Sunday, August 31, 2008

In my head there's a greyhound station

I went to a party on Wednesday night, a going-away party for an old friend of mine who is moving a few states away. It was an odd experience. I didn't know most of the people there, just my little brother's band, who played for about half an hour, and a few people from my old youth group.

Church used to be the source of community in my life, and for the rest of my family it still is. I never liked it that life worked that way. The constant watchfulness and self-editing to ensure that no unacceptable ideas are even implied by what I say stresses me out even now, and it was much worse when I was struggling to find what I believed without causing a major shitstorm that would have cut off my carefully planned avenue of escape from this town. As beseiged as I felt, and as different from the church norm as I was, I never made many friends at church, but there was a group of people who tolerated me, and several of these people were at this party.

It was surreal, seeing these people again. I was afraid that it might give me flashbacks to the way my life was when I was a kid, but instead it just reinforced how much I've changed, and how impossible it would be to try to fit into that world again. I can't keep my mouth shut like I used to do. I can be civil and refrain from giving my opinions on the church when the conversation is about something else, but I can't listen to treacly comments about how valuable small group prayer sessions are without making snide comments. Well, technically I'm able to just shut up. But the knowledge that somewhere listening might be another kid like me keeps me from staying silent. I managed to escape this particular party with only one outburst at someone who told me I was going to hell, but there's no way I could do that on a regular basis.

Which has led me to ask myself where exactly I think I'm going to find a community. I'm not good at making friends at the best of times, being sick and tired all the time certainly doesn't help, and I don't really know where to start. I've got a book group and a knitting group that I go to once a month each, but they both tend toward late middle aged women who are almost as socially conservative as the members of my parents' church. I've enrolled for one class at the local community college, and will probably go on to finish my BA at the University of Washington, if I can scrape up the money, energy, and sheer physical courage for it, so I guess I could join some kind of club or something at school.

Its just... I'm really bad at connecting with people. I always have been. Even online, where people pour their hearts out to random strangers all the time, there are people who I find fascinating, but I'm never quite sure if we're friends or not. Maybe I'm just too picky, or too weird, or too awkward. I wish there were classes on how to meet people you like and become friends with them. People like me could really benefit.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Made with glue and a glove and some pliers

My last few posts have been rather grim, so here are some pictures of my new walking stick. It is entirely homemade, from a piece of wood salvaged from the forest floor on a hiking trail near here (which is not completely ecologically sound, I know, but hey, its a good cause). My brother helped me cut the ragged ends off it, then I stripped the bark off and sanded it, and my dad varnished it and scrounged around for a bit of rubber to stick to the bottom so it doesn't slide on smooth floors.

I'm really quite pleased with the result, which doesn't quite come through in these photos. I'm not very good at close-up shots, but the color here at least is accurate. And you can't see it, but there are neat looking insect burrow trails on the surface of the bottom half. So far I've gotten compliments on it from four or five random strangers, all at the VA, oddly enough. Or maybe its not so odd that vets would be walking stick connoisseurs; the US doesn't take such good care of vets that we're entitled to crazy things like houses, John McCain notwithstanding, but most vets here can at least get a cane!

To offset my bitterness about John McCain and his ridiculous wealth- and I really am trying not to rant about him so much, I feel like I have spent too much time being angry with his ignorant entitled attitude- here's a gratuitously beautiful picture. Its been raining loads, but my neighbor has these gorgeous lilies that seem to get brighter the darker the sky gets.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Writing Prompt #3

Write a letter of advice to a child thinking about running away from home.

Forget the letter- I'm not one to ask if you ought to run away from home. I'd say yes. What you really want is someone to talk you down, tell you not to be silly, tell you to be wise and forgiving and patient. I'd tell you to split as soon as you have a plan to keep you safe and warm at night.

The year that I was in fifth grade was a bad year for me. I was ten or eleven, I guess, I don't remember. I only know that it was my fifth grade year because that was the year I stayed home. Previously I had attended a small private school full of kids who didn't like me, possibly because I was a snotty little aspie know-it-all, and for whatever reason my parents though it would be better for me to study at home.

I don't fit in at my parents' house. They're good people, and they do love me, but I don't fit, and it was worse then than it is now. Everything I was supposed to be to fit into their world- submissive, peaceful, respectful- was the opposite of what I am, and at that age, I didn't know how to deal with all that weight of tradition telling me that who I was wasn't Right. I felt confined, and crushed, and I retreated into stories about other times and places. The books weren't enough, though, and I went for long walks and bicycle rides, trying to think of someplace else I could reasonably expect to be. Sometimes I would sneak out at night at and jog around the neighborhood by moonlight, just to get away, to be part of a world where there was no one else, none of these expectations that, I now know, are perfectly crazy.

There are a set of old train cars on a track near the road in the town next to the one where I grew up. They're relics of a time when the train was the main connection our valley had to the rest of civilization, but now we have I-90 and the trains sit by the side of the road, windows boarded up with slimy plywood, rusting. Here's a picture someone else took of them:

Every time I passed these trains, I would wonder how difficult it would be to break into one, and if they would keep the rain out, and if anyone would notice if there was a ten year old child living in one. I had several hundred dollars I had saved, and I thought about what I would pack when I left and how to keep people from knowing where I had gone.

In the end, I didn't go, not to the trains anyway. I decided that I wasn't willing to drop out of school in order to get away -I knew this would only land me in an even more crushing situation in the long run- so once I started high school I researched my options and decided to homeschool again. This time, I was in charge of the classes I took, something I got away with because I elected to take as many classes as I could fit into my day. I finished high school five months after I turned sixteen, and moved out of my parents' house and into a dorm room at university.

There were a number of consequences of this decision that weren't what I wanted when I made it, and sometimes I wonder what my life would be like now if I had gone instead to a public school and goofed off and smoked pot and convinced myself that it didn't matter that I didn't fit. Sometimes I get to feeling sorry for myself, but every time I pass those trains I remember what it was like when I was ten and I felt like running was the only way I could survive intact, and I know that as much as it doesn't seem that way sometimes, I made the right decision. I am as intact as can be expected, because I knew when to run.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It all seemed perfect

I don't have much breakup music on my computer. I have a hard time believing this: 8.6 GB of music and not one breakup song? But it seems to be true.

When I dropped out of college I was convinced that I had reached a nadir of personal failure. I- the perfectionist academic overachiever- was crushed. I curled up on the cold tile of the bathroom floor and cried myself into a headache, sure that I could never hate myself more than I did at that moment, sure that the 'me' I wanted to be was forever dead.

Life continually amazes me, the way the most solid of things crumble through my fingers. It seems absurd that I could look back over the past six years of my life and see only mistakes, ill luck, foolishness and disaster. I mean, really- who is this bad at life?

Me, I guess.

So I'm breaking up. We are breaking up, technically, except I don't even know what state he's in at the moment, and there's no pressing reason to call him, so the 'we' at this point is purely theoretical. Here I am: 23 years old, broken, sick and as much a failure at marriage as everything else.

I guess I like melodrama more than is strictly dignified; its odd how I'm so tired of the whole situation that the thought of changing my name again- signing paperwork, waiting in line at the DMV, spending hours on hold with the VA and Social Security- is more distressing than anything else. A little melodrama would be refreshing. If there were only small breakable objects I could hurl at the wall, obscenities to scream so loudly the neighbors could hear, sickening amounts of alcohol to drink and then vomit in the humid garden next to the rhododendrons.

I wish I could believe in the rage, the drama, the anger at him and the world, but it seems too thin next to the cold stone of reality. See, angry as I am, this is my fault. I am the one who flinches in pain at the lightest touch, I'm the one who wasn't brave enough, or wise enough, or patient enough, or honest enough.

And I start to wonder if that's just the way things are going to be. Maybe life is never easy. Maybe, as cynical, tired and pain-ridden as I am, I should just stop expecting things to be different. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; and why am I surprised?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fingerless Gloves with Easy Cable

Just to prove I'm a big dork, here's a pattern for fingerless gloves with a cable on the back that I wrote up yesterday. Its a pretty simple pattern, but its the first one I've written all by myself. The more I knit, the more I realize how valuable knitting has become to me as a coping mechanism. To be able to create something beautiful that I can hold in my hand and then give away to someone who actually wants to have it is a good thing for my soul.

Fingering or worsted weight yarn, I'm not sure how much exactly but not much. I made these from an unused remaining skein that my mother had left over in her closet, so I'm not sure even what kind of yarn it is, probably some kind of wool blend that was thin-ish.
size 9 US needles

These fit me, and my hands are 7 1/4 in around the palm. Add stitches in multiples of four to make them bigger, I guess.

Right Hand
Cast on 32 sts
Knit in k2, p2 rib for two inches or preferred length of cuff.
Next row: p3, k2, p6, k2, p to end
Row 2: k3, p2, k6, p2, k to end
Row 3: p3, k2, p6, k2, p to end
Row 4: k3, p2, sl next three sts on cable needle and hold at back, k3, then k3 from cable needle, p2, k to end
Row 5 an 7: as rows 1 and 3
Rows 6 and 8: as row 2

Repeat rows 1-8 three times, binding off on last row 8
Sew seam, leaving space for thumb and sewing bridge between first and second fingers.

The left hand is just a mirror image of the right hand, so the cable ends up on the back of the hand.
Cast on 32 sts
Knit 2 inches of k2, p2 rib
Next row: p19, k2, p6, k2, p3
Row 2: k19, p2, k6, p2, k3
Row 3: p19, k2, p6, k2, p3
Row 4: k19, p2, sl next 3 sts on cable needle and hold at back, k3, then k3 from cable needle, p2, k3
Rows 5 and 7: as rows 1 and 3
Rows 6 and 8: as row 2

Repeat rows 1-8 three times, binding off on last row 8
Sew seam, leaving space for thumb and sewing bridge between first and second fingers.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

to see in all directions at the same time

I know I talk about this a lot, but seriously, as a veteran in this country, you just can't win.

I've mentioned before how I'm not eligible for the GI Bill because I had the lack of foresight to get hurt too soon into my enlistment, and I'm not eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation's help with education expenses because I'm too injured to be a productive member of society worth investing in, and now, today, I learned that I am also not eligible for a waiver for residency requirements in the state I grew up in. I was away for too long after I enlisted, and they only take pity on veterans of the Korean War, not any conflict more recent.

Korean War vets are all what, 70 years old or so now? Totally the people who habitually enroll at a community college.

And now the news is full of how smart McCain is to say that the US needs to threaten and/or attack Russia because the president of Georgia is a moron and started a war. OK, maybe that's not the best analysis of the situation (ObWi has much better). But still. The longer I identify as a veteran, the more I think that this disconnect between the realities of military experience and the ideals that run our foreign policy is the sickness that will bring down the American empire. That anyone who refuses to admit our military's limitations isn't laughed off the national stage- that this is instead seen as proof that he is a foreign policy heavyweight- astounds me.

Sometimes I wonder if it might not be better for our country to experience disaster and defeat. Not that I want tragedy, not the human cost of it. But we have been so successful in recent history (Iraq notwithstanding) that too large a number of our political philosophers no longer have any basis in reality, and that is incredibly dangerous, not only for us, but for the rest of the world.

And this urge to pretend that our military is always strong and gleaming and made up of invincible cartoon commandos, really sucks for veterans. I am so so sick of this constant battle for benefits.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Seas would rise when I gave the word

I was watching the first DVD from Biology: The Science of Life this morning, struggling to pay attention enough to understand and remember what was going on, when I happened upon what I think is a key insight into why people think liberals in general, and I in particular, are arrogant jerks. I am on a quest- to put it a wee bit melodramatically- to continually improve myself, because I'm not satisfied with my current state. I put effort into educating myself because I think that I am uneducated. From my point of view, this mostly manifests as continual disappointment when I fail to reach my own high standards, but I think from the outside the most noticeable thing is the high standards, and my apparent belief that I can reach them, which seems hubristic.

Of course, it doesn't help when every so often my effort to learn things pays off, and I end up busting out in the middle of a conversation with random facts that no one else knows. For example, I went to a book group on Tuesday at the local library that discussed Straight Man, by Richard Russo, which I had not read. But apparently the book repeatedly brings up Occam's Razor. There was a nice, friendly, nonthreatening conversation about what, exactly, Occam's Razor was- no one really knew for sure but they were tossing around the phrase "simplest solutions are always right"- and I piped up with "actually, it doesn't mean that simplest solutions are always right, just that out of a given set of solutions to a problem, the simplest solution is more likely to be correct-simpler explanations should be preferred." Which, of course, stopped the conversation completely even though I tried to soften it with some trash about how its a computer programming maxim and so of course a lot of people don't know it.

I tend not to associate my knowledge of correct facts with being correct myself; it is the fact, something independent of me, which is correct, and my knowledge of it is more or less an accident. Other people don't see things that way, though, I'm afraid.

Anyway, I don't really see what I can do about this state of things, other than keep my mouth shut I suppose. The chances of me becoming a different kind of person are very low. My next self-improvement project will focus on writing, I think. I have the impression that my writing from the period after I got hurt is much worse than the writing from before I got hurt. I used to write poetry and shit, and although it was pretty emo, it was also pretty good on a technical level. Since I feel like I could do better than I do currently, I am getting a book of writing prompts (thank God-or rather, thank our government which has not yet been taken over by libertarians- for libraries) and I intend to write mini-essays from writing prompts every day for a month.

Or until I get bored, whichever comes first.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I could learn to swim

This picture is kind of dark, but its the best one I have of my recently finished laptop sized over the shoulder bag. I've been doing a lot of knitting, finishing up some small projects and such, but this is my real accomplishment from the past couple weeks. I'm quite proud of this bag since it seems so useful. It even has a side pocket for a waterbottle, although it doesn't show well in this photo.

I also made five cat toys, one for each kitten, but I didn't take pictures of them before and now I can't because the kittens have all been given to new homes. Its heartbreaking. I honestly believe that the past month or so would have been hard for me to get through without these kittens cheering up my life. Even when every other aspect of life sucks, kittens make everything better.

While I knit, I like to watch TV, but since I hate commercials and I'm picky about the shows I like I usually get shows from the library, or occasionally I watch illegal copies online. However, since I've been living with my parents, its a bit awkward to watch TV shows that make them uncomfortable with sex and violence and such- and they're such nice people that most TV shows do. The solution is to watch documentaries. In the past couple weeks, I've watched documentaries on deep sea volcanoes, autism, the atom bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and two BBC videos from the Walking With Dinosaurs series, Walking with Monsters, which is a kind of prequel, and Allosaurus.

Documentaries are interesting, but since they're produced for a general audience, you don't usually get the kind of details that are really fascinating. Allosaurus was neat, because it got into the forensic work behind the knowledge scientists have about dinosaurs, but I would love to get a similar DVD collection that really aimed to teach methods and detailed facts. I've ordered a lecture series from the library on biology, The Science of Life, from the Teaching Company, and I have high hopes.

My father pointed out to me the other day that since I was previously enrolled at the University of Washington, I could re-enroll with minimal effort and start taking classes again, one at a time maybe. The idea of going back to school intrigues me. I'm still resisting settling down in my parents' house for any long period of time, but if I did, I could go to school. Its an attractive idea.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Coyote Story

So I'm writing a story that might someday far in the future be a novel, and in this story there is a need for a story explaining a drought to a small child. I wrote this Coyote story without much reference to actual Coyote stories beyond a quick search on the Internet, and I'm not totally sure I like it. I may keep it or not; opinions on the matter are welcome.


This is the story of Coyote and the Daughter of the Sky, as told by Old Man Gaagyeh to the Old Storyteller Woman, who told it to my mother, who told it to me when I was small like you are. A long time ago, Coyote was walking about in the House of the Gods. As you know, Coyote can wear the skin of any animal, and on that day he was wearing the skin of a handsome young man. So he wandered around the Gods’ House, very bored and looking for trouble, until he came into the garden, which was like a lakeshore after it rains, covered in bright orange flowers and the noisy frogs that wake up when the rain comes. In this garden was a young woman who was very beautiful, with long black hair and delicate gentle fingers and deep black eyes, and in her eyes were every one of the stars, for she was the Sky‘s Daughter. And as soon as he saw her, Coyote fell in love.

In fact he fell in love so much that he forgot everything he knew about the Sky and her daughter, and instead of being humble, he went up to the woman and said to her with a foolish swagger, “Oh beautiful, I know you have been waiting for me to take you away from your mother’s house to be my wife. Come along!”

Now the Sky‘s Daughter saw that he was a handsome young man, but he was so arrogant that she didn‘t like him at all, and besides she was busy naming all the new stars he mother had placed in the night, so she laughed at him and told him to go away. Coyote was used to getting what he wanted by honest ways or by trickery, and he didn’t realize his foolishness but went away to think of a trick to get this young woman to be his wife whether she liked him or not.

First, he came to her in the skin of a brightly colored frog, thinking that she would be pleased at his beauty. But she had many frogs in her garden, and she turned him away.

Then he came to her as a cactus flower to put in her hair, but she had so many flowers already that she didn’t even notice him.

Then he came to her as a kitten, to curl up in her lap and please her with his purrs, but she already had a cat who sat on her lap, and she sent him away because everyone knows two cats won’t live in the same house.

Now Coyote was very angry, and he decided that if the Sky’s Daughter wouldn’t go with him voluntarily, he would steal her away. So here is what he did: he went down to the Big North Lake and he drank and drank and drank until he was so full of water he could barely stand up. And then he puffed himself up bigger and bigger and bigger until- poof!- he was a cloud. Then he floated up to the House of the Gods, and he settled around the top of the house and the garden just like a real cloud might.

Coyote waited all night and all day and all night again for the Sky’s Daughter to come out to her garden, until he was almost ready to give up. But on the third day she came out into her garden even though it was damp and cloudy, and when he saw her, Coyote swooped down on her, wrapped his arms around her tightly and quickly flew far, far away.

When the Sky heard that a cloud had stolen her daughter, she was furious. She called all her cousins: the Sun and the Moon, the North Wind and the East Wind, Thunder, the Big North Lake who is the Sky‘s lover, and even the tiny Desert Wren who flies to and fro. And the whole family went out and searched for the Sky’s Daughter. Every time they came across a cloud, they captured it and locked it away, but Coyote was very clever, and hid himself and the Sky’s Daughter under the ground where the Sky couldn’t see them, and the Sky’s Daughter became his wife.

So Coyote was foolish and got himself a wife who didn’t like him, and later she poisoned him and ran away- but that is another story. This is why the Sky and all her cousins still catch the clouds whenever they see them and lock them away so the rain cannot fall.