In the Dark (aka: Hiding From the Black Mirror)

Quick! Come inside and close the door. Yes, I know it’s dark in here. No no — don’t touch that light switch! Here, sit close to me, and I’ll light a few candles. Better?

Why are we whispering? Well, it’s a complicated story. It all began about two weeks ago, when I discovered this television show on Netflix. It’s called…here, I’ll write it down for you:

BLACK MIRROR

black-mirror-logo

Shhh…don’t say it out loud! Are you nuts? They’ll hear you!

Oh, now I’m being paranoid? Well, you would be, too, if you’d seen the horrors I saw. Every single episode. All four seasons. I can’t believe I made it through alive.

White Bear

How do I explain Black Mirror? Well, it’s so real. And yet, somehow, not real. Imagine our everyday human lives and social experiences becoming so intertwined with technology, that we become dependent on it. Imagine technology determining where you will work, what neighborhood you will live in, who your friends will be. Imagine parents following their children’s every step via an app. Or having the ability to record every memory, every moment of your life, and being forced to recall those moments for other people. Imagine someone stealing your DNA, then using it create a digital copy of you. Imagine being spied on by an organized group of hackers, who then blackmail you into committing atrocious acts while they watch.

Entire History of You

That is the world of Black Mirror. Or is the the real world, as reflected by Black Mirror?

What’s that? You want to watch Black Mirror, too? Have you learned nothing from this conversation? Well, okay. It’s available for your Netflix bingeing pleasure. But here’s a tip: don’t try to watch it all at once. A couple of episodes at one time are enough to leave you disturbed and anxious. Also, feel free to watch it out of order.

Hang the DJ

What’s that? Which episodes were my favorites? Tough question. Here’s my Top 10 ranked list, from best to worst.

  1. Hang the DJ
  2. USS Callister
  3. Nosedive
  4. White Bear
  5. Shut Up and Dance
  6. Be Right Back
  7. San Junipero
  8. Metalhead
  9. Arkangel
  10. The Entire History of You

Ack! What are you doing? Put away that iPad! If you’re going to watch Black Mirror, then you’ll have to do it somewhere else. This is now a technology-free zone. Yes, I’m serious. No cell phones, no tablets, no Alexa, no IoT devices of any kind allowed here in my safe space. Got it?

Oh, it’s just a TV show, you say. It’s not real. None of those things could ever happen in real life.

*Unplugs you*

I think I’ll read a book now…

 

 

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Letters I Will Never Send (aka: Life in the Desert)

2017 Goals

Well, I did it. On the very last day of 2017, I have managed to accomplished the one and only tangible goal I set for the year. What was that goal, you ask? It was to read 55 books. Yay, me!

I know. Big whoop.

That is exactly how I feel about meeting my goal. Meh. Whatevs. Had I failed, had I only managed to read 54 books, or even 40 — gasp — would it have made any difference? No, not at all. 55 was just some random number I came up with in order to participate in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. It was fun, I guess, to see if I could do it, but also kind of pointless. Who cares whether I read 55 books? What matters more is whether I read anything of value, anything noteworthy, anything lasting.

Reflections & Lessons Learned

I didn’t set any other goals during 2017. Most of my life was about maintenance. Maintain my consistent good efforts in my career. Maintain my weight. Maintain my regular fitness routine. Maintain my family and home.

I also had unwritten, less-defined social goals. Go out of my way to talk more with people at my workplace. Attend one or two meetup events per month in order to get to know other people, and maybe try a few new social things. The idea was to break out of this social desert I’ve been existing in for the past 6-7 years. Maybe even make a friend or two.

But then I did something really stupid. Something that took an incredible amount of courage to try, but was still stupid. I gave dating a try. After all, I had been divorced for a few years. I’m still fairly young and attractive, a great person, and fairly interesting, so why not?

Unfortunately, it went too well. I spent the summer dating the man of my dreams. He was ideal for me, in every possible way. We had so much in common and got along beautifully. We were even compatible in bed — something I had assumed would not happen in my lifetime. But Mr. Right did not feel that I was right for him, and he moved on. I can’t blame him for that. He has every right to seek the woman who is right for him.

And that was the end of the dating experiment. Because after you’ve met your ideal partner, well, there’s nowhere else to go but downhill, into Settlesville. I already spent 17 years being unhappily married to someone I had settled for. I have zero interest in repeating that history.

What did I learn from that failure? I learned that I can’t handle losing friends. Because that is what he had become to me. Strip away the romantic stuff, the kissing and flirting and sex, which I can live happily without, and we had developed such a good friendship. And then…nothing. Another abandoned friendship. The inevitable fate of every single close friendship I have ever formed. And as usual, not my decision.

The pain of losing a close friend is the sharpest, most intense pain I have ever experienced. It hurts worse than natural childbirth. It is harder than divorce. It is as deep as grief. The only solution that makes sense to me, the only way to keep it from happening yet again, is to never form close friendships with anyone ever again. Not in a romantic or platonic sense. The end result, the rejection and abandonment, is far too high a price to pay.

Luckily, I have had many years to practice being my own good friend. I’m pretty good company, I must say. I’m interesting, and kind, and funny, and I have great taste in food, music, and movies. Not to mention books. This year, I plan to take myself out on more solo hikes, to a concert or two, and maybe, just maybe to a live sporting event. All activities that I have been avoiding, saving up to do when I finally have a person or two to share my life with. Well, no more. I have waited long enough.

I still very much miss the people I once called my good friends. I think about them often. I still miss Mr. Right, too. I write to him weekly — letters about my life, wondering about his, sharing jokes I know he’d laugh at, all the things I wish I could share with him. Letters I will never send. Letters I pretend he’ll read, because the only way I know how to cope with the leaving is to pretend that they have all stayed in my life. That they are still my friends. That they still care.

2018 Goals

I have no idea what my goals are. I have no current actual, tangible goals. I have ideas, like traveling with my kids, volunteering in my community, writing stories, and paying off debts I inherited in the divorce. There’s also the usual maintenance stuff. But until I have written these down along with a clear objective and a timeline, I hesitate to call them goals.

I have no more relationship goals or dreams of any kind.

Hey, I know! Maybe this year, I’ll set a goal of reading 75 books. Why not? I have the free time. And just think of all of those books waiting to be read. And if I fail? Well, then I end the year with a few less literary notches on my belt. No pain, no big loss. I’ll drink to that — Cheers!

Cozy Còsagach and Hygge Happiness

Some of us are just better off barefoot.

A coworker of mine didn’t buy this. For Christmas, she gave me not one, but two pairs of warm, fuzzy slipper socks. I love the heck out of slipper socks! So comfy, and that fits well with my philosophy of hygge. (More on that later).

Sadly, it took less than three days before I was down to a single, mate-less slipper sock, its partner and buddies nowhere to be found. I’m sure they wound up in the secret place to which all sockmates vanish, and are drinking and dancing the night away. At a sock-hop, no doubt. My feet, as usual, remain bare.

But no worries. Socks are not required to live the hygge life.

Oh silly Jupiter Girl, says my inner snob. Hygge is soooo 2016. We’re all about còsagach now.

Ok fine. Whatever. Danish hygge, Gaelic còsagach, the idea is the same. Get cozy.

Hygge Defined

I am all about coziness in our family’s home. There is nothing better than to come in after a day in a cold, loud, and hectic world, and be surrounded by warmth, family, and good food. Thick, hearty soups and chowders. Soft sweaters. A crackling blaze in the fireplace (for those of you with fireplaces).

My family loves nothing better on a chill winter’s day than to curl up with soft blankets and throws on the couch and read books, or watch a TV show, or just converse with each other while scented candles glow across the room. Throw in some steaming mugs of earl grey, or perhaps some rich, sweet cocoa, and you have just defined our version of hygge. Or còsagach. No matter what you name it, it means the same thing. Home.

No socks required.

OR (a Poem)

OR

I sometimes wonder who is strongest:

those whose transparent hearts

throb in rhythm with every thought

passions paraded like petticoats

worn on the outside

sadness like cascades

spilling over rounded hills

or

those who long ago learned to staunch

the flow of blood

sit in waiting behind closed doors

and stiff smiles

smothering hope

that  someone, someday, will

pick the lock?

Then I wonder which takes more courage:

to learn, after being scalded once

by the fire

to avoid the kitchen

choosing to see deepest longing

as a lure –

the iced gingerbread that called

Hansel and Gretel

to their doom

or

To leap from one frying pan

to the next

wearing the pain

like medals

always facing the heat one more time

just one more time

to chase

a reward

like the greyhound chases the rabbit?

Donut Holes (aka: Running at a Walk Pace)

CIM Start Line

Yesterday, I participated in a marathon for the first time ever. No, not a Netflix marathon. It was the California International Marathon  , a popular race where runners from around the globe came to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon, or the US Marathon Championship, or the Olympic trials, or the $20,000 first place prize (I wish). The race begins in Folsom (think gold country, Sierra Nevada foothills). Then it heads downhill, winds through my suburban neighborhood, and ends in front of the California State Capitol. 26.2 very long, exhausting miles.

Okay, fine, fine…I did not participate as a runner. I participated as a volunteer, handing out thousands of water bottles at the finish line. My thirteen year-old son was a volunteer, too. My sixteen year-old daughter was also a volunteer. But she was a volunteer runner. I didn’t even know that such a thing existed. She and some friends from her high school cross-country team signed up to be sag runners, who purposely run at the slowest possible pace in order to encourage the marathoners who are lagging at the rear.

Their plan was to run the first half of the marathon, then head home. But get this — halfway through the race, my daughter sends me a text: Hey mom, we’ve decided to run the whole thing!

That’s right. Those little girls ran the entire California International Marathon — on a whim.

marathon runners

Okay, well, they sort of ran it. Mostly, they ran so slowly, it was practically a walking pace. And occasionally, they walked at a walking pace, too. They also sang songs, talked, and called out words of encouragement to the many runners they came across. Runners who had trained hard to meet their goal of finishing a marathon. Runners who were exhausted and discouraged, but were perked up by the little group of slow-running cheerleaders with their huge grins and a bag of donut holes.

I kid you not. Donut holes. Which they munched every few miles or so, and even passed out to fellow runners to lift their spirits. Like marathon Christmas elves.

Meanwhile, back at the finish line, my son and I got to be among the first faces to greet the thousands of marathon runners as they staggered zombie-like past the finish line, hugging their medals and temporary hoodie jackets.

“Thanks so much,” they often said as they took a water bottle from our table. “Thanks for volunteering.”

“We’re happy to help,” I responded back. And it’s true. I was seeing the end result of people who had just accomplished what, for them, was a dream. Maybe it was to become an Olympic athlete or national champion. Maybe it was to run ten marathons in ten years, or to race side by side with a loved one, or a best friend. Or maybe, their huge goal, the one they’d worked so hard and so long for, was simply to finish. Nothing made me happier than to be in a role where I could see and help those people to achieve their dream.

CIM 35th Sacramento Capitol

My son felt the same way. And so did my daughter. She and her friends, the courageous little group of shepherds, finally brought their flock home to the finish line, where I was waiting with huge hugs…and water bottles. I was so proud of both my kids! For being such enthusiastic people helpers, for finishing an actual marathon (in two very different ways), and for literally going the extra mile.

 

Meh. (aka: My Real-Life Dancing Adventure)

Last week, I tried something I have never done during my adult life. I went out dancing at a dance club. Until then, I had only been dancing at a couple of weddings many years ago, and once during a conference. But to dance at an actual club, filled with pulsing lights and artificial fog and dozens of people gyrating to beats played by a DJ? Wow – cool! Now my real life could imitate the lives of my Sims.

Except not.

Because when my Sims go out dancing, their fun bar always maxes out. But mine did not. In fact, the whole experience turned out to be kinda…meh.

night club dancing

Even while in the middle of dancing with a group of strangers from Meetup, I couldn’t figure out why I was’t having much fun. The club was lovely. And there were the pulsing lights and the gyrating bodies and the DJ. Okay, there was no fog emitter, but maybe that was a good thing. And the DJ kept playing an awful lot of 90s hip-hop music, which wasn’t horrible, but more contemporary hits might have helped. I should have been having a blast. After all, I love dancing. I adore it. Especially during Zumba class or roller skating or in my living room with an audience of zero.

So what was missing?

And then the answer occurred to me: alcohol.

alcoholic drinks

See, all around me, the other adults, all of whom appeared to be having a great time, were also drinking. Some had already had a few drinks before hitting the dance floor. Some still had drinks in their hands. Me? Well, I had a beer.

Believe it or not, I had actually planned to try a real, honest-to-goodness grownup drink at this shindig. I even took an Uber, just in case, so that I wouldn’t have to drive home. As soon as I arrived at the club, I took a deep breath, mustered my courage, and marched up to the bartender.

“What will you have?” he asked.

“Um…” I froze. I had absolutely no idea what to order. I’ve heard of popular mixed drinks, like margaritas, mojitos, and cosmopolitans, but truth be told, I have zero clue what’s even in these drinks or whether I’d like them. The bartender started suggesting flavored vodkas, which sounded even more intimidating. What happened to those colorful drink menus with the pictures you always see at restaurants? I had stepped into a strange world where everybody else just knows these things. Everyone but me.

adults drinking mixed drinks

“I’ll just take a beer,” I squeaked. My go-to alcoholic drink, besides wine. And even then, I only ever drink one. The thought of getting intoxicated, of losing control and balance and common sense, especially among total strangers, is way too much.

When I confessed to my Meetup acquaintances that I was thinking of leaving early, their answer confirmed my thoughts. “Drink more booze!” Seriously? I thought? Is that the only way that everyone else can actually have fun, by drinking a bunch of alcohol? Is that what I’ve been missing out on all these years? Is this why my old friends, all conservative Christians, didn’t ever go dancing, because they also frowned upon drinking?

I refused to order another beer. But I did force myself to stay for another hour and focus on trying to have a good time. And I kind of did. But my personal fun bar was far from maxed out. That is, until I went home and had a nice cup of earl grey tea and played pretend dance club with my Sims. Sometimes, the real world just doesn’t live up to the fantasy.

 

 

Reality TV Bites (aka: Stick to the Script)

Facing reality just isn’t my thing.

I have no clue who the Kardashians are, or why I would want to keep up with them. I don’t know what The Voice sounds like. And no, I have never watched a single episode of The Bachelor.

It’s one of those sad realities that makes it challenging to jump into conversations with other women. At my work, many of the men seem to stand around the water cooler, discussing basketball or guns. Many of the women seem to either gossip about real-life people, or real-life reality shows.

Me? I stay in my cubicle, doing work.

When people find out what a reality-show virgin I am, the shocked reactions are always the same. “What? You’ve never seen [fill-in-the-blank cooking show battle]? You didn’t watch that amazing stunt on America’s Most Talented Circus Performers? You didn’t see the train wrecked lives of those poor kids on Teen Mom, Season 3? You really missed out.”

To be fair, I have seen some reality shows. Back when they were a newfangled concept, I checked out MTV’s The Real World. I caught the early seasons of Survivor and The Amazing Race. I even watched Kelly beat Justin after Simon Cowell dashed the hopes of hundreds of recording artist wannabes. I have also seen The Truman Show a half dozen times. So I know what reality shows are all about. But I also know that many of these shows are staged, with produced events to spice up the shows, and turn them into a larger-than-life version of reality. So really, it would be accurate to call them unreality shows.

Although they can be somewhat entertaining, I reject reality TV shows for one sole reason: lack of writers. Call it nuts, but I happen to value good writing. You take some interesting characters, weave them into a fascinating plot, toss in some witty humor and carefully-crafted drama, then tie it all together with a satisfying ending. Voila! You have just created a story. And story is what it’s all about. A romance story. A suspenseful story. A horror story. Something to keep me on my toes, intrigued, involved in the lives of the characters. But not just an slapped-together slice of life from some ordinary wealthy person and their first-world problems. Reality shows are like the IKEA of TV programs. A true story is a work of art, taking the realities of life, then reproducing them in an extraordinary way.

Who needs reality when you can put on Olivia Pope’s white hat for an hour, or leap from an airplane into an enemy state with Sidney Bristow, or save countless lives with Meredith Gray? Why watch real-life people battle over who can build a fancier cupcake, when you can watch imaginary characters transform into superheroes, evil dictators, spaceship captains, or time-travelers? Stick to the script!

Don’t we already get enough reality in our everyday lives? We survive. We do our jobs and try not to get fired. We are dance moms and soccer dads. We try to contribute the winningest dish to the potluck. We have people following us around with cameras (Oh wait…is that just me?). Reality is enough of a reality. You can keep those other so-called realities on some other channel. I’d rather watch a story.