Pick Me!

A weblog by Laura Moncur

11/1/2003

Memory Morphing

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:40 am

I knew about it. I admit it. I know that memory can be changed. There was a Psychology class broadcast on a local PBS station. I liked to watch it, even though I wasn’t taking the class. They had an entire episode based on the fact that memory is fallible. They showed on film an experiment in which the subjects observed a “crime” and were asked to describe the “perpetrator.” When the people were interviewed together and a plant suggested things that weren’t true, the subjects would “remember” the false facts. They were willing to swear under oath to these false facts. It taught me that eye witnesses are worthless.

One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.
Rita Mae Brown

What it should have taught me is that MY memory is worthless. Gerald Zaltman and Elizabeth Loftus are memory researchers and they are showing the world how this bug in our psyche can be hacked by advertisers. Did you lose your second daughter for three hours at Disneyland? Were you filled with panic and dread? Did the ice cream taste as good as it smelled? Did you feel ripped off because you overpaid for those Mickey Mouse ears for the second daughter after you found her? Did she cry because the only character she could find was Pluto? After you see the specially tailored commercial that tells you to “Remember The Magic” all you will remember is the Mickey-Mouse-Eared second daughter hugging Mickey Mouse. All of the rest will fade into the background.

Frank – There was another time though that I was running down a hillside covered with flowers, and there was a beautiful girl, like 15, with pigtails and she was waiting for me, and her parents didn’t know she had snuck out of the house . . .
Ghost of Christmas Past – You are so pathetic! You are so pathetic! That was the Little House on the Prairie.
Frank – Was it the Homecoming episode of Little House?
Ghost of Christmas Past – Yes, it was the Homecoming episode of Little House. Let’s face it Frank, garden slugs got more out of life than you did.

Michael O’Donoghue, Scrooged, 1988

All of it makes me want to turn off my television and hide. How can I trust my memories of Disneyland if they are going to bombard me with images of the “perfect holiday” that will alter my recollections? It brings reminiscing to a whole new level. My family argues about the past all the time. Maybe it’s because all of us are mixing reality up with commercials. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe we didn’t lose Stacey at Disneyland. Maybe that was the amusement park episode of the Brady Bunch.

11/2/2003

A Dog In The House

Filed under: General,Our Pets,Sid — Laura Moncur @ 4:25 am

I received an email the other day from a close friend. She got a dog. The boys love him. She loves him. He is housebroken and can sit and shake on command. She sent me a picture and he’s huge. I immediately wanted to email her to say how happy I am that she is safe now. She’s a single mother and the thought of that huge dog in her house just made me feel like she is so much safer.

I didn’t write back immediately because I was busy at work and I’m so glad it intervened. After thinking, I realized that it might not be such a good idea to suggest that she was unsafe before. It’s actually a little disrespectful. She’s an adult. She’s tough enough to handle anything that could come her way and how dare I say that she couldn’t make it without a dog. I’m glad that I didn’t get the chance to dash off a response.

Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word ‘safe’ that I wasn’t previously aware of. Douglas Adams (1952 – 2001), Arthur Dent in “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”

The truth of the matter, though, is that I feel safer with a dog in the house. My dog’s name is Sid. He’s not huge, but he’s a mean sucker when a stranger is in the house. I didn’t realize how much safety I feel comes from having him in the home. I was alone in the house for about fifteen minutes last week. Mike had taken Sid with him to the corner convenience store and it was just me and the cats in the house.

Before they left, the screen door was all that stopped the world from crashing in on us, but it was ok because Sid and Mike were there. After they left, I locked that door up tight. I had been dancing and singing to my older Halloween mix CDs, but all that changed when they left.

Looking at it logically, I am insane. This should be written down in the Book of Life against me. She is insane because she thinks that a 50-pound dog can save her from anything. The truth is, I am never safe. None of us are. The only thing that keeps me safe is that the Victim-to-Psychopath ratio is skewed. If someone really wanted to harm me, there is nothing out there that could stop them. It is only an illusion of safety that keeps any of us from hiding in the mountains with shotguns.

There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else. James Thurber (1894 – 1961), New Yorker, Feb. 4, 1939, “The Fairly Intelligent Fly”

Yet, there is something so secure about a dog. We rescued him from a shelter and took him into our house. In return, he is nice to the cats, barks at other dogs, and protects me from the bad guys (whether they be the movers or the mailman). He is an entirely different species, yet he is willing to stand beside me against the evil. That’s what we’re all looking for: someone to stand with us against the evil.

11/3/2003

Memories of Las Vegas

Filed under: Personal History — Laura Moncur @ 6:15 am

I’m leaving for Las Vegas tomorrow. I feel sad for Hugh Elliott. He has never been to Vegas. He has never seen the glamour and he has never stretched his neck in awe to the sheer gaudiness of it all. Yes, even you, Hugh, would have to stretch your neck at it. It’s that big and that gaudy.

Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas … with the music at top volume and at least a pint of ether.

Hunter S. Thompson (1939 – ), “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”
  I remember the first time I saw Las Vegas. I was ten and my mom woke me up. “We’re getting into Vegas, honey. Wake up and see it.” I couldn’t find my glasses in the motor home, so it was a blurry flurry of light. We stayed at the Circus Circus RV Park overnight. After taking us kids to the circus games, Mom, Carol and the rest of the adults went to the casino and stayed out late. I remember waking up Pat because I had botched up changing the baby’s diaper. She was suffering with a hangover, but her skilled hands wiped him up neatly. I learned that you had to lift them by the legs to wipe them up properly. Late that afternoon, we headed to California and Mickey Mouse.

Judged by the dollars spent, gambling is now more popular in America than baseball, the movies, and Disneyland combined.

Timothy L. O’Brien, Bad Bet (1998)

My next memory of Las Vegas was a tired splash of color on the way to Long Beach. We should have stopped there to sleep in the Legoland Castle that was the newly built Excalibur. I nearly fell asleep driving after the California border. We slept in Baker for a few hours before finishing the trip. Vegas could have become just a blur on the way to California in my memory, but fate intervened.

Noting his mother’s visit to Las Vegas the weekend before she died. “She got to go to heaven four days early.”

President Bill Clinton

Then there was Comdex 1993. The Internet was still spelled with a lowercase “i” back then. I was intent on getting some of that Virtual Reality stuff (thanks, Sun Microsystems). We stayed in Jean, Nevada because we couldn’t afford the sky rocketed hotel rooms in Vegas. We met our friends there and they showed us the coolest booths at the convention. All of us envisioned a world of computers and none of us could have predicted Dot Com, much less Dot Bomb.

Many Comdexes and InterOps later, we are now going to Las Vegas for fun, not work. There is no computer show excuse to write off this trip. We will get a donut in the Legoland Castle. We will meet friends and dance the night away in the Glass Pyramid. We will get a cannoli at the Statue of Liberty and eat some stinky cheese underneath the Eiffel Tower.

Casinos and prostitutes have the same thing in common; they are both trying to screw you out of your money and send you home with a smile on you face.

VP Pappy

Michael rues the day when he gets old. He is worried that when he recalls his Vegas trips to unsuspecting strangers that they will think he is senile. “On the first day, we went to Egypt and Medieval Europe. On the second day, we went to Paris and Venice. Watch our for the Pirates, they’re right across the street from Venice. The next day, we saw Simon and Garfunkel at the Green Lion.” Even knowing the true itinerary doesn’t make it sound more sane. Where else in the world can you see all that? It’s still a blurry flurry of light, but if you blink, you’ll miss it. No excuse, Hugh! Get your ass to Vegas!

11/4/2003

Cognitive Dissonance

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:16 am

I’ve heard the Buddhist version: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering: in short the five categories affected by clinging are suffering. I’ve heard the Christian version: If you took your pain, formed it in a shape of a cross, placed it in a pile with the pain of all others, and were given the chance to choose any cross, you would choose your own. I’ve heard it so many times that you would think that I know it by now, but it’s still a concept that I cannot grasp.   Those whole girls
Hurl down words
Run in packs
With bloom to spare
            Suzanne Vega, Those Whole Girls, 1990

I see those whole girls and I want to trade. They are smiling and laughing. They have blonde hair and blonde children. They have tiny giggles and tiny asses. They seem perfect. Even though I know the truth, I still wish for a trade. I try to remember what they had to do to trade places in that Freaky Friday movie. I try to remember what magic they used in that Vice Versa movie with Judge Reinhold. What magic is it, because I could use some right now. I don’t care what Republican problems might be running in their pretty little heads, but whatever they are, they can’t compare. Whatever is troubling that perky nose can’t be as bad as what I’m going through sometimes.

I think they moved out to the suburbs
And now they’re blonde, bland, middle-class Republican wives.
            Everclear, Volvo Driving Soccer Mom, 2002

Cognitive Dissonance is the act of believing two conflicting ideas in your mind at the same time. I learned the concept when I was getting my teaching degree. For example, you could ask a child, “Do rocks float on water?” The child would probably say, “No.” Then you could show her a pumice stone and demonstrate that it can float. For a split second, the child will be in cognitive dissonance. She will believe both concepts: “rocks don’t float” and “I saw a rock that floated.” You can tell she is learning when you ask the question again and she answers, “Some rocks float and some don’t.”

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.             George Orwell, 1984, 1949

I’ve been in cognitive dissonance for an awfully long time now and it’s a painful place to be. I find myself thinking and believing contradictory things like “That bitch’s got it easy” and “She’s in pain. Just look at her.” Both concepts live eagerly in my mind. It doesn’t matter which one comes to mind first. They don’t cancel each other out. Intellectually, I know they should, but they don’t.

‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t know. You will kill me if you do that again. Four, five, six — in all honesty I don’t know.’

‘Better,’ said O’Brien.
              George Orwell, 1984, 1949

The Buddhist philosophy tells me that I should follow the Eightfold Path to ease suffering. Instead of thinking of the ease or pain of others, I need to control my mind and acts in the proper way. An eightfold path is so complicated. I’m like a duck and I can only keep track of a limited number of ducklings. Eight is too many.

Wouldn’t it be good to be in your shoes
Even if it was for just one day.
And wouldn’t it be good if we could wish ourselves away.
            Nik Kershaw, Wouldn’t It Be Good

The Christian philosophy tells me to bear my cross and depend on God to help me carry it. Since I have absolutely no faith in a higher power, I end up just bearing my cross alone in this world. That blonde’s life looks better and better to me and I wonder what it would be like to taste her life for awhile. She’s probably hurting?

11/5/2003

Old Cowboy Winter

Filed under: Living in SLC, UT — Laura Moncur @ 6:05 am

The storm is coming. This morning the sky was blue, but now the clouds are hiding the sun and the small patch of blue is closing in on itself. It feels like fall again. The crispy leaves are falling and spotting the grass below the trees. Some years we get so much snow so quickly that the leaves don’t get a chance to crisp up before they are torn from the trees. That’s winter in Utah.   I am just an old country boy in a big town trying to get along. I have been eating pretty regular and the reason I have been is because I have stayed an old country boy.             Will Rogers

We are the west. This is the state where so many cowboy movies were filmed. Our red rocks of Zion are famous and the area is still used to film desert scenes. Why is it that westerns never show the winter? I’m not talking about the slick westerns like Lonesome Dove. I’m talking the westerns that make the rest of the world think about us. Clint Eastwood and Gary Cooper never fumbled with mittens in a gun fight. When the rest of the world imagines the West, they think of those cowboys.

Does the rest of the world know about Utah winters? When I went to college, we had a student from Great Britain. He was shocked at our winter. I admit that we had an unusually cold winter that year. You could feel the wet air freeze the hairs in your nose that winter. I have to rub my nose just thinking about it now. He didn’t come back to Westminster the next year. I probably shouldn’t blame our winter for that. It was probably our watered down beer; he was British, after all.

Cover a war in a place where you can’t drink beer or talk to a woman?
Hell no!”
Hunter S. Thompson (1939 – )

They have warned us about the storm all week. It’s supposed to be the first snow of the year. It’s supposed to be a big one. The sun just peeked out from the clouds to contradict the weatherman. I think they don’t know anything. Sure, there is a nip in the air. It’s supposed to get colder in the Fall. That doesn’t mean that winter is here already. I think the weathermen are just yes-men for the ski resorts. Snowbird tell the weatherman that he has an offer that he can’t refuse and there suddenly is a big storm planned for today. Park City tells the other weatherman to predict snow and he jumps. I can imagine the owners of the resorts to be like mob bosses. Instead of councilmen, they have weathermen in their pockets. I guess I’m wrong. The sun went back into hiding.

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome. Anne Bradstreet (1612 – 1672), ‘Meditations Divine and Moral,’ 1655 Snow or not, I know that summer is gone. It might not be winter yet, but I do know that my tank tops and short shorts are put away for the season. I am so grateful for the seasons. The summer makes me grateful for the winter and the winter makes me excited for the summer. Bring it on, West Wind! Roll in those clouds! If winter must come, let it come with silver-plated glory.

11/6/2003

Soap and Water

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 3:40 pm

What is it about being in a warm shower that brings me back from the dead? I wake up at the same time every morning without an alarm clock. If I get to bed at the right time, I’m awake the next morning at six am whether I need to work or not. This is the ability of a morning person, an internal clock that snaps my eyes open at the correct time every day.

Soap and water
Take the day from my hands.
            Suzanne Vega, Soap and Water

Open eyes doesn’t necessarily mean that I am ready for the day, however. It means I am conscious enough to put on some clothes or drag myself to the shower. Therein lies the most important decision of my day. If I choose the clothes, I will never enter the land of the living. I will merely be the lifeless corpse of a woman, doomed to wander the day in a haze. If I choose the shower, I am awoken from the zombie spell of the evening before.

So, what is it about the act of showering that brings me out of the haze? Maybe it’s the ritual. Hang up the robe, place the bath mat on the floor, turn on the water, adjust the temperature, step into the shower, and allow the water to cover my hair, my face, my body. I do it all in the same order every morning. Every other day, I put my hair in a shower cap worthy of the funniest sitcom sketch. My hair will dry up and fall out of my head if I wash more often than that. Otherwise, the ritual is the same every morning. If I get mixed up and my ritual is disturbed, I will forget something. It’s guaranteed. Even on the days when I forget the ritual, I still feel refreshed and ready for the day. No, it’s not the ritual that brings me back to life.

Soap and water
Hang my heart on the line.
Scour it down in a wind of sand
Bleach it clean to a vinegar shine
.             Suzanne Vega, Soap and Water

Maybe it’s the spiritual act of cleansing. The soap and water cleanse my body, making it ready for the day. Maybe the act is more than physical. Maybe the soap and water cleanse my soul for the day. On the days when I don’t cleanse my soul, I am still a member of the undead? That’s total crap. If the act of stepping into the shower cleansed my soul, wouldn’t I feel the burden of my past sins and transgressions leave me? Would these errors in judgment still haunt me if my soul was cleansed every day? No, that can’t be it. My daily baptism is not a spiritual one.

The Vulcan inside me is smacking me upside the head right now. The reason that I feel so much more invigorated after a shower can be entirely explained by the difference in body temperature. When I disrobe, I feel cold. When I step into the shower, the warm water increases my body temperature. When I turn off the shower and towel off, the evaporation of the water makes me cold again. Finally, I bundle back up in my terry cloth robe and I feel warm again. That many temperature changes in such a short amount of time is enough to wake anyone from the dead.

Soap and water
wash the year from my life.
Straighten all that is trampled and torn.
            Suzanne Vega, Soap and Water

The Klingon inside me so much wants to believe in cleansing rituals and spirituality. The image of a baptism still hold promise for me, despite my lack of faith in a higher power. The idea that ritual can bring me from the land of dead is a desire for all of us. If only funerals worked in that manner. If only we could perform the ritual perfectly, our loved ones would return to us. If only prayer worked in that manner. If only we could sit quietly, God would appear to speak to us. No matter how much my inner Klingon has prayed, Kahless has never appeared to her.

11/7/2003

Bugs! in 3D

Filed under: General — Laura Moncur @ 9:39 am

I want to write something happy and funny today. I’m not really in a funny and happy mood, but I feel like I’ve been too depressing the last couple of days and really feel like I need to lighten the mood. I have no idea what to say. Lots of funny and happy things happen to me all day. They are what keep me going when I get down.

If debugging is the art of removing bugs, then programming must be the art of inserting them. Unknown

The funniest thing I’ve seen this last week was a billboard advertising an IMAX movie for the Clark Planetarium. Mike read it out loud to me, “Bugs in 3D! Sponsored by Terminix.” I laughed so hard. I thought he had added the sponsorship, but it was true. I had this image of a completely different movie with a sponsorship of Terminix. Instead of the fascinating and scientific look into the microcosmic world of insects, I imagined a shoot ‘em up type of movie instead. That’s the best laugh I’ve had all week.

11/8/2003

Total Lunar Eclipse

Filed under: Personal History — Laura Moncur @ 4:15 am

Tonight we will experience a total lunar eclipse. Check out the Clark Planetarium’s website for the technical data and times. It’s a total lunar eclipse, even if our mountains might hide the moon for part of the time, it’s guaranteed to be spectacular. Of course, this is Utah. Our sky could be completely encrusted with clouds and the Star Party planned at the Planetarium with be a big disappointment to the Astronomy nerds.

Why dost thou gaze upon the sky?
O that I were yon spangled sphere!
Then every star should be an eye,
To wander o’er thy beauties here. Sir Thomas More (1478 – 1535)

A couple of years ago, we had meteor showers in our sky. It was winter and the showers were only at their best at two in the morning. Mike and I bundled up and drank hot chocolate and kept our eyes peeled for about an hour looking for shooting stars. We saw about two or three of them, but after an hour, I was so cold that I just wanted to go back in. It didn’t matter to me that I had only seen a couple of meteors. I was cold and tired and I wanted to go back to bed.

The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape… Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)

The first time I saw a lunar eclipse, we lived at Barrington Park Condominiums. I was excited to see an entire eclipse and had planned for it. The window in my bedroom was the best way to view it. I set myself up on my bed and I sat and I watched. I saw a tiny shadow on the edge of the full moon. I eagerly sat and watched for about an hour, but I must admit that after that, I just wanted to go to sleep. I didn’t care whether I got to see the whole thing or not.

We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds. Anton Chekhov (1860 – 1904), 1897

I didn’t realize how long an eclipse takes. Maybe astronomical pursuits are out of my range of ability. They are sequestered to the evening hours. Maybe Astronomy is for the intellectual who is kept awake by her insights rather than lulled to sleep. I can excel at many things, but staying awake is not one of them. If my eyes automatically open at six in the morning, that means they also automatically close at 10 in the evening. I will leave Astronomy to others and be content to watch stop motion photography.

11/12/2003

Holy Texts (Part One)

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:51 am

I’ve been out of town for over a week. I pre-wrote some weblog entries so that you would have something to read while I was sleeping in hotel rooms, traversing smoky casinos and enjoying the music. I listened to Paul Van Dyk play his greatest works and debut his new album at the nightclub at the Luxor hotel. I listened to Simon and Garfunkel sing together again in a huge coliseum of fans at the MGM Grand hotel. And I listened to the timpani of hotel casino guests enjoying the freedom of Sin City.

The wages of sin are unreported.  - Unknown

I’ve started a new tradition on this trip. In every hotel room, I’ve hidden a dollar in the Gideon Bible. I’m not a believer. I don’t think the Bible is any more important than any other text that has survived for two thousand years. The works of the ancient Egyptians, Confucius, and the Greek philosophers are equally sacred to me. These works of antiquity aren’t provided for solace in hotels, however. The Bible is.

When he left, two books were missing from his bookshelf.  - David Duncan, The Time Machine screenplay, 1960

The first time I saw the movie for The Time Machine, I immediately thought that one of the books would be the Bible. I was a child raised in the Jehovah Witness faith. The idea that the Time Traveler would go to Paradise without the Bible wasn’t even considered. The only question was, “What was the other book he brought?” Now that my faith in God has flown from me along with the Tooth Fairy and Democracy, I am surprised that he only took two books.

What books would you have taken?  - David Duncan, The Time Machine screenplay, 1960

To rebuild the world, what science books would I bring? To survive in Paradise, what texts would I carry? To educate a world of simpletons, what holy writ would I include? Would I even want to bring anything from the past? If he had truly found Paradise and Utopia, would our thoughts just contaminate it? How could I return with only two books? How could I return with any?

All week I have been placing dollar bills in hotel room Bibles. I have opened the book at random, found a quote about gifts, inheritance, charity, chance or money and underlined it. It is no longer a holy text to me, yet I started this tradition. I classify myself as an atheist who struggles with superstition. In a faith that defines itself by its lack of faith, I am crying out for Holy Texts. All I can hear, however, is the clatter of slot machines.

11/13/2003

Holy Texts (Part Two)

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 6:47 am

I was in the ninth grade when the concept was introduced to me. Mr. Godfrey used Illusions, by Richard Bach, to teach us. In Salt Lake City, the primarily Mormon culture didn’t like their fourteen-year-old children taught by Mr. Godfrey. He told their innocent children that there was a world outside of the LDS Temple and that there were holy works outside of the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  None of what the parents were worried about was new to me. I had lost my faith in God two years earlier and I was a lonely atheist among believers.

I noticed something strange about the book. “The pages don’t have numbers on them, Don.” “No,” he said. “You just open it and whatever you need most is there.”  - Richard Bach, Illusions

The Master had a special book. All you had to do was think about your problem, open it up randomly, and your answer would be on that page. I was so jealous of him. I vividly remembered when that was true for me. I had the Bible. If there was a problem in my life, all I had to do was resort to the Bible. All the answers to all my questions were there for me. God could direct me through the Bible. Since I had lost my faith in a higher power, I found that the direction of my life was entirely up to me. That’s damn scary when you’re an adult, much more so when you’re twelve.

“A magic book!” “No. You can do it with any book. You can do it with an old newspaper, if you read carefully enough. Haven’t you done that, hold some problem in your mind, then open any book handy and see what it tells you?”  - Richard Bach, Illusions

Now, Mr. Godfrey wanted me to believe that I cold take any book and find the answers to my problems on a random page. I was a good student: I practiced. My teenaged angst was decided by the random pages. The Yellow Pages, the current sci-fi and the math text book were randomly consulted to solve my young issues. Amazingly, my problems were solved. Since that day, random books and passages have come to me in times of need and they bear my burdens.

I am not superstitious; I have read a heap of books in my time; I am a scholar in my own way.  Though turned seventy, I possess an active memory, and legs to correspond.  You are not to take it, if you please, as the saying of an ignorant man, when I express my opinion that such a book as Robinson Crusoe never was written, and never will be written again.  I have tried that book for years– generally in combination with a pipe of tobacco–and I have found it my friend in need in all the necessities of this mortal life. When my spirits are bad– Robinson Crusoe.  When I want advice– Robinson Crusoe.  In past times when my wife plagued me; in present times when I have had a drop too much– Robinson Crusoe. I have worn out six stout Robinson Crusoes with hard work in my service. On my lady’s last birthday she gave me a seventh.  I took a drop too much on the strength of it; and Robinson Crusoe put me right again. Price four shillings and sixpence, bound in blue, with a picture into the bargain.  - Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone, 1868

Why? How? What the !*@#? How can a logical human being believe this crap? I classify myself as an atheist who struggles with superstition, but this act of consulting random passages is not considered superstitious in my philosophy. The human mind is incredibly good at recognizing patterns. We search them out. We see pictures in clouds and guidance in the Yellow Pages. Evolution carefully selected the humans that were better at recognizing the pattern of the tiger in the grass. The side effect of this is that I can meditate on my problem, open a random book and my mind will find an answer there. Because we can see the tiger in the grass, we can also see angels anywhere.

The circuit is now complete. When I left you, I was but a learner. Now I am the master.  - George Lucas, Star Wars screenplay, 1979

The circuit is now complete. When I spurned the Bible at age twelve, I was but a learner. Now I can return to it as a master instead of a slave. Maybe it didn’t matter which two books the Time Traveler took with him to Paradise. There are only two books in most hotel rooms: The Bible and the Yellow Pages. Both of them have equal ability to inspire and console. Maybe I should have started the tradition of leaving a dollar bill in both.

11/14/2003

Confession of a Security Guard

Filed under: The Confessional — Laura Moncur @ 6:05 am

The Luxor hotel doesn’t have elevators, they have inclinators. Inclinators are kind of like Wonkavators in that they don’t just go up and down. They actually tilt at a thirty-nine degree angle, move up the side of the pyramid and then right themselves at the end of the ride. They were invented specifically for the hotel. The advertising for the hotel brags about them. It makes people curious and they want to ride them.

Of course, you’re not allowed to play on the inclinators. Only hotel guests are allowed to take a ride on them and the Luxor pays security guards to watch them 24 hours a day. Guests must show their hotel room keys to the security guard. It’s a royal pain in the butt for guests because you have to fish in your pocket for the key just to get into the inclinator instead of at the door where it is more logical. If you needed a functional room key in order to call the inclinator, I would have no trouble with that, but there is that person there, waiting for my fingers to find that damn room key.

There is that person there, wanting to tell me a story of his life. I showed him my room key. My hands were full of sushi, chopsticks, edamame, wasabi, and napkins. I fished awkwardly for the key and showed it to him so that I wouldn’t feel like a criminal. Mike wasn’t back from getting his dinner yet and the plan was that I was supposed to wait for him at the inclinator. In retrospect, I should have stood just outside the inclinator to wait for him, but I wasn’t expecting to be called to duty in a Vegas casino. I started the conversation. It was my fault, but I felt like I had to explain to the security guard why I wasn’t going up immediately, “I’m waiting for my husband. He wants a hot dog instead of sushi.” The guard nodded, “This is the place to get both.”

We were quiet for a moment and I thought that I would be able to just wait quietly for Mike, but he spoke again, “Where are you from?” It’s an innocuous enough question. People get asked where they are from all the time without confessions. I shouldn’t fear it, but something about the fact that he started the talking again braced me for the inevitable. “I’m from Salt Lake.” He nodded and asked if I drove. We did. How long did it take me to drive up? About six to seven hours. He was surprised. It usually only took him five. I made an excuse about the weather, not wanting to explain my aversion to committing crimes in a bright green Volkswagen Beetle.

“I love that city. We used to go up there all the time. I haven’t been up since before the Olympics. The freeways were all torn up and you only had two lanes with those wall things on each side.” I agreed about the “Salt Lake Auto-Luge Run” and waited for him to continue. “I usually ski at Alta, but I don’t stay there. It’s way too expensive to stay there.” I nodded thinking about the horrendous price I paid for the room upstairs just so I could have a jacuzzi tub and access to the inclinators. “I used to stay in the Ramada downtown, but now I have a roommate. His sister lives there, so we’re going to be staying with her.” I nodded and made a comment on his thriftiness. “Everything is so expensive there.” I looked at my sushi. I had paid twice what it would have cost me at my favorite place at home. “You can pay twenty dollars for a beer up at the resort.” I nodded thinking about the $13.50 I paid for a margarita at Coyote Ugly at the New York New York casino.

“I started skiing when I was I was about five years old. I would always be saying that I wanted stuff at the resort, but my parents just gave me my own cooler. Every morning we’d pack a cooler of food to eat from all day.” I remembered the cooler that my parents packed when we went to Lagoon. I remembered wishing that we could eat the greasy burgers and fries from the concession stands. If only we weren’t poor, then we could eat the burgers. I found myself wishing for the ham and cheese sandwiches fermented with mayonnaise. Nothing tasted like a sandwich that had aged half a day in a well-iced cooler. No burger or nachos from Lagoon has ever tasted as good as one of those ham and cheese sandwiches with mayo. Both are just as unhealthy, but the sandwiches taste so vividly like Lagoon. That alone may be the reason that Lagoon hasn’t been as enjoyable to me. Now that I have the money to buy the pizza at the stand, Lagoon just doesn’t taste right.

This realization came to me like a flash. To the security guard, I was a polite tourist, listening to his memories of skiing as a child. Within a second, the realization that Lagoon with a cooler is an entirely different trip than Lagoon without a cooler. He continued talking, “This time when we go, I’m stocking up my cooler every day. I’m not going to pay twenty dollars for a beer.” Mike walked up with two tiny cups of ketchup in one hand and a bag that smelled of cheese fries in the other. The security guard pressed the button to call the inclinator. I wished him well with a mind full of ham and cheese sandwiches with mayo that had been aged in a well-iced cooler.

11/15/2003

Vegas with a Cooler

Filed under: Health and Fitness — Laura Moncur @ 5:49 am

Going to Las Vegas with a cooler is a very different trip from going to Las Vegas without one. You can vacation in Vegas very inexpensively. There are $20 hotels with a shorter commute to the big sites than I drive to work every day. There have been times when we were very short on money and had to go to Vegas for a computer convention. We have survived in Vegas for $25 a day including hotel.

Reminds me of my safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days we had to live on nothing but food and water.  - W. C. Fields (1880 – 1946)

We have a nice little device that boils water very quickly. With boiled water, you can make oatmeal, pot noodles, and tea. A cooler can hold bagels and cream cheese. Granola bars hide nicely in my purse for when I’m hungry and we are trapped at the computer show. Vegas with a cooler is a very different trip than Vegas without one.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery. Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870), David Copperfield, 1849

On this last trip, we were there by choice. We had saved up the money to go, so we could eat anywhere. No matter what was suggested, we were able to afford it. We tried the Champagne Brunch at the Mirage. We ate at the food court at New York New York that is supposed to look like Harlem. We had elegant pastries at the Paris Hotel. We had the cheap hot dog at the snack bar in Jean. We ate the moderately enjoyable buffet at the Silverton. Whenever we were hungry, we ate and we didn’t worry about the cost.

Food is the most primitive form of comfort. Sheila Graham

What we should have worried about was the health. I know I overindulged. So many times, I have claimed overindulgence as a right of vacationing, but isn’t taking a vacation about doing something good for yourself? Shouldn’t eating healthy be part of that regime? What is it about taking a vacation that told me I should abuse my body? The security guard’s confession made me think about what Vegas could look like with a cooler.

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. - J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 – 1973)

What if the food in the cooler was better than all the food at the hotels? What if it were healthier? What if it tasted better? What if the cheap hot dog and the fancy pastry had no appeal to me because I knew I had better waiting for me in the car? How would that trip taste if we used the cooler because we wanted to, not because we had to?

You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients. - Julia Child (1912 – )

Well, I think I would keep the bagels and cream cheese. To hell with the oatmeal and the pot noodles, but I think I’d still keep the tea. I would bring fresh fruit. I craved fruit the entire trip and the only things I could find were melons at the buffets and garnishes on the pastries. I could bring apples and tangerines and oranges and every good thing. What about those ham and cheese sandwiches? With the fat free ham and low fat mayo, I could make them healthier. Maybe Vegas could taste as good as Lagoon did when I was a kid.

11/16/2003

So Many New Toys

Filed under: Health and Fitness — Laura Moncur @ 2:21 pm

In case you hadn’t noticed, I recently joined a gym. I keep getting surprised at how nice the facilities are and I am so happy to go there. It’s really like a big playground for adults. There are treadmills, rowing machines, two kinds of stair climbers, two kinds of elliptical trainers, two kinds of exercise bikes and a funny thing that you do with your arms that I don’t even know the name of. There are free weights and weight machines of such variety and quantity that I am intimidated and excited all in one. There is a hot tub and a sauna to relax in after I’m done with exercising.

If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it. - Herodotus (484 BC – 430 BC), The Histories of Herodotus

I feel like the kid that can’t choose between the swings, the slide, the monkey bars or the thing that goes round and round until you puke. I set aside time to go to the gym today and I was so excited to get finished with my routine plans just so that I could go there. I was sitting quietly in my meditation class trying to clear my mind, but all I could think about was which cool thing I would do today.

Remember when exercising was fun? I sure do. I remember learning to ride a bike. I didn’t have a bike, but my grandma said that I could use hers. It was an antique bike with a bright blue frame and white-wall tires. It was too big for me, so I used the curb to get on it. No one ran behind me. No one held it up. I just kept falling and falling until I learned how to stop falling. I have no pleasurable memories of a loving father following behind me, just battle scars on my legs, hands and arms. I did the same the summer I taught myself to ride a bike with no hands. Riding a bike wasn’t about cardiovascular exercise back then. It was about learning and transportation.

Only the curious will learn and only the resolute overcome the obstacles to learning. The quest quotient has always excited me more than the intelligence quotient. - Eugene S. Wilson

I remember wanting to roller skate all night. When my mom would call me in for dinner, I pretended like I couldn’t hear her. I hoped that maybe she would give me just a few more minutes of play time. I remember wanting to roller skate so much that I skated to school in the winter. It had been a freezing winter with little snow and too much fog. I remember worrying about bumping into something in the fog because I was going so fast.

I remember wanting to roller skate to impress the boys. I wanted to go to Skateland West so bad that Chelly and I rode our bikes there. We rode our bikes about fifteen miles to go skating and then rode them home in the dark and the cold. I remember eagerly awaiting my report card to see how many good marks I got. Skateland West would give out three free skate passes for every A, two for every B, and one for every C. I was so excited to earn those passes because it was really expensive for me to pay three dollars to go roller skating and a free pass was like free fun.

People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children. - Bill Watterson (1958 – ), Calvin and Hobbes

Now, here I am. Flushed and happy from a good workout and relaxing soak, I feel like that little girl who had a handful of skate passes. I’m thinking about when I can go back again. When I’m there, it’s hard work and lots of unattractive sweating, but after I’m done, I’m so stoked for the next time I can go. The best part is that I can go whenever I want. I think I’ll try that weird arm thing for my cardio next time. I just hope it doesn’t go round and round until I puke.

11/17/2003

We Girls Can Do Anything

Filed under: Barbies and other favorite toys,Personal History — Laura Moncur @ 2:52 pm

People get their underwear in a bunch sometimes, don’t they? Remember the Barbie that talked and said things like “Math is hard?” People got really riled up with that one. I was an adult at the time and I remember being very angry that the Mattel Corporation would treat our young women with such disrespect. Even to this day, I make fun of the Mattel Corporation by saying the words, “Math is hard” with a bubble-headed girl’s voice.

Guess what? I was wrong. It’s hard to admit it, but I can do it when I need to. I just realized today after reading Hugh Elliot’s weblog entry that I was so wrong. I feel like I need to make a formal apology to Mattel, but there really isn’t a form on their website for that.

A decade after Hugh put his G.I. Joes in the storage box, I was still playing with my Barbies. Back in the seventies, Barbie didn’t work. Barbie was a teen fashion model. She had a boyfriend, Ken and a little sister, Skipper. Kelly hadn’t been born yet and her mom is still M.I.A. (yet still able to give birth to a new baby sister, figure that one out). Barbie was a Super Star and a beach bunny. Malibu Barbie was totally cool because she had a tan lines underneath her bathing suit. They were painted on, and if you took her out swimming too often, they would chip right off. I swear, what kinds of kids test these toys? Malibu Barbie HAS to go swimming!

Anyway, we were talking about why I was wrong. Mattel told me back in 1977 that my only goal as a woman should be to wear pretty clothes, walk gracefully and get a tan. As a child, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass what Mattel told me. Barbie wasn’t a teen fashion model. Barbie was a mom. Barbie was a career woman. Barbie worked in insurance just like my mom did and she made a ton of money. Enough to drive a purple Corvette (I saved all my chore money for weeks just to buy it. It cost eight dollars back then, but that’s another story). Barbie could do anything and she didn’t need Ken to do it either. Ken was great fun to have around, but if he skipped town (or got a bad haircut, damn you, Stacey) he was out of there. No matter what propaganda Mattel fed me, Barbie did exactly what I wanted her to do.

When my sister Stacey was in her Barbie phase, Mattel had finally gotten the picture. Her commercials sang, “We girls can do anything!” I loved that slogan. It meant exactly what “playing with Barbies” was for me. They went from teen fashion model, to “We girls can do anything” to teeter at “Math is hard.” And guess what? All of that didn’t matter because Barbie does what I want her to do, not what the commercials tell me. Apparently, it was the same for Hugh.

11/18/2003

Writing Fiction

Filed under: Musings on Being a Writer — Laura Moncur @ 5:53 am

I realized yesterday that my weblog isn’t something that I would like to read and I’m profoundly bothered by it. I prefer blogs with a deeply spiritual background or that are side-splittingly funny and mine is neither. The same for the fiction that I write. I prefer to read science fiction and every once and awhile a fantasy, mystery or even a religious romance novel will tickle my fancy. Every time I’ve tried to write in any of those genres I’ve gotten bogged down in creating a new world and little has been accomplished.

Fact and fiction are so intermingled in my work that now, looking back on it, I can hardly distinguish one from the other.  - W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up, 1938

If I were to write a semi-autobiographical novel like Somerset Maugham always did, I’m sure that I wouldn’t ever get bogged down in the details of whether lasers or transporters exist, not to mention artificial gravity. No, all those questions are really easy to answer. Yes, lasers exist. We use them to point at things on white boards. No, transporters don’t exist, no matter what IBM wants its investors to think. No, artificial gravity does not exist and since NASA is dying a slow death, I doubt there is even a need for it.

I would sooner a writer were vulgar than mincing; for life is vulgar and it is life he seeks.  - W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up, 1938

I’m much more likely to write a slow and dragging novel set in the real world where lots of emotional things happen and people talk about their feelings. To me, that sounds like a tear-jerking definition of hell that an English teacher would make me read. That’s has been the block for me. If I truly let myself write the fiction that I’m called to write, I wouldn’t want to read the damn book. Just by the blurb on the back, I would categorize it as “chick book” and toss it aside with the others.

I do not write as I want to; I write as I can.  - W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up, 1938

Maybe that’s not important. Maybe I don’t need to want to read the type of fiction that I am able to write. Maybe it’s ok to actually hate the type of fiction that I am called to write. Maybe it’s even ok to hate the actual stories that I tell. Maybe the important thing is that I tell the stories. So what if they don’t speak to me. I’m the writer, not the audience. The only thing that makes a piece of fiction worthwhile and successful is whether it speaks to people. It makes no difference whether it speaks to the author.

11/19/2003

The One Time Calvin Failed Me (Part 1 of 3)

Filed under: Calvin Hardcastle,Personal History — Laura Moncur @ 5:08 am

I forgot to tell you one more story about Calvin. I know I spent more than a week talking about him, but I realized a few weeks ago that I had one more memory that I hadn’t placed in writing. It was the one time that Calvin failed me, although I didn’t recognize it for what it was when it happened. More importantly, it was filed in my head in a different folder. I had placed it in the Sexuality folder instead of the Calvin folder and I really think it was filed correctly, so I’m not planning on changing everything now. I just need to add a photocopy to the Calvin folder. (How I wish my memory really worked like that.)

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It was one of those parties. Calvin and I were the only sober ones there and things had gotten a little out of control. I think it started when my friend announced that she had porn. She always had access to porn. Once again, she was the youngest sister with five older brothers. There wasn’t a time that I can remember when we didn’t have access to porn. Our first exposure to it had been in fifth grade when we sneaked into her oldest brother’s room and found the magazines. I don’t know why she decided to unveil it at that time. I don’t know what was different about this party, but it was quite different because she told everyone that we had access to porn.

 

I’m not talking magazines. I’m not talking full frontal nudity. I’m not even talking about soft core. I’m talking hard core hetero-porn videos with everything you could possibly think of and maybe some things that you couldn’t (I wish I could throw out the electric toothbrush scene in that folder and wipe my mind clean). That evening, the videos were played, rewound and replayed constantly all night.

 

My wits weren’t about me. I hadn’t been drinking, but it was three in the morning and I was getting tired. By that time, all the couples were coupling. The only people left were Calvin, Jerry and me. The videos were still running. Calvin and I were sober, but Jerry was drunk and still drinking. Calvin entertained us by making fun of the porn. There were a lot of things on the screen to make fun of and we laughed together.

 

It had been a normal party for me. No guys had hit on me. I had tried to create some order from the chaos, making sure my friend’s house didn’t get trashed. I had worried all night that we would be busted because the guys had stolen the beer that everyone was drinking from a local convenience store. There had been a lot of drama between the couples and I was feeling a little jealous that I was alone.

 

I was just about to drift off to sleep, safe in the knowledge that nothing bad could happen to me with Calvin there. That’s when it happened. Calvin stood up and said he was going to sleep. Fine by me, I thought, but he walked into one of the empty rooms and shut the door on Jerry and me. I was suddenly wide awake and alone with some big football player that I had never met before the party.

11/20/2003

The One Time Calvin Failed Me (Part 2 of 3)

Filed under: Calvin Hardcastle,Personal History — Laura Moncur @ 5:23 am

It wasn’t like Jerry was a stranger. He had been to many of the parties. I had classified him as pretty but a little dumb. It wasn’t a fair classification. He had just been put into the football player mold. That was all that I knew about him. He was a football player, just like the one that took advantage of the other cheerleader I knew. He was a football player, just like the one that dated my friend. He was a football player, just like all the rest of the perverted football players out there.

Calvin had walked out of the room. I was in shock and wanting to bring him back to us. I could just walk over there and open the door. Jerry was saying something, “When Calvin was here, that was really funny, but now it just seems creepy.” He stood up and turned off the porn. I hadn’t even noticed that it was still playing on the television. I felt unsafe. Jerry and I had been sitting on the loveseat that was right across from the TV while Calvin had been sitting right in front of us on the floor. Calvin had been sitting right there. If he came back, I might be safe.

I stood up and knocked on the door, but Calvin didn’t answer. If only he had left the door open, then I would be safer. I turned around. Jerry was back on the loveseat. I felt trapped. I couldn’t go home. It was three in the morning and my mom would have a fit if I showed up there when I was supposedly just at a sleepover at my friend’s house. There would be many questions from my mom if I just showed up at home at that time. No, the only way out of this was through. I could see that it was going to be a long night.

I sat down on the large couch to the left of Jerry’s loveseat. I hadn’t received enough confessions to recognize it for what it was, but Jerry confessed it all to me. I am not clergy and I could tell you all of the problems that troubled his eighteen-year-old mind, but I won’t. He had had a girlfriend in the past. He had made mistakes. He was thinking about his future. He was scared of screwing it up. He was alone. They are all universal and the details weren’t logged into my journal, so I can’t even remember all of what was confessed to me.

After the confession, I was scared. Some of the things he told me surprised me. I had classified him as a dumb jock, but he had broken that image. I had classified him as an unfeeling pervert, but he was in pain over this girlfriend. Over the course of the confession, he had moved from the loveseat to my couch. By the end of the conversation, he asked me if I wanted to sleep with him. I had been jealous of my friend and all of the other cheerleaders because they were sequestered in rooms with guys, but this wasn’t right. No matter how beautiful he was, I knew it would be wrong. I instinctively knew that it was improper to even touch him after a confession like that.

I told him no and he apologized for asking. He moved away from me to the other side of the large couch. I told him that he didn’t need to apologize, but he shook his head and pointed at me, “I’ve got you all cowering away from me.” I became aware of my body. He was right. I was curled into an upright fetal position at the very edge of the huge couch.

11/21/2003

The One Time Calvin Failed Me (Part 3 of 3)

Filed under: Calvin Hardcastle,Personal History — Laura Moncur @ 5:36 am

My whole life I thought I knew why the guys never hit on me. I had blamed my appearance for the lack of boyfriends. I had convinced myself that I was fat and that was the reason that the guys didn’t want me. At that point, cowering in the corner of the couch, I knew I was wrong. Wrong with a capital “W.”

I had a good looking football player telling me his life story and hoping to get lucky with me, right there on the couch next to me. He was perfectly willing to do whatever I wanted. If he thought I was fat, it wasn’t getting in the way that night. It was that night that I realized that men love women. They love us whether we are fat, thin, ugly or shockingly beautiful. They love us whether we are shy, outgoing, prim or shockingly vulgar. They love us merely because we are women.

Even more importantly, I said no. It wasn’t even a question in my mind. I said no with my body and my words so loudly that he didn’t ask me again. I had convinced myself that if I was thin, I would automatically be a slut. If I were thin, the guys would want to have sex with me, and I wouldn’t be able to say no. I would want to sleep with any guy that was willing to come to my bed. Again, I knew that I was wrong. I had been lying to myself. Here I was in a very private situation with a very eligible football player, and I said no. Not just no, Hell No.

I realized that the guys didn’t hit on me because I didn’t want them to. Just like when I was cowering at the edge of the couch, I told all the guys at the parties that I didn’t want them to even touch me with my actions and maybe even my words. I never got drunk at those parties, which is a huge flashing sign that says, “I’m not going to lose control.” I made it perfectly clear that I didn’t want to be alone with any particular guy by staying in the public areas and never “crashing” in a room all by myself. I had even found a protector that didn’t want me for himself: Calvin.

Speaking of Calvin, I wonder if he truly failed me. Looking back, maybe he thought that he was helping me out. Jerry and I had been laughing at and talking about the porn for at least an hour and maybe he felt like a third wheel.  Maybe he thought that I wanted him to leave so I could finally be alone with Jerry. I don’t know and I never asked him about it. In fact, I could never look Jerry in the eye after that night. It was as if I had seen beneath his skin and found all the tender and painful spots. I was still new to receiving confessions and didn’t know how to continue a friendship after one so vivid and painful. It was something that would take me a long time to learn.

11/22/2003

Unwell

Filed under: The Confessional — Laura Moncur @ 5:22 am

It’s hardest when I receive a confession from a friend who didn’t mean to tell me. When strangers confess their lives to me, it rolls right off my back, but when it’s a close friend, it is much harder. I haven’t gone back through my journals to track who the first confessor was, but Calvin was pretty close to the first. For all I know, adults were confessing their lives to me and I didn’t recognize it for what it was. I have received many difficult confessions, but the worst was a horrible, four-day confession from another close friend of mine that is still unspoken between us to this day.

I am still friends with this person. I want to tell the confession, but it has remained unspoken between us for so long that talking about it even as much as I am right now might shatter the entire facade. He confessed so much that I know things about him that only a lover would know, yet I’ve never been intimate with him in any way. His wife suspects that I have and it hurts like a wound every time I think about it.

I know that I receive these confessions for a reason. Even the strangers who confess what amounts to insignificant things to them, tell me stories that become embedded in my body like broken glass. Sometimes I can remove the shards, but others are difficult to pick out. Eventually my skin grows over the glass, but they are always with me and sometimes I bleed.

I have been bleeding for over sixteen years and I don’t know how to remove his confession from my skin. I received a particularly disturbing confession from an acquaintance almost a year ago that was so similar to my friend’s confession that the wound opened fully. I thought that treating the acquaintance’s confession in the manner that I felt like I should have treated my friend’s confession would heal the old wound, but I’m still bleeding. 

11/23/2003

Atheist

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 6:05 am

The word itself is a void. It defines what I DON”T believe. I guess as an atheist, I get to decide what I DO believe. I believe in the randomness of numbers. I believe that the human mind has inherently evolved the ability to find order in chaos. Furthermore, this order that is formed from the chaos is of particular interest to that mind. What some would call divination, I am more likely to call interpretation. Sometimes two humans who have spent quite a bit of time with each other can interpret the randomness of life in the same manner, causing a belief in omens and other supernatural phenomena.

That is why the occult can scare and tantalize people. Sitting at a table across from a tarot card reader, is really an exercise for your mind to find the tidbits of interest from the plethora of information that is given you in a half hour’s time. Most humans don’t realize how much can be said in the span of thirty minutes, but because I regularly transcribe recordings of meetings, I am fully aware of the huge amount of information that can be passed in that short amount of time. A tarot card reader gives you a large amount of information, and your mind organizes the significant statements and forgets the insignificant ones. You’re scared to death because a complete stranger could give you such good advice about an issue that was never even discussed and a fear and belief in the occult perpetuates. The same could be said for bishop interviews.

My Favorite Methods for Gathering Randomness

The Magic 8 Ball: There is a website that walks you through a dissection of a Magic 8 Ball, which is fairly interesting, but the most important thing I learned from it was that the answers are not particularly even. The distribution of answers is as follows: Positive 50%, Negative 25% and Undecided 25%. I started asking questions in which the answer I want would have to be negative, just so that when I get the answer I want, I can really “believe” it. The importance of this is that I finally realize the answer I want, when before I asked the Magic 8 Ball, I may have been undecided.

Tarot Cards: The pre-assigned meanings attached to Tarot cards provide the human mind with enough room for interpretation of any human condition. I find that it is best just to shuffle up your own deck rather than see someone who reads them for you because that person may not give all the interpretations for the cards that are possible and your mind might need something else for the calming or deciding effect to take place.

The Movement of Birds: This is an old gypsy custom. Assigning meaning to the flight of birds and flocks has been a method of divination for longer than I know. The traditional meaning is birds to your right are “good” and birds to your left are “bad.” Birds that fly from your left to your right indicate a bad situation turning good and vice versa. The beauty of this method of gathering randomness is that flocks of birds rarely fly in sync. There are always a few stragglers left behind on the “good” side that the human mind can notice and find hope in. It’s more about being aware of what your mind notices than about the flight patterns of starlings on a spring morning.

MusicMatch’s Auto-DJ: Since music speaks to me louder than words, I have become particularly attached to this form of divination. MusicMatch is a shareware program that will read music from CD’s and store it in any form you wish on your computer’s hard drive. I have almost every piece of music that I own on my computer’s hard drive, now. The Auto-DJ feature will randomly choose music for me for a user-specified amount of time. I can narrow the choice by stipulating a genre or artist, but I like the joy of letting it choose for me almost completely randomly (sometimes I need to hear Sleigh Ride, even if it’s March, because, to me, it’s a song more about friends and fun than about Christmas). The interpretation comes when I assign meaning to particular songs. Many times, I have found that my mind really needed to hear a particular song or even just a particular line in the lyrics and ignored almost everything else that was chosen. The solace comes from hearing the order that the mind needs in the chaos of the Auto-DJ.

In closing, I want to clarify that I have no belief in the occult or supernatural occurrences. I have a strong and fanatical belief, however, in the ability of the mind to interpret meaning from seemingly meaningless things. I spoke before about how much can be said in a thirty-minute time frame, but there are times when our thoughts run faster in our heads than even speech could express. At these times, it helps to slow down, concentrate on random numbers and be aware of what our minds find significant in this randomness.

11/24/2003

Why The Ten Commandments Make Sense To Me

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 5:25 am
  1.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me: Make up your mind what you believe and stick to it, dammit.
    
  2.  Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image: Don’t put your emotions into symbols. It makes you vulnerable when the symbols are mocked or betrayed.
    
  3.  Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain: I have two words for you, baby: Anger Management
    
  4.  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You need to rest. Recognize that need and the benefits that can be derived from it.
    
  5.  Honor thy father and mother: They gave birth to you and you owe them your life.
    
  6.  Thou shalt not kill: Killing another human being diminishes the tribe. Plus, it would really suck if it happened to you.
    
  7.  Thou shalt not commit adultery: Before there were DNA tests, this made a lot more sense. Now, it’s just a politeness thing.
    
  8.  Thou shalt not steal: This is another example of doing unto others as you would want done to you.
    
  9.  Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor: Lying is harmful to you just as much as it is to those who hear your lie. Living a false life is damaging to your self-esteem and the relationships around you.
    
  10. Thou shalt not covet: Concentrating on what you do not have is detrimental to your happiness. So much of contentment is found by concentrating on what you do have.

This analysis may seem simple and maybe even flippant, but I’ve found that much of morality is natural law rather than imposed law.

11/25/2003

Snuggle Tight, Little Birds

Filed under: General — Laura Moncur @ 11:42 am

Over the summer, my office was visited daily by a small flock of sparrows. They would fly to our parking lot individually, as if they were worried that people would notice if they all flew in together. They would eat something out of the weeds that had grown in the cracks of our parking lot. Under Tom’s truck, he always parks in the same spot, was the best growth of weeds and the little birds would fight each other for the treats that awaited them there.   I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly give them fruit for their songs.  - Joseph Addison (1672 – 1719), ‘The Spectator’

I had to look for them carefully. They usually fed on the weeds for only about a half hour each day. They would fly in, eat whatever it was that tasted good in that dry mess under Tom’s truck and then fly away just as quickly. Every time the lawncare company came, I held my breath, hoping that they would neglect the weeds in the parking lot for one more week so I could still see my little birds.

You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing — that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.  - Richard Feynman (1918 – 1988)

Today, Tom’s truck is gone. He is vacationing for Thanksgiving, along with the rest of the nation. The weeds are still there. They have gathered the crispy dark red leaves from the trees that separate our parking lot from the neighboring business. There is some hint of green, but the birds have long gone. I know these sparrows don’t fly south for the winter. Those fat little birds are still here, but whatever attracted them to that patch of weeds in August is gone and they have no reason to come to me every day.

Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?  - Rose Kennedy (1890 – )

I miss them. Old Cowboy Winter has hit us hard with a biting North Wind and snow of all shapes and sizes. We have already been hit with the big fluffy flakes, the tiny ice pellets that go right through my clothing and feel like microscopic knives on my face, and the mushy slush in between. We’ve had white-out conditions. We’ve had icicles clinging to the bottom of our cars and off the edges of our rain gutter. We’ve had all of it melt with warm South winds. It’s only the end of November and we’ve already had all that the Old Cowboy could throw at us and we’re expecting more.

I don’t know where you hide, but I have a feeling I won’t see you for months. Snuggle tight, little birds.

11/26/2003

Meditating at the Gym

Filed under: Philosophy — Laura Moncur @ 6:10 am

I know it’s weird. How many times have you walked into a gym and seen people sitting in the lotus position, meditating silently? Uh?never. I realize it’s weird. That’s why I find a quiet corner to do it. That’s why I hide behind the pillar or in the dark spinning room. I can understand how strange it may appear.

Why do I do it? I’m new to meditation and I’m not going to go around spouting about how helpful it is. I’m not the type of person who can tell you about all the added benefits of “quiet time.” Meditation is difficult for me. I understand the need for giving my thoughts a rest, but quieting my mind and taking fifteen minutes to think about nothing is incredibly difficult for me. Why would I do it in a noisy gym?

I’ve found meditating in a group to be easier. It’s easier to quiet my mind and it’s easier to feel those elusive moments of calm in a group. I can hear all of you reproach me with a collective, “Duh! Of course it’s easier to meditate while there are a bunch of people meditating around you.” The strange thing is that I find it just as easy when there are a bunch of people exercising around me, thus the gym meditations.

I hide behind the pillar in the cardio room, sitting on one of the mats intended for stretching. Sure, I stretch, but I set my watch for my fifteen minutes and clear my mind while I wait for the chime. I find it so much easier to clear my mind with the white noise of the treadmills and the stair-steppers around me.

I always imagined that people who meditate are in some other realm. I thought that they were asleep, but in a different world than the dream world. It’s not like that at all. Instead of being “out of it” I feel hyper-aware. It’s like that point when I’m trying not to fall asleep and everything seems to be coming at me quickly. Noises are louder. After a few minutes meditating, I can hear the conversations of the weightlifters all the way downstairs, not to mention the breathing of every person on the cardio machines.

I don’t know what it is that makes meditating at the gym better than doing it alone at home. Maybe it’s that “being in the moment” thing. When we are meditating, we are supposed to be in the moment. I spend so much time in fantasy land that I find “living in the moment” really hard to do in my real life. Of course, it’s really easy to do when I’m exercising. All I can do is concentrate on my muscles. Just keep moving, just keep moving, just keep moving. That’s all I can think about when I exercise at the correct level. Maybe that’s it. All of those people are living in the moment more than they probably do the rest of the day. Maybe that’s why some marathon runners call running their religion.

11/27/2003

Thanksgiving

Filed under: Health and Fitness — Laura Moncur @ 9:10 am

It’s not about the turkey. It’s not about the pumpkin pie. It’s not even about being with family. It’s about being thankful.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others. - Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC), ‘Pro Plancio,’ 54 B.C.

You see, every year I worry about this holiday. I have a Thanksgiving at my parents’ home and another to attend at Mike’s parents’ home. How am I supposed to attend two Thanksgiving dinners and not gorge myself on all the good food? It would be fine if I didn’t like any of the Thanksgiving faire, but I love it all. I always feel like this is the only time this year that I will get this food, so I need to eat it while I can.

Plus, I feel like I would insult them if I don’t take at least a little bit of everything. “Don’t you want the candied yams? You only have one bite of them on your plate. Don’t you want more?” This holiday is a nightmare for someone who is trying to eat healthy.

Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy. - Jacques Maritain (1882 – 1973), Reflections on America, 1958

But it was never supposed to be. This is a holiday to express thanks, gratitude and appreciation. Old Cowboy Winter has hit Utah in full force this year. We are entering the dark times, yet we have an abundance of food and a warm house. I’m grateful for that. I am stronger and fitter than I have been in ten years. I have healthy eating and exercise habits. I’m thankful that I have finally learned how to take care of my body properly. I have friends and family that are caring and supportive. I am so appreciative of them that I don’t know how to say it.

It’s a sign of mediocrity when you demonstrate gratitude with moderation. - Roberto Benigni (1952 – ), in Newsweek

That’s what Thanksgiving is about. I’m thankful for the abundance of food, so I will participate in the holiday. I’m thankful for the healthy body I command, so I will eat moderately. I am thankful for the family that has supported me through the hard times, so I will be there for them. This year, Thanksgiving means so much more than just a four day weekend and I intend to celebrate it mindfully.

11/29/2003

Jewel Cases

Filed under: General — Laura Moncur @ 5:29 am

I’ve been ripping all my CDs. It’s not for some nefarious file sharing plan, it’s just so that I can listen to my music on my computer without dragging out a CD and fussing with it. MusicMatch will let me Auto DJ my music and it’s better than any radio station in the world.

I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music.  - George Eliot (1819 – 1880)

In addition to the process of systematically reading all my music into the computer, I’m transferring my CD’s into a book. For years, I’ve had shelves of CDs glistening on overstocked shelves, announcing to the world how much I like music. It used to be that people would look over the shelf and pull out a CD to listen to while they visited, but that rarely happens anymore.

My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.  - Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)

I don’t know when things changed. Maybe when music became so readily available on the Internet, the focus of music listening changed from the CD rack to the computer hard drive. Instead of looking at CDs to see what would be good for a spin, it would be a question of looking at people’s computers. No one has ever asked to look at my computer to see what I have there, though. I don’t know. Maybe music isn’t as cool as it was for those few years when MTV was king.

Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water bath is to the body.  - Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809 – 1894)

A by-product of condensing my CD collection into four binder books is a huge pile of CD jewel cases. I have been just as systematically boxing them away for storage. I don’t know why I can’t bring myself to throw them away, but I really feel like they should be saved. It’s not like I want to sell my CDs and I need to have the original boxes. I really don’t know why I don’t want to throw them away. I realize the value of the CD is lodged in my computer, but there’s something about the pretty paper and shiny box. Maybe it’s the packrat in me. Rats love shiny things.

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