Sevens and Seventy-Sevens

I rarely turn the radio on in my car.  I will when I’m driving the van, because forty-five minutes is a long time to maintain a conversation.  But when I step out of the van and start up my car for the two mile drive home, there just doesn’t seem any point to turning on the radio.  The fall weather this week begged me to open all four windows, though, and crank the volume.  So I did.  I caught the tail end of a Scorpions song on 101 the Fox (don’t ask me which one … it was probably “Rock You Like a Hurricane” … but I’m not entirely sure).  The next song immediately grabbed my attention, as I hadn’t listened to it for years.

The Grand Illusion (Styx 1977)
The Grand Illusion (Styx 1977)

First, let’s take a giant leap backwards to the late 70s, specifically July, 7, 1977, the release date for the seventh album of a band I couldn’t get enough of in my early adolescence . . . Styx.  Back then, I barely knew what rock ‘n’ roll was.  Heck, I hadn’t even officially made it to the ‘teen’ years yet at that point.  But over the coming months, you couldn’t turn on a radio without hearing “Come Sail Away” or “Angry Young Man” or “Miss America” or, as I heard last night “The Grand Illusion.”

I’ve played piano since I was five (more than forty years), so I naturally gravitated to Dennis DeYoung‘s compositions (my all-time favorite being “Castle Walls” from this album, but my favorite to perform is “Pieces of Eight” from the eighth album released the following year).  And, yes, I could play at least the opening to “Come Sail Away” from memory when I was in high school, along with the Entertainer, which was still popular thanks to that movie with Newman and Redford starring in it.

So even though I arrived home mid-way through the Grand Illusion, I sat in the garage, with the windows rolled down and the stereo blaring until I reached the bubble-bursting end-of-song stanza below:

America spells competition, join us in our blind ambition
Get yourself a brand new motor car
Someday soon we’ll stop to ponder what on Earth’s this spell we’re under
We made the grade and still we wonder who the hell we are

Back in the late 70s, before the recession (and heat wave) of the early 80s, and the dot-com bubble pop that followed later (was it the 90s or the 00s?) and now the ‘Great Recession,’ I can really feel the pain of these words.  Does America still spell ‘C-O-M-P-E-T-I-T-I-O-N’? or have we outsourced it all?  Are we blind to ambition or just blind?  I have yet to purchase a ‘brand new motor car’ and probably never will.  I’ve been pondering for decades what spell we’ve deluded ourselves with because I still don’t think I’ve made the grade and I think Roxy has more of an idea who she is than America does right now.

So I’ll close with a quote from my aforementioned favorite song from the Grand Illusion album, something I previously  consider a mantra, but have long since moved on to something more positive, encouraging and inspiring (check out Phil. 4:8 for my ‘life verse’):

Life is never what it seems
And every man must meet his destiny

To Scream or Keep Silent, That Is the Dying Question

Scream by Edvard Munch
Scream by Edvard Munch

September went into a tailspin about a week ago.  I can’t remember the last time I actually received personal good news from family or friends.  Death or dying and depression crowd around me, jostling for position and attention, blotting out my surroundings: beautiful sunrises and sunsets, crystal clear night skies bursting with twinkling stars, perfect weather any southern California native would drool over.

I woke up this morning after having tossed and turned and lost the skirmish with my sheet and pillows.  Apollo couldn’t wait to jump up and greet me with a wagging tail and unconditional canine adoration.  Roxy slept on, sprawled on the floor, oblivious to anything but her dreams of breakfast.  I rubbed the crusty, dried sleep from my eyes, slipped on my reading glasses and woke up my Nook to see what had happened in the wider world while I pretended to sleep.

I soon read the sad, tragic news of the death of Sara Douglass (aka Sara Warneke).  I discovered this astounding Aussie female fantasy writer a half dozen years ago and loved everything she wrote, especially Threshold, the first novel I found written by her.   As I perused the various postings on Twitter and Facebook about her passing, I found her blog post from March 2010 she entitled “The Silence of the Dying.”  I took a few minutes to read the entire post, after which I couldn’t help but shiver, especially after the seemingly prophetic nature of the most recent Doctor Who episode “Closing Time” wherein the Doctor seems to fall apart (emotionally) as he approaches the day of his death (flashback to the start of this season and the “Impossible Astronaut“).  He even utters some dialog containing the words ‘silence’ and ‘dying.’

After reading Sara’s thoughts on how modern society sticks it’s head in the sand with respect to death (and the dying), I pondered my own situation.  Part of my September tailspin centers on a sharp worsening in my health.  Par for the medical course, I’m running the gauntlet of various tests, procedures and eventually a biopsy (scheduled for mid-October), all of which amounts to endless waiting for results and the accompanying anxiety.  Just as Sara describes in her blog post, I prefer to keep silent, as I don’t want to appear ‘weak’ by complaining.  Of course, at this stage of the ‘game’ I’m not in much pain or discomfort (not compared to what Sara or other cancer victims endure).  And I must put up a good front for my husband, one of the chronically ill routinely maligned or ignored by modern day society.  He needs me to be ‘strong’ and I will remain so as cheerfully as I can.

Normally, I look forward to the beginning of October and the advent of autumn with peace and joy in my heart.  Of course, the fact that my birthday occurs the day after the first of October wouldn’t have anything to do with that would it?  But this year, no birthday cake with sputtering scores of candles will great me.  Instead, my husband and I will travel south, to his home town, to console and support his life-long friend and his wife in the sudden and unexpected loss of her mother, so soon after his mother’s death.  Oh, and their dog died last week in the midst of all this family tragedy.

I am full of unanswered questions and troublesome, uncomfortable thoughts today, ones that I wish I had the courage to shout out on a street corner to the self-absorbed oblivious passersby.  Rather than deprive a homeless person of their accustomed spot, I will jump up on my bloggity soap box instead.

From a Christian worldview, I can understand some of the silence surrounding death and dying.  Jesus conquered the grave, therefore, it follows, that we can sweep this whole messy business of dying under the proverbial rug.  (Yes, I’m being sarcastic).  Yet, even Jesus wept (and raised Lazarus from the grave).  Jesus also suffered, but not silently, and died, nearly alone, on a cross we nailed him to, at a crossroads dung heap outside Jerusalem.  Two thousand years later, we’ve sanitized and compartmentalized dying, hiding it from ourselves so we can ignore the writing on our own walls.

I ask that you stop for a moment and spend time, yes, that very precious commodity you can never, ever get back, with a friend or family member who is dying.  Don’t send flowers, or stuffed animals or Hallmark cards.  Give them comfort.  Don’t expect them to put you at ease about their situation.  Embrace the truth.  For you know, it’s not ‘if’ we’re going to die, it’s when.  We’re all dying.  And I, for one, will not go silently into the night.

An Evening at the Family Tech Support Opera

The names have been changed to protect the innocent, except in the case of my daughter, who has an understanding and equally sarcastic nature comparable to my own. And I’m just as guilty as those family members I poke fun at below in seeking their expertise with respect to technology of a different flavor.  The generation that preceded me has years of hands-on experience applicable to the infrastructure we depend on everyday (electricity, plumbing, mechanical know-how, etc.), while I’ve spent years storing up knowledge of a less concrete kind (aka information technology).   Frequently, I reinforce to all family members when they come calling that “I don’t do hardware” so as long as we keep things soft, I’m all ears and ready to help.

One night this past week, after a dinner, my husband and I decided to watch The American, a movie starring George Clooney, something we’d recorded to DVR several weeks ago and just hadn’t gotten around to watching.  Thirty minutes into the movie (with more dead bodies than dialog), I received a text message alerting me to an e-mail from a family member (while we can both claim to be of the Baby Boomer generation, he was in the vanguard, while I squeaked in the rearguard), who had just purchased a Nook Color, detailing some of his frustrations with the accessories.  I grabbed my own Nook Color and logged into my Yahoo mail account to retrieve the entire message (too slow via my dumb phone).   Since I had recommended the Nook Color, and the anti-glare scratch protector accessory in question, I felt chagrined by his difficulty in wasting two of the expensive covers in two attempts to align and adhere to the Nook Color’s screen (without bubbles or dust or grit getting between the protecting plastic and the glass screen).

Since the movie bored me to tears, I grabbed my phone and headed upstairs to my library (formerly my daughter’s ‘green’ bedroom).  I called my frustrated family member and caught him mowing his lawn.  I volunteered to send him my spare anti-glare screen protector (I applied mine correctly the first time which is a miracle … see ‘I don’t do hardware’ above), but he declined.  We spoke briefly about his buying experience and lack of wifi at his home.  He returned to his mowing and I called B&N customer service to learn more about how (and if) ebooks purchased from B&N Online could be synced to the Nook Color in the absence of wifi, using only the mini-USB cable and his wired home computer.

Rather than return to the movie, I finished reading Leviathan Wakes, the scifi space opera selection for September at the GoodReads SciFi & Fantasy Book Club.  I called the family member back, ready for a long call on how to download ebooks and transfer them to the Nook Color from your computer.  He had already attempted to use Adobe Digital Editions (ADE), which is required for checking out ebooks from most libraries (see this excellent “how to” article created by the Kansas City Public Library for more information).   ADE correctly recognized his Nook Color, but no matter what we did, we couldn’t drag an ebook to his device.  I gave up on that and promised more research (which I did the next day, turning off wifi on my Nook Color and successfully dragging newly downloaded ebooks to it from ADE).

Next I helped him download public domain ebooks from Project Gutenberg and Feedbooks, going step-by-step (and ‘blind’ in my case, doing it all from my memory) from where the file was downloaded on his computer, to finding the correct folder on the Nook Color’s virtual drive (the J: drive in his case), even renaming some of the epub files to make them easier to find on the Nook and wrapping up the process with the ‘safely remove hardware’ feature of Windows Vista (another ‘amazing’ feat of tech support, since I’ve rarely ever used Windows Vista and relied on the theory that Microsoft programmers were inherently lazy and didn’t change the dialog boxes much between Windows XP and Windows Vista).  Shockingly (well, not to me anyway), he had never used the Safely Remove Hardware feature before.

In the midst of this long phone call requiring intense concentration on my part, I heard my phone blip at me several times.  I assumed I received some text messages or other e-mail alerts.  Imagine my surprise when my husband opens the door to my library holding his phone out to me telling me it’s our daughter.  Wondering why she couldn’t just talk to her dad while I was otherwise occupied with my own phone, and worried something horrific had occurred (stupid, I know, but I’m a mother), I put the other family member on temporary hold and took my husband’s phone to my other ear.  The first words out of my daughter’s mouth were:  “The text in this table keeps bleeding past the table boundaries …” Can you see my eyes rolling up into the top of my head?

Once my brain rebooted from the overload, I told my daughter I’d call her back in about thirty minutes and also told her to e-mail me the document she couldn’t format correctly.  Returning to my other phone call, I reviewed the process two more times with him, watching (well really listening to his astronaut-esque recitation of what he was doing in the absence of a video feed) perform the download/transfer process successfully twice.  I gave him a couple of tips for re-arranging and removing items on the Nook Color home screen and called it a night.

I returned back downstairs, to wake up my laptop so I could fire-up Word in anticipation of rescuing my daughter’s document.  I checked my Yahoo e-mail account but had not received anything from her.  I called her and she thought she had sent me the e-mail with the document attached, but had forgotten to click the send button.  My eyes rolled up into the top of my head again and came back down when I finally received the e-mail.  With her still on the phone talking to me (I put it on speaker phone so her dad and I could both listen and talk to her while I typed), I deleted a couple of misused drop caps and inserted some hard paragraph marks in the overloaded table cell, saved the file and returned it to Rachelle.  She’d already left her computer but returned and didn’t like where I’d put the hard paragraph marks so I let her in on the secret (which works whether you use MS Word or OpenOffice like she does):  To insert a hard paragraph mark, hold down the Shift key and then press the Enter key.   Terry and I said goodnight to Rachelle and I went to bed to dream of something other than ones and zeroes, bits, bytes or anything remotely related to information technology.

For those looking for free or cheap ebooks to purchase and download to your Nook, here’s a handy list of my favorite frequently used sites:

Amy Pond Outshines the Doctor

Perhaps being turned into a giant wooden doll while trapped in a dollhouse stored in a scared boy’s cabinet left Amy with some unresolved anger issues.  Last week’s forgettable episode, Night Terrors, disappointed on many levels (weak story and acting on the part of the bit players).  Creepy Doctor Who episode I hope to forget sooner rather than later.  Thankfully, last night’s episode, The Girl Who Waited, provided excellent science fiction (including  a time travel paradox unresolvable by either the Doctor or the TARDIS) and phenomenal acting from both Karen Gillan (as Amy Pond) and Arthur Darvill (as Rory Williams).  While this episode doesn’t contribute much to the overall story arc for this season (the Doctor’s death), the character growth glimpsed in both Amys and Rory will knock your socks off.

A great stand-alone episode of Doctor Who I highly recommend for your viewing pleasure.

Book Review: To Ride Hell’s Chasm by Janny Wurts (5 stars)

I returned from Dragon*Con yesterday, after having a great visit with Janny, and realized I had not published my review of her excellent stand-alone fantasy novel To Ride Hell’s Chasm, which I read nearly two years ago (and the story and characters are still vividly engraved on my mind).   I highly recommend this novel.

To Ride Hell’s Chasm by Janny Wurts

5 out of 5 stars

Read in October 2009

I finished this two hours ago (on 10/18/2009) and my emotions still wring me with spasms. The breakneck ride to the end felt like the crest of a tsunami or a primal volcanic eruption. I absolutely could not tear my eyes away from the page, nor turn them fast enough to keep up as the story unfolded.

For the first half of the novel, I struggled a bit to connect with the characters, but Mykkael and Anja’s crucible experience came into visceral focus, never letting go their grip on my heart until the last song was sung.

I must force myself to keep this brief, because anything I discern or divulge will spoil the ride of your life down Hell’s Chasm.

I highly recommend this outstanding stand-alone fantasy novel by Janny Wurts.

Beyond Reality October 2009 Fantasy Selection (click here to peruse the discussion thread and feel free to post questions or comments).