walk a block in the thin air of Ely. This time around, the elevation never bothered me. Yay for being in shape!

We’re leaving Utah this morning and driving to Boise to spend the night before making the journey back home tomorrow. Luckily, we’ll have the weekend to recover from our vacation.

Happy 4th!

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Happy Birthday Two You

Monday was my birthday.

Well, not really. But on Facebook it was my birthday – all part of a great social experiment, if you will. Three days later, I’m not sure how to feel about the results. On the one hand, I have a lot of well-meaning friends who serenaded me with heartfelt birthday wishes. But on the other, I learned that very few people actually know my real birthday. I was surprised how many forgot they had wished me a happy birthday less than two months earlier.

It all began a couple of weeks ago. A coworker and I were talking about the ramifications of economic recovery as it pertains to global trade in a free market environment…oh, who am I kidding? We were talking about some Facebook quiz on which Disney character best describes you (I got Mickey Mouse), and somehow the topic of birthdays and social media came up. Facebook, you are probably aware, informs your friends when your birthday rolls around, and they in turn usually post something to your wall. 21st-century technology, right? My coworker told me about a friend who changes his birthday every few months just to see how many people really know him. This, I thought, was a brilliant idea, especially for a prankster like me, so I stole it and changed my birthday from April 27 (real) to June 22 ( fake). And then promptly forgot I had done so, which made June 22nd really confusing when all these “happy birthday!” messages started popping up.

FB Birthday

Oh. Right. I figured somebody would catch on and spill the beans publicly, putting a quick end to my experiment. Only that never happened. All day long, happy sentiments rolled in. A few people wondered privately what was going on, but the majority never gave it a second thought. One close friend texted me birthday wishes; when I told her it wasn’t actually my birthday she replied, “But Facebook sez.”

I guess that pretty much sums it all up.

(I love you anyway, Heidi).

Soon, I was feeling guilty. People were being really, really nice to me. Saying how much they cherished our friendship and what an inspiration I have been and yadda, yadda. I had planned on letting the cat out of the bag, but by then I didn’t want to burst anybody’s goodwill bubble or hurt their feelings, so I just played along. I kind of ‘fessed up the next day…

Screenshot 2015-06-24 13.43.28

…but nobody took my “normal, ordinary day” stuff literally. Oh, well – I tried.

In the end, about 85 people wished me a happy birthday, which was – ironically – more than I got on my actual birthday. And these greetings seemed friendlier and more clever, as if people had put a little more thought into them.

Like I said: I don’t know what to think. I have conflicting emotions over the whole thing.

All I know is, I’m stuck with June 22 as a birthday now because Facebook won’t let me change it back. I guess the joke’s on me, after all.

#backfire

I won’t dwell on it too long though, because we are headed out of town this afternoon for a much-needed vacation. The only downside? It’s going to be really hot everywhere. We’re going to Ely for a wedding and to visit Tara’s family, followed by a trip to Park City, Utah for a few days of R&R in a nice condo that is super cheap because it’s the offseason. We’ll get back home just in time for the 4th of July.

I’m sure I’ll be updating from the road ’cause that’s how I roll.

Solstice Parties Are All The Rage

Summer Solstice Party
I assumed the guests would look like this. They did not.

Tara and I have a friend who throws a summer solstice party every year. We’d received invitations the past couple of summers but hadn’t been able to make it. This year, we decided to RSVP early and commit to going. After all, we’ve known Lisa for a few years – she’s a fellow author that I met through blogging, and she and her husband turned us on to one of our favorite Portland restaurants, Navarre. Plus, I equate solstice parties with hippies, and those are some fun people to hang out with.

I emailed Lisa a few days before the shindig to ask her if the party was going to include naked dancing by moonlight. I was trying to determine whether or not to bring my bongos, and also to gauge just how much hemp seed and kombucha to pack. That’s when I learned that this was to be a fully-clothed affair and that, while the potluck might include organic foods, it would also have Lay’s potato chips and Diet Coke.

Whew. Glad I checked in advance and saved myself from a potentially embarrassing situation! I left the drums home and trucked on over there with a nice Frito corn salad instead. I did show up in flip-flops, but it was eighty degrees out, so this was more about personal comfort than feeling a close connection with Mother Earth.

The mother of all solstice parties takes place in England.
The mother of all solstice parties takes place in England.

We had a good time, even though we knew nobody aside from Lisa and her husband. I had been warned there would be a lot of writers in attendance. Great, I thought. I’m going to be surrounded by a bunch of socially awkward, self-important loners living in their own fantasy worlds. But then I remembered that I’m a writer, so instead I was like, “Cool.” And it was cool. They were cool. I was cool. We were all cool despite being fully clothed. We ended up chatting quite a bit with one couple in particular. They were older, but really friendly and easy to get along with. Sharon is a writer (shocking) and former hospice nurse who self-published a memoir. I happen to have a strong interest in near death experiences and the afterlife, and asked Sharon whether any of the patients she cared for had ever had deathbed visions – something not uncommon in hospice patients.

“Oh, a lot of them,” she replied, and went on to recount stories of patients talking to departed relatives who they claimed were sitting on the edge of their beds, and even – in one case – hugging an invisible entity. Upon hearing that I got goosebumps, and I mean actual, literal ones. I even raised my arm to show them off. Weird moment perhaps, but damn…that stuff fascinates me. And it led to a spirited (pun intended) discussion on the deck when we got home. We talked about souls and dreams and parallel universes and the idea that we might all be stardust. I’d elaborate, and really want to, but will save that for another blog post.

One of the couples arrived well after the party had gotten started and offered up apologies for showing up late. “We just came from another solstice party,” she explained. “I hear they’re all the rage these days,” I said jokingly. “Well, not ‘these’ days – just this day,” she corrected me. “The solstice only occurs once a year.” And that, my friends, was the precise moment when the evening turned into a Portlandia sketch.

I mean that in the best way possible.

And I didn’t have the heart to tell her there are actually two solstices as that would have been splitting hairs.

How’d you celebrate your solstice? Are parties a “thing” where you live? What about kombucha? Know anybody who had a deathbed vision?

Let’s talk…

TV is Like a Cookie

Last week, Tara accused me of being a music snob.

“What do you mean, a music snob?!” I demanded, incensed by this allegation of music snobbery. I pass no judgment, whether you listen to Neil Young or Neil Diamond. Or even Neil Sedaka, for crying out loud (but you’re way cooler if you listen to Neil Young).

Oh, shit. Maybe I am a music snob…

Tara, who enjoys two of the three Neils, then accused me of having an affinity for “the deep tracks.” In other words, album cuts – songs that have not been played to death on the radio. And I have to admit, she’s right about that. No matter how great a song is, it begins to wear out its welcome by about the 30th listen. Look, I love “Another Brick in the Wall,” but for god’s sake I wish that teacher would just leave those damn kids alone already. It doesn’t stop there. We’ve all heard the tale of Billie Jean, claiming she got knocked up despite our protagonist’s insistence that the kid is not his son. A simple paternity test could have resolved this issue thirty years ago! The longer the song, the more excruciatingly painful and drawn out it seems, too. Three minutes would have been plenty of time for Jude to take a sad song and make it better, but we have to put up with seven minutes and about a hundred “na na na na”s first. By then I’m kinda wishing the rumors of Paul’s demise hadn’t been mere rumor.

musicsnob1

Maybe that explains why I’m drawn to those lesser-known songs. I’ll take “Lost in the Flood” over “Born in the USA,” “Sister Morphine” over “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” and “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” over “Smells Like Teen Spirit” any day of the week.

I even went so far as to say that should my favorite obscure local band, The Moondoggies, ever get one of their songs played on the radio I’d have to stop listening to them. Admittedly, that declaration veered a bit too close to blasphemy, so I added a quick

Oh, I’d still listen to them. I’d just skip over the popular song.

OK, fine. Tara was right. I am a music snob. Destroying any last shred of doubt, I came across an article titled “11 Signs You’re a Music Snob” and didn’t even make it past #1 (“You hate everything on the radio”). Yes, I think live shows are better. Yes, I like Pitchfork. Yes, I judge artists by how they look. Yes, I regularly use vinyl. Yes, I’m a music snob. musicsnob2

Yes. Yes. Yes.

And yes, I think Yes is pretentious.

Fortunately, I’m much less of a television snob. I have about twenty episodes combined of Shark Tank and Naked And Afraid on the DVR, stacked up like planes on the tarmac waiting to be cleared for takeoff. Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy quote/unquote “quality” television. We just finished watching all five seasons of The Wire, a show that came highly recommended by – well, everybody – and yeah, it lived up to the hype. And we just started the third season of Orange is the New Black, only we don’t binge watch like so many other people. To be frank, I don’t get the appeal. Sure, it satisfies your craving for Instant Gratification, but wouldn’t you prefer to savor something, drawing it out and enjoying it slowly? If somebody handed me a chocolate chip cookie I wouldn’t shove the whole thing in my mouth – I’d take little bites and chew them slowly in order to make the whole thing last longer. TV is like a cookie.

I’m not saying binge watching is wrong. Hey, if that’s what floats your boat, go for it! I just personally think if you knock out a whole season of something – anything – in one fell swoop, you are preventing suspense from building. I like to let the details of something I have been watching sink in slowly so I can reflect upon tiny plot intricacies and maybe better understand a character’s motivations. Hard to do so when resolution is just a remote control click away. I looked at my Netflix queue to see when we started The Wire and had to laugh. The first disc of Season 1 arrived November 16. 2013. We are the very antithesis of binge-watchers.

bingewatch

So, I’m curious. If given the opportunity, would you binge watch a favorite television show, or would you rather take a break between each episode? There are no right or wrong answers here. I could very well be in the minority. Hell, I probably am. And while I’m askin’, do you consider yourself a music snob, or are you okay hearing “Stairway to Heaven” for the millionth time? Oh, and if you are a music snob, tell me about a band I should be listening to.

Ornery Little Rascal

Midway through my morning walk today, I surprised a raccoon. He was in the act of climbing a fence and froze when he spotted me. We were just a few feet apart, staring each other down. Sensing a perfect photo opportunity, I grabbed my phone, fumbling for the camera in the hopes of capturing the moment for posterity.

raccoon fence

Unfortunately, the above photo is not mine. I’d love to take credit, but I wasn’t quick enough on the draw. Instead, I ended up with this shot.

2338Kinda pales in comparison, but that’s the fleeting nature of existence, right? Fortunately, getting up at 4:30 every morning for a three-mile walk around the neighborhood presents plenty of opportunities for wildlife encounters. So long as those encounters do not involve bears, I’m okay. We see rabbits every day. Earlier this week, there was a deer. I hear there are coyotes around. Walk long enough, and you’re bound to be rewarded.

rascalRaccoons, though. When I was eight years old and living in Ohio, my family took up camping. In the evenings when the sun went down and we gathered around the campfire, raccoons would show up as if on cue, passing through our campsite. I quickly developed a fascination for the animals, and when I picked up a copy of Rascal, Sterling North’s memoir about growing up in Wisconsin and the raccoon he adopted as a pet, I decided that I, too, should have a pet raccoon. Oddly enough my parents did not agree, but gave me a stuffed animal, which I named Bandit, for Christmas instead. Which is probably just as well; North eventually had to release Rascal into the woods as the animal grew older and became more ornery. Still, every time I see a raccoon, even to this day – (and today, on this day) – I am transported back to my own childhood and can instantly recall the wonder and innocence of my halcyon youth and the belief that all things are possible.

My friends and coworkers think Tara and I are crazy to get up so early every day for those walks. I say they keep us young, in more ways than one.

Happy Friday.

Poster Child

One of the most beautiful words in the English language has got to be remission – not because of the way it rolls off the tongue, but rather, for all it implies.

re·mis·sion
rəˈmiSH(ə)n/
A diminution of the seriousness or intensity of disease or pain; a temporary recovery.

It is most often used in discussions involving cancer, but is not exclusive to that disease. I heard it from my own doctor ten days ago, and while diabetes certainly isn’t as serious as cancer, it was still sweet music to my ears.

I’d gone in for a series of lab tests, the first I’d undertaken since being in the hospital, and the news was just about as good as it gets. My A1C test, which measures the average blood glucose level for the past three months, came back 5.5 – a decent score for an Olympic diving competition and a fantastic one for a diabetes patient. In the hospital, it was 11.5. Anything below 5.7 is normal. And that is why my doctor told me my diabetes is in remission. “There is some debate in the medical community whether or not that means you actually have it anymore,” he said. “At the very least, you don’t have it at the moment.

Umm. Wow. I was not expecting that.

Competition Judge Holding Up 5.5 Scorecard --- Image by © Robert Michael/Corbis

He went on to say that my cholesterol was “ridiculously low” (115), my triglycerides dropped from nearly 2,500 (normal is below 150; anything over 500 is “very high”) to 65 (!), and my BMI/weight are normal. And then he took me off both cholesterol meds, cut one of my BP dosages in half, and called me a “poster child” for diabetes patients and others looking to get healthy, which made me all kinds of humble.

Except on the blog, apparently.

man-getting-hit-by-busBut seriously, this is such good news I can hardly believe it’s true. All my hard work has paid off big time! I have never been so healthy and physically fit in my whole life. Hard to believe just a few months ago I fell into a depression and was convinced I would die an early death. Well, I still might, but the good news is it probably means I’ll get hit by a bus instead of dropping dead from a diabetes-related complication! YES!!!

Err…you know what I mean.

This is all pretty cool. I used to be a child, and when I was a child I had posters on my wall, but I’ve never been called a “poster child” before. I’m not even sure what the job entails or how much it pays. I suppose I should find out before embarking upon my coast-to-coast tour.

(By the way, I used to get teased about those posters on my wall. My brother had bikini-clad swimsuit models. Me? I had Cyndi Lauper tacked up above my bed. “She’s not sexy,” he said. “But,” I replied, “she’s so unusual.” Therein began my obsession with slightly vague pop cultural references).

Cyndi Lauper

Anyway. I’ve learned some lessons over the past few months, and I’d like to share them with you. After all, we poster children are supposed to serve as Inspiration Ambassadors, right? I’m pretty sure that’s spelled out in the job description.

  1. If you are called a “poster child,” do not let it go to your head. Oops. Moving on…
  2. Losing weight is easy. It ain’t rocket science, folks. Expend more than you consume. It’s pretty simple. Finding the strength and determination to make the drastic lifestyle changes required to do so, on the other hand? That’s the tough part. You’ve gotta have willpower.
  3. Actual rocket science is pretty hard. To wit: the equation for determining rocket thrust taking into account the mass flow rate through the engine, the exit velocity of the exhaust, and the pressure at the nozzle exit is enough to make you dizzy. rocket equation
  4. Quinoa is delicious. I was always a rice and pasta guy, but this “ancient grain” is a tasty and versatile substitute that I might never have tried otherwise. Other foods that are surprisingly good, and good for you: brown rice, whole wheat tortillas, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, black beans, almonds, and green tea. Incorporate those into your diet and you are well on your way to success!
  5. Once you give up sugar, you won’t miss it. I craved sugar for about two weeks; and then, never. I’m not saying when a box of doughnuts shows up in the office I look at them and go, “gross.” Nope; I actually want to shove my face right down in there and gobble up a few glazed or jelly filled, scrape the icing from my chin, and lick my fingers clean. But when a box of doughnuts is not three inches from your face, you won’t even think about them. I promise.
  6. The odds of actually getting struck and killed by a bus are about 2 in 1,000,000. You’re more likely to get legally executed (1 in 127,717) in any given year.
  7. Making homemade hummus is a snap. All you need are chickpeas (garbanzo beans), tahini (sesame paste), olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. And a food processor (or really good upper arm strength). You can add pretty much anything you want to that basic recipe. My personal favorite substitutes lime juice for lemon and adds a small can of diced green chilies and a handful of fresh cilantro. It’s better (and cheaper, and fresher) than store bought!
  8. Lydia was onto something with that whole Stevia thing. As far as “artificial” sweeteners go, this one is pretty good! And there’s actually nothing artificial about it at all. The Stevia rebaudiana plant has been used by the Guarani indigenous people of South America for more than 1,500 years.
  9. The Guarani people believe in a forest-dwelling goblin-like spirit called Pombero. He is said to resemble a handsome, thickly bearded, blond dwarf who lives in tree trunks and can be appeased with offerings of honey.THIS is "handsome"?
  10. The best form of exercise is the one you stick with. Some of my friends are runners. I tried it, and I hate it. It’s hell on my shins. I have no interest in pilates or yoga or rowing or high-intensity shuffleboard. But I do enjoy walking, and walking I do. A lot of. 5-6 miles a day, on average. Find something you like, and working out no longer feels like work. It’s just ing out.

And on that note, I am ****ing out of here. Sayonara!

One Man’s Bullet Wounds are Another Man’s Selfie Opportunity

Last week, there was a gang-related shooting in Portland. This occurred in a part of town that has undergone some serious gentrification in the past two decades. When I moved up here 20 years ago, Alberta Street was not a place to venture after dark. Nowadays it’s home to trendy restaurants, gourmet ice cream shops, food cart pods and a popular summer street fair. It has become a mecca for hipsters – not necessarily a bad thing. Well, until this happens.

“Afterwards, let’s duck under the crime scene tape for ice cream!”

This couple decided it would be fun to snap a selfie amidst the chaos that followed a shooting in which three people were injured. To call their actions “insensitive” is going easy on the pair. Never mind the people lying on the ground, bleeding from gunshot wounds; the really important thing was getting that perfect look-at-me-I-was-there! shot uploaded to their social media accounts.

Other folks who were lined up for ice cream at Salt & Straw pleaded with police to let them duck beneath the yellow crime scene tape so they could pick up a Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper ice cream cone. It was a warm evening, after all.

What is wrong with society? Have we become so self-absorbed that basic human decency has taken a backseat to some inane desire to flash a smile in front of a public tragedy? And if so…why? To prove we were there? This problem is not exclusive to Portland. The same thing happened earlier this year in New York City following a gas explosion in the East Village that left two dead and injured 25 others.

"Make sure to capture those flames in the background!"
“Make sure to capture those flames in the background!”

I am no stranger to taking photos with my smartphone and posting them to Instagram or Facebook. Many an enticing main course has made its way onto my homepage. But there’s a big difference between a really bitchin’ salmon fillet and human tragedy, y’know?

I also think there’s a big difference between being behind the camera vs. in front of it. This is a great historical document of an American tragedy…

Hindenburg…that would have been ruined had the photographer inserted himself into the shot making a “duck face.”

Can you imagine if people had taken selfies during the Holocaust?! At least some places are sacred and meant for quiet introspection only. Right?

(RNS1-JULY 24) On June 20, Breanna Mitchell posted a selfie on the grounds of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. For use with RNS-AUSCHWITZ-SELFIE transmitted July 24, 2014. Photo courtesy Breanna Mitchell

Wrong, actually. On so many levels.

I think the worst part is, people are more interested in posing than actually helping. Kid drowning behind you? Gotta hashtag that shit!

They say not to lose your faith in humanity, but photos like these make it pretty hard.

Me? I think I’ll stick with food…

unnamed

 

 

34 Miles to Nostalgia

Saturday, we helped Audrey cross an item off her bucket list by taking her to see a movie at the drive-in.

First off, I’m surprised that any of these places still exist. I had not been to a drive-in movie since the early 90s. Sadly, they’re a disappearing relic from a bygone era, much like rotary telephones, roller skating waitresses, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. There is exactly one in the Portland metropolitan area, and the emphasis is on metropolitan area since it’s actually down in Newberg, a good 30-40 minutes south of the Rose City. drivein3

Well, Tara saw that they were showing The Goonies over the weekend, and that’s both a cult classic and a personal fave, so it seemed like a good way to help Audrey with her list. (Other items include going up (and hopefully coming back down) in a hot air balloon, riding a zip line, and embarrassing herself in public). So we loaded the pickup and headed south, leaving at 5 PM to ensure we didn’t miss the movie, which the theater had listed as starting at dusk. Dusk this time of year does not descend upon us until after 9 PM, so we had plenty of time to spare. We’d grabbed sandwiches from Subway and once we got there, set up folding chairs in the pickup bed, talked, read, and mostly made fun of everybody around us. We’re not usually so snarky, but…well…the clientele made it easy. We’ll just leave it at that.

drivein2

Back in another life, when I was dating my soon-to-be-first wife and living in San Jose, we’d go to the drive-in pretty frequently. Those days, you still had to place a speaker over your door. Now, the sound is broadcast over the FM dial. Times have changed, but the poles are still there; they’re just used as guides for parking (“two vehicles per space, no exceptions!”).

Truffle ShuffleThe sun finally set, the skies darkened, and the screen lit up with Chunk doing the Truffle Shuffle. Goonies never say die! Meanwhile the waxing moon danced with mackerel clouds and it was just the perfect evening. We chose not to stay for the second show, San Andreas, because it was late and we’re old. And Audrey’s bucket list never mentioned anything about a double feature. Actually, we probably would have stayed – not for The Rock Dwayne Johnson’s acting ability, but c’mon, a disaster flick about an earthquake that destroys California? Sign me up! Going to have to catch that one another time, for sure. Sadly, my allergies were acting up, so we ditched the drive-in during intermission and got home about 12:30.

drivein1

I have to say, I kind of like my daughter’s bucket list. It’s a great excuse for us to do fun things. Next up? The zip line in Park City, Utah – one month from today.

Are there still any drive-in theaters in your town? If so, have you gone lately? If not, why the hell not? What other nostalgic icons of yesteryear do you miss the most?

When Fiction is Nonfiction

Earlier in the week, I came across an interesting and thought provoking blog post by a longtime favorite, Jess Witkins. Jess is currently working on a book of her own, and talked about the worst thing she ever did as a writer. If you don’t feel like following the link, I’ll “out” her for you: Jess once cheated on a boyfriend, all in the name of her craft.

She explains her actions thusly:

I truly believed, in the deep down pit of my soul, that I did what I did because I thought it would make me a better writer…I believed the only way I could write like all these other authors I loved was to “experience everything.”

I am not condoning her actions – but I am not condemning them, either. I kind of get it. Many people misguidedly believe you need to experience the things you write about in order to do so convincingly. There’s an excellent scene in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous that addresses this; a young journalist is interviewing a rock ‘n roll star and asks,

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?

almostbw

Ooh. Those are deep questions…

Which, unfortunately, are never answered in the movie. It didn’t take me long to respond to Jess’s post (below), but her question weighed on me afterwards for quite some time. I came to realize the answer isn’t as black and white as I’d first thought.

Screenshot 2015-05-26 16.04.40

Obviously, I am not going to kill anybody in order to know what that feels like. I’m pretty sure Stephen King never broke down a hotel room door with a hatchet when researching “The Shining,” and it’s doubtful Michael Crichton actually reanimated a dinosaur when penning “Jurassic Park” (but, how cool would it be if he had!).

Smaller details, however? I think immersing yourself in the experience does help. I’ve had a bacon maple bar or two from Voodoo Doughnut in my lifetime – a place that plays a minor role in my book. I know the layout of the joint, and exactly how airy and delicious that first bite is…how the maple icing sticks to the roof of the mouth while the savoriness of the bacon cuts through the sticky sweetness, and…Voodoo

DAMN YOU, diabetes!

So, my point is, I can see it both ways. The most important trait a writer needs (besides the ability to write) is a good imagination. Experience can help round out the details, perhaps – but I don’t think you have to cheat on somebody in order to find out it’s wrong, or that it leads to a whole bunch of bad things, like guilt and hurt and insecurity. Jess closes by saying,

I often wonder if the life lesson overall wasn’t worth it. I learned what it means to hurt someone, I learned what it means to be hurt by a friend. I don’t think it helped me with craft or editing, but it helped remind me I’m human. I will make mistakes – foolish ones I won’t believe I did. But I will try better next time.

Tough way to learn a lesson, that’s for sure. But a great way to turn a negative into a positive.

I would love to hear what other writers think about the question posed here. Or what anybody thinks, really. Even if you’ve never commented before, go ahead and share your thoughts if you are so inclined.

And here’s that link to my novel, No Time For Kings. It’s not all about murder and mayhem. There is love and hope and optimism, too. And some mighty tasty doughnuts…

Are You Kitten Me?

Two weeks ago, I got a text from Tara.

So…what are your thoughts on getting a kitten?

This question came from out of the blue. Tara has always been a dog person. She puts up with our calico, Sydney, but if push came to shove, I know she’d rather have a canine. So I was a bit surprised that she would even ask, and thought nothing more of it.

Until I came home a few days later and nearly tripped over a little gray bullet racing around the living room like hell on wheels.

“Surprise!” Tara said.

Understatement of the year.

She wanted to do something special for Audrey, who loves animals and has long expressed a desire to have a kitten. And I guess because I am a cat fan (not to mention a big softie), I had no problem with this. I mean, come on – look at that face. Who can resist?

Mia

The first order of business was naming her. It took a couple of days, with each suggestion eighty-sixed by one person or another in the household. I thought I’d struck gold with Lucy, but it didn’t fly. Neither did Daphne, Sophie, Phoebe, or Zoey. Ditto Cashmere. My brother called me, letting me know he “has a knack for naming pets.” Take your best shot, I told him.

His best shot was Conrad. Wrong sex, for one thing, and even if the kitten was a male…no. Not Conrad. Because Sydney is a reference to the city in Australia (and also Lost, which I was super into at the time), he suggested we stick with the Down Under theme and came up with Victoria. “You can call her Vicky for short,” he said.

Again…no.

And then he came up with Vegemite (“Lil’ Veggie for short!”) and I knew it was time to gently let him know that under no circumstances would he be naming our cat. “Esther thinks she looks like a Mia,” he said finally, and what do you know? We all agreed she does look like a Mia. So, Mia it was.

Mia, I might point out, is All Kitten. Which means she is a whirling dervish of energy who makes Sydney, now 9 years old, look fat, slow, and lazy. I get worn out just watching her zip around the room.

As for Syd, who has been the sole house animal for the better part of eight years now (minus one thankfully-brief period when Audrey’s mom let her have a rat that she toted back and forth between houses every week) and does not get along very well with other cats? She’s learning to tolerate Mia, which basically means ignoring her for the most part. There’s a little hissing here and there and she might swat at her with her paw, but in all fairness Mia – being a rambunctious kitten – instigates a lot of this. For the most part, they are able to coexist peacefully. And Audrey is happy, which is what matters most.

Multiple pet owners: how do your animals get along? Any spats between cats? Dogs having a ruff time with other dogs? Ruffled feathers amongst birds who share cage space? Turtles shellshocked over the very presence of other turtles? How did you overcome the squabbling? And how many puns did you think I’d trot out before quitting?