Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lessons learned on a Road Trip...

Recently I took a road trip to Dallas, Texas for a job interview.  It was an amazing trip, sort of one of my hikes on the trails around here, but on a bigger scale.  Now, granted, I would much rather see the scenery of this great land by foot, but since I haven't won the lottery yet (and won't, since I don't play), I saw the short, quick version.  Absolutely magnificent, and the lessons I learned while doing it are well worth mentioning.

Never take "Not Exactly."

And that's not just on Rental Cars.  The only thing that non-brand names are better and more
satisfying are the store brand jars of jelly.  And mayonnaise.  But not rental cars.  I understand that there's not an option sometimes, and cheaper is the only way to go.  Turns out, this time, it was definitely not cheaper.  I chose SixT Auto Rental (it's a European thing) because the online quotes were much cheaper than the more recognizable brands.  Turns out... that's because the other costs weren't even on the website... they added them later...

The additional fees made the rental the same price as those of the other national rentals, whose prices were clearly stated on their websites.  Also, the additional $250 deposit was not stated at all at the website.  Finally, the employees at the return/pick up lot were friendly, but not particularly professional, with one of the workers saying that the car they had picked out for me was one that she was going to use later.  The driver that brought the cleaned car to me stepped out of the vehicle eating a bag of cheetos, with all that orange dust on his hands.  Not at all what a customer wants to see.  The car was fine, as was the return process itself afterwards.  I still don't know how the deposit situation shook out, as the invoice said nothing about it, and the additional $100 I had to pay will have to come out of that, since the credit card I used only had what I thought I was actually paying on it.  Next time, I will not go with "Not Exactly."

Then, when I got to the motel (I used Super 8), the very kind front desk person informed me that the credit card I used wouldn't work.  So I pulled out my debit card.... it wouldn't work either :O (that's me making the big Macaulay Culkin shocked face!) Out of money in a big city 1000 miles away, and at Midnight.  So I call my brother (1:00 AM Eastern) and woke him up and explained the problem.  Fortunately, he was able to re-reserve the room and I walked into a musty, smoke-filled (it was not supposed to be smoked in) room which I cleared out by turning the AC on.  Unfortunately, the AC went into the curtain which blew out when I turned the air on.  And there was no way of keeping the curtain from doing that.  So I used, for once in my life, the Gideon's Bible to trap the curtain against the window (I'm going to Hell, I know). I went to sleep using my internal alarm clock (which always works) knowing that I'd probably have danishes and maybe even eggs in the breakfast room that was right next door to my room.  Next morning, I find cold cereal, pancake batter, and packaged cinnamon rolls.  I just took a pastry and went back to my room.

AudioBooks Rock!!!

By the time I reached Birmingham (after a wonderful breakfast buffet at the Shoney's in Anniston (everyone stop there on the way out on 20, keep the place in business!), my music had failed me, and I was feeling my eyes unfocus and me getting droopy.  So, I decided, that wasn't going to work, and I popped in the 1st CD of David Weber's Off Armageddon Reef I stayed awake throughout the rest of my trip, all the rest of the 1,721 miles.  I never thought that Audiobooks would keep me awake more than singing at the top of my lungs to my favorite songs, but it absolutely delivers.  It's a completely different part of the brain, and I could easily "read" while driving, keeping alert and focusing on the road while my inner "eye" focused on the images being formed in my head.  It kept the people chained to the cave wall busy while the real person traveled topside (Plato).

Book Review: Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber

The book itself is the start of a series that takes place on a island-covered world, post human destruction by a formidable, but slow, alien race.  David Weber constructs an entire sociological structure, religion, economy, everything, and while some people probably are going to criticize Weber for page after page of describing the tenets of The Church of God Awaiting, I found it fascinating. Pausing the plot to build a world makes the best books, in my mind.  Some of the books I've loved, I'd rather get rid of the plot entirely. See Neal Stephenson's Ananthem where the plot basically gets in the way of amazing philosophical dialogue. When I travel back to Dallas to begin my new job, I will put the sequel into my mp3 player and will stay awake the whole time.

Everyone! Go to Braums!

It has the best everything... fries, burgers, ice cream... because it's all fresh.  They only exist within a 300 mile radius of Tuttle, Oklahoma.  I won't deny that being in the "Braums Zone" had some influence on taking the job in Dallas.  And the food was as superb as I remember.  My friend C., whose house got flattened in the Moore tornado, is the head of Public Relations for Braums, which makes me insanely jealous, and is so ironic since her main love is training and running marathons across the country.  The nearest one is about 5 minutes from Brookhaven College, which is where I'll be working as the Assistant Manager of the Bookstore.

Dallas has it together!

The transportation system in Dallas is complex, and while things are constantly under construction, they have a plan to better the transportation around the city. The HOV lanes are actually on bridges above the interstates, and they have their own exits and such.  The buses run everywhere throughout the city, and passes are affordable (especially if you take into account gas prices nowadays).  With my apartment being next to various stores, I won't have to drive much of anywhere except 5 minutes to work, so it will save on gas, and if I want to go someplace, I can hop on the bus system and travel anywhere.  Or drive out to the lakes, the parks, or to any number of places in Texas and Oklahoma where my friends and family are living.  The Lakehouse my grandmother used to own is only 1.5 hours north, on the Lake of the Arbuckles.
Vicksburg, MS over the Mississippi River.

I'm so excited to be taking this new path in my life.  Everybody wish me luck, and I'll blog again on from the Lone Star State.  Farewell Georgia (which isn't true, it's only a 12 hour drive), and Hello Texas!!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Letting It Go

"Emotional Attachment to Inanimate Objects." It's what I've said recently about my mom's always keeping stuff.  And it's often, as I'm sorting through everything, that I'm asking myself "Why did she keep this?" It's sad, it really is, that all the material goods that she worked her whole life for, and now, I have to get rid of a lot of it because I'm moving to Dallas, Texas to an apartment and a really good job.  It's taught me many things, going through everything, about the way we see the things in our lives, and how, when it all comes down to it, we really only need a microscopic amount of the things we accumulate.  Also, when you think about it, the "sentimental value" that we place in some things just isn't there, no matter how strongly we think otherwise.

An example... a brown ceramic cup that sat in my dad's bathroom back in Oklahoma City.  It reminds me of that bathroom, and thus, of my father in the days when his health was better and our lives were better.  It reminds me of the days I talk about in the poem I published some years ago.  It was, at some point, broken and put back together, and so there are mended cracks in it.  We've kept it all this time, and I found it in a cabinet way up high in the kitchen, along with all the other mugs and plastic cups that we'd accumulated over the years.  Did it have sentimental value to my mother? Of course it did, as she found on QVC the brown dotted Temptations line and bought a set of it because it was identical to the pattern of that cup (and other objects in the bathroom).  Does it have "sentimental"
value for me? Well, yes, but there's a difference.  I don't have the complex emotions that my mother had, it being something that her husband owned, and let's face it, my memories of my father weren't as wonderful as her's was.  Then I got to thinking... we have everything in that bathroom someplace in this house.  Among them is a combination of nuts and bolts and nails, welded together by my father to resemble a man sitting on the toilet.  It was also in his bathroom, and it reflected the humor and skill that he had all throughout his life.  That has much more sentimental attachment to me, while the cup, broken and now useless, doesn't. So... I threw the cup away.  

It reminds me of constructing a Magic: The Gathering deck.  That sounds odd, I know. But there's so many great MTG cards with such great abilities when played, and there are thousands of them... so you make a deck, and if you just start putting cards in the deck, it could easily wind up to be 100 cards or more, as there's no limit on how many you can put into it.  But too many cards, and it's impossible to draw any one card during the game. It makes the deck unwieldy, just as too many things kept makes a move or a house unwieldy.  Thus you take the deck, spread it out across the floor, and start weeding out stuff.  My friend John did this to his decks, and the editing process becomes really hard.  You have to think logically about what X card does, especially with Y and Z in the deck already. The deck needs to be around 60 cards, with Land cards and everything, so only the essential cards have to be in there.  While my apartment isn't going to be "that" small, the idea is the same. Without a storage unit (which we're thinking about), it will be hard to keep everything that has sentimental value, so I have to keep what is essential, and logically think about everything spread on the floor, and weed out things that are duplicates or unneeded. 

So now I'm sitting on the floor, trying to sort everything out, with boxes labeled Garage Sale, Goodwill, Trash, Keep... and I realize how much work all that actually is.  I say this because Letting Go should be a relaxing thing.  And it is, I guess, if I had months to do it.  But I don't, for various reasons, the first of which is because I'm taking that job in Dallas. So it's sometimes stressful and depressing, as I'm sure it is for most people who have to go through the belongings of the people they loved.  The problem is, I have all my stuff to go through as well, and do the same thing to it.  I guess it's better to do it now than to let other people do after I'm gone.

The lesson to be learned in all of this is that God, in His infinite wisdom, teaches us these lessons.  It sort of answers the question about "bad things happening to good people."  After my interview, I went to Houston (Orange, TX, actually) to visit my cousin there, and to spend the night.   She was in a rental house because on Christmas Eve last year, while I was at the hospital with my mother, my cousin's house caught on fire, and most of her belongings were ruined.  Upon talking with her two sons, they exclaimed, "Well, at least you won't have to go through all of it."  It was a hidden blessing, they realized, because "Letting It Go," is a way of understanding that all those things were but physical representations of the memories inside your own mind.  As another friend told me, the things that we hold on to, as "keepsake" items, won't mean anything to us when we are old and senile. When we're gone, those things may or may not mean anything to our loved ones.  Then we have simply burdened them with the combined material goods amassed during our lifetime.  It's not fair to them, and we should be able to pick out very specific keepsake items that remind us of any one memory or person, and keep that one thing, not hundreds of items with the same memory.  Then we can travel through this world lighter.

I realize that the implications of this reach into sensitive areas.  For instance, what of books that I've already read?  They are but representations of the texts inside them.  Shouldn't I get rid of them, too? The lesson isn't always learned that quickly, and we will always have those things we cling to.  For me, they are books.  For my mother, it was the clothing she wore to whatever event she had gone to. I think Letting It Go, mainly for lightening our mass on this Earth, is a very good thing to do.  And in the future, whenever that "collectible" comes calling, and the "stuff" in my life drags me down, I have to understand that they are simply material representations of mental thoughts.  I do not need to look at those things to see what's in my mind.  I do not need to pick the daffodil in order to reflect on it in the bliss of solitude.  I simply remember it.  We cannot force the memory onto an object in some desperate attempt to make it eternal.  The idol loses it's significance once we pass away. We should tell our memories to those we love, and leave pictures (the only keepsake with the ability to store memories), and let our own actions create memories in others. The mass of stuff will not carry that memory for us, beyond the grave.