Sunday, January 4, 2015

Cause We're Young and We're Reckless: Is Taylor Swift's Addictive Hit "Blank Space" Creating a Culture of Destructive and Disposable Relationships?

“[W]e don’t want to take female empowerment to the place of male degradation.”
- Kelly Cutrone America’s Next Top Model Season 21 Episode 8

                I am a fan of pop music. It also isn’t a secret that most pop music sounds the same. Have you ever listened to “Roar” by Katy Perry and “Brave” by Sara Bareilles back to back? It is basically the same song with almost identical messages; regardless, both are songs I know all of the words to. Recently, Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” was playing on the radio as my boyfriend and I were going home after a Saturday evening brew. He cringed as I turned it up and proceeded to sing all of the words for the remainder of the song. I clicked on one of the other four preset pop stations and happened on the song again. Please note that this drive is maybe eight minutes long and the song is just shy of four, so this is torture for my very patient man. This motivated me to inquire into his dislike of this pop gem. So I asked, Why? His response was what I expected. It is too pop, too main stream, and pointless. This song like many other pop culture tween phenomenon has its place in shaping young people. This is my rebuttal of its importance.

It is not a secret that “Blank Space” is a huge hit. It is number one on iTunes and the Billboard top 100. It is also not too hard to figure out Miss Swift’s motivation for writing the hit: media coverage of her high profile and somewhat fleeting relationships (“Ain't it funny rumors fly / And I know you heard about me.” 0:34). The potentially hazardous part of this is the message combined with popularity and the impressionable demographic that it reaches.

“Cause darling I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream”:  Being Yourself Can Include Crazy

In the accompanying video, Swift is portrayed as a character whose “insane” reactions are spurred at the slightest of what would hardly be called indiscretions. The whole depiction is that she is the ideal and perfect woman on the surface, but underneath is a bubbling mess. She could ruin a life at the glance of a message from her man’s female friend. This false identity and two-faced behavior is alluring when portrayed by a beautiful woman who is acting, but a young woman taking on the responsibility of someone else in her life, it is a bad example. Yes, it is important to place importance on young women learning their place in the world and feeling empowered, but that doesn’t give them the right to believe that their personality “could make all the tables turn” (1:56). This implies that Swift is the soul controlling force in her relationship and does not share equal footing with the man whose identity changes as easily as a coffee order.

“But I got a blank space baby / And I'll write your name”: Men are Disposable

These lyrics are preceded by Swift, as the song’s protagonist, stating that she has a long list of ex-lovers. This is commonly misheard as “lot of Starbucks lovers”. This mondegreen works because when she speaks of the blank space where her new lovers name is to be written, you hear the unmistakable click of a sharpie that you can easily envision in the hand of a barista. The imagery here and the attitude toward her current love interest are enforced by the hall of portraits in Swift’s home in the video. She adds the recently completed portrait of her current beau to the plethora of others that grace the walls, one of which has its very own axe embedded in its canvas. It is apparent that the woman portrayed by Swift is going through these men as fast as the milk in her latte is cooled.

“Boys only want love if it's torture / Don't say I didn't say I didn't warn you”: You Must Torture to Be Loved

This is the most striking part of the song, both in the change in melody and the imagery in the video. Swift’s lyrics and behavior grows more violent with every verse, culminating in the ultimate symbol of love and sexuality. As she claims that torture is the way to a man’s love, she used a candy red apple as a voodoo doll of her man’s head. His reaction is sexualized while still expressing painful feelings. He then discovers the defaced portraits of the men that came before and it is implied at this point that she poisons him with said apple. Now we see all of her true colors and how her love interest didn’t try to leave until it was too late. We then see the arrival of her new victim.

“Blank Space” may be a pop hit, but its message must also be taken with a grain of salt. We must take into consideration the theatricality of the video. Given the demographic of Top 40 radio “Top 40 does reach listeners younger than 18… ‘The radio is where they first hear the songs they’re putting on their iPods’” (Lariviere). It’s concerning what impression this melodic and catchy tune may have on the young people who already struggle with learning how to navigate and cultivate healthy relationships.

Taylor Swift – Blank Space – YouTube
Choosing the Right Radio Format for Your Target Audience, By David Lariviere, –

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Adventure!

Michael and I are currently on our way to Portland, OR with brief stops in Coos Bay and Eugene. Driving through the fog and the redwoods on the 101 Highway is a relief at this point on our journey. I was over ambitious about how much we would accomplish on this road trip and I am very happy to be on the final stretch to our Seattle destination.  We left Durango, CO on September 9th. It will be 4 weeks since that risky moment tomorrow. The lack of wifi and electricity at our many camping destinations hindered out ability to charge the phones regularly, check emails, post photos, write blogs of the events of the day and youtube all our silly adventures. I believe that this was, all in all, an excellent side effect of being in a car or campsite all day. Yes, we had our stops in friend’s and family’s homes on the journey, but until we got to Danville outside of San Francisco, we spent those days on the run, being tourists, or in my case – recovering from a cold that won’t let go.

Our journey began in Montrose CO celebrating my dad’s birthday. He is “recently retired” and I believe is finally coming to terms with what life means not working away the prime part of the day. This has been on the brink for a while and it was a reassuring thing for me to experience. I will be farther from home than I have ever been and am grateful to know that mom and dad will be okay.

The next stop was Fruita CO to see one of my best friends from childhood and her family. Krista is happy. She is with a man who loves her – more importantly likes her – and is branching out in her own life and career, message me if you need pampered chef stuff and I will get you in touch with her. I know I will be as soon as I have a kitchen and income again. Her parents, on the other hand, are currently on vacation in Panama, potentially a life changing trip for them as well…time will tell!
These were stops that Michael and I made to nourish my need to get back to my roots with the people I love before being states away. I thank him for that.

Of course, because we managed to stretch out this journey as long as we could, we stopped in Denver. Here we did the things we love. Check us out on the Reel Nerds podcast here, ate at Denver Biscuit Co. and drank beer in LoDo – this became the beginning of the beer tour side of our trip hashbrownGreatDivide hashbrownRaggedMountain (we went to 3 Rascals in Montrose too). Thank you to our friends Stephanie and Jeramiah for making us dinner, impressing us with their home bar and letting us crash there.
These were the parts of the trip we anticipated and planned. We had a good idea of what we would do, where we would end up and that I would be an emotional mess when we leave them. After these steps…all bets were off.

On the morning of Sunday September 13th we began our drive to Yellowstone and Teton. This was a LONG day! Michael drove and we listened to an innumerable amount of Freakanomics radio, so good if you like to think while you drive. There were a lot of comments from Michael, who had never been in Wyoming for a substantial amount of time before, about how flat it was. It’s true! From Denver to Wyoming there really are only cows to see and antelope. That was cool – we don’t have antelope at home. We stopped in Pinedale WY to camp. This was by far the coolest campsite we found until we got to Limekiln. We were about 20 ft from Half Moon Lake, so we blew up the duck and sat by the river to drink our wine and eat the roasted garlic and pepper cream sauce penne. This was by far still the most successful dish I made with the cook stove (the second batch in Yellowstone was better though). This is also the first morning we used the French press. That little coffee maker saved our asses. I was cranky just about every morning of camping, and there were a lot of mornings of camping, having to not hunt down coffee was infinitely helpful. Pinedale was beautiful and was a great stop on the way to Jackson.

By the time we got to Jackson we didn’t have a plan. We did the tourist thing in Jackson for a while. The required stop, per Dave, was to have a beer at the cowboy bar. Now, for those of us on this journey who had been living in Durango for a substantial amount of time, we were shocked that the beer came in bottles…WHAT!? This is a famous bar, unbeknownst to my traveling partner. So we sat on our saddles and drank our beer out of a bottle and a can. Tourist note: There is a spirits, oil and spice store over by the fancy gemstone and fossil store. In this store they have just about any fancy liquor (including tequila, whiskey and bourbon), oil and spices you could imagine that you can sample for free – we did not test how far we could take that on the liquor, but I was super close to spending way too much money on something that I would drink way too quickly. Eventually we had to leave since we still had to find a place to put up the camp house. There wasn’t really a lot of camping we knew of outside the park. I figured all of that out after we accidentally bought our park pass. My mom had told us to drive up the back road from Jackson to Moose WY by the ski resort. I was entertaining Michael, the driver, by reading to him from the Jackson WY Sotheby’s RE Guide. Oh yeah we were totally shopping for and $18,000,000 ranch. Um. No. That is the luxury estate for some other dreamer. Eventually we happened upon an entrance to the southern end of Grand Teton National Park, so we bought the pass, but the road was closed…merrrr. We made it into the park found a campsite, bought some wood and passed out.  The next day we got up early and got a spot at Jenny Lake. A tent only campsite, WOO HOO no noisy generators! This turned into hiking day. If you ever get the chance to hike up to Inspiration Point in Teton, you can do it if you feel so inclined, but the waterfalls that are right over there are super cool!

The rest of the time on our seven day pass was spent in Yellowstone. We made just about all of the geyser stops that we could – not all geysers look the same…kinda. Please note that Yellowstone is a “dormant” HUGE volcano. There are notes all around the park saying that the ground in not safe and sometimes new hot springs and geysers appear OVERNIGHT. How is this not terrifying? At West Thumb one of the hot springs ate the boardwalk, ATE THE BOARDWALK. This will forever be an anecdote.

By far the best part of our trip to Yellowstone was camping at Tower Falls. We were lucky that by the time we got up to this campground at about 1pm, they still had a site available for us.  We found out later that they are usually full by 10am. Sharon took us to the last site she had open and got us all taken care of. I don’t recall in what order we explored the park after that and how many bison we saw each day, but Ralph, Sharon’s husband could probably tell you. He got the play-by-play every morning or afternoon that we found ourselves back at the campsite. These people lovingly refer to themselves as Grandma and Grandpa. Sharon told us later that Ralph had adopted us as his kids/grandkids. He would get up every morning and look up to our campsite to see if we were up making coffee yet. If we weren’t he would wait. As soon as one of us was out of the tent, he was there. He told us pretty much the same stories all three mornings we were there and we were happy to listen to them. These were some of the coolest and most caring random people we have ever met.
Ralph told us a story from when they owned/managed a motel: They had gotten a reservation for a large family group, a family or reunion or something. Most of the family had checked in and gotten their keys. Grandma came down to the front desk, prior to them closing for the night, to get the key for her granddaughters room since they just found out that her and her boyfriend were running behind schedule and won’t get there in time for check-in. This was not that unusual and Ralph didn’t think anything of it. Grandma came back down grinning with a little spark in her step to return the key saying that her granddaughter will in fact be on time and can come get her key. She continued on her way back up to her own room. A little later on the granddaughter shows up at the hotel and all goes as planned and she gets her key. Within 5 minutes she was calling back down to the front desk claiming that half of the lights in her room were out.  So Ralph, being the diligent owner that he was went up to the room to investigate and get replacement bulbs as needed. When he arrives in the room he checks the light bulbs, all of the ones that were not working had been slightly unscrewed.  The granddaughter then remarks, “Oh Grandma she’s done it again.” he later discovered that apparently this is normal behavior for her and she had put cracker crumbs in the bed.
I want to be that old woman.

Needless to say it was, once again, difficult for me to leave these lovely people who made sure we had a wonderful stay in Yellowstone and that we will have people to visit in Montana if we ever go to Glacier National Park!

I have family in Idaho Falls ID. These are people that I don’t see very often, but it was by far a perfectly timed visit. My uncle Paul and aunt Shirley welcomed us into their home and were happy to spoil us.  I use this to thank them for their love and time.

The drive to St. George UT, where we stayed briefly in a shitty hotel, was a brief necessity. I had the worst couple days of the cold bookmarking this sleep. But this didn’t stop us from having lunch and gelato in Las Vegas on Wednesday Sept. 24th! We had about two hours of a tourist stop where we didn’t gamble and didn’t get lost. I do love Las Vegas in short doses, but on the way out of town we saw a billboard that epitomizes the side of the city that gives all of us – I hope – the heebeegeebees. I don’t recall what the image was, but all it said was “If at first you don’t succeed, buy her another drink.” I believe that this was an ad for a liquor store, not a bar, but I could be wrong. Regardless, WHAT!!!??? This is an atrocious advertisement. Side note: We also saw a billboard in Salt Lake where we stopped for lunch with a good friend of mine that I met from working at digs…yeah I’m that kind of waitress. It had the silhouette of an elephant with tusks. It had a saying similar to “Its time for you to have some ivory of your own”. I’m paraphrasing, but once again, WHAT!!!??? This ad was for Ivory Homes, probably a construction company or something. But really, who at that agency thought this would be a positive association for their company? Yes, let’s “promote” the poaching of elephants to get more home building business, YEAH! That’s a great idea. Um. No. I have a hard time with offensive advertising.

San Diego was next on the docket.  These were days of beer and family. Yes, we had a memorial service for our host Teri’s brother-in-law. From what I can tell, a very wonderful loved man. But this, and the phone call efforts of the amazing Amy, we got all the family all of the time. Lynchs and Ledfords for the win! These were great days with great people.

We also spent a substantial amount of time drinking…beer…again! Alesmith, Ballast Point and Green Flash were recommendations of friends and family, I would recommend all of them! We ended up at Green Flash again to do the beer tour, an excellent choice for sure! Now, one of my favorite things about going to taprooms is food trucks! Outside of Green Flash, the second night we were there was what they called the Sushi Bus. It was not a bus, it was a van. It was a normal looking, perhaps on the verge of a hippie van with a tent that they make the sushi fresh to order in. There is a guy who walks around with a bundle of cash to make change for people, it seemed kinda sketch. THAT IS SOME OF THE BEST SUSHI I HAVE EVER HAD! I chose a salmon ginger roll and if you are ever in San Diego and can find these sushi folks…go there! The food has definitely been a highlight of this long journey.

Now, the next meaningful stop of our trip is one of Michael and I’s favorite camping stops…EVER! Limekiln State Park. We stayed there for three nights on one of the beach side campsites. From our spot we could walk 30 feet and watch the waves while you enjoy your drink of choice. On the other side, a short hour long hike will get you through the redwoods to a beautiful waterfall on a lush green trail. If that doesn’t sell you, we saw both whales (at least the water and air coming out of their blowholes with the binoculars) and dolphins during our stay! Thank you Limekiln for your existence. The campground host also gave us a tomato for our dinner when we asked her where the closest place to get tomatoes was.

We drove up and down the coast visiting our friends the elephant seal (selelephant, as we so lovingly call them). We also went up to Monterey one day to go through the MirrorMaze and visit Cannery Row Brewing. They have burger sliders with French brie, fried onion strings and garlic aioli, so good! This is a great stop.

While on the 1 we also decided that we must find a way to stay at Treebones Resort, look it up! There are a remarkable number of Ford Mustang convertibles on this road. Most of the people that live on the coast must be hermits.

From Idaho through Limekiln we filled our days with The Leviathan Chronicles (downloaded them from iTunes). If you have a long time to drive and feel like an odd science fiction story, look it up. Not all of the episodes are released, but the 39 they have at ~45 min each, will get you pretty far.

San Francisco was break and crunch time. We spent our first day there sitting on the couch, watching the BBC, searching for houses and jobs in Seattle. Second day was let’s go battle city traffic and see if we can find the Sutro Baths – I’m a literature kid. We then proceeded to make a list of all the other things we must see when we go back to San Francisco. On the morning that we left we made it down to the market and I made Michael walk with me to find the City Light Bookseller and Publishers – thanks BuzzFeed. This was a journey on foot through what I’m assuming is only one of the sketchy stripper districts, yea culture!

So for the last few days we have been abbreviated tourists stopping at more breweries, Speakeasy and Magnolia in San Francisco and Sierra Nevada in Chico. Now we are ready to find our own places to go. I’m done with driving/riding and happy to go through the stress of trying to find an apartment.
I hope this fulfills all of the blogs I was supposed to make on this trip. Michael and I have been kind of boring in the car…but are planning my next novel for National Novel Writing month and are far from killing each other.

Thank you all for your support and love!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Lord Slogar's Fine Fossil

Gloom Project #1
Character: Lord Slogar
Found a Fine Fossil
Was torn limb from limb

"Helena, please tell our guests the story." I wanted my guests to know my tale but fore the end of it.
"Of course, my Lord." Helena was always willing to tell it. I wouldn't have her without it.
"Lord Slogar wasn't always in such a delicate state. He was a man once. When we met he told me how much he loved to explore. He once adventured in to the sewers of New York city to find the giant lizard men rumor to inhabit their deepest caverns. Apparently during that excursion he found the skull of one of the creatures, but never a living one. No proof that they walked on two legs, but legitimate proof of their existence. That was one of the many adventures he told me about when we first met.
Helena always started it this way, just swapping out which of my previous excursions she fancied that day. She continued as our guests sat in silence. "In the summer of 1904 he was working with Mr. Osborn at a dig site in the southwest. He had been there on and off for a few years as the paleontologists were investigating fossils they had been finding."
"Helena, please clarify that they did not find anything of significance before my arrival in June." She couldn't forget that. It is the most importance part, besides her of course.
"It is critical to note that the paleontologists hadn't found anything of any significance before Lord Slogar's arrival,mostly bone fragments and unidentifiable pieces. For a few weeks they all walked among the desert hills only finding small pieces of animals long passed from this world. Sir showed up mid-June in then heart of the summer , some believed it to be the hottest day of the year. He walked work the men collecting dirt and sand in his traveling boots. They ate steak and potatoes for dinner every night, continuing to walk through the dust and sage brush when day. Lord Slogar was used to days of mundane being the salt to his pepper adventures, but this was becoming desolate and tasteless salt. He needed something more.
Lord Slogar chahed into the tent of my father, Dr. Osborn. The moment I saw him I knew that I would never forget that face. I had come along on my break from private school. This was risky due to my father's opinion of the sort of men who work for him. But they were fine when I wasn't visiting.  Otherwise, I was kept secluded from the corruptive men of his accompaniment. He was out visiting a man who had been injured on site when Lord Slogar arrived at our tent. We had a startling first interaction.
"Why are you hiding?" I had run behind the curtain where I kept my cot. He was a stranger after all.
"Because no one is supposed to know I'm here."
"Why?" He took a curious step forward, toward my hiding place.
"According to my father you are a filthy bunch of men." He was attractive to say the least. He took another step forward.
"That may be true for the rest of them, but I am not one of those men." Another step.
"Regardless, I think you should be going before he returns." Two more steps.
"But I have an urgent matter for him and, quite honestly, I would rather stay here and talk to you while I wait for him." He paused. "I'm Slogar, Lord Slogar." He bowed as he introduced himself.
"I'm Helena."
"I know. Your father has yet to stop talking about how proud he is of you."
"He is known to rant and rave since my mother passed. He doesn't have a lot to focus on besides me and his work. I think he was worried I was going to get into trouble when she was gone." It's true, it was hard for me when my mother died, but I made it through just like he told me I would.
"Do you mind if I ask, how did she die?"
"I do mind." I mind because most people think that my father killed her, but Slogar seemed to be asking with general interest, not gossiping harm. "She died at a dig site. My father had been trying to move a large fossil and his rigging system was unstable. She was guiding the fossil from the other side to ensure that it was replaced for optimal inspection -- she liked to look at all the small details. Too many crew men had destroyed the surfaces. So she liked to do this part herself -- the rigging malfunctioned and the fossil crushed her to death. There was nothing to be done, no way to move it in time. My father now oversees all of the riggings and placements when we pull large specimens."
"That is tragic. I am sorry for your loss." He was genuine in his remorse and stepped closer.
"Thank you, but you really should be going."
"I suppose you are right. I may have overstayed my welcome." He turned to leave, "please tell your father I stopped by and intend to speak to him tomorrow. Have a good evening." He left. He never told me what he spoke to my father about, but I did not see him again until after the accident.
Lord Slogar had been carefully tracing the land. He had noticed small variations in the placement of the small fossils that my father hadn't. He followed his instinct to the largest fossil find in recent history.
"Ma'am, I hate to interrupt, but are you telling us that he discovered the first tyrannosaurus?"
"Aaaaaaahhhhh! Why do they always assume that the tyrannosaurus is the most important fossil discovered? Do they know nothing of fossils and the history of man?" I had to interrupt Helena as well when my guests prove to be ignorant of my work.
"No, Lord Slogar discovered the first humanlike, but now would be considered an ancient alien like creature."
"What? That's not real." Lord Slogar was right. These 'reporters' were ignorant of his accomplishments.
"It was very real, but as they were pulling the fossil out of the ground the rigging failed. It landed on Lord Slogar. He almost had the same fate as my mother.
"When the rigging was repaired, it looked as though he had been into five pieces. My father noticed that he was still blinking. They rushed his head to the infirmary and called the doctor. I sat with him every day until his cousin came to see him. They didn't risk moving him, but his cousin was confident that he could keep his brain alive. They went through the remarkable procedure of removing it from his skull and placing it in the box you see on the mantel. I keep him there because he likes the warmth from the fire. We married once we realized that he and I could still communicate just as we did when he had his body.
"But now we get down to why you are here. I suspect you are not the reporters that you claim to be. You aren't like our usual visitors.
"Ma'am unfortunately for you, you are correct. We are here to finish what that boulder, or fossil you seem to think he found, didn't." They got up from their seats and pointed two pistols. One at me and one at the love of my life's brain in a box. They fired.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Kate's Meadow and Needing More Cigarettes

For my dad's birthday on Wednesday we decided to adventure up to Kate's Meadow outside of Ridgway. This is an adventuring location my parents have talked about for quite sometime. I had never been, so this became the birthday excursion. The drive up on the dirt road was scenic and reminiscent for mom and dad. They talked about the movies True Grit and How the West Was Won. My mom got a kick out of thinking that John Wayne, Robert DuVall, and Debbie Reynolds had all traveled up the same road.
Up at the top of the trail we frolicked through the meadow and Michael convinced me to climb up the rock from the final showdown scene. He chose this opportunity to be a supermodel!

After our lunching and light wood hauling we were driving down the mountain and around one of the last sharp turns was a tow truck parked on the edge of the dirt road. This was unnerving given that the tow cables were stretched across the road down a ~50 ft embankment. Please note: this is not where trucks are supposed to go.
After this little discovery, we decided that this may or may not be the worst part of this guy's day. Today, this guy's dog died, he ran over his cat, his wife told him she wants a divorce, his girlfriend left him, the liquor store is out of whiskey -- and burned down, then on his drive up the mountain he discovered that he was out of cigarettes! All the makings of a classic country song!
It was a great day!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Packing the car

Even before departure, in theory this is the worst part, Michael and I can't figure out how to properly pack the car. It's coming down to whether we take the things that we really should have in case of emergency OR blankets and pillows for sleeping in a tent in Wyoming in September OR large quantities of pre-made granola OR clothes. Of course we both understand that technically we should take all of these things. I've already sacrificed my plants, they will be living in Montrose for a little while. The Alaskan Pumpkin Porter and some Tim Burton on IFC are making it easier -- except for the mid-day, during the week, generic commercials. But panic mode has set in and Michael made another trip into town. I'm ready to get on the road and only worry about rearranging the trunk/bar/kitchen tomorrow

. We leave in about an hour and a half to go over a weather ridden Red Mountain pass, but oh well today is the day and we will make it happen!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The River and Roads

The journey was long, but he knew that it needed to happen. His mother kept saying, “You have to take her. She has to go and you are by far the most capable, also the strongest.” She kept telling him that he would need physical and emotional strength. Michael knew that what she said was true, but was skeptical that his mother’s claim – that he was the only one was capable.

It couldn't have been anyone else. Grandma knew it too, but she wasn't in any condition to argue with anyone.  See Michael’s beloved grandmother had passed from her earthly existence a while back and now she had to be delivered from this existence to the next.

“You get to take her. I left everything you should need on the bed side table. The map will get here tomorrow. Get a good night’s sleep.” Michael’s mom had decided he was the one to go yesterday. He wasn't sure it was a “get to go” situation, but he wasn't sure what he was getting himself into. So the hesitation was understandable. This was a unique opportunity that holds more weight with those who never have the chance to go.

He went to his room and crawled in bed, hopeful to get more sleep than he had the night before.

The directions arrived in his mailbox first thing on the day of his adventure. Michael read these through once and put them aside until after he ate breakfast. The LIFE cereal helped nourish his childhood side before this overwhelming journey. He grabbed the directions and the small container of grandma’s ashes he had to take with him and stashed them in his pocket. He walked out the front door of his childhood home.

He was heavy with the task in front of him and unsure of what to expect. Normally he was pretty confident in the decisions he makes when on adventures. The only thing he feared was the large hungry critters, but according to the directions he wouldn't find too many on this trek.

His directions were oddly detailed. It went like this:
Exit childhood home via the front door.
Walk until you reach the main highway via the residential dirt roads.
Continue to walk east-ish along the highway past the storage units.
Take a right on the next dirt road.
Do not look back.
Walk until you pass the large desert shrub with the worn green tag hanging from the top branch.
Take a right off the road that is no longer a road and not much more than a foot path.
Do not look back; you will not see what you are looking for.
Walk into the desert.
You will reach a large-ish rock with a circle engraved on its surface.
If you make this stretch of the journey before noon, your local time, the rock will shimmer making it easier to find from a distance.
Step over the rock.
Follow the path.
Do not look back.
You won’t have to go too far, epically speaking.
That was it. That was all the directions had to guide him.

He followed all of the directions outlined keeping an eye on the time as he found the shrub. It was still before noon. He turned right and kept walking. As soon as he leveled his focus he could see a glint of light what it seemed like a mile away. It was flat. He could see pretty far. He did not look back. He kept walking. 

Michael considered the difference between attractive and unattractive sports reporters, the dynamics used to calibrate the internet, and the perks of having a pet monkey (one of which is punching chavs in the balls) and the meaning behind a glimmering rock in the middle of the desert.

He kept walking and thinking. Walking and thinking. This was way more than a mile. Eventually the rock was getting closer. He picked up the pace and ran the last 200 or so yards to the rock with the circle engraved on the top. It was polished marble with the tiniest of yellow crystals embedded on the surface. He was tall enough to step over the rock, as instructed.

The desert landscape was gone.

There was a path under his feet. It lead him along the edge on a volcano on what seemed to be a deserted Hawaiian island. It was humid, hot, and nothing beyond the small island his feet resided on, but ocean for miles. He walked with the path as it curved around the volcano and down a small steep hill. He found his place in line.

Most of the people waiting were dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt. Every few people there were someone in obviously traditional religious garb, some of it excessively ornate for this climate. Michael was happy with his choice of yellow button down and dark plaid red shorts.

“What are you doing here?” He asked curiously as recognition of the presence he hadn't been able to shake, since he stepped over the rock, clicked.

She said nothing. He turned around to face her. Michael relaxed his shoulders as his grandmother reached for his hand. It was his job to take her. He understood why now. She had no words and they needed none. He was afraid, but she was comforted by the line they were in. They walked hand in hand as the line got shorter and shorter.

A giant tree stood on the bank of the river. Michael would consider giant an understatement as he slowly moved his glance upward in an attempt to see the color of its leaves, but they were well beyond the sunset rose clouds. As he walked closer he could see ragged boots sticking out from behind one of the roots. He approached who he assumed was the boatman.
"Excuse me." He knocked on the tree trunk. It made an intrusive gong sound and almost knocked Michael out of his own ragged boots.
"Really?" A grave and resonant voice came from the being inhabiting the boots. "You weren't expecting that were you? It’s a good way to remind people of where they are."
"Excuse me?" Michael was curious of how someone could not remember that they are standing on the bank of the river Styx.
"You think that everyone who comes to see me is the only one who could accompany their dead?" There was a pause. "Let’s just say that your grandmother is very lucky to have you escort her here. There are others who would have done it, if you hadn't and they aren't as unassuming."
"Sir, I’m not…what are you talking about?” Michael wasn't sure he wanted to ask for clarification, but it was too late now.
“Not all of the folks who die in your world have loved ones to bring them to me. I have a log of those who die so I know who to expect. We have to keep diligent records. For those who don’t have someone dear to them to bring them to me, I send a taxi, if you will. We had to set up a back-up plan since when we miss someone things get unpleasant.”
“Unpleasant?” He had to ask.
“Let’s just say more people end up dead than were in the first place. Anyway, she,” he pointed at the graceful old woman behind Michael, “is lucky she has you to watch over her.”
“Yeah, I wasn't sure what I was getting into bringing her. It’s cool that there is a whole process, but where do they go?”
“Wow, you are just full of questions.” He inhaled patiently like he had this part well-rehearsed centuries ago and the answer has gotten old. “Everyone goes to the same place. There is no heaven or hell. Folks have a way of finding their kind even on our side. Heaven is just used to reassure those who believe in righteousness. They believe in it so much that they don’t even ask me that question anymore, but they also aren’t the ones who bring their dead.”
Michael considered that last statement and assumed it was because they didn't believe in this afterlife, so why would they even concern themselves with the journey. “That sounds like a good process; it’s neat to know that nothing changes too much.”
“It is nice to know that a kid approves of our policies and procedures that have worked for centuries.” Talking to himself. “Thank you. Now we must get on with it. That is a line." He pointed behind Michael and there was definitely a longer line than when he was at the front of it.
"Oh right." Michael moved his grandmother to lie on the crude wooden raft tethered to the bank. He finally noticed how inky black the water was on this bank, while the other side of the river looked remarkably clear.
"Now place the coins on her eyes." Charon gracefully gestured to where her head now lay.
"About that, what does it cost?" He pulled two of each from his pocket, everything from pennies to Sacajawea dollars. He had even scrounged up two Kennedy half dollars.
He looked toward the clear water bank, "oh my, you weren't kidding. Okay, this is a penny ride.” Charon gestured toward a wooden raft .  “Nickels come with a feather pillow." He snapped his fingers with a false enthusiastic face and a fluffy pillow appeared under her head. "Dimes will get you an inflatable kayak, instead of this reliable raft, reminiscent of my good friend Mark Twain's iconic work. He talked us though how to build it more sturdy, but the kayak will help prevent her from sliding overboard if the waters get rough. Of the two, I would vote for the raft. We still believe in solid craftsmanship and we don't build the kayaks "A snap and the kayak appeared. “Now, if you want to spend quarters we can make it a Viking longboat. I know the mythology is wrong, but it is a customer favorite, if they sacrifice parking meter money." When he saw it, the longboat became a strong contender and totally worth 50¢. "It isn't very often that JFK graces my humble banks, so those who chose him get a black sail pirate ship with a busty figurehead." That was an intriguing option as well. "Now, for the dollar, the vote was to go with the theme. I think it’s a bit racist, but the Sacajawea dollar gets you a 'genuine' Native American canoe. Between you and me, those who bring me American coins get the most generic and offensive options. So what is your choice?" The boatman put his hands on his hips and waited.
"Pirate ship, for sure. She would've been a pirate. Will she know?" Michael had a feeling that this decision was for his comfort, not hers.

"Yes, she will know, but I've heard that it doesn't matter that much to most people. Those it matters too are more likely to be too much of a pain that their families didn't bring them anyway. Go ahead and place the coins on her eyes. We gotta keep this train a moving." Charon nods to how many people have been standing in line.

Michael leaned in and placed the half dollars on her eyes. He kissed her forehead and stepped away.
The boatman snapped his fingers and the ship appeared. Michael could see his grandmother finally at rest. 

"Can I ask one last question?"

"A quick one." Charon liked him and appreciated his love for his grandmother.

"Do you know who will bring me?"

"I don't have that foresight, but you will instill your love in all of your family and the person who is meant to bring you will. I have no doubt of that."

“Thank you.” Michael turned around to face the ever growing line and started his walk home.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A novel in the works!

So, I've taken on the daunting task of trying to put all of this together. For a bit of back story to the upcoming novel check out the following posts!

42. Uncompromising
31. Papaw
22. Kayak
37. Superstitious

21. Klick

There are more short stories to come too! Next up...27. Nettle