Friday, November 9, 2012

Shattered Realities


All of the above emotions occurred in a few seconds, but only one remains. One moment, I was in the mind-numbing routine of my commute. And the next, I was not. I lost the feel of the road in my fingertips, a vibration and resistance so slight that my car seems to turn with my mere thought rather than hand movement. It comes with driving the same vehicle for thousands of miles more a year than many people will drive in 5 years. Like I have done thousands of times, my mind tugged gently to feel the edges of the tires. There is nothing like rubber biting into the road as you intend it to do to re-orient you from a weightless floating sensation. Only this time, nothing happened for the fraction of a heartbeat before the car started to rotate slowly, as if what I had done was not even a factor. My hands gripped the wheel as I attempted to counter-steer, and sure enough, the slow rotation reversed course and went in the opposite direction. But it did not matter what I did with the wheel, or the brake, or the throttle. A sharp blade of adrenaline stabbed into me. Black ice.

Now stabilized and sliding sideways down an incline, we were not even slowing down. I considered shifting to reverse to try to guide our trajectory down the center of the road, but with the lack of tire resistance it would have been wishful thinking. We were drifting across into the oncoming lane and would leave the road at an intersection, where trees loomed. I glanced at my sleeping son in the passenger seat and realized with horror that there was no way to keep him from being the first to impact the trees. Why did I counter-steer?! His dreams were NOT going to be his last memories. “NA, WE'RE IN TROUBLE!”

I found that the wheel and throttle still didn't make any difference. The laws of physics truly are your best friend, right up until the day they abruptly betray you. We were helpless. The trees loomed larger in the side window. I watched them come. The rising shock of adrenaline (fight or flight) fought with, then gave way to a sudden dead weight that forced the air out of my lungs and left me chilled just before we hit the trees. Regret. I've killed him! My actions got him here, and there is nothing I can do to change it.

The impact of shattering glass and crumpling metal is ear splitting, and to those who have experienced it, heart rending. A thunderous crash. Violent shaking and impacts with the side and ceiling as it smashes in. Vision blurs to gray. After the first few impacts, hope that we will soon stop. Stay conscious! There was no way to count how many times we rolled. At least twice, but probably more.

We came to rest on our side, the car propped up by the now open passenger door. My vision slowly cleared. “Na, are you ok?” … brief, eternity of sickening silence. “Yeah.” He pressed his seat belt button, dropped to the open ground below him, and disappeared. I lived again, breathed in deeply as if for the first time. I started to move my fingers, toes, then my head. Everything seemed to move, with no pain as resistance. That would come later, no doubt. There was a lot of blood. I had been bleeding like a stuck pig, but most of it seemed to be coming from a cut on my hand. It was already slowing down. Now, how to get out of here? The engine was still running, so I turned it off (forgot the lights, though). It took me some time to get the seat belt to release, as my weight was hanging in it, but eventually I did so and lowered myself in a somewhat dignified manner to the ground.

Na had already trekked 30 feet down the ravine to locate his music player, still playing, and return to find his glasses. The glasses seemed to have gone stupid on him and lost their effectiveness, until he discovered that they were mine. His own glasses, once located, worked much better. He had then set to gathering and piling the debris (personal belongs) that had been flung in a wide arc from the open door and trunk. By the time I crawled out, he had returned. “Here are your glasses. How do you see through those things?!” Perhaps not well enough.

And yet, we were both walking around and talking. A real miracle, one year ago on this day. One that I did not deserve, nor had the time to ask for.

Recollection is a strange thing. There are parts of the experience that are crystal clear, while others appear to me like what must have confronted Na when he donned my glasses instead of his. I cannot recall at will the adrenaline-saturated panic that I felt, but I have flashbacks any time I get a floating sensation on the road, that feeling that I am no longer in control of the car. I'm told some classify this as PTSD. That sensation is blessedly fleeting, however, and seems to be abating as time passes.

What has NOT abated is what follows the shock. In a fraction of a second, the panic attenuates as it is overpowered by that heavy, chilling weight of Regret. It slams me down, as if plunging me through the thick ice of a glacier fed river with a wrecking ball, and it does not let up for what feels like an eternity. It is a reminder, as strong as the original experience, of when I truly realized that I had failed at the one thing which I deemed most important; Protecting my family. A realization experienced anew that I Failed ... and that I am Failing! I could not control the situation on that day, and daily I cannot control a myriad of situations in which members of my family are in danger and take damage that has lasting effects.  I CARE, but it doesn't matter.  How does one deal with that weight?

In that crystallized moment where some say one's life flashes before his or her eyes, I did not fear for myself. In this I find some encouragement. That, at some future time, if there is a choice to be made, I may not hesitate out of self interest to help another. But it is small encouragement given the realities I live with.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Visions of Photographs (dancing in my head)

I wish I was a photographer. Seriously. Nearly every day, I am confronted by at least one sight that I wish to capture. Not to become famous or wealthy from publishing, mind you. But rather, so that I can retain that image in my mind's eye; free of fading from lack of frequent enough retrieval, or attenuation from the passing of time -- so I can share it with others who were not there with me to experience the real thing. Sometimes, the desired image is an awe-inspiring spectacle, a view of nature's gentle beauty or unbridled fury. Other times, the stark contrasts in lighting or incongruous content seem to shout out even to a non artist's soul such as mine, as if to say, “Over here! I am an image worth preserving!”

And then, I generally berate myself inside my own head for not having a way to take the picture as I don't generally pack a camera around with me. Or, on the rare occasions when I DO have a way to take a picture, the resultant pixels never even remotely match the allure or grandeur that I had hoped. Oh wow, another scenery picture not even good enough to be a postcard for my friend's great-aunt's next-door neighbor. (You see what I did there? Who would even send a postcard to one's friend's great-aunt's next-door neighbor? Ridiculous) In a word, “Lame picture.” (okay, two words)

When I do happen to get the composition of a picture to my liking, the image clarity, contrast, or colour saturation still tend to be a letdown. (I would have added 'depth of field', but I make it a point not to speak of things of which I know nothing) Even Picasa's “I'm Feeling Lucky” magic button can't save it, generally speaking. It makes me want to go out to purchase a REAL camera worthy of the content, though I realize that there is more to it than fancy gadgetry. And besides, I'm cheap.

The problem is, much of the time it is not the camera's fault. Several swirling factors play a role in the mad Sudoku that is successful photography: Technology, Training, Timing, and Talent. That I am generally captivated by still images means that I have Timing in my favour (minus the exposure time of course, but that's a tech and training issue). Training is clearly a deficit area as well to date, something I realize all too well when I acknowledge that I don't know my Aperture from my F-stop. But the kicker for me, sadly, is Talent. I lack it.

Have you ever heard of a disposable camera? They were out there as a low cost, better than nothing option for the occasional memory capture. The results almost always fit the bill, if only barely. Well, even with a real camera, I am capable of creating numerous disposable images. In an era when even a point-and-shoot camera is relatively robustly capable, the majority of images I take with them are 'flush-and-forget'. But enough of self-aggrandizement, I like to keep up a pretense of humility.

Hey, I do not have a gifted eye for how images will appear inside the bonds of the frame to which they will be limited. I look at a life-sized image or experience, and fool myself into believing I can re-produce it. Now, I have some friends who get much closer to accomplishing this. My daughter has an artistic eye for imaging things (which is why she is the one with a real camera). But alas, I do not have an accurate concept of what is possible. Or rather, not possible.


Some scenes of images that got away just today remain vivid in my mind:

- The way the quickly moving low clouds glowed red as I left the house, illuminated by the lights of the city while the cover higher up remained midnight black.

- A solid bank of sleight gray clouds in full retreat, like a reverse haboob, only with a thin sliver of sky visible underneath. Smaller clouds appeared much whiter above and below the storm mass and appeared to have been made by the coarse, swooshing strokes of a paintbrush on a dark canvas. In the foreground, the yellow of the rolling hills, now harvested, appeared to be intensified in the early light.

- The tops of a bank of wind turbines poking out the top of a deep fog bank as if to greet the rising sun.

- The small stand of poplars this morning shimmering bright yellow in the indirect sunlight, braced by by two unknown trees bedecked in deep red. The sky backdrop was such a deep and perfect blue that it appeared to be artificial. The colours were so sharp, though I admit that the sound of the rustling leaves were also a draw, one that would not have made it into the image even if I HAD gathered it. Then, the wind whipped up into a near gale all day and there was scarcely a leaf between all off the trees when I left for home. Perhaps next year...

So many scenes in the course of driving to work in a single day, and yet no one there to share them with. I supposed I SHOULD have taken a camera with me and given an attempt to take some pictures along the way. If nothing else... hey, postcards!!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Quelled by Unforeseen Brassica oleracea (Accursed Day)

The Day had overstayed ITs welcome. With its myriad of twists, challenges, dynamic monotony, and insults at long last fading from present to past, and having attained my one saving grace in the form of supper with the family, my soul heaved the sigh of one far older than I. Can a person grow so weary from life's grind that the cumulative fatigue becomes a debt so heavy, so complete, that the ledger may never be balanced through rest in this lifetime?

I shuddered at that, then deftly drove Discouragement, terror stricken, back into the dank cell located in the deepest recesses of my mind from whence she had plotted her escape. Slammed the heavy door, locked the deadbolt, stopped up my ears to retreat hastily back into the relative light of logic, and rationalization. (Stupid Discouragement. She's like a present-day Houdini.)

I do this so others don't have to. They need not understand the daunting price. In fact, I hope they never do.

Besides, I am not even the most tired person in the room. My wife almost didn't even make it to the table this night. She nearly dragged herself past us in favour of her bed, or perhaps even the hard floor beside the bed. She's different that way. I looked at her, and heard Guilt subtly project his voice from his cell way back next to Discouragement's. Though his words did not carry distinctly enough through the gray fog, I knew what he would say if I let him out and removed that gag to loose his forked, critical tongue. Something about my supposed sacrifices not being enough to protect her from this fate, that my weakness is the reason she is even more overextended than I am. And yet, this is the lot we'd chosen. Together. No, I am not completely alone. (Not yet, anyway)

I glanced over my shoulder at The Day and its devious designs for me, my dulled eyes showing just a hint of the stubborn gleam of triumph. I, still breathing... IT, now quickly running out of air. IT'd had its chances, and had made full use of the opportunities. And yet here I was, in one piece. “Next time!”, IT seemed to growl. “I nearly had you.”

I relaxed. Partly out of fatigue, and partly out of confidence that IT had given up. The Day was beaten and was slinking toward the exit. I had survived, if only barely. I finally gave this admission permission to fully form in my mind ... It was a mistake.

My wife put down the worship book and pushed herself away from the supper table. “Ok, you all get to help me tonight.” What? “We have 50 pounds of cabbage heads to chop. Let's make sauerkraut!!”

I was a cabbage head! The Day whipped around and slapped me upside my leafy cranium, then leered at my shock. IT laughed with unmitigated glee, both at the look on my face and at IT's own clever playing of the Opposum card. I had finally let my guard down, and with one sentence, I was defeated.

What had suddenly possessed this crippled and frail wife of mine? Was she controlled by IT, or was she doing this of her own accord just to taunt me? In any event, she had revived miraculously, and I was left to ponder one of the great mysteries of the universe. I'll never understand women.

But help we did. We chopped, we sliced, we willed those heads into near infinitesimal oblivion. We experimented to discover the ultimate way to effectively shred the unending legion of cabbage heads that, it turns out, were hiding in every dark and cool recess of the house. Hacking with a cleaver, slicing with a serrated bread knife, they all worked. But not nearly quickly enough.

One of our number, who tried slicing the cabbage in half-inch cubes, was asked if he knew what sauerkraut looked like, and if so, how he expected his behemoth chunks to miraculously form themselves into the German mayo-less coleslaw. He did not know and admitted as much. Though, to be fair, I do not believe he knew what sauerkraut actually looked like. How could he? Sauerkraut was supposed to be something never actually seen, something to make jokes about. Yet on this night, no one was laughing.

Counter space and cutting board time was at a premium, but eventually we packed two 5-gallon buckets with the stuff. I was instructed to rinse out one of those buckets before adding cabbage, as it had most recently hosted home-made laundry detergent (or some such substance). “Great!” I thought wryly to myself. “At least this batch will taste extra clean.” I was instructed not to be ridiculous, which I made an honest, half hearted effort to do. (or was that 'not do'? I can't not dislike double negatives) We'll see.

The rest of the evening was a blur. In truth, it made for good family bonding time so long as we restrained ourselves from cursing randomly or muttering incoherently. I should have taken some pictures as it was something of a spectacle. In any event, it was with some satisfaction that, as my head finally hit the pillow, I noted that my dear wife was already fast asleep. I wonder what unexpected curve-balls The Day will throw at me when next I open my eyes.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Forget Not that I am Handy... (Not)

I have a painful admission to make, though one that will come as no surprise to people who know me. I am not very handy. There, I said it! It hurts, but it is true.

When something around the house breaks or is otherwise functioning in a way contrary to how it was meant to function, I instinctively shy away: A heater that sits cold, a fan that doesn't spin, a roof that doesn't dissuade water, or a water pipe that works just like the roof, the results are consistent and predictable. My first inclination is to gather together my belongings, and find somewhere new to move so I don't have to deal with it.

So acutely aware of how unhandy I am that I even have dreams about this sort of thing. I once had a nightmare in which, no sooner had I moved into a new house that I discovered that, unlike what was advertised in the glossy brochure, the blamed place had no electricity! After being a man and dutifully checking each and every switch with a new light bulb and each and every plug with a “My Little Pony” curling iron (not mine!), I had been ready to vacate the premises. But then, in one sickening moment, my wife threw a breaker switch and the whole house sprang to life! I was so bemusedly chastened that I forgot all about that ridiculous curling iron, which ended up burning a hole in the carpet upstairs where I had left it plugged in.

Okay, the dream was actually fictional (especially the My Little Pony bit. It's not plagiarism, though, so leave me alone). However, it encapsulates several real realities for me (as opposed to... fake realities, I guess). First, a technical or handy challenge raises its head to leer mockingly in my general direction. Secondly, I either begin to attempt to address it, or avoid doing so out of trepidation. And finally, the Third step always plays out in one of two ways. 1) My wife leaps in like she invented kryptonite, knocks me to the side before I can hurt myself, and re-builds the entire offending wing of the house with none other than duct tape and scraps of baling twine before I've even figured out the actual problem. OR 2) She beats me to the punch on the obvious, face-palm smacking solution, which once again leaves me wondering just what my own meager brain is actually good for.

That, in a nutshell, tends to sum up my “handy” life. However, thankfully, there are times when fortune smiles upon me and I can serve a functional purpose. This either means that I got lucky, or a job arises that requires more than one person so my wife cannot do it by herself. Such a time occurred recently when we attempted to move our internet service's base of operations to a different part of the house.

Now, I have no illusions as to my abilities, but I can say unreservedly that even I could not mess up as much as the idiot who built most of this house! In one period of complete (and I would say with the assistance of too many regulated substances) insanity, someone once turned this house upside down. He added a second floor, and, in so doing managed to get nearly everything related to electrical and plumbing, insulation and roofing, absolutely dead wrong! Over the past decade and a half, subsequent owners have pecked away at the problems as best they could, pulling out wiring that goes nowhere, covering plumbing that's completely exposed to the elements, and trying to keep entire parts of the house from becoming additional swimming pools. I don't care how romantic it sounds, a second story miniature Venice is simply not cool.

Octopus strand, labeled!
But back to the cable wiring. There are no fewer than two cable 'hubs' in the house. Unfortunately, none of the actual cables to the different rooms are actually labeled, and most are not connected. They're just clumped together in a dizzying, octopus-like array. Some rooms have more than one cable conduit, while other unexpected places (like the bathroom) also got special treatment. The job of finding which of the million cables went to the room we desired to have the modem and router required TWO people! (At last, oh sweet triumph!) I went from room to room with the modem, plugging it into the cable there, while my wife would connect each strand of the octopus to the hot wire until we got a signal. In this manner, I was able to serve a function, and we were able to label the entire house!

Well, I should say, NEARLY the entire house. Of all the strands of both octopi, guess which single room did not have a member? Yup, the only room we actually needed a cable to go to. So, a bittersweet victory for the time being. Still, I will remember fondly the time that I was able to help make technical sense of our hopelessly dysfunctional house.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hashing Things Out -- a round about expression of gratitude

I ate Hash browns for supper, covered in fresh chunky home made salsa. (That sounds like a worthy Facebook update right there if ever there was one) Yet, I know there are those who would set me straight on this. In their great zeal and out of shepherding concern, yea for the sole purpose of saving me from the barbarosity of myself, they would point out the following; that when a potato has been desecrated by knife or chopper, and then fried into a moderately cohesive pancake, the resultant item is to be consumed at breakfast, which is the meal that coincides with the rising of the sun. Furthermore, they would point out that ketchup, not salsa, is the condiment of choice. To this, I say that they are truly missing out on a good and tasty experience, especially when the salsa is fresh! And while I might be able to persuade some of the less jaded of their number of this, they would invariably revert back to their mantra of, “But, hash browns are breakfast food!” While I will agree to disagree, I get it... or do I?

Riddle me this then, oh guardians of culinary etiquette. If the same staple tuber were to be desecrated and prepared in exactly the same (though somewhat coarser) manner, yet the remnant scraps remain separate and unconnected from each other when the time for eating has come, why then would they be deemed appropriate only for consumption at any time OTHER than breakfast? We would call these French Fries (or simply 'fries') on this side of the pond, whilst the British would staunchly declare them to be 'chips', but both parties would agree that these spuds are not breakfast fare. The only way to eat discrete pieces of fried potato for breakfast without risking accusatory glares or gasps of exasperation is to squish the shredded roots back together before frying, and call them tater tots. And yet, all the while we are talking about potatoes that were cut into strips, then fried before they met their uniformly ignominious demise. Hash browns vs. fries (chips) vs. tater tots... who decides when these things should be eaten? More importantly, who cares?!

For that matter, why is a potato cooked whole not appropriate for breakfast, while one that has been cubed, is? And don't even get me started on when they get pulverized beyond anything resembling their original form (mashed) or sliced thinly and baked (scalloped), for these too are reserved for evening, or at the very least, mid day... I used to think the thinly sliced ones were called 'scalped potatoes' because it looked like some sadistic Apache raiding party had had their way with them some time before they found their way to my plate. It's a good thing they had always been peeled, or as a young tot I might have been traumatized by those lifeless eyes staring up at me, pleading.

Decidedly NOT Mr. Potato Head
At this point, I will admit that I have hopelessly digressed. Suffice it to say that it felt fully appropriate to consume hash browns after dark. There are, in fact, several good reasons for this, and the earnest food police may kindly take their criticism elsewhere.

Most import among these reasons is that the supper was very kindly prepared for me by Charlie, who had, quite literally, been instrumental in the preparation of the salsa. He chopped and diced the onions, bell peppers, jalapenos, serranos, and who knows what else to make that good stuff a reality. And after hours of doing that, he also made sure we would not go hungry. Thus, the potatoes AND the salsa were both due in large part to his efforts.

For those of you who have not met our eldest, I can assure you that he fits in well with the rest of the siblings. That is to say, he looks decidedly less Caucasian than either my wife or I. Perhaps it is best to use his own words to describe himself. He once declared, “I am Asian-American, a real rice and potatoes kind of guy!!” Perhaps that goes far in explaining the hash browns. Either way, Thank you for supper, Charlie!

Sunday, September 23, 2012


When we moved the family to the opposite corner of the country to start a new life, one of the changes for me was to work with folks on the opposite end of the life spectrum.  Instead of preschool to middle school aged children every day, I now spend my time with people who are decidedly more elderly.  Instead of trying to give individuals tools that they’ve never had, I endeavor to help them recover ones that they have lost, or, at the very least, make the best of what abilities they have left.  Although these things are loosely related in that they involve communication and the brain, there are stark contrasts in my personal daily experiences.  Specifically, this is a result of the clients themselves.

My world view is being inexorably altered as I encounter wisdom that can only be acquired through decades of trial and error.  More than ever, I can see the outgrowth of decisions made long ago, and the impact governing life principles had on those decisions as well as the patterns that persisted.  Put more simply, I see the sum result, that is the endgame of how people have chosen to live their lives. --And it can be very sobering.

On the one hand, there are married couples who have been married for 60 to 70 plus years, who take the latest challenges or inevitable realities in stride with something approaching gracefulness; who have children and grandchildren rallying around them in their time of need.  Even if one of these is now far from their prime and suffering from advancing dementia, I can see flickers of who they once were, bolstered by the manner with which their family members relate both to them and to each other.  If I ask these types of individuals how they cope with challenges, they meet the other’s gaze with a knowing look, then respond with something akin to, “Well, we just work it out.  There is always a way.”  With every situation, even when there is no longer a way, collective support abounds.

On the other hand, there have been many whose situations were far from the one described above.  The person is alone, either because he or she did not wish to be tied down by such encumberances as a family and thus never had one, or because an impassable rift formed and they were separated permanently. (I am not referring to those who have outlived their entire family)  In any event, no one visits, and no one (besides us) supports.  Often through the course of interaction with these folks, it does not take a herculean stretch to surmise why no one comes.  As they do their best to burn bridges even with you, you can begin to smell traces of a lifetime of burnt bridges trailing behind them; of many rivers crossed that can never be crossed again.  Every bad thing that has ever happened, including the current situation, is somebody else’s fault.  Sometimes, even though we have just met, it is even MY fault!  Recrimination and bitterness abound right up to the end, until the realization that the end has come and you are alone.  But by then, it is far too late.

Two extreme situations, to be sure.  And yet, I have seen both of these and many subtle shades in between.  Here is what am taking along with me from this:  The decisions we make, even the seemingly small ones, matter.  More importantly, how and why we make the decisions we do, matter.  What we believe, matters.  And how we treat other people throughout our lives, matters completely.  No one is likely to spend time looking over our shoulders to see if our words match our actions, but that is no basis for altering how we live, anyway.  In the end, there will be no fooling even a passive witness.

Live your life the way you would like to be remembered.


To Communicate
Wellspring of my life. Ergo--
Writer's block
Senryu is a 3-line unrhymed Japanese poem.  Structurally similar to haiku, it focuses on human nature, usually in an ironic or satiric vein. In other words, it appears to have been designed specifically for me. What better way to interrupt nearly four years of silence?