19 November 2011

Google is your friend

It occurs to me that I may be too naïve and trusting a person.  I will probably be that little old lady who gives all her money to the nice Nigerian prince who just needs a money transfer because he lost a kidney while traveling abroad in Monaco, or whatever.  I have effectively already been that little old lady, actually, a few times in my life.  When I was working at Dairy Queen (it also occurs to me that I should apparently just have named this blog ‘Notes from a Dairy Queen’, given how much blog fodder those few short teenage months have thus far given me) this quite cute disheveled long-haired ratty-shirted guy once charmed me into buying him a whole ice cream cake “for a dinner for homeless people out in the desert” just by playing me a song on his harmonica.  I got duped into giving a psycho creepy stalker kid a kiss in a foreign airport.  On a rainy day, a family friend had me totally convinced the video of catastrophic flooding in Australia being covered on CNN was actually our backyard river.  In a series of factual blunders, I even managed to accidentally fool myself into thinking pandas weren’t bears and held that belief for years, and was so confident in my mistake I had other people in on it, too.  ‘Gullible’ might as well be my middle name.

Also, I tend to see no problem living in places one should probably avoid.  Prime example: when the husband went out of town for six months I moved into a smaller place more suitable for a single person living alone.  It was the size of a port-o-potty and was all sorts of broken-down – when the gas guy came by to approve the place and told me he couldn’t do it because the gas heater wasn’t up to code, the landlord just told me, “It’s fine, they always say that.  Don’t worry about it.”  So I just moved in and didn’t turn the heater on the whole winter.  The place was pretty much made of cardboard.  In fact, someone told me later about a friend of a friend whose house in Tucson was broken into after the burglar just kicked in the wall and walked in – and given the size of the hole I managed to put into the closet wall just by leaning a hand on it, I think my place fell into that same Laughably Easy burglarizing category.

But none of this really hammered home for me until I came home one day and realized I’d locked myself out.  I was sitting there staring at the door, wondering what the hell I could do – when out of the corner of my eye I saw an angel, an actual angel rooting through the big dumpster in our alley.  This homeless guy had with him a whole shopping cart of goodies he was diligently trying to augment – surely he’d have a screwdriver in there somewhere?  I walked over and explained my plight.  And sure enough he did have a screwdriver, and in under two minutes he and I had pried my window open and got me inside.  And you know what he said, while we were breaking into my house?  He told me, “This place isn’t safe.  I have a sixteen-year-old daughter and I would never let her live in a place like this.”

That’s how I got schooled that my house was potentially not my finest choice of living situation.

I’m looking for apartments in Chicago right now and I’m trying to keep these and other reminders in mind as I look at all these adorable places and fail again and again to remind myself that they are cheap because I am probably going to get shot walking out the door.  I’m not a good judge of these things.  But my friend helped me develop a great litmus test for checking out neighborhoods I know nothing about: 1) Google the address, 2) Find the closest park, and 3) Google the park name.  If you see news of a shooting, beheading, or bomb-planting in that park in the first five search hits, you are probably not about to settle into a nice neighborhood.  Seriously, this works.

If anyone could help me out with this whole Chicago thing I’d be deeply obliged.

25 September 2011

Nerds are the best kind of people

I’ve just returned from the Arizona Browncoats’ sixth annual Can’t Stop the Serenity event, and if that didn’t make any sense then you’ve probably never seen the cult classics Firefly (the TV show) or Serenity (the movie).  Obviously I recommend both.  And I bet you wouldn’t argue with me that Can’t Stop the Serenity is a nerdy event.

This event represents exactly why nerds are the best kind of people.  On every scale, it exemplifies the very best that people can be, and what they can do when they come together for a good cause.

To summarize in one sentence, Firefly was a space cowboy sci-fi show that waxed profound in its portrayal of a group of mercenaries struggling to survive a universe that failed to appreciate their particular brand of morality.  Firefly has a wealth of fantastic messages enmeshed in it, about ethics, righteousness, equality, the list goes on.  I mean to say that this nerdy space cowboy show in and of itself was a production promoting the best kind of people. 

But it was canned in the first season by Fox. 

Enter the browncoats, the cult followers of Firefly.  Like the characters they idolized, they banded together for a common cause: to give a final voice to their favorite show.  They actually scraped together the cash themselves to fund a full-length film chronicling their favorite crew, and out of that sprung Serenity.  How awesome is that?

And it gets better.  Now around the country, browncoats put on annual Can’t Stop the Serenity screenings of the movie, and all the proceeds go to benefit Equality Now and other organizations seeking the empowerment and equality of women worldwide.  It’s a charity the show’s creator, Joss Whedon (of Buffy and Dollhouse fame), feels very passionate about.  Six years in, these screenings have raised over half a million dollars for Equality Now.

So yeah, all of that is great and all – strong moral messages and philanthropy and whatnot, it’s real nice.  But would you also believe that nerds are the most courteous moviegoers I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit with?

I know!  This is at a dedicated cult-movie screening where you’d expect people to be all rowdy and annoying.  And still no one yelled over the dialogue, no one clapped out of turn, and when the important bits came around no one ruined the surprises for anyone who hadn’t seen the movie yet (yes, there were two of them in the crowd).  One cell phone did go off, but the girl instantly turned it off and looked absolutely mortified.

The husband and I have all but sworn off movie theaters after our last twenty our so experiences where we’ve been subjected to people having entire conversations throughout the movies we paid ten dollars a ticket to watch.  But these browncoats were fantastic and their conduct throughout the whole evening – in the theatre, during the speeches and fashion show and front-running show screenings, milling around the lobby, even in the bathroom – was exemplary.  It was amazing.

I’m totally going back next year.

23 September 2011

When the husband’s away…

Everyone has idiosyncrasies they choose not to display around other people.  Some of us do this because we’re prudish and self-conscious, and others of us do this because we don’t want to annoy the ever-loving piss out of our loved ones.  When my husband is out of town, my life changes in oh-so-many infinitesimal ways…

1. Loneliness is cleanliness.  Can you believe I’ve actually done the laundry every single week this month?  And the dishes?  And I’ve made my own meals for dinner?  You should see my house right now, it’s gorgeous.  It is absolutely miraculous what you can get done when you have no excuses like, “He totally put that there and he can damn well pick it up himself.”

2. Loneliness is craftiness.  I never would have scrounged up the sewing machine if the husband was around.  I’m making holiday costumes and learning to face-paint and cleaning things I’ve never cleaned before and mending things that really don’t need mending.  In husband-departures past, I’ve hauled out the acrylic paints or the earring-making supplies or the molding clay and gone to town.  Oh, and the husband was out of town for a couple weeks when I made the Stargate, too!  See?  I’m only ever creative when he’s gone.

3. The house turns bulimic.  With all the cleaning and all the crafting, the house pretty much waffles daily between being pristine and qualifying as a natural disaster area.

4. There’s this thing called ‘fruit’…  I’ve said we don’t eat in.  But as part of point one, I’ve been going to the actual grocery store and picking up actual fruits and vegetables and actually consuming them on a regular basis.  And the white nectarines in season right now are delicious.

5. Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.  Normally I’m not much of a drinker.  No, honest.  But when the husband is away and I don’t have my regular social drinking partner and wine-bottle-sharer, I go crazy.  On days when it normally wouldn’t cross my mind once, I’ve found myself staring down the beer in the fridge and wondering how long I’m going to hold out before I start drinking alone.  I could shank a baby right now for just one good glass of white wine.  I’ve finagled my way into two glasses of wine this week and I’m still dying.  I think this defines alcoholism.

6. Cereal = all-day staple.  Cereal is no longer just for dinner.  Breakfast, lunch, second lunch, dessert, midday snack, midnight pick-me-up… it’s so versatile!  Especially when I don’t want to leave the house.  Which leads me to…

7. Self-imposed exile.  I’m a natural-born hermit.  The husband makes me leave the house to walk around the university, or get food for dinner, or buy things, or socialize.  But now, I don’t have to do any of that!  I can sit in a single spot on my couch all night and no one will bother me!  (Friends of mine, don’t get any smart ideas about taking me out of this in a fit of pious pity.  I like it.)

8. Forget personal hygiene.  I still brush my teeth twice daily.  But it can be hard to get up the motivation to shower when no one with whom you interact is going to get within a few feet of you in a given day.  And makeup and hair maintenance and cute clothes are all straight out the window when the bed is calling for you to sleep in just a few minutes more…

9. Cadaver nails.  That’s husband’s name for my fingernails when they start growing out of control, he says they look like when people die and their nails keep growing (I’ve heard this before, but I’m not sure it’s true).  But I hate cutting my nails.  HATE.  It takes forever and then you have to file them and I never had this problem back when I used to bite them off.  So when husband’s gone, the claws come out.

And finally…

10. Absolutely NOTHING in moderation.  At least, with regard to media.  The husband can only watch things once or twice before he gets bored with them.  He hates listening to music on repeat.  Me?  If I don’t consume everything a song or a band or a show has to offer, if I haven’t yet worn it like a second skin, if I can’t repeat it back verbatim, then I feel I haven’t really experienced it yet.  And when husband is gone, there’s no one to limit my addictions.  So far I’ve watched both seasons of Modern Family straight through four times.  Four.  That’s forty-eight episodes, back-to-back, four times over.  And each night I find a new song to fall in love with and play it on repeat for hours – last night it was Silver Sun Pickups, tonight it’s Mark Martel’s “Somebody To Love” audition tape for Queen Extravaganza (and my God, does that man ever sound like Freddie Mercury!  Be still, my beating heart!), and so on.  It never ends.

Anyway, I’d keep going on this list but my cereal’s getting soggy and I have to reorganize the pictures on the piano and I just reached the episode where the whole family takes a trip to Maui, and I really like that one.  Peace out!

21 September 2011

Just like riding a bike!

I’ve taken up sewing again.  Well, effectively for the first time.  The other day I dragged my brand-new untouched sewing machine (gifted to me a few Christmases ago by my mother) from the highest recesses of our hall closet, because I finally found a use for it: making Día de los Muertos costumes for our stuffed animals.

Best not to ask, really.

Let me give you some background on me and sewing.  When I was young, my mom’s sewing machine was always set up in the family room and my sister and I dabbled in making crude stuffed animals and whatnot on it.  I own no evidence of this, but I’m confident I was once capable of threading the machine and sewing in a straight line, and even a curved line on some daring days.  But that was a long time ago.

So when I opened this box, I have to admit I was feeling a little trepidation.  It was a daunting beast of a machine, with a really big manual that had lots of diagrams.  (I’m exaggerating.  It was a big book because there were a lot of diagrams, three languages, and painfully exhaustive large-font instructions, such as “Disconnect the machine from the power supply by removing the plug from the main socket!” and “Never drop or insert any object into any opening.”)  Hesitantly I threaded the needle, pinned down my first test scrap, and pressed with ginger care on the foot pedal.

And it turns out, relearning to sew is just like relearning to ride a bike!

See, after I stopped riding my bike in high school I was nervous about getting back on it in college.  But by the end of my first week, I was still wobbly but I was getting the hang of it.  I was even confident enough to take one hand off the handlebar to wave a thank-you to a row of cars that had stopped so I could cross the street—

And my hand twisted and I flew headfirst over the handlebars and my backpack knocked straight into my head and I scraped both knees bloody and totally ruined my good new jeans.  Right in front of dozens of stopped cars full of laughing drivers.  Yep.  Grace personified, that’s me.

So when I say it’s just like riding a bike, I mean that I am comically inept at relearning to sew.  So far I’ve wasted half a spool of thread and a good dozen scraps of fabric and filled my house with more shouted cursing than even the foulest-mouthed sailor would admit to, and all I have to show for it are two disembodied doll-size jacket arms.  I’m just glad Dead Day isn’t for another month and a half.

03 September 2011

No green thumbs on these hands

I’m an awful plant owner. 

We have three plants living in our house: an orchid, a ficus, and I think an amaryllis.  I’m pretty sure if my poor plants could talk they would scream in fear every time my husband leaves and they get left in my care. 

The probable-amaryllis has the most to fear from me at the moment.  (I have a feeling my comment field’s going to ping with the correct answer to my flower ambiguity about five seconds after I post this.)  It was a gift from my mother a few years back, and after a half hour of internet searching I’ve seen lots of amaryllises (amaryllii?) with our same pot and I think I remember seeing that flower on the box when we got it. 

Who knows?  That’s not the point.  The point is it has not once flowered in our house and I finally decided to heed my sister’s advice and look up how to properly care for a bulb plant.

And of course the first thing I read was not to put it in a sealed pot, which is exactly the kind of pot it came in.  So one screwdriver and a good deal of effort later I’m left with a cracked pot bottom and a shower of soil all over my kitchen sink.  Good start.

Also, I think this thing gets watered by the husband about every three days.  That might be too much?  Is once a week better?  And how often would all these East Coasters and Midwesterners water a plant if they lived in a desert?  I keep reading all this “cool, dry place” business and let me tell you – cool is not happening.  Dry I can manage, no problem.  Ten percent humidity is an Arizona standard.  But cool? 

Like I might have mentioned once or twice on this blog and even in this post, I live in Arizona.  We don’t do basements or cellars.  We can’t even get cold tap water nine months out of the year.  If you want cold water out of the tap, you rig a strainer filled with ice up to the faucet.  (Desert rats take note – I got that tip from a Facebook friend and I’m paying it forward because it works-ish.)  Outside of my refrigerator the coolest any part of my house gets is about 78 degrees, this time of year.  That’s not even close to the 60-something I’m seeing on the web. 

(Do people still call it the web?  I feel like that’s some holdover from the 90’s all of a sudden, like “cyberspace” or “the Net” – although Sandra Bullock is holding up incredibly damn well, come to think of it.  Good on her.  Okay I’m rambling.)

Plus, some sites say to take the bulb out of the soil to make it go dormant and some say not to and some say to do it in summer and some in fall and some when the leaves start to turn yellow and some say to cut the leaves down to the bulb and others say leave two inches…  All I want is the industry standard, people!  Gosh!

It’s enough to drive a girl crazy.  The internet is not remotely helpful for advice.  It’s as bad as reading scientific literature, with everyone all defending their mole hills, except on the internet it’s a lot harder to sift out bullshit.

Can someone help me?  How does one get a flower out of an amaryllis (probably) bulb?

My poor plants.

22 August 2011

Got to love the First Day

I love the first day back at school!  All of a sudden campus is crawling with students again.  The freshmen are all stumbling around trying to figure out how to get to their brand-new college classes, the seniors are already showing up all jaded in pajamas like they couldn’t be asked, the grad students are trying to figure out whether to bother even printing the syllabus.  It’s a day full of adorable blunders and maddening accidental breaches of etiquette, and I can’t decide whether to stay indoors and weather the storm or go out on every class break just to enjoy the show.

I’ve seen nine First Days now at this university and they never change.  It’s so nostalgic.  Kids come by and try opening our lab’s key-locked door, and I’m reminded to go write the sign explaining that classroom ###-B is that-a-way around the corner.  11:35 rolls around and I panic and run out to grab a lunch before the classroom floodgates open for a nightmarishly crowded lunch break at the student union (it’s the only food the freshmen apparently know about).  The gym is off-limits this whole first week until the undergrads settle into their schedules and realize 3:00 is not an appropriate exercise time for them.  There’s no point at all to trying to bike around in the ten minutes before every hour, not when skateboarders and pedestrians have no idea yet where their right-of-way ends and the bike lane begins (come to think of it, I don’t see as many rollerblades around of late – has an era finally come to an end?). 

All around me I see kids sitting in hallways waiting for classes to start and I remember my first year here, little eighteen-year-old Kaitlin sitting anxiously in the hallway of the social sciences building trying awkwardly to figure out what to do with herself during the break between 9:00 and 9:50.  I hear them asking each other questions – where is this or that building, when is your lunch break, where do you go for good coffee – and I can practically hear myself trying to start up those same meet-and-greet conversations that for me never ended up going anywhere.  I miss my fellow first-year grad student, who showed up so cheery-faced in my first class of graduate school and with whom I shared all of my first grad school memories.  I happily fail to envy the other students in my lab, who’ve not yet moved beyond class-taking and have to run off with lunch in hand to sit through a four-hour lecture.

This ninth year is the last year for me, and I’m going to miss all of this First Day at College ridiculousness.  It’s been fun.  But THANK GOD I’m getting the hell out of here before I make it to ten.

UPDATE: I made it to ten.  Thank you, data collection setbacks.  Ten was the same as the rest, except that the incomers looked like children.

26 July 2011

Arizona Part 3: Still on the Water Thing

I realized I wasn’t done with water.  Don’t worry, even I’m growing bored of it.  I’ll be on to bigger, better Arizona things soon.

I just wanted to let you know not to cry for me over the fact that we never got snow days as kids.  And no, we didn’t get heat days, either, even though in a hundred and ten I can tell you that school swamp coolers just don’t cut it.

(Aside: Swamp coolers.  Would you believe that when it’s really hot and dry, you can run water over a pad and then draw air through it into a house, and as that water evaporates it cools that house?  People have made these machines (also less inventively known as ‘evaporative coolers’) for bone-dry places like Arizona, and in practice they even kind of work.  In June.  For a while.  Husband and I used to have a swamp cooler in our house, and in July and August we sweated buckets late into the night playing Dance Dance Revolution in our unders in the privacy of our living room while the swamp cooler pumped in heavy, wet, not remotely cool air that smelled of local sewage treatment plant.  Delightful.  End aside.)

This is a swamp cooler.  The pigeons love that it drips water, and probably love less the way their insides feel after trying to drink it.

So we didn’t get snow days, and we didn’t get heat stroke days.  But we did get a couple of flood days.

Arizonans don’t know what the hell to do with precipitation of any sort when they do get it.  Worse, it only comes in deadly bombardments and not in manageable drizzles.  Flash flood warnings are a regular occurrence, and annually a number of people have to get pulled by firemen out of cars stalled in underpasses that look like this:

Taken this week.

There’s little adequate drainage to speak of anywhere in our city.  The water is supposed to be channeled along the sides of roads and dumped into gutters, but the gutters are too small and fill fast with debris, and soon even the main streets become filled with running water.  It inevitably drains off onto secondary streets, which city planners have elected to allow to dip into the deep drainage washes (now running feet deep) rather than build more drainage tubes and run the roads over them.  I mean bridges, those are like, expensive, right?  And you can see from the picture above how well these ditches work.  They speak for themselves, really.

So if you live anywhere, pretty much anywhere in the city, when it starts really raining you’re unlikely to be able to drive anywhere else of real import because your car will get stuck in the water.  This is especially true of the boonies where we lived, as we had to cross no fewer than four major washes running straight off the mountain before we could get out of our suburban corner and into the proper city.  And by the way, our city planners may suck at planning for water, but our drivers are even worse at driving in it.  If you could get past the washes, you’d probably get sideswiped by a hydroplaning idiot trying to turn left. 

(That idiot was me, I admit, when I was sixteen and full of newly-licensed hubris on the back streets of Minneapolis during a summer storm – I almost took out two entire branches of my extended family driving my cousins and sister to rent some DVDs.  Hell, they might have been VHS tapes, come to think of it.)

So on flood days, we got to stay home.  It was beautiful.

And I have had one “snow day” in my life.  I was living for two months with the parents after college, it was winter time, and by some miraculous force of Higher Power, we woke up one morning to see the sky had snowed and sleeted and the world was covered in a very thin film of icy powder.  My dad and I were carpooling to work then, and we got in his car and made a valiant effort for two straight hours to try and cross either of the two bridges leading from my parents’ house into town, both now covered in ice and snow that still, bizarrely, had not melted even by ten o’clock.  There is no way to get into town without crossing one of these two bridges.  And my dear city has, to its name, exactly one snow plow.  And I think they were trying to de-ice something on the bridge too or something, which is the extent of my knowledge on the subject because I am a native Arizonan and know nothing at all about precipitation (I had never even heard of a roof rake until I was in my second quarter century on this earth).  No one was getting across those bridges.  So we gave up and went home.  And yes, I may have had a bachelor’s degree already under my belt when it happened, but I might as well have been five for how excited I was to finally get a single mostly-legit snow day in my life.

Picture courtesy of my dad.  Gorgeous, right?  And yes, this shut down an entire corner of the city for half a day.

25 July 2011

Arizona Part 2: The power of water

We’re moving out of Arizona at year’s end.  I’m already missing it. 

See, I’m a native here, and by that I mean I was born somewhere else but I don’t remember much of it.  Home to me has always been here, in this little patch of dirt ringed by purple remnants of an old volcano.  Home is washes that only run with water a few months of every year – torrential flash floods of mud in summer, frigid snowmelt in winter.  Home is saguaros and javelinas and creosote and knowing how to pronounce all of them.  Home is just the right amount of sky.  Home is sun, and sun and sun, with a few miraculous moments of weather.  Home is where precipitation is considered nothing short of blessed, all the time.  Home is one day of snow every seven years, snow that never sticks, snow that dances and falls and disappears instantly.  Home is coyotes howling and cicadas buzzing and frogs chirping in raucous chorus and the morning call of mourning doves.  Oh, the mourning doves!  My heart cries already.  Home is mesas and roadrunners and pico de gallo and temperatures too hot for thermometers and cracked pavement and cacti and swimming pools and year-round flip flops and only owning casual wear and painfully gorgeous sunsets.  How am I going to survive living anywhere else?

Water.  In the desert it all comes back to water.  It’s the precious thing.  I have so many memories about water.  How are people going to understand my lust for water?  Can I give you some Scenes from the Life of Me, sort of thing, and maybe you can harbor some of that lust with me?

When I was a wee babe, solid water was something that came in trays out of a freezer.  I was shocked, delighted, aghast when I found it also in the open trunk of my red-and-yellow toy car in the back yard one uncharacteristically frigid winter morning.  I was young, so young, and I could never claim that to be my first experience with natural ice but it’s the first I remember.  It was just so weird.  Water wasn’t supposed to do that.  I was so giddy about frozen water my neurons hardwired that memory into something I still have all these many years after I’ve forgotten the majority of my childhood.

The first time I remember seeing snow falling was in fourth grade.  Maybe it was fifth.  It snowed in the courtyard outside our classroom and the teachers let us all out to play in it – because when were we ever going to get that chance as children again?  We were mesmerized.  It almost stuck to the ground. 

In school we learned all about water.  I knew from the age of seven that to qualify as a desert a place has to get less than twelve inches of water a year, and our place got eleven.  Well, back then it got eleven.  Now it’s becoming sort of a joke to say we’re still in a longstanding drought, as we fail year after year to reach our mark, as the water table falls ever farther and we import more and more foreign water via aqueducts from other states… 

But I digress – back to those school days.  We attended special assemblies all about water and how to conserve water.  There was a duck.  A guy in a duck suit, whatever.  We learned to conserve water and we did a damn fine job of it, too.  When we went to visit my cousins out of state, my aunt was I think a little appalled that my sister and I would spit our toothpaste into the sink before washing it away with a short burst from the tap.  I was appalled they were willing to just let the water run a full two minutes for no reason.  It was one of those cultural things.

The only award I ever received for a school science project was about water.  It was second grade, and we were trying to figure out what kind of water helped bean plants grow best.  The answer, according to our results, was tap water.  Little did we know at the time (well, okay, I didn’t know – maybe my two collaborators were better informed than I was) that tap water had become quite politically charged that year.  They were just getting the Central Arizona Project water system online, pumping water in from Colorado, and the whole project was fraught with problems and most of the town wanted it canned.  Needless to say, CAP gave us an award for our work and we got to go up on stage and collect a plaque and everything.

Water, water, it was all about water – about the ebb and flow of nature, all governed, wholly and mercilessly, by water.  Seasons were measured not by temperature so much as by water.  And there was no better example of that than at the creek by my parents’ house. 

The creek

(People who live in Arizona haven’t invented any new words for dry washes – we still call them rivers and creeks and whatnot, even when they don’t have any water in them.)

The creek was – and is – a magical place.  It runs off from the adjacent mountain canyon, cutting into the valley and joining the aptly named Rillito River that runs through town.  And when I say The Creek, I’m speaking of a particular one-block section or so surrounding the point where it intersects a horse trail leading up from our neighborhood into the mountains.  This section is bounded on one side by the white rocks – a waterfall of, well, big white rocks that sit on someone’s private property.  (When we were little we scarce knew of the white rocks, because we didn’t dare step past the private property line with its intimidating yellow warning signs full of bullet holes.  And when we were older, it became our actual duty as kids to cross that same property line and see what we’d been missing.)  The creek is bounded on the other side by, um, I guess by more wash, which we tended to access from the other side of our neighborhood and which is therefore a distinct entity called the Meadow. 

The creek is dry most of the year, but in summer when the monsoons come it has water in it.  It flows for a few days, sometimes, after a heavy rain.  And in the winter it runs for even weeks at a time as the snow melts up on the mountains.

The creek after it rains

When we were very little, my mom would get us in our swimsuits and we’d go splash about in the foot or two of water flowing lazily through the broad section of creek right where the big trail crosses it, made broader by a rock dam built so that hikers could get across even on those few days when they needed a bridge to do so.  There were little fishes and tadpoles swimming in the creek and I never understood how they got there or where they went when the water went away. 

When we were much older my friend and I found out where they went.  We had trekked out to the white rocks, to the pool at their base which was much deeper than the rest of the creek, and there found the last few remaining inches of water evaporating away weeks after the latest rain.  And in that algae-filled slime writhed hundreds of fish, flopping helplessly body-to-body, asphyxiating slowly, squirming against each other in an effort to reach the last vestiges of fetid water.  It was a horror I don’t think either of us has forgotten.  And there was nothing at all we could do.

So I figured out where the fish went.  I never figured out how they got there.  They spawned seemingly out of nothing, growing to fill that deepest pool in the creek at the base of the white rocks.  The same white rocks where we once found a rattlesnake curled up sleeping in a cranny, the white rocks that had that one perfect groove for a butt and a lower back, the white rocks with a just-obscured view of the house over the hill where sometimes you could hear voices or dogs barking, the hill I didn’t want to admit I looked warily up at more often than my overconfident sheltered preteen attitude felt was strictly necessary. 

My only picture of the white rocks: the obscure patch of white hidden behind the brush just over the left ear of the equally obscure deer.  You might remember this picture.

The white rocks were the best place to be in the winter, when the snowmelt was six feet deep and you could make a show of jumping in with all your clothes on and shocking the crap out of your nervous system.  It was cold.  One of my very best memories of those preteen years was formed when my best friend and I convinced some classmates to jump in with us.  The two of us seasoned veterans just jumped right in all brazen and casual about it, and the rest followed like good lemmings.  I still remember the look on one boy’s face when he came up gasping for air yelling “oh shit” repeatedly, poor desert rat with no sense for ice water.  And I think I kind of fell a little in love with another of them when I saw how stoically he handled the experience.  That was one of those testing-ground kind of days, you know?  It was a bonding thing.  I held onto some of those friends for years.

We had some beautiful times at that creek.  It makes me emotional, thinking about the creek.  If you took the trail to the creek and turned right, you’d reach the white rocks, but if you turned left you’d reach our three rocks.  We had these three rocks, and we may have named them but I don’t remember now.  I just remember the feel of them, the big flat one and the tall craggy one and the little one, and the way they made this perfect shallow pool and the way you could lie on them and stare up at the sky and let your feet dangle in the water.

There existed a Moment, on those rocks.  You know how Moments go.  They’re a little piece of perfection encapsulated in a single image or sentence or smell or feeling, a memory too good to let go.  This Moment was perfect because the air was clear and everything was green and the water was flowing and the sun felt just warm enough on skin and it heated the rocks just right, and we were lying there poised like Abercrombie models on the big flat rock and all of a sudden a duck flew by.  A bloody mallard duck.  For those of you who don’t understand, I will let you know that mallard ducks don’t happen in Arizona, not out in the wilderness.  That mallard made it a Moment and I won’t readily forget it.

The creek hasn’t been the same since it flooded.  I don’t remember how many years ago it flooded, but it did, and all our favorite spots were terraformed beyond recognition by a wall of inconsiderate water.  Nature at her best, the bitch.  She gouged a whole new path for the water to go and marred everything we loved irreparably, in a single night.  Out here in the desert, the water commands respect.

Interjection: Fast Things

Oops!  I interrupted my (ironically very slowly generated) theme about fast biological things to tell you my lament about Arizona.  And now I’m interrupting my lament series about Arizona to wrap up the Fast Things theme.  Fast.

All I wanted to say was: Blah blah blah eyes are also complicated blah blah now imagine how much has to happen for you to slam on your brakes at an intersection blah blah blah be a safe driver.  Fin.

24 July 2011

Arizona, I love you (Part 1)

I’m going to miss this place.

I’m sitting in my living room listening to the pounding of rain on the roof.  And now I’m not.  That span of a sentence was the full length of that first foreboding burst of rain.  And now it’s back.  See how quickly the weather changes in Arizona?

Now it’s coming down hard, blowing in all directions, really drenching the pavement outside.  I can’t see the mountains in the distance.  It’s still light out, like anyone else’s normal sunny day.  And it is pouring.

A good Arizona monsoon day starts with a cloudless, stifling, muggy summer morning.  It’s a hundred and five and the humidity is forty percent.  Scoff if you want, but in a desert forty percent might as well be a steam room.  The cicadas are loving it – their constant deafening buzz rings from every tree, cutting like knives through still, thick air.

And then, on toward afternoon, the clouds start building.  Huge mushrooms of white billowing out of bright blue nothing off in the distance.  They start lumping together, forming a black mass on the horizon, a wall of water coming closer.  It starts to get darker.  The cicadas go quiet.  And then you catch a whiff of that smell, that fabled desert rain smell everyone talks about in poems and songs, the one you have to live to understand.  The smell of wet creosote.  It’s still sweltering.  The wind starts to pick up, short sharp bursts of air rattling tree branches, kicking up dust.  And the clouds get closer.  Lightning flashes in the darkness, you hear that gentle roll of distant thunder.

One big, heavy drop of rain thuds onto the ground.  Another, another, smacking hard into hot pavement.  They dapple the ground, steaming.  You look up and you can see that gray wall heading right for you, obscuring the houses down the block. 

And then the sky breaks open and a torrent of water descends, a whole ocean all at once, a downpour of epic proportions.  Heavy gusts of wind knock the rain about, water dancing sideways through the air.  The sky goes dark.  And it keeps coming.  In moments the streets turn to rivers, waterfalls cascade from rooftops.  Lighting cracks overhead, instantaneous flash-boom ripping through the atmosphere.

It’s over in minutes.  Soon the flood becomes a drizzle, last wringing of straggling leaden clouds as the storm passes onward.  Suddenly the only water still dropping is off of roof edges, parched earth soaking it in greedily the moment it hits.  Rivers become rivulets, which give way again to already drying streets.

The next morning you can hardly even tell it rained at all. 

And then the clouds start building.

The scene from our front door

05 July 2011

The ephemeral lives of synaptic vesicles

So I already talked about how muscles are insane and you would never believe that they can work as fast as they do once you see how they work.  This is even truer of your brain.

We all (hopefully) know that your brain is filled with cells called neurons and that the things you call thoughts are really electrical impulses traveling among those neurons.  Good. 

So for now I’m going to leave aside just how that electrical impulse travels through a single neuron, because while that is cool and also mind-boggling in its speed-despite-complexity, it doesn’t make for a very interesting blog post (well, I think it does, but that’s me and not everyone else in the universe).  What does make for a marginally more interesting blog post is what happens between neurons  how that signal hops from one neuron to the next.

Here’s why it’s more interesting.  While a signal traveling within a neuron is essentially an electrical signal, propagating quickly like any electrical signal would (you know, like in a copper wire or something), the transmission that goes on between neurons is chemical.  There’s a very small space between the end of one neuron and the start of the next, and this space is called a ‘synapse’.  And somehow the signal from the first neuron has to jump across that space and start a new electrical signal in the next neuron. 

The neuron accomplishes this by releasing little packets of chemicals (aptly named neurotransmitters) that make their way across the synapse and bind onto the surface of the next neuron, catalyzing a whole cascade of crazy events and eventually (possibly and with all standard biological “nothing works exactly the way I say it does” caveats) resulting in the instigation of another electrical signal in the next neuron.

Quickly, some terminology.  And I made some pretty pictures to show it to you!  

Like I already said, the space between neurons is the synapse.  The first neuron is the presynaptic neuron, which has a very long fiber called an axon, which has an end called an axon terminal.  The second neuron is the postsynaptic neuron (which also has its own axon, but that’s not important right now).  

The chemical being transmitted is a neurotransmitter.  (There are many kinds of neurotransmitter, and you’ve probably heard of a few of them: dopamine and serotonin and adrenaline and the like.  Ironically, none of these are the standard neurotransmitter  used by 9 out of every 10 neurons  which is glutamate.  Have you even heard of glutamate?  I didn’t think so.  Poor glutamate...)  The ‘packets’  I mentioned earlier are really called vesicles, and they’re bubbles made of cell membrane.  I’ll define other new terms as I go.

Okay, this is taking way too long already.  I need to get to the point.

In case you get bored before you reach the end of this post, the point is this: vesicle recycling is awe-inspiring. 

So before the electrical signal reaches the terminal, here is what is already in place in the presynaptic axon terminal.  There are a whole bunch of “docked” vesicles, full of glutamate, already lined up (docked) along the synapse.  There are a lot of closed calcium channels sitting right next to those vesicles.  There is also a whole host of other vesicles waiting in a pool right behind the docked vesicles.  Okay.

Docked vesicle with a green calcium channel next to it

When the electrical signal reaches the axon terminal, the change in voltage opens the calcium channels, which let a lot of calcium into the terminal.  This calcium binds onto some proteins called SNAREs which are holding the docked vesicles in place.  That binding causes the SNAREs to torque and shove the vesicle into the cell membrane, and they fuse with the cell membrane and spew their contents (glutamate) out into the synapse.  The glutamate floats over to the other side and starts a chain reaction in the postsynaptic neuron which is incredible but irrelevant to this story.

Before another signal can get propagated, new vesicles have to come and dock up against the calcium channels lining the synapse.  These vesicles come from the vesicle pool.  Now, because this is your brain and because neurons are firing like all the time, if this pool didn’t get replenished constantly your neurons would cease to function in a matter of moments.

I know.  Whenever I realize things like this I start freaking out that this process which was going on perfectly fine my whole life without me knowing it is suddenly at dire risk of stopping just because I now know that without it I’d die.  I understand if you want to hyperventilate a little.  Nevertheless rest assured that nothing’s going to stop your neurons from doing this any time soon.

But here’s what has to happen in order for that pool to get replenished.

First, those vesicles that fused with the cell membrane and spewed their contents, they’re now fully fused and make up part of that membrane.  So to compensate, new vesicles have to come out of the cell membrane.

This is achieved using proteins called clathrin, which all link up together and start yanking on the membrane, surrounding a little blob of it and molding that blob into a clathrin-coated sphere. 

Then this other protein called dynein comes along and pinches off the last little bit of membrane, and you’re left with a ball of membrane that looks suspiciously like a vesicle (because it is).

Then the clathrin breaks up and that vesicle sits around looking silly with nothing in it.

To put something in it, you need some channels I neglected to mention, which are sitting in the membrane all the time just hanging out waiting to be taken up into a vesicle (this is kind of true and kind of not, but just go with it).  These channels are glutamate channels, and they sit in the membrane of the vesicle and pump glutamate into the vesicle.

It’s been too long since I took basic neurobiology to remember just how the channels know they’ve reached the ideal amount of glutamate in the vesicle, but take it from me  they know, and they stop pumping.  And there you have it, a nice shiny new vesicle waiting to enter the pool.

So let’s go through those many steps again and follow the Life Cycle of a Vesicle (the worst part is I’ve skipped a few steps for brevity so you’re going to see some previously unmentioned steps here!). 

First, here’s the picture.  Go ahead, admire it:

As usual, click to enlarge

You start with a neuronal membrane.  And suddenly, out of nowhere a little patch of membrane is encountered by clathrins (1).  And the clathrins start binding to each other and a chain reaction happens, and in a beautiful and miraculous turn of events a cute little sphere of membrane ends up caged in a soccer ball of clathrins (23).  And good old dynein comes along and cuts the cord (2), and the clathrins fall off (4), and behold, a brand-new empty vesicle!

This vesicle starts filling with glutamate (5), and when it reaches that Goldilocks-perfect concentration (6) it gets transported over to the pool to take its place at the back of the line (7).  It waits patiently while other older vesicles get pulled to the synapse ahead of it, and finally, finally it’s this loaded vesicle’s time to shine!  It gets transported straight to the membrane, where it is loosely tethered (8).  Then it is formally and properly docked (9).  Then it is ‘primed’, meaning it’s not only docked in the right place but it is dressed up all pretty for the ball and by God, it will be fused (10). 

Then the electrical signal comes (11).  Calcium floods into the terminal and binds to the proteins holding the primed vesicle.  The tortured proteins wrench violently, and the vesicle fuses and spills its guts like Snowden’s secret.  Thus ends the life of the vesicle, because it becomes One with the membrane and all its little parts go floating into the all-encompassing vastness of the cell and whatnot.  (Would you believe I’m still leaving out a few steps with this description?)

And now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for  this whole process, start to finish, happens on the order of milliseconds (ms).  Last I checked someone had calculated it at about twenty ms.  That’s twenty thousandths of a second. 

I mean wow, right?

29 June 2011

Miraculous muscle molecules

It’s been a while since I wrote a sciency post.  So let’s jump into it fast.  (Ironically, this is a long post.)

There is no way not to be awestruck at the speed and capabilities of the human (or any) body.  Examples of it are everywhere, and every one of them baffled me in school.  I still don’t fully comprehend them.  So let’s start with a simple demonstration, shall we?

Just so you can have this in mind as we go through the post, I want you to look down at your hand.  Either hand.  No, your dominant hand, let’s go with that one.  Now extend all your fingers out, just stretch your hand out wide.

Good.  Now as fast as you can, clench them into a fist.

Good!  Now fingers out, now fist.  Now go back and forth as fast as you can.  Faster!  Good.  Look at how fast that is, how many inches each fingertip is moving in the span of a few fractions of a second.

Okay, got it?  Like I said, just keep this in the back of your mind.

Today I want to talk about muscles.

My high school had an interesting approach to dissections and animal anatomy.  We learned about muscle connectivity using Tyson chicken wings (yes, the big bag of frozen ones you get at Costco).  If you hold up a chicken wing at its base (you know, where it used to meet the chicken) and then grab onto its little bicep and pull toward the absent chicken body, the whole wing will flap toward you.  Because the muscle is pulling the bone, right?  And that’s what muscles do, they contract and haul whatever they’re attached to along with them.  The muscles in your fingers are pulling them in toward your palm and out again.

But did you ever wonder how they do it?

I mean on a molecular level, what is pulling on what, exactly – what’s the machinery that makes it all contract like that?

It all comes down to two elements of a muscle cell: actin and myosin. 

(Before I get going about these two, we need a quick background.  Your body is made up of cells.  All kinds of cells.  All these cells contain thousands of types of proteins, which get to do all the action.  I always think of the proteins as the ants all running around doing things, while things like carbohydrates and fats make up the walls and food supply and stuff.  In fact – well, hopefully we’ve all heard of DNA here.  You know what DNA really is?  It’s a code for how to make proteins.  That’s it.  DNA tells your cell the exact recipe for every protein, and supplies information about where it goes and when to use it.  So proteins are the actors, the workers, the important molecules in a cell.  Okay, end background.)

So back to actin and myosin, which are both proteins.  Actin is a protein that, when put together with a bunch of other actin molecules, assembles into long filaments that help support the basic structure of a cell.  In a muscle fiber these filaments all run in parallel down the length of the muscle.

Myosin, on the other hand, is literally a little guy that walks along the actin filament.  (Okay, first off, how cool is that?  A protein – just a simple string of amino acids – can fold itself into a structure that looks like a pair of legs with big clubby Mickey Mouse feet!  That alone is mind-numbingly awesome.)

The myosin family of proteins. Figure borrowed from here. 

All right, I lied, there’s one other critical chemical in this story: adenosine triphosphate, or ATP.  ATP is an essential chemical in the body, it acts as an energy source.  Often when a protein needs energy, it just grabs onto an ATP molecule and rips off one of its three phosphates.  The breaking of this bond converts it from a triphosphate to a diphosphate (ADP) and produces the energy required to move.

So this is already a lot to take in, right?  Take a breather for a second and look down at your hand again.  Think about all the microscopic actin filaments and myosins and ATPs hanging out in there.  That’s right, this stuff is starting to get heavy.  Shall we continue?

So we have to get a little smaller than the muscle fiber level to see where actin and myosin come in.  Each muscle fiber is composed of a bundle of myofibrils, each of which consist of a string of sarcomeres.  It looks like this:

Figure borrowed from here

The sarcomeres are units of overlapping thick and thin filaments – the thin filaments are made of actin attached to each end of the sarcomeres, and the thick filaments are made up of a bunch of myosins all strung together, sitting in the middle of the sarcomere.

When the muscle contracts, here’s what happens.

1.       We’ll start with the myosin floating above the actin filament, with an ATP molecule bound to it.  The ATP separates into ADP and a phosphate, which shoves the myosin’s little foot (scientists call it a head – go figure) forward.

2.       When the myosin head gets close to the actin, the phosphate is released (leaving ADP behind) and the myosin head binds tightly onto the actin filament and yanks it backward. 

3.       The myosin releases the ADP and another ATP comes in to take its place.  When ATP binds in there, the myosin releases its hold on the actin filament.

4.       The ATP converts to ADP and a phosphate, the myosin head cocks forward, and the process starts all over again.

If I have just befuddled you beyond comprehension, go here and look at this fantastical video.

Also, keep in mind that all of these steps are nothing more than the probabilistic functions of a bunch of molecules lounging around in a cellular soup – they’re just events that are likely to happen.  It’s not like these are the directed, intentional acts of a bunch of conscious little players, in other words.  No.  This is just… chemistry.

But here’s the real point.  Do you see how long it took me to explain this?  Do you see that the video to which I directed you took a full thirty seconds just to show you a detailed depiction of a single pull of a myosin head on an actin filament? 

Now go back and look at your hand.  Flex it a couple of times again, fast.  Every single time you twitch a muscle anywhere in your body, thousands of ATP molecules are being used up to allow thousands of little myosins to pull many times over on thousands of actin filaments.  And somehow they can do it that fast and still be ready for another pull an instant later! 

How can anyone reconcile this?  How on Earth can it work this way?  It’s crazy.

Next post: the magnificent neuronal synapse.

28 June 2011

Breathe Here Now

Whenever I go down the hall at work I see this sign.  It says,

Breathe Here Now.

It goes on to say more, it’s a Campus Health sign aimed to promote taking calming breaths to relieve college-life stress.  But every time I see it I have to pause and contemplate just that little phrase, the title.  What a beautiful message, eh?




27 June 2011

Pickles yes, toothpaste no.

Get ready – I’m going to broaden your culinary world. 

I’m not much into mixing things up, and the recipes I’ve tried are by no means radical.  But I think when someone hits upon a fantastic heretofore unconsidered flavor combination, it should not go without note.  Here are some inventions I have given my seal of approval… and for good measure, also some that induced nausea or vomiting.  Consider it a fair warning.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Golden Grahams – Approved!
Being the grownup that I am, I eat as much sugary kids’ cereal as I want.  Being the actual grownup that I am, I am very careful to meter my sugary cereal intake.  So when I splurged and bought both boxes of my two favorite cereals at once, it was game on.  And CTC&GG is, in a word, divine.  It’s like Teddy Grahams, have you ever eaten Teddy Grahams?  Well, it’s like that, only more.  I don’t know that I can ever go back to either solo again.

Nerds and Oreos – Approved!
I don’t mean nerds as in geeky or dorky people (I know those three terms have strict and unique operational definitions, get over it!) – I mean Nerds like the candy.  Nerds are very tangy sugar candies, and in the right proportions they are the perfect complement to Oreos in a Dairy Queen blizzard.  No, really.  I used to work at a Dairy Queen so I know these things.  And when it comes to blizzards, I’ve tried it all.  I gained some serious heft in the few months I worked there.  So I know.  Trust me.  Oreo-and-Nerds blizzards are right up there with my other most recent favorite, Oreo-Reese’s-Cookie Dough-Heath blizzards.  The key with a blizzard is to order a whole load of different candy types because, like I said earlier, I am an adult and that means a lot of puritanical abstinence followed by gluttonous binges on things I can now have any damn time I want, thank you.

(UPDATE Nov 2011: Apparently Dairy Queen has stopped carrying Nerds! Oh, the humanity! How will anyone know now just how very right I am about this?!)

Coke and pickle juice – Approved!
I bet you thought I was going to label this one nausea/vomiting.  No one ever believes me when I say this is good.  But it is.  I should probably say ‘any cola-flavored beverage’ to minimize any lawsuits over singling out Coke, so pretend I said that first.  With the Any Cola-Flavored Beverage and Pickle Juice recipe, the ratio is key: a couple of tablespoons of pickle juice per 12-oz. can is perfect.  It just gives a little sour savory kick to the corny syrupy-sweetness of the cola.

Toothpaste and anything else – Nasty
I don’t have to explain this one, everyone knows it.  I just wanted to point it out.  There’s nothing more heartbreaking than brushing your teeth right before a delicious morning meal.  Especially one with orange juice.

I do want to mention one particular combination of note, here – toothpaste and peppermint schnapps.  This almost sounds like a good idea, because they’re both minty, right?  Wrong.  It is hideous and disgusting.  Do not attempt.

Savory oatmeal – Nausea-Inducing
I have already said it in this blog – oatmeal is not risotto.  It is not. risotto.  And it only made it worse to have that well-meaning analogy running through my head when I tried to make a dinner meal out of oatmeal, tomatoes, basil and garlic.  Do not try this.  You will not want to eat anything ever again as long as you live.

Coke, lemon juice, hot sauce, toothpaste, etc. – Actual Vomiting Inevitable
Kids are evil, malevolent creatures, and so were we.  This suicide drink was not a very nice dare for Truth or Dare, and somehow we got not one but two kids to drink it.  Both ended up hurling almost instantaneously on contact, and the rest of us suffered the remainder of the evening trying not to breathe in the fumes from that horrid concoction for fear of succumbing to a similar fate.

Okay, I’m grossing myself out with the memory.  I’d better leave it there.  So, take home lesson: When it comes to food, try anything once.  As long as it doesn’t involve toothpaste.

09 June 2011

Unfinished business

I know some of you might think I’m neglecting you, so I thought I’d show you some of the things I’m neglecting even more in the hope of making you feel better.

Laundry: 3 weeks +

This is my laundry hamper.  You can almost see it under the pile of extra clothes that won’t fit in it. 

Some people in the know might note that the pink-ribboned garment was last worn more than a month ago.  Under that, those sheets are going on two or three months now.  (In fairness to me, those are both things that were hiding in suitcases that I had not, until last week, unpacked.  Okay, that doesn’t really help my case.  But I did unpack them!  Eventually!)

Also, this is my bed:

You can’t tell it’s my bed because of all the clean clothes on it that have yet to be folded and put away.  This pile makes a daily commute from my desk chair to my bed and back again.

Yoga: 2 months

I’m supposed to be going to yoga a few times weekly.  I’ve gone once since April.

Stargate: 5 months

This is our Stargate. 

I am supposed to make a DHD for it (a DHD is a Dial Home Device, for those who aren’t nerds).  I’m also supposed to make the Stargate move (or make another one that moves).  Also, the background shows evidence of a filthy floor that needs cleaning as well.

I just want to mention that if we do get our Stargate to move, husband may or may not create an app that allows you to dial in to our Stargate remotely.  How cool is that?

Lights: 6 months

I was going to show you a picture of our Christmas lights, but realized husband would not appreciate me showing our front door to the whole internet.  But our Christmas lights are up outside.  ’Nuff said.

(Although… in only two short weeks they’ll be up six months early!  Score!)

Reading: 6 months +

Here is a pile of books (there is another pile behind it) that I received for Christmas and have not yet read.  (I did at least finish one [not pictured]).  These are only the ones I got last Christmas.  I have plenty more on my shelves I haven’t read.

I'd also like to direct your attention to three fabulous books on the left, there: Naked Lunch, Lolita, and the aforementioned Catch-22.

Earrings: 9 months

My sister and I got it in our heads to start making our own earrings.  I made one pair and you can see what happened to the rest.

Paintings: 2 years

These are two of my unfinished paintings.

I don’t know that I’ve ever finished a painting I’ve started.  I started the first of these two in 2007 and the other in 2008 or 2009.  The first one is a picture of the Marina Grande in Sorrento, Italy, and there is supposed to be a cat in front of it. Here is a poor practice run at the sad little kitty.

So there you have it, some of the many things I’m conspicuously not doing.  And these are by no means my longest stretches.  I debated whether to put more things on this list but by the time you get out this far temporally, the things you’re delaying on are either things you really don’t need to finish anymore or things that are personal and kind of tragic.  So I think I’ll leave those alone.

But you can at least see that this blog is by no means my most neglected pursuit.  Keep that in mind whenever you feel I’m falling behind.

22 May 2011

Hope springs eternal

In the wake of the recent rapture failure, I’m doing some retro- and introspecting and am feeling very sorry for all those poor folks that fell for this latest non-happening.  You know some people did.  I can imagine some of these people waking up tomorrow and realizing they’re still alive and well on Earth and being deeply, profoundly wounded by that simple miraculous everyday occurrence.

Today has been a depressing sympathetic sort of day for me, thinking about these lost, rapture-hungry souls.  I remember too well all those many times I woke up to see the world exactly as I left it and felt those loathsome waves of miserable hopeless doubt flooding over me, all merciless and seemingly endless.  It was a horrible, desolate feeling.

I had a really hard time in my childhood coping with inevitability.  I won’t say I’m over it – far from it, clearly, as my other posts sometimes attest.  But I’m over seeking out salves to combat it. 

I don’t know why in my darkest hour I turned to vampires.  It didn’t make sense and it didn’t have to, and all I can say is life transpired to put them there at my worst possible existential moment.  I turned to Anne Rice’s vampires in the hope that I could construct some plausible reality in which they really, truly existed and one day I, too, could attain what they had. 

I haven’t ever felt a yearning like I did for that unreality.  It was a potent all-consuming force, it was this constant aching pressure in my chest and I couldn’t let it go.  I needed it to be real.  It was this ridiculous paradox – I built vampirism up in my mind as simultaneously impossible and pivotal.  Vampires unwisely became my sole hope for escape.  

I sat in my bed every night praying that somehow some improbable telepathic something would hear my distress call and save me from myself and my inescapable fate.  Every single night I stared up at my ceiling, mind tumbling in frantic circles trying to convince myself it could be real, I could have it, I could choose not to die if I wanted to.  Night after night I drifted off to fitful sleep hoping against hope that my miracle would come and I wouldn’t have to wake to see another dawn.

The desert was the cruelest possible place for me to go through this.  Three hundred and sixty days a year I woke up to bright, beaming sunshine streaming through the blinds on my window.  Three hundred and sixty agonizing morning revelations a year, and another five which weren’t very much more comforting.  It was like God was laughing at me.  Some days I cried.  It was torture.  Come to think of it, I don’t know that I made it a full year doing this.  It wore me down really, really fast – that overwhelming palpable need that never, ever got fulfilled.  Not once was I rewarded with even the slightest glimmer of hope.  Obviously. 

So when I think of the rapture today and how it didn’t happen, I remember my own hopeless battle against the status quo and I feel a twinge of empathy for everyone who wanted so badly to believe in it.  I’ve been there.  And it sucks.  But, thankfully, life goes on.