Sunday, September 06, 2015

Ten Years

I Don't Think About You Any More
by Mark Riggs

Except for when I hear something you've said
Repeated by some younger person who
Heard it spill off the play list in my head
(And of course that voice in there was you),
I don't think about you any more.

Except for when I'm making idle talk
With strangers I could easily pass by
Instead of just continuing my walk
(And in my head I know the reason why),
I don't think about you any more.

Except for when I make a young child grin
With ten piggies, and animals at fair,
And fore-bumper down to a chopping chin,
(And gitchee-goos that happen under there),
I don't think about you any more.

Except for when I laugh instead of cry,
Or kill someone with kindness when I'm mad,
Or consider the source so I know why,
(And "This world and one more," when I am sad),
I don't think about you any more.

Except for when I see the color red,
Except for when I sing some songs your way,
Except for in my dreams where you're not dead,
Except for first and last thoughts of the day,
I don't think about you any more.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

So This Happened...

Ruth was driving the car. We were exiting from Highway 61 onto Highway 19 (southbound) just outside of New London. For a second I was reminded how it looked similar to turning from Public Street to Mason Street whenever we were heading home via the 4-way-stop in Center back in my high school days. I couldn't really describe why I was reminded by one of the other. I just sort of flashed onto it for a second.

I looked up through the sunroof and had a very strong feeling of déjà vu. I said to Ruth, "I've dreamt this before."

It was a lie. I knew it was a lie as soon as I said it, but I also knew that what I thought was going to happen next would really happen. I looked up through the sunroof again and said, "There's some sort of ship above those clouds."

Ruth simply replied, "Really?" I could tell by her tone and the way she simply kept driving that she didn't believe me.

I didn't know what to say back, so I just continued while staring up through the sunroof, "Yes, and the ship is going to start making some strange weather happen any second now."

I glanced at my sister and wasn't even sure if she was listening or had just fallen into some sort of road hypnotism from our long drive. I was leaning toward the latter, because she didn't seem to notice the two funnel clouds forming ahead of us.

"See," I said, "the weather is turning now."

As I watched, more funnel clouds appeared, and starting joining up to form a giant geometric figure. Not quite a dodecahedron, but something approaching it.

The clouds had moved down to the level of the ground, forming a sort of foggy mist just above the road. Ruth wasn't saying much, but she seemed to know when the curves were coming up. Most people who grew up in Center and had to make the trip to Hannibal often would probably have the feeling they could drive Highway 19 blindfolded, but I wouldn't recommend it.

I watched the strange geometric tornado phenomenon for a minute or so, getting extremely worried while my sister remained calm. A few of the funnels passed very near us. Since Ruth didn't seem to be too worried, I focused on the strange shape, suddenly remembering at one point to get my camera out and start taking pictures. After taking a few I lowered the camera from my eye and looked at the road in front of us again. What I saw and the fact I could no longer hear the wheels on the highway led me to get Ruth's attention. "You realize we're not actually on the road, right? One of those tornadoes must have picked us up. We may not even be in Ralls County right now."

I decided to use my camera's video function, because the odds of our landing safely seemed pretty slim. Ruth calmly asked what I thought we should do. I was reminded of the time she cut her hand while washing dishes, pulled the hand with a deep gash out of the water, and said something very calm like, "Well, that's not good." But I wasn't sure those were the exact words. To be fair, I had multiple tornadoes to worry about, so the exact words weren't so important at the time.

So I used the same tone of voice to say, "Well, I guess we use this recording to tell people we love that we love them, and whatever happens when we land happens."

Before we got very far in our recording, I could feel us descending, but slowly, like the air was supporting us from below. We landed on a blacktop somewhere, wheels still turning. Ruth slowed the car down as we approached a fenced-in area--fenced by the sort of wire fence in diamond shapes. A line of cars was slowly entering the fenced-in area as two men stood on either side of the large gate.

The line was moving slowly, so I got out to see if I could help. There was a car parked in the way of the line of cars, perpendicular to the cars trying to get in. I got in it and backed it up down a very thin stretch of land right beside the gate. The remaining cars were able to enter the gate, and people started heading toward the shelters nearby. As we closed the gate, I looked up at the strange geometric tornado, and again said, "There is a ship above the clouds. I know it."

The tornadoes calmed to nothing, and a perfectly circular hole opened up in the clouds. I opened up to a night sky, even though it was the middle of the day. At first I thought the moon was directly in the middle of this circle, but I soon realized it was the ship, farther away than it was when it started the tornadoes.

While we stared at it, what looked like a beam of grey light fell from it, but as it fell it looked more and more like the "pipes" screensaver from back in the day (but made of of grey pipes with cubes for junction boxes). The figure it made was similar to the figures the tornadoes made, but much more complex, and seeming to possibly involve more than just the normal set of dimensions.

Suddenly large and boxy "people" started exiting the strange geometric figure. Several people behind the fence turned and ran, afraid we were all in danger. I wasn't so sure. I didn't feel it was perfectly safe, but at the same time there wasn't a sign of hostility.

As I watched these figures--which reminded me of the Minecraft person, really--I don't play the game, but I've seen the "person" in it. As I was telling people to calm down, that maybe these things were not a threat to us, the boxy "creatures" opened up, and people not that dissimilar to human beings walked out.

They were taller than us, and wore strange clothes, but beyond that they were pretty much human-looking. They looked like very tall humans in these sort-of toga-like things.

We invited them in to the fenced-in area, and went to something that was more like an arena than a shelter--so I assumed the place had more than one purpose. One of them got up on a platform in the middle of the stadium and started speaking over a loudspeaker of some sort. They were explaining to us how they had travelled across the galaxy to come here. They wanted to help us. They were peaceful and benevolent. I was half listening to the speaker and walking around among the aliens to try to learn more about them. I mostly wanted to know for sure if they could be trusted, or if they were here to harm us and were just good liars.

I met one of the creatures, and he seemed nice enough. I think he thought I was odd because I kept staring at his eyes. They were normal enough, but just a slightly off color. But it wasn't the oddness I was looking at, but more like I was trying to see into his mind or soul to get a sense as to whether or not they could be trusted. He smiled the entire time, and backed up what was being said over the loudspeaker.

The second alien I met had two heads. They both seemed amiable enough, and smiled as we talked. I discussed how I assumed they had larger brains than us, since they were a bit taller than most humans, and that maybe this helped them figure out space travel. Of course, even as I said it I felt like a doofy middle-schooler trying to fit in with the high-school crowd. But he (they?) laughed, and grabbed me by the shoulders in a friendly way.

I remember grabbing his/their elbows to sort of communicate friendship as well, and thinking how they felt so similar to human arms--and I was reminded of my mom's arms for some reason. Probably because of this, I decided they could probably be trusted.

Still having no idea where we had landed from our tornado flight, but figuring I was still somewhere in Missouri, I wasn't surprised to run into Marissa and Hadleigh shortly after my meeting with the two-headed alien. I had not seen either of them for a while, and Hadleigh wanted to spend some time with me, so Marissa showed me where they were sitting, and said I could bring her back after we hung out for a while.

I got Hadleigh seated, and was going to sit down next to her when she decided to go exploring behind and under the seats. This arena was built somewhat like the bleachers at Mark Twain High, but slightly more complicated in that there were levels under the seats. They were like crawlspaces that allowed you to climb between levels as well as go back and forth under the seats.

So of course I chased her around, making a game of it. But I could tell her laughter was irritating the aliens in some way. I quickly climbed down a couple of levels to get her, and as we were coming back up toward the regular seat level, I could tell the mood had changed.

Humans were exiting the arena in a slightly-panicked way. I looked up to the ledge where the two-headed alien had been standing, and I saw people leaving by climbing up to that ledge and moving along toward an exit. The two-headed alien was still smiling at me, but it seemed strained or simply not genuine. I lifted Hadleigh up to the ledge and told her I would be climbing up right behind her.

However, it was a bit high for me to climb up, and as I was considering whether or not to go up the steps a bit and try there, I was over-run by the stream of people trying to get out. They seemed afraid of something, but I wasn't sure what. But the panic was catching, and I wasn't immune.

I fell down to the seats again, and before I could turn around and look up and tell Hadleigh I'd be right there, I saw her fall--apparently from the ledge--to a row or two behind me. In a panic, I climbed up one row and looked below those seats to see if she was okay.

It wasn't her. It was a poorly-made doll designed to look like her. It was made of old material and wasn't even stuffed. I felt maybe they had used some sort of high-tech illusion to get me to believe it was her. I was going to turn up to the two-headed alien and ask why he'd tried to trick me, but before I could I heard the alien voice on the loudspeaker: "We will not allow children on our planet!"

I started to yell for Hadleigh, because I knew they had to be taking her somewhere, and if she could hear me she would yell back. But my voice came out as a croak. My throat was suddenly dry, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get more than a hoarse "Hadleigh..." to come from my mouth.

I was reminded of the feeling of that alien's elbow's again, because they had felt so real, and so present. My voice felt exactly that same way: real and present.

I cried out for her again as I woke up, my throat dry, my voice only a whisper.

So I got a drink and went back to sleep and had a dream about being back in high school and playing on a baseball team. The end.

Friday, July 10, 2015

I've Been Wanting to Re-Read This for Years

So today I finally got my own copy of the autobiography Minority Report by Elmer Rice (published by William Heinemann Ltd, 1963). He's one of my favorite playwrights (my senior performance recital at Jewell was "The Adding Machine" (and I wish I could say I did it justice)). And if you want an older play that is very relevant to the way things are today, I suggest reading "We The People". And a huge dream of mine would be to direct (or at least design a set for) "Street Scene".

Anyway, years ago--seriously, like at least a few yearsvbefore I turned 30--I read this autobiography. I came across something that struck me as so true and so important that I wished I wasn't reading a book checked out from the library, but instead was reading something I could keep and refer to forever. Unfortunately this was before lots of interwebness and the ability to make cool signage that would withstand the wear and tear of time within a pauper's budget.

I kept meaning to check it out from a library again, and make a copy of this section in particular, but I didn't. Mostly because I kept thinking I'd find it somewhere on the internet. And, alas, I also didn't memorize it, and I for sure didn't live by it.

Here it is, the entirety of section 4 of chapter XXII (the final chapter in the book):

"Even more essential to a man's conduct of life than his political and religious beliefs is his personal code of behavior. Here again I put the emphasis upon the personal because of my deep distrust of authoritarian moral prescriptions that are presumed to have universal applicability. Chief among these is the collection of precepts known as The Ten Commandments, generally ascribed to Moses, an obscure but articulate leader of antiquity; his attribution of their authorship to the Deity must surely be regarded as figurative. Though after twenty-five centuries they are still accepted by millions as a complete guide to correct living, it seems to me that even the most cursory examination of the Commandments reveals their inadequacy.

"Only two of the ten offer affirmative recommendations: the injunctions to Sabbath observance and to filial piety. The remaining eight merely state what is nonpermissible. Three of them deal with polytheism, idolatry and blasphemy, the remaining five with murder, adultery, theft, perjury or malicious gossip, and covetousness. In the main, it is a penal rather than a moral code. A man might rigorously obey all the Commandments and yet be a tyrant and a bully, a stingy and cruel husband, a neglectful father, a hardfisted employer, an ill-tempered neighbor, a loudmouthed opinionated boor, a social snob, a provocative chauvinist, a religious bigot and a malignant racist: in short, a despicable human being.

"Certainly I am not alone in believing that viability requires a more fecund soil than this stony bed of bleak negations. Or, to shift the metaphor, if the traffic is to move ahead there must be more green lights than red. I have never before tried to codify the principles of behavior that seem to me aids to constructive living. But since so many others have engaged in this innocent diversion, perhaps I too may be permitted to do so, preserving, of course, the classical decadal pattern. It should be noted that my code contains no absolutes, but merely suggests choices, and that since it is entirely personal, I am not proposing it for universal adoption. Here, then, is my decalogue:

"It is better to live than to die;
to love than to hate;
to create than to destroy;
to do something than to do nothing;
to be truthful than to lie;
to question than to accept;
to be strong than to be weak;
to hope than to despair;
to venture than to fear;
to be free than to be bound.

"However obvious and commonplace these tenets may seem, I can say unhesitatingly that if, throughout my life, I had used them as touchstones for my every thought, word and deed, I would be a better man than I am."
I have to give Mr. Rice a huge "Amen" on that last bit especially.

And maybe I should get back to writing more often.

Friday, February 13, 2015

I'm Just Sad and Confused

This was going to be a long status update on FaceBook. I opted to put it here, since it was long (and I wanted to add to it) and I haven't posted here in over a year.

So I had a friend when I lived in L.A. who I never really saw on the FaceBooks whenever I'd do a search for him. (I'd see lots of folks who shared his name, however.) And I occasionally would do a Google search for him, to no avail. I last communicated with him not long after I left L.A., just to get his address to mail him a phone he loaned me.

Apparently I haven't done one of those searches in the past 5 years or so. Today I hit the jackpot, but didn't win anything other than confusion and sadness. Apparently he had moved back across the pond.

And back in June of 2010 he killed his ex, his very young son, and himself. That's the theory deemed most likely, anyway.

He was my proofreader at the business card place where I worked the evening shift. He came to pick me up on his motorcycle when my car broke down very late at night on my way home from work (which would put the time at about 12:30 in the morning)--and it wasn't the least frightening of neighborhoods. (In the end, he didn't need to pick me up. A homeless man jerry-rigged my car so it would work, and this friend followed me home, pulling ahead of me and holding off traffic at red lights because if I stopped at a light my car would shut off, maybe for good.) He gave me rides to work on that same motorcycle while my car was being worked on, and he found a mechanic that would give me a good deal on a new engine when it turned out that's what my car needed.

He thought I smoked a lot of weed because of the way my mind worked. And he didn't get my joke about the sticker on his motorcycle helmet meaning he was a fan of "The Panda" (a wrestler I made up) in the World Wrestling Federation. And when I said I wanted "spicy giblets" from the gas station in downtown L.A. where people at work would occasionally send someone to get dinner, he thought I meant a chicken meal, and that's what he brought me. (I meant spicy trail mix, which I called "spicy giblets" for no particular reason. In his defense, it was an honest mistake.)

One time he told me I'd use odd expressions (which I'd learned my mom while I was growing up) that he'd heard while growing up in England (the northern part, if I'm remembering correctly).

I went to parties at his house. He and I saw "The Nightmare Before Christmas" in Culver City... and he tried to beat the parking garage bar as it lowered, and it hit me in my (thankfully) helmet-covered head. I really wish we had been able to keep in touch. He introduced me to Weetabix and pesto. He introduced me to "the stairs" in Santa Monica. He loaned me a bike to use to get there.

Sad and confused. That's what I am. Sad and confused.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

That's E-nerd-tainment! (with apologies to Howard Dietz... and probably the rest of the universe)

A meme with a Battlestar theme
Or a cat wearing the Sorting Hat
Or a pic of the Hulk as St. Nick
That's e-nerd-tainment!

Fan fic, be it sloppy or slick
Be it short, or the babbling sort
Or the kind where you wish you were blind
That's e-nerd-tainment!

The plots involve 'bots, or a giant T-rex,
Takei-making-ray beamed out from Planet X,
Intergalactical sex,
Where a guy's his own grandfather, and causes timeline bother.

One scene posted at 2:13:
Aeryn Sun's wearing just three balloons
Quarter past, googol hits it's amassed
That's e-nerd-tainment!

It might be a fight about Leia and Luke
On boards seen by hoards, whether "meant to" or fluke
Both sides posted by the same kook
The title of the thread: "Worf, and How He Links to Red Dwarf"

Cosplay everywhere on display
Hot or cool, made by genius or fool
Hip hooray! Nerds are having their day!
The e-world's a stage, a stage for a world of e-nerd-tainment!

(c) 2014 Mark Travis Riggs

Edited 1/12/14 to change "Picard" to "the Hulk" and "2:15: The whole world's scene that scene" to "Quarter past, googol hits it's amassed" and "A gay" to "Takei". (The first and last because I wanted to include more "nerd" stuff, and the middle because I didn't like the original line much at all. Truth be told, I'm not a huge fan of the replacement. But it's always a work in progress, so who knows what tomorrow will bring?)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

We Interrupt This Lengthy Blog Silence for the Following Moment of Simple Beauty

The sky above my house is very clear right now. I was just in the back yard, and I looked up to see a truly beautiful sight. All the leaves have vacated the trees in my yard and the surrounding ones, and the sky is so clear I can see more stars than I'm used to seeing in the city.

The view above me had a background of that deep-blue black which is the color of the darkest urban night sky possible without a power outage. The rest was either dark lines of naked trees or bright dots of light that started the journey here long before I was even thought of.

The stars were not only above the trees, but they were shining through them--since the leaves have all given up all of their summer duties, including the minor one of making stars have to work so much harder to accomplish this. I've only ever been able to pick out few constellations, but bits of Orion were recognizable through one tree (at least they were once I saw the rest of him poking out above the tree). I was struck by the simplicity of this beautiful scene.

It made me wish I had a better camera. It made me wish I knew how to take paints or charcoal or pencils or markers and re-create the memory of that sight.

But mostly it made me stand there longer than I probably should have, given the cold.

Monday, July 22, 2013

So I Won't Be Teaching This Year...

I've already messaged most of my co-workers via The Facebooks, although I haven't responded to many--maybe not any--of the responses yet, as my emotions about it are somewhat complicated.

But there it is: I'm not teaching next year.

I have been granted the opportunity to fulfill one of my dreams. (I have way too many dreams for me to accomplish in one life, which is probably a major reason why I don't pursue any of them that much... I should probably work on that.)

I'm going to miss a lot about teaching, and a lot about Eastgate, but this is a chance to do something that I've been dreaming about doing since... well, at least since I started teaching, but probably since I was in high school. It's scary, because pursuing a dream always is, but it's also very exciting.

The short version is: I'm helping to write an Algebra textbook. The long version is: too long for me to type right now. There aren't any huge fun secrets that are keeping me from explaining. I'm just lazy and in a bit of a hurry. Just know that it's a bit more involved than writing a textbook, and I'll say more about it in future posts, I'm sure.

Yes, it's been over a year since I've written. I apologize. I know the world has been a much more bleak place without my typo-ridden and poorly-punctuated stream-of-apparent-total-lack-of-consciousness ramblings. I shall endeavor to post more frequently.

But back on topic: one of the things I'm going to miss the most at Eastgate is having so many friends in one place. All the teachers, instructional assistants, cafeteria workers, custodial workers, administrative assistants, the library staff, and whatever co-workers I'm inadvertently leaving off here... I'm going to miss working with them and seeing them daily.

I'm also going to miss the kids. While a middle-school-aged child can go from zero to bouncing off the walls then back down below zero to "moody and sullen" and so forth in the course of the first five minutes of class, I have still enjoyed teaching them, attempting to teach them, and generally entertaining them when nothing else seemed to be happening.

However, all of the sad aspects are balanced by the joy I'm feeling about trying something I've always wanted to do.

Plus, I won't have to get up as early every day!