Now That's An Engineering Project!

When we went to Arizona last year, my intrepid companion and I crossed Hoover Dam.  It’s not an experience I care to repeat any time soon.  Lots of traffic funneled through an itty-bitty road sucks mightily.  But considering we weren’t getting anywhere anyway, we pulled over to snap some pictures and ogle the Hoover Bridge, which was under construction and promised to someday make the trip less onerous.  It wasn’t very close to completion, and in fact it was difficult to tell just what it was and how it was going to come together, as you can see from this photo Cujo shot:

A few days ago, @Perrykid put a link up on Twitter that dropped my jaw.  Looks like they’re close to finishing the thing, and now it begins to make sense:

I need to call my daddy.  About the most impressive thing I can say about this is, “Ooo!  Big…”  He’s an engineer, so I’m sure he can expound on the awesomeness of the design.

The sad part is, once they’ve finished it, the drive over Hoover Dam will be no more.  They will no longer allow traffic over the dam itself.  So I guess we were lucky to go when a person could still drive one of the most impressive dams in the United States.

Funny.  Didn’t appreciate it at the time… now I find myself wishing I had enough vacation left to fight the traffic just once more, with feeling.

Now That's An Engineering Project!

I Probably Require Medical Attention

Far too many years ago, I was in a Mexican cantina (continuing my) drinking after my first Circus Mexicus.  Stevie, then the Peacemakers’ lead guitarist, was sitting a few tables away.  We were not yet drunk enough to approach him and engage in appropriate worship.  And then our chance seemed to have passed, as he got up to leave.  But on his way out, he stopped by the table, thanked us for coming to the show, and shook our hands.

Necessary hygiene forced me to actually wash that hand the following day, but it was a close-run thing.

Fast forward a couple of years, many Peacemakers shows later, and picture me staggering toward the exit of a Flagstaff bar after yet another tequila-drenched show.  Stevie emerged from a side door, saw me, exclaimed, “Hey – you were in Mexico!” and gave me a full-body hug.

Necessary hygiene forced me to bathe within the next few days, but it was a close-run thing.

Fast forward to a May in Mexico.  A few months before, having shed my early aversion to tattoos, I had gotten myself inked with the Peacemakers logo, and now no shit, here I was in JJ’s Cantina, meeting Roger Clyne in person and learning that he did, in fact, approve of my choice in art.  I believe it was the alcohol that allowed me to remain conscious.  Otherwise, I should probably have required an ambulance crew to remove me from the premises after having swooned.  The coda to this is that when I saw him over a year later at the CD release party for No More Beautiful World, he studied my face for a moment, started mumbling about cantinas and tattoos, and then remembered my name.  What prevented me from needing paramedics at that time, I’m not sure, but I do remember the room blurring a bit round the edges.

So yes, I have met actual rock stars, and been recognized by them, and so I know precisely how it feels to actually be recognized as a distinct entity rather than an amorphous blob fitting the description of “yet another fan.”  This necessary context should help you understand why I was revisited by this feeling just this evening, when I perused the comments on this thread.  And this on top of PZ responding to my pathetic pleas on Twitter and then linking to ye olde humble blog.  To me, PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson are rock stars, all right?  They are the Stevie and Roger of the blogging world.

There are only three responses appropriate to the occasion.  One is to pass right out, but it seems I come from a line of females not prone to fainting no matter the provocation.  The second is to give a somewhat-restrained “SQUEE!” and say, “Thank you!”

The third is to place your tongue firmly in your cheek, and enact the relevant scene from Wayne’s World:

I know I’m not the only admirer of the above celebrities who’s been treated as more than an interchangeable unit by them.  So there’s just a few things to say: Thank you for recognizing us as more than amorphous blobs.  Thank you for inspiring us.  And thank you for providing Wayne’s World-worthy moments.

I Probably Require Medical Attention

Tears for Strangers

You know, the last thing I expected was a little jolt when I found out Michael Jackson died. I wasn’t a fan, didn’t like his music, and certainly didn’t like the man. But I can’t deny that it felt like there was suddenly a strange empty space in the world. A rather small one for me, huge for others. News of his death actually came close to crashing cell phone networks everywhere as people called or texted each other the news. A friend of a friend cried for three hours.

We get awfully close to people we don’t know.

Psychologists occasionally try to explain our tears for strangers. I didn’t find many research papers in my desultory search through the intertoobz, but found some quotes in various and sundry articles relating to other celeb deaths that attempt to shed some light:

Attempting to explain the phenomenon, clinical psychologist Fiona Cathcart says it is partly down to today’s less community-minded society.

“People overtake hearses these days,” she says, the point being that in modern communities, neighbours do not invest time in getting to know each other.

Instead, it is the rich and famous; the faces on television and in celebrity-focused magazines that command our attention.

“We know more about the details of their lives. The clothes they wear, their ambitions, where they last went on holiday than we do of the family next door.”

Yes, but, the same kind of mourning goes on in tight-knit communities, too. My old neighborhood in Flagstaff was about as intimate as it gets, positively incestuous at times, and yet we still chocked up at the deaths of strangers. Having friends I knew like family didn’t keep me from getting seriously emotionally involved with even fictional people. So we’re going to have to do better than “It’s because we’re all strangers” pap. Anyone else?

“People want to be close to major events, no matter how tragic,” said Stuart Fischoff, senior editor of the Journal of Media Psychology. “They want to feel like they are participating. They want to create that memory of ‘I was there when.’ People say, ‘I’m a fan and this is how I show my concern for him.'”

Eh. Don’t know about your mileage, but that doesn’t resonate for me. Some people I know are like that. Others are just about the opposite. And that doesn’t explain why a really good author can leave you sobbing your poor little heart out over somebody who never actually existed.

Part of it’s the knowing. Get to know somebody well enough, even if it’s not a two-way street, and you start to care. We can’t help that – we’re human. And whether it’s a celebrity or a great character, those people we’ve come to know give us something in turn for the time we bestow on them. They entertain us, sometimes enlighten us; they keep us company, help us dream, let us experience worlds we’re otherwise excluded from. We develop something of a relationship that has real meaning. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of symbols, or history – I may not even like Michael Jackson, but I did the Moonwalk with everyone else, and he was a part of my childhood. It’s tough to see pieces of your past go.

Sometimes, the tears come from what we know we’ll miss out on. Take Carl Sagan, whose death still chokes me up at times. He was a brilliant science popularizer whose books and teevee programs many of us adored, so is it any wonder we miss him? What else could he have done, had he not died so soon?

Some shrinks think it’s mostly the “could’a happened to any of us” factor, too:

Dr Oliver James, whose book Britain on the Couch examines psychological changes in the nation’s character since the 1950s, says Diana’s troubled life in some ways mirrored the difficult experiences of normal people.

Sure. And we want to see them succeed, survive and flourish, because that offers us some vicarious comfort. Not to mention, we were pulling for them. We really did care.

I know some people question that – can you really care for a stranger? Of course you can. Not in the same way you’d care for family or close friends, usually, but it’s a genuine caring nonetheless. Humans are like that.

And in some cases, perhaps, it’s a coping mechanism, a chance to get it right the second time, or practice for the inevitable:

Mourning the death of a celebrity retriggers suppressed feelings of loss for an actual loved one, said professor Sherri McCarthy, a psychologist and a grief counselor at Northern Arizona University.

“People are vulnerable because these events retrigger memories of losing someone else. If an individual has unresolved, suppressed feeling of grief they may use this opportunity to express those feelings. If a child didn’t grieve a parent properly, they can displace that grief on someone in the media.”

Probably all of the above speculations have some grain of truth, to varied degrees for varied people. But as a writer and a human being, I do think this is the paramount factor:

As Arthur Koestler put it: “Statistics don’t bleed; it is the detail which counts.”

The more detail we have, the more we’re able to care: the more we care, the more those strangers’ deaths affect us. Think of Neda, who’s become the symbol of Iran’s brutal repression of political dissenters. Others have been killed just as gruesomely – at least 25 are dead – but she’s the one who stands out. And part of that is because of the detail. The graphic images of her death, the few details of her young life, combine to turn statistics into a person we find it easy to care about, a memory we can rally round, an inspiration.

And the people who have inspired us deserve a tear or two whether or not we’ve ever had them over for tea, don’t you think?

Tears for Strangers

Somebody Bring Me a Chainsaw

Tree Porn

There’s only one time of year when deforestation starts looking really fucking tempting. That’s when every tree in the forest is having an orgy.

They’ve been at it for weeks now. All I want to do is breathe again. Somebody bring me a chainsaw. A really fucking big chainsaw. And lots of fuel.

What’s that you say?

Pollution would mean asthma 365 instead of 30?


You got lucky, trees.

Somebody Bring Me a Chainsaw

Words and Music

When Simon & Garfunkel songs get lodged in my head, they’re usually songs like “The Sound of Silence” or “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” possibly “Mrs. Robinson” or “The Boxer.” They’re one of the bands my dad and I used to listen to together. Stuff like this makes you realize the ol’ dad is kinda cool after all. And excellent musical taste, when you ignore the country music.

“Richard Cory” is one of his favorites. It was one of my first hints that he actually liked poetry. It doesn’t get lodged in my brain nearly often enough:

Inspired by NP.

Words and Music

One o' Those Days

So I get in to work, and before I can settle in, my supervisor comes over. How would I like to rep support, he sez. D’oh, shit.

Cuz when you’re rep support, you get to take supervisor calls. Some people ask for a supervisor because they need one. Others ask because they don’t want to troubleshoot. And, of course, I end up with one that doesn’t want to explain to anyone what the problem is, but magically wants it solved.

Ten minutes after I start my first stint as rep support, half of the damned country goes down. “Why don’t you take point on this one?” they sez.

And of course it’s one of those issues that doesn’t have any pattern at all aside from the geographical location. Crap in a hat.

And all the time, people think I’m somehow magically smarter because hey, I’m wandering around answering questions.

Needless to say, I fell behind in my political reading and ended up feeling like I’d been acting as a stunt double all day, when all I’d shown up on set to do was deliver coffee. Yet, inexplicably, people seem to think I’d done all right, and should be allowed to do this again.

Still, I have to admit… it was a blast.

One o' Those Days

My Cat Can't Even Be Bothered to Laugh

So I’m still getting used to where things are. Like, y’know, the sofa. This is important to know when you’re sitting on the floor with your back to it, and you whip round to get up without paying attention to small details like how close the sofa is to your face. And when I misjudge such matters and slam into it, causing the whole sofa to shiver, what does the cat do? Continues to sleep, inches away, as if nothing interesting ever happened.

Ah, well. What else does one expect from a feline whose food bowl is full?

My Cat Can't Even Be Bothered to Laugh

The Perils of Playing Suzie Homemaker

I’m blogging whilst wounded tonight, my darlings. A word to the wise: when you’re scrubbing the glass from a picture frame, don’t take it for granted that the edges are dull like all the glass in your other picture frames. Luckily, it’s merely a flesh wound. Well, wounds.

Speaking of pictures, I ordered some:

That first is one I’ve wanted for eight years. The second is a new discovery. And yes, I’m a total LOTR addict.

Sometime soon, I’m going to be shopping Pike Place Market for some Chinese and Japanese landscape prints. I’ve got lotsa wall space to play with, and lotsa things I’ve wanted for a long time without having anywhere to put them.

This means, too, that I’ll be buying some prints from my old friend Michael Smith-Sardior. He’s got some phenomenal photos – go check out his site. I must, absolutely must, have that one of Wupatki. That’s outrageously wonderful.

You’ll be glad to know most of my settling in is done. All I have to do is pick up the bookcase for the mythology books, hang the bedroom curtains (darkness at last!), put up the last of my decorative stuff, and hang a few more bits and pieces of art. This means more substantial blogging coming up. Thanks for bearing with me through the chaos.

The Perils of Playing Suzie Homemaker

Watching Teevee

I spent most of today at home, cleaning and arranging decorative shit, hanging decorative shit, and trying to get curtains to hang right on the first try. All of this stuff is dreadfully exciting. So exciting that I felt the need to watch more teevee than I have in two years.

It’s been… odd.

There was a program on about a dinosaur find in the Gobi that should crush any IDiotic argument about the lack of transitional fossils. There’s a ton of them in that dig, and it’s just one small dig from one small period of Earth’s history. They found a precursor to the T-Rex, for fuck’s sake. Oh, and no signs of humans riding it.

Then there was something about a dinosaur mummy that I didn’t pay enough attention to, but recorded for future perusal.

I saw a katana split a speeding bullet in half, and the blade didn’t even get nicked. That was absolutely awesome.

Judge shows aren’t running out of litigants. And they’re still just one step above Jerry Springer.

The Atacama Desert gets one millimeter of rain per year, on average. That wasn’t surprising. What shocked me was that the Mojave gets less rain than the Sahara. Yet it has more plants. Go figure.

On the one hand, I’m filled with facts and images that will someday prove useful in my spelunking of the blogosphere and my writing. On the other hand, it’s all pretty shallow, dumbed-down stuff. I much prefer the science blogs or a good book. But since you can’t read easily while running about drilling holes in the wall, this is a nice way to hang your curtains and have your science, too.

The floor is open. Opinions? Favorite programs? General gripes and complaints about the vapidity of teevee? Have at.

Watching Teevee

How I Feel Today: Moving Edition

It’s that time in the moving process when, upon being faced with yet another box to unpack, you either want to do this:

Or this:

No store seems to carry the two-shelf bookcases I wanted for the bedroom. I can’t get the phone jacks to work. And the new super-awesome shower caddy I bought doesn’t fit. Wah.

However, some of the books are unpacked. The vast majority of the walk-in closet has been turned into an office extension. My so-called wardrobe is weeping softly to itself on one rod, which is just as it should be. A few more days, and I’ll be able to return to full-time blogging, fiction writing, and tech supporting. Suzie Homemaker can enter happy retirement. Life shall be wonderful.

Or so I tell myself in order to avoid following in the footsteps of the above cats.

How I Feel Today: Moving Edition