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Christmas Day – A Short Story

[Excerpted from a novel-in-progress]

Atari 2600 Video Game Systems were the hot item of Christmas 1977, as everyone in Randy’s third grade class would affirm under oath. But they were way too expensive and a waste of money and no one in the Copperstone household other than Randy seemed to care or appreciate the severe gravity of the situation that everyone, absolutely friggin’ everyone, in his entire school was going to get one and that Randy would be left out and be a total complete loser if he didn’t return to school in the New Year having gotten one.

“Maybe next year, when the prices come down,” his dad said philosophically, being all Father Knows Best during one of Randy’s numerous attempts to reason with him. “And you can stop making that gasping noise, as, believe it or not, you are not going to die if you don’t get one. Now go finish bringing the rest of the groceries in.”

His mom was no better.

“Oh, quit exaggerating. I doubt everyone in your school is going to get a Safari for Christmas.”


“Atari, then. Whatever. I’m frankly sick to death of hearing about it. Now get up off the floor like a big boy and go set the table.”

So cold-heartedly deaf were the ears of the wardens of Copperstone Prison that Randy eventually stopped bringing it up, though it would be a lie to say he’d forgotten all about it. Nevertheless, by the time dawn broke and paper shrapnel littered the living room, he had resigned himself to returning to Mr. Fenway’s class disappointed and empty-handed.

Well, maybe not quite empty-handed, as he did get some nifty other gifts like the little trash can of something called Slime, which was exactly – and wonderfully – what it claimed to be. The green stuff oozed through his fingers in the way that, well, slime tends to do, feeling so utterly gross he just had to share it with as many of his classmates as possible.

“You know you can’t take that to school, don’t you?” Mrs. Copperstone reminded Randy as his eyes got a certain gleam in them.

“I know, I know,” he said, even though he also knew from the moment he opened the can that that was exactly what he’d do. It was slime, for crying out loud. He had a kid duty to share it.

All in all it would have still been a decent enough Christmas, especially since Andy – provided Andy’s mom didn’t inexplicably change her mind as she sometimes did – would be spending the night.

But, out of the post-present-unwrapping, barely-past-dawn blue…

“I think you still have one more present left,” Mrs. Copperstone said, causing Randy’s heart to skip a beat. His mind leaped to the obvious and he just as quickly tried to squash that mind-leaping before his hopes could get too far up. His dad smiled. His mom smiled. Everyone full of smiles around a tree obviously now barren of unwrapped gifts.

Randy peered into the void that currently underwhelmed the tree as if he expected some new thing to fall down from the pine branches. He walked slowly around its base, his hand stretched out like searching for a secret door or portal or something.

“Though as I recall, I don’t think Santa put it under the tree,” his dad said.

“You know, now that I think about, I think you’re right. But I can’t quite remember where he put it, though…” His mom paused as did Randy, every fiber of his body listening to her in a way he usually didn’t. She put her hand up to her chin as if she were giving the matter serious thought. Abruptly she pulled her hand away and shrugged. “Oh, well, I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. It’ll turn up.”

Randy swallowed, his heart doing that weird skipping thing again. He started tearing through the house, wildly opening hall closets, kitchen cabinets, and drawers so small that they couldn’t possibly hold anything of interest but needed checked anyway. Similarly with the crowded medicine cabinet in the bathroom.

Under the bathroom sink turned up nothing as well as did behind the living room curtains. He turned up the couch cushions but the only things he discovered there besides general lived-in grime was a couple of stray quarters, a petrified Cheetos, and a cap to a pen long gone.

Randy pocketed the quarters but that was hardly worth a one more present left.

After he had searched almost the entire house and seized nothing of Christmas interest, he stood in the middle of the now disheveled living room glaring at the barren tree as if it were holding out.

Think, think, think he commanded himself.

And he thought, thought, thought.

There was his parents’ room, of course, that he hadn’t searched. But he wasn’t allowed in there. The only other room left in the house was his room, where, despite the clutter, he knew every inch of space and would certainly know if a present were lurking about.

Randy tapped his fingers against his side. Then he stopped tapping as he realized his room technically wasn’t the only room left after all.

Of course, he thought, smiling as he tore back into the kitchen and out the side door to the attached garage. Again with the rummaging through crap, more crap, and yet more crap and still coming up with squat for all his efforts. At length, he huffed back into the house proper, feeling agitated, tired, and his adrenaline spent.

The present remained hidden; remained out of sight.

Out of sight? He scrunched his face up.


Around here somewhere wouldn’t have to mean inside the house.

“Whoa, whoa. Where are you going, now?” Mr. Fargo asked.

“Outsidetochecktheyard,” Randy said in a blast of run-on words and already standing with the front door open.

“In your pajamas?”

“Oh,” Randy said, newly conscious of being covered in little toy boats and anchors that were fine for sleepwear but hardly fit for the public square. “Oh, yeah.”

He headed towards his room to change when his mom called out to him.

“While you’re in there, could you check and see if there’s a stray sock lying around someplace? One came up missing when I did the wash.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Randy said, letting the words flow behind him. Socks. Of all the stupid…

“Of course I don’t know how he can find anything in that pigsty,” he half-heard his mom as she continued to speak, thinking here we go again and starting to tune her out. “I mean, just the other day I was cleaning under his bed, and-“

Randy didn’t hear what she said after the and as under his bed dimly registered. Then not so dimly. He flew to his bedroom on wings of new found adrenaline and dove under the bed.

There it was in plain sight, not even wrapped, the holy grail of Christmas: an Atari 2600 Video Game System.

Despite the prolonged effort of searching that could render many an event anticlimactic, Randy still nearly wet his pants at seeing the gift as an actuality. He was sure Andy nearly did, too, as he excitedly told him – gushed — over the phone about getting the present from the coolest parents ever.

“So when can I come over?” Andy said, his voice vibrating like he was bouncing up and down on the other end of the line, which he most likely was. “When can I? Huh? Huh? When can I?”

“As soon as you quit jabbering on the phone,” Randy said, “We’ll come get you.”

All of Randy’s words may not have been heard as the other line had already hung up.

Buying Life

What matters most is
how well you
walk through the

The Dallas Buyers Club features an unlikable protagonist.

He is a misogynistic, homophobic, drug-using, straight piece of white trash who is kind of proud of being those things. But there is something about him that makes him likable. And to me it’s not because he eventually has a (slight) human revolution that softens his views of others, although that helps and is part of the based-on-true-life story.

Instead, it is his uncompromising view of — and confidence in — himself that makes me nod in affirmation and admiration, much in the same way I do when I read and reread the late great poet and professional drunk Charles Bukowski.

The general story:

Ron Woodruff (played exceptionally well by Matthew McConaughey) learns he has AIDS, a disease which he had previously thought only affected homos: a “faggot disease“. How would he have thought otherwise, considering the apathetic response of the nation?

At the time the movie takes place, during the reign of Reagan where that misnamed great communicator’s greater silence permitted many to die and many more to get infected, accurate information was not widely disseminated.

The only treatment for AIDS in the US was high doses of former cancer drug AZT, originally shelved because it didn’t work on cancer and had high toxicity. Human trials started being rolled out, and you may or may not have gotten access to even this drug that may or may not work.

There were other things being tried in other countries, vitamins and other supplements as well as different medicines, but they were not FDA approved. They were also difficult to obtain and some of them were even illegal to buy/sell in the states.

But not to possess.

So Ron traveled abroad. He bought them, used them and discovered they sometimes worked. They sometimes didn’t. And they sometimes caused problems. But sometimes they worked. And compared to the known-to-be-toxic AZT, the working / not working ratio proved worth the risk.

A risk he rightly wagered others would likewise be willing to take.

Ron didn’t sell such non-FDA-approved formularies, which would have been illegal. Instead, he sold memberships to the Dallas Buyers Club, which entitled members to have access to the vitamins/medicines/supplements for free. See the clever distinction?

Not everyone agreed with such technical splicing of legality, and much of the movie revolves around that disagreement.

But far more interesting than the basic plot is Ron’s determination to always be the author of his own life. It reminds us that ultimately we are the only ones with a truly vested interest in ourselves. For:

The pharmaceutical company had a capitalist orgasm over bringing AZT back on the market. Exorbitant pricing and rising stock prices made rich people richer. It was a happy, profitable time for the drug manufacturer and its stockholders as they reaped obscene benefits from this latest exploitation of another person’s tragedy.

Doctors might care, then and now, but the nature of research necessarily tempers such caring. In a trial, a certain population gets a placebo. That’s the only way to be sure of efficacy. Like it or not, the most efficient way of determining if something works is for the control group that doesn’t get that something to, well, die.

Death is a good measurement for such things.

Oh, sure, there is surely at least some minimal altruism there that would keep the above two goals — profit and research — from being the only driving forces for the people swept into those two broad categories. I’m not trying to diminish that important aspect of human nature and I certainly wouldn’t be one to go all Ayn Rand.

But there is never just one goal involved. We are far too complex, far too evolved, for it to be otherwise. We all have multiple goals, and more importantly, cross-purposes. Our hundreds of daily interactions and tasks both major and minor reflect that. It is fine for others to champion us, and it is certainly welcome when they do; however, we ultimately should be – and we actually have to be if we are going to survive and thrive — our own, most vocal cheerleader.

When adversity comes your way, do you glance left, right, and maybe upwards praying for a rescue that is always outside your realm of control? Or do you cast your eyes forward and take another bold step, letting the coals burn your feet as they may beneath your smiling face?

Council Catastrophe

Okay, so I blew it.

I’m trying to get involved in local government. So I applied to be an alternate for the Development Review Board and towards that end attended last night’s council meeting so council members could meet me in person along with the other applicants.

It had already been a long day. I finished my “day job” of checking 17 academic papers, did laundry, and cooked dinner. I showered, shaved, and put on my nicest set of clothes that really aren’t that nice anymore but so it goes.

I sweltered inside the council chambers, feeling overdressed in my jacket but unsure if I wanted to remove it since I was sweating enough to be designated a floodplain.

A couple of agenda items were completed and then the council members had each (there were only three) of us stand up and say a little about ourselves. Then they left the room for an “executive session” and came back five minutes later to announce their pick of the two that were needed.

I of course wasn’t one of the two. If it were otherwise, I might have started this post with “I did it”. But as it stands, “I blew it” pretty much sums it up.

Now, granted, the other two had more government experience than me. However, I think what really hurt me is that I did not present myself very well. I mean the kind of not very well where I wouldn’t have picked me either, as painful as that is to admit.

Not being used to a microphone, I started off not talking into it. And when I finally did talk into it, I talked way too fast, rambled, and didn’t make eye contact. Part of it was nervousness and overcompensating for my natural introverted tendency. Also, my eyes tend to go all elsewhere when I’m gathering my thoughts, which I was trying to do for all the good it did me.

I was a right train wreck that went on for a brief, yet agonizingly long piece of time. After the derailment, Council Member Alan Weiss asked me what I thought the purpose of the Development Review Board was.

Here’s where the ability to gather one’s thoughts would have come in particularly handy. And they did gather, but unfortunately they clumped together like wet leaves in a compost heap. When I spoke, words sputtered out of my mouth with the grace of a cat coughing up a hairball.

I knew the point I wanted to make but… well, so it goes.

I was more than a little crushed. Not just because of not getting selected, but because I know I am better than how I presented myself; that I have a lot more to offer than what my village idiot performance revealed.

I did stay for the entire council meeting and found it wholly interesting despite my intermittent self-loathing interruptions of internal dialogue: stupid, worthless, failure, and the quintessential, all-encompassing never succeed at anything.

I worked hard at conquering those internal demons so I could gain from the meeting and not lose the forest for all my rotted trees.

I enjoyed hearing about the affairs of the city and noted the issues each member brought forth. Mr. Guerlain discussed concerns of his constituents about actual crimes versus what gets reported in the police log in The Times Argus. Mrs. Walsh fielded questions about a proposal to use Solar Panels to provide Montpelier with electricity.

There were many other issues that were discussed, including parking on State street, arts funding, and a proposal under consideration by the Development Review Board to build a new housing complex on a lot in a historic district, which would first require approval for demolishing the existing condemned property.

What I found most interesting, though, was Mr. Weiss, who had asked me the question during my botched presentation attempt. He in fact asked pointed questions throughout the meeting; the kind of questions that reminded me of my scholar husband.

Not in substance, as his concerns were different, but in the phrasing.

For example, one such concern of his started with “In Section 5.5. it says…”  where he went on to point out the possible implications of that ambiguous wording and questioning what exactly it would mean in real world application if they took up the proposal it referenced.

My husband’s well-informed opinions are always grounded in thorough reading and research done well before uttering first words on the matter under discussion. You’re unlikely to slip anything by him. He will tear any loose wording and faulty arguments apart. I reckon it’s the same with Mr. Weiss.

It’s the next day and I’m trying to think of how to go forward after embarrassing myself so completely. My mind is still reeling with the lingering yet ever useless “should have’s” that have been resonating since last night.

But the bottom line is “I didn’t” and I do still want to get involved.

So I need to get over my self-pitying self and move forward. I’m not sure what the best way is to do so, but I at least know the right question to ask, as it’s the only question that really ever matters:

What now?

Mountain Climbing

Okay, so it wasn’t a mountain. It was more of a hill.

And I didn’t climb, I walked. Though I reckon the two verbs merge as angle of degree increases. Still, I would be hesitant to ascribe the perhaps exaggerated exertion of climbing to the route I took to the Hubbard Park Tower which was 90% paved road.

But the pavement part leading to the relatively level trail-inside-the-park had an ungodly elevation to it that suited the street names of Hillside and Cliff. Even the final street before the Tower Loop, Corse, sounds enough like curse and course to make it seem readily a part of such spot-on naming.

The frequent changes in inclination here are surely a wonder to behold, but they can also be a challenge to making pedestrian plans. A short and sweet route on Google Maps often gets a reality check that reveals itself to be longer and not near as pie-easy as originally anticipated.

But I kept faith in my chosen path, put one foot in front of the other, and made it to the tower. I climbed — stairs inside, so it is climbing — to the top and took a picture of the new view I had:


Kind of a crappy picture, I know.

I did it with my phone and my face reflected back at me, so I couldn’t be sure what kind of view I actually had through its lens. Also, in retrospect, I should have used landscape view. Nevertheless, it gives perspective that a ground-view doesn’t offer and I like the isolated  house or two up in the hills that it captured.

However, the most important thing is that the path I walked took me where I wanted to go. The map may have obfuscated the difficulty involved, but it did not lie. I just had to follow it the best I could and, based on my previous knowledge of maps, I had certainty that my goal would be achieved.

I wish I had that kind of confidence in my other exertions.

I find myself suffused with doubt about my ability to do anything that truly matters. The kind of doubt that looks up a staircase of meaningless infinity and is overwhelmed from taking the steps needed to get anywhere. Indeed, the kind of crippling existential doubt that not only questions the chosen where, but wonders if there is a mattering where to be found.

So much so, I’ve let myself mentally and philosophically languish.

I’ve been in a kind of thought coma that I’ve been having difficulty waking up from. I know I should have deep thoughts, want to have deep thoughts, deserve to have deep thoughts… but one of the problems with deep thoughts is that any single one of them is only arrived at after a journey much more involved and difficult than a jaunt to the tower.

The other problem is the obvious one: the deeper the thought, the less clear what the best route is, or whether the route being taken is a good one at all.

It is like climbing a mountain where your footing not only is uncertain at best, but there is a nagging feeling that upon reaching the summit, if one is even reached, you will cast a gaze in the distance and realize you should have been climbing that one way over there.

I’ve been trying to squelch such depressing and disempowering thoughts, since the alternative is staying way down here where nothing grows and the way over there would still be way over there; we just wouldn’t know it.

On Amazon today, I looked inside the kindle edition of the most recent book by the septuagenarian philosopher Daniel C  Dennett. At the start of chapter one he has a quote by Bo Dahlbom that made me feel considerable — and deserved — guilt at letting my tools rust and my blades dull.

You can’t do much carpentry with your bare hands and you
can’t do much thinking with your bare brain.

Philosophical mountains call to me and I think my backpack’s been on the floor for far too long.

Becoming a Vermonter


so much depends

a red wheel

Okay, so I need to get in the habit of regular blogging. I mean that’s what you are supposed to do, right? No one just works on stories and poems any more. You need to ensure your social platform is regularly infused with new content to stay visible.

Often what happens, though, is my brain is so regularly infused with new content, and the subsequent new new content that comes from that then old new content getting processed a half-dozen different ways, is many things that might at the moment be cool (I think) to blog about end up getting buried instead.

But at this moment — and that’s all we ever really have — I feel like it might be cool to talk a little bit about our new place and new city and maybe even throw in a why or two, even though why questions by their very nature can be dangerous in the hands of the philosophically careless and any purported answers to them should be handled with kid gloves if handled at all.

But such thinking is for later posts — unless that thinking gets buried and stays buried — and at this moment I’m thinking of Gary and me both having places to work in our new place. The picture at the beginning is my particular work area and shows the table where I did my current paying work today of checking papers submitted to Public Library of Science, ensuring metadata is accurate and that the manuscripts are formatted correctly and so on.

And yes, there is an empty box there at the back and also a swath of brown paper on the floor near the front. What can I say? Our cats love boxes, especially from Amazon. As for the brown paper, it is the special kind of packing paper that you sometimes get in those empty boxes when they aren’t empty yet.

Amber, our young female cat, goes nuts over the crinkly, crackly claw-friendly stuff. She plays with it in all sorts of self-entertaining ways. She covers herself with it, dives into it, and hides things under it. She nestles it, shreds it, and in general has a right good time rearranging it like it is all the cat’s meow this side of feline origami.

So we keep it and an empty box or two at the expense of looking a little trashy.

As you probably can guess from that, my space is shared space.


But there is enough room that it isn’t too bad, as Amber frequently finds other places to be.


As far as that goes, and it goes pretty far, our oldest cat hangs out in the shared space, too, loving the couch. But he also finds other parts of the apartment to his liking.


As far as outside our apartment, the best way to describe it is green. Mountains and green with small towns separated by miles and miles of this incredibly beautiful mountainous green. So beautiful I’m thinking at this moment that it maybe should be a post in itself, along with talking about what all is within walking distance of us now that we are living in the smallest capital in the nation.

So I’ll just jump forward to a blog-entry-ending why. Although there are many why‘s, as there always is, one of the most significant why‘s is answered by something we didn’t think we would see in our lifetime.


With section three of DOMA struck down and the visit to the Justice of the peace that we took soon after moving here, our well over 17 years of marriage is now a marriage that is not only legally recognized by Vermont and 12 other living-in-the-twenty-first-century states, but Federally recognized as well.

The importance of this ruling is huge.

Huge enough that it totally changes the why question. It is no longer just a Why should we move to Vermont? Instead, with Indiana being as legislatively hateful as it was, is, and continues to strive to be, it is Why on earth would we stay?

The Cure, Concepts, and Functional Sameness

I turned to look at you
To read my thoughts upon your face
And gazed so deep into your eyes
So beautiful and strange
Until you spoke
And showed me understanding is a dream
“I hate these people staring
Make them go away from me!”
—- the Cure, How Beautiful You Are

I am (slowly) reading this wholly engaging and insightful book on thought by Douglas Hofstadter & Emmanuel Sander called Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking. In it, they argue that analogy is not only a primary component of what we call thinking, but it is essential; it is foundational to thought occurring at all.

I think they’re on to something and hope to write much on that something, but right now I want to focus on their deconstruction of concepts, which I think glosses over a crucial something that I further think is pretty much universally glossed over. It is not the kind of crucial that would destroy their overall thesis (like I said, I think they’re onto something). But it is the kind or crucial that keeps me up at night and frames, or at least adds to, my perspective on things.

We are so used to living our lives conceptually, that we take concepts for granted, not spending much time thinking about how there really is not anything spoken or written or thought that is not coming from our ongoing conceptual construction, which not only encompasses the obvious ones understood as concepts like dogs and cats and chairs, but also ones not so obvious like and and the and a.

Hofstadter and Sander systematically disabuse us of the notion that concepts are somehow out there like planets waiting to be discovered; rather, it is the opposite. They are slippery and somewhat arbitrary beasts coming from inside us, subject to change and very much to our collective whim.

One important way they show this is through comparing languages, focusing on what every translator knows well: there are major differences in how languages divide things conceptually, making one-to-one word translation often impossible. For example:

We know what time it is right now… how much time it will take to drive to the airport, and how many times we’ve done so before. These three ideas strike us as being… about just one concept: the concept known as “time”

In France, however, our conceptually monolithic time is regarded as involving three separate concepts, therefore requiring a distinct word to be used to convey the meaning of each particular situation clearly.

The authors give many other thought-provoking examples, but another one I found most fascinating was from Indonesia. Where we describe siblings in terms of sister and brother, meaning female sibling and male sibling respectively, Indonesians break out siblings in term of comparative age. So instead of brother and sister, they use kakak and adik, which mean “elder sibling” and “younger sibling”.

The overall point is that how things get broken up conceptually is not universal, and can differ significantly from culture to culture; collectively created out of what that society deems important, efficient, or just plain sensible.

However, the authors go on to say, for a large number of concepts there is good agreement across languages. This would be expected, as we are all human and do things like walk and talk and eat and sleep and so on.

But — and the but here is now me interjecting my own tangential thoughts into the matter — agreement is not the same as identical. We may, at times, be able to translate one word directly for another, and it may serve the function we intended, but I’m not convinced the ‘meaning’ content is the same. Indeed, I take this strand of thought further, wanting to contend that concepts break down differently at the individual level not just at the cultural one.

Oh, we have agreement, sure, and linguistic workarounds. And it is true enough that someone’s not going to say dog to me and I’m going to picture, say, a horse. But at the core level, at the necessarily individualized experiential level, I think the agreement is of functional sameness masquerading as an identically shared concept.

For even though we each employ the use of ostensibly mutually understood concepts in our dialogues with one another, we can’t help but fill in those thought containers with our personalized specifics and shade the understanding with our own life experiences. This might be one of the reasons why it is so difficult to find common ground; we can never absolutely know someone else’s ground let alone completely share it.

By our very nature, at the most basic biologically confining level, everyone already IS an island and never will be — never can be — anything else.

And this is why I hate you
And how I understand
That no-one ever knows or loves another

So It Goes with Don Pablo’s

Gary and I rarely eat out.

This includes fast food. I brown bag to work and on days I don’t work I just don’t bother with a bag. Money is scarce at the moment and it usually doesn’t seem right to pay for something to eat when there is some other something in the cabinet that can be boiled, baked, fried, heated or otherwise cooked.

But we try to make exceptions for special occasions, and our 17 year anniversary (March 9, 1996 — dig up an old issue of Nuvo and see a picture of our wedding along with my column about it!) seemed like a good time for such an exception.

We had eaten at Don Pablo’s before. It had been quite a while, with the word quite adding quite a lot of time to that while. But we had eaten there before and the experience of that before was surprisingly exceptional.

Literally surprising.

For during that already rare-for-us venturing to eat out, we originally had been traveling to another Mexican place, found their menu lacking, left without ordering, and stopped at Don Pablo’s on the nearly disappointing return drive home.

The selection, the food, the service!  An all around good experience that time around.

That time of apparently Long Ago, as the Short Ago offered us all around blech.

New menus were the first red flag, where I could not locate the entree I remembered ordering before. I found a form of nachos and ordered that for our appetizer and, for lack of being able to lock on anything striking, ordered the same thing as Gary.

The Cantalina Nachos being thrown on the table was a second flag. I felt like I had been handed a baton and should have proceded to pass the plate on to another table as quickly as I could. Instead of going with that chagrined notion, though, I thought I might at least move it more towards the center of the table.

The hotness of the plate foiled me, though — burned me actually — so I used a napkin to safely move it off of its edge perch. That is, used a napkin after I had one after I had asked for one. Evidently being giving napkins and being giving food are viewed as vastly separate tasks with no rhyme or reason to the sequencing of their occurrences.

I will say the main server herself did do a decent enough job. She refilled things and delivered other things and in general did what was expected. The food being delivered though was not what we expected and threw up the second flag.

Gary had ordered the same thing he had gotten last time — veggie fajitas. Only it wasn’t quite the same thing, as somewhere between Long Ago and Short Ago they had overhauled their mixture of veggies.

There were a lot of them. That could be said.

But also what could be said, among their changes, was that they had all but eliminated the expected mixture of bell peppers and seemed to have slipped in a whole gourd of squash in its place along with zucchini. I like all three, but peppers go in there better and also I couldn’t help thinking the mixture was driven by (their, i.e. company) cost more than (our, i.e. consumer) taste.

And this was really the truly game changing flag (and you can see how it clearly is by all those dirty little “ly” words in my sentence.)

I get so annoyed with companies cutting their costs while pretending they are not cutting quality. The general business model anymore doesn’t seem to be simply “can you do it as well for less” but rather “can you get away with doing it for less?”

That is, how far can you cut your cost and still herd the masses through your doors?

How much can you lower standards and still earn profits enough to keep that all so vital-to-the-economy CEO standard of living intact?

Olive Garden also used to be in our few choice places to eat. But last time we went, it was clear they had switched cheese on us, going for a subgrade line that congealed on the pasta like a fungus rather than melted.

So many other places have fallen off our list for the same reason: cutting their cost at the sacrifice of quality. And yeah, I know, it’s expensive to run a business. But it is also expensive to support one.

And so here’s one more I no longer will.

Purpose Hunting

Okay, so I’m wanting to make a video for the You have a Purpose project that Gary mentioned to me.

This is a project hoping to encourage — empower — gay youth. Somewhat similar to It Gets Better, I prefer the inherent active nature of this new and improved messaging. For I don’t want LGBT youth to just endure. I want them to flourish and become all that they can be.

As they deserve to be, and to hell with anyone — and there’s still lots of those anyones out there — who try to tell them differently.

But I haven’t exactly been in the most positive, youth-mentoring frame of mind of late.

Oh, I’ve done my share of dealing with being gay, especially when I was a youth.

Sometimes that dealing manifested itself in body modification:

When I was fourteen I asked to be circumcised and was. I had no opinion on foreskin one way or the other. But I knew that the majority of boys in America were circumcised. I would soon be starting high school where I would have to take gym and shower with that majority of boys.

Already aware of how different I was from what society had labeled as normal, I had no wish to stand out further by possessing minority — out of the norm — physical attributes.

Sometimes that dealing manifested in behavioral ways:

In junior high I read the Thomas Covenant series and the Bloodguard mesmerized me. I wanted to be like them; to have that level of Stoic detachment; that profound level of dispassion.

For what use are emotions when you aren’t allowed to show any that matter?

Oh, my younger years were an emotional whirlwind of surging emotions and the severely cutting off of them. I’d throw things of value away to extinguish sentiment and tried to keep my environment Spartan clean. If I could just order my universe, maybe I could control…

But that was long ago and the issues I deal with now aren’t typically about being gay. For one thing, I realize now that I wasn’t really dealing with being gay back then. For that’s a mistake in phrasing inflicted on gays. There is no such thing as dealing with being gay.

It is far more accurate to say gay youth are dealing with society’s view of them being gay.

I carry a lot of baggage of course from that time period. I am prone to shut off emotion and have other behavioral quirks. But my focus now is on dealing with making ends meet and not doing a very good job of that.

I am currently working at a tedious, low-paying job that tires me out to the point of making it difficult in the non-work time to regroup and focus on finding something better; finding something more in line with my skill sets and maybe moving me further along the path towards my overall life goals.

So much so, depression demons abound accompanied by devils screaming in my ear about how valueless I am; how worthless; how I’ll never achieve anything of significance. Today looks like it will be the same as yesterday and tomorrow looks like it will be like today.

But it never is quite the same is it?

I didn’t write this blog yesterday, I wrote it today. Despite my waking up thoughts of depression I sat myself down in front of the computer and typed it. Tomorrow I can type something else. Today, tomorrow, and all the days I have left on this earth I can take action, even if some minor action, that will alter the timeline of me with a chance for that alteration to be for the better.

Part and parcel of having a purpose is having a vision of where those combined alterations can take you. But perhaps even more fundamental to it is given oneself permission to have such a vision; to find oneself deserving of having such a vision.

We all deserve it by virtue of being human with ability to take action towards making it a reality.

So I guess if I were to encourage gay youth, I would maybe want them to know that they not only have a purpose, but that they deserve to have one. They should keep it, treasure it, and not let anyone try and take it away from them; for it is theirs alone and meant for them alone.

I reckon part and parcel of encouragement, though, is encouraging by example. Far too often I let my external circumstances rip my purpose from me and play keep away high above my head. The world taunts me that I’ll never get it back; that I don’t deserve to get it back; that I never deserved to have it at all.

But it’s not theirs, it is mine.

So I stand up on the chair and snatch it out of the air; clutch it to my chest. I slam it down on the desk next to my computer and stare at it: all beaten and scarred and put through hell; yet still mine, always mine, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

I stare at it and type this.

And it glows.

Oh, how it glows!

Spay Day

Today our newly acquired cat, Amber Sue, is at FACE, which is a low cost spay and neuter clinic.

Busy place. Surgery drop off for cats is between 7am and 8am. So silly me arrived at 7… parking lot already containing several cars and waiting room already containing lots of people and lots of cats. I ended up being cat lover number 8 with many more people coming in after me. Busy place.

She was originally scheduled for Feb 12. But I called yesterday to see if there were any cancellations where we could get her in before that. There is something about a cat in heat that makes the idea of waiting two weeks somewhat unbearable. As luck would have it, they asked if tomorrow would work, and to the sound of Amber’s c’mere boys yoohoo over here wail, I said you betcha.

We would have gotten her spayed soon after we took her in on Dec 25, 2012, as that is the responsible pet owner thing to do. But we originally thought she was pregnant, so we were waiting to see if she was. It would have been difficult for us to raise kittens, but I would have let her have them and would have taken care of them.

For I am pro-choice, and my choice would have been not to abort the kittens, as that would go against what I feel would be the right thing to do; it would go against my sense of morality. Sometimes people mischaracterize pro-choice as being pro-abortion when it is nothing of the sort.

Spaying is a choice too. And a moral argument could be made that such an action is wrong because it goes against nature; goes against the animal’s biological imperative. But in weighing moral issues we should do our best to avoid having a deliberately myopic view that cuts out other variables in the equation.

Sure, in part such fixing is for our benefit. A cat in heat makes all kinds of sleep-disturbing sounds. She is also harder to control, tearing at blinds and in general acting quite loony. Also, something I didn’t know before, females in heat ooze.

They ooze a lot.

But there is also the fact that we have a serious pet overpopulation problem. There is the fact that females who are not fixed have a greater risk of ovarian cancer since their ovaries do not pass, as cats have no period. There is also the fact that during the periods of heat she does not look happy.

For the biological imperative is not about being happy. It is about procreation, period. It is about losing all sense of reason in a desire to mate. It is about wailing your heart out in desperation until penis connects with vagina.

How fortunate we are as humans that we have the ability to take control of our genitals.

What is unfortunate is there are folks who want to drag us back down to the level of beasts and take away that ability. They want to criminalize responsible, moral choices. They want to vote away love to the point that marriage is eroded to nothing more than wailing your heart out in desperation until penis connects with vagina.

But we are smarter than that; we are more evolved than that.

Aren’t we?

Trying to Claw Out of Poverty

Being poor sucks.

But, for myself, maybe not for, or not just for, the reasons other people might think. For there are very few material things that I would like to have. Oh, sure, shelter, food, and health are of big concern, and the constant worry over all three does indeed suck. But when I think of it truly sucking, I think more in terms of how lack of funds limit me in making societal contributions, whether it is providing cat food for the strays, making a donation to Plan USA, or — if our circumstances become stable enough for us to do so — becoming a foster parent.

Money by itself is valueless, just so much shreds of paper or changing numbers in a ledger. It is what can be done with it that gives it value.

But I’ve never been good at figuring out how to adequately obtain funds so that I can adequately give it the value I think it should it have; the value of it most effectively being used.

Oh, sure, I know the hard-work mantra, and I do work hard at everything I do. I do not see how one cannot work hard. Striving towards accomplishment is a natural human tendency as far as I can tell, if my own human-ness is any kind of marker for such things. But hard work and funds, at least in the states, or in the state of Fox, don’t seem to always align.

People, including my husband, think I should be able todosomething with my degree, with my intelligence, etc. Thesomethingbeing accompanied by both personal and financial benefit. And they are probably right of course. After all, with my 4.0 GPA, I…

But that gets to the crux of it all. School is easy. Really. There is never a tighter correlation between hard work and success than when in school. Expectations are laid out at the start with clearly visible stones to get across the river.

I try to find such stones in the different jobs I have had. I keep my eye on expectations and work hard at keeping my steps steady and balanced. When I stumble, I redouble my efforts and try to ensure I look to see if the stated expectations have changed.

Yet I somehow keep falling off, or keep getting pushed off, or, even more common, find that successfully crossing to those expectations are of insufficient funding and all too soon I am drowning again with just the barest inhalation of air.

So what to do? I really don’t know.

What I do know is that I was thinking of going to Book Mama’s today. They are having a release party for a brand new literary publication and I would have liked to joined in; to show my support for journals in which I am trying to get published. But there are more pressing things on my mind right now than the pipe dream of personal achievement. Things like our vacuum cleaner now dead, so we need a new one. And we currently do have the credit to get one, but it will be just that: on credit. Which is a whole other form of drowning.

Drowning to pay for a vacuum cleaner is one thing, drowning to buy a magazine is quite another.

So instead I’m working on my resume again. I’m planning on going to Work One on Monday to get further help on making it the most beautiful it can be to employers. I will also call Office Team to see if they have anything. Both are closed today, so today I have updated my Career Builder with this newly tweaked resume…

A stone, a stone, my kingdom for a stone…