Tag Archives: people

How to End Your Life

pedestrians, car accidents, walking safely, traffic, safety

Creative Commons: by Shuets Udono, Flickr

I’m sure I could write an unending series of stupid things people do that could or have cut their lives short. But perhaps the most common that all of us might do is the act of being a pedestrian. Walking isn’t really an art since we’ve done it from the time we gave up crawling (except for those who get too drunk). Walking is however something that takes attention.

If you walk unconsciously, you’re bound to run into trouble. I know someone who was walking and talking with friends, looking sideways, and ran into a pole and smashed her nose. Then we have the infamous jaywalker. In North America, in most places, this is illegal and for a good reason too. It’s not just that you’re taking a chance with your life because you’re too lazy to walk to a corner, but you also disrupt the flow of traffic and could cause a car accident with another car or with you. Is it really worth shaving a few seconds off of your trip? Not to mention, the more walking, the better you keep in shape.

I am both a driver and a walker. I walk where I can and don’t take my car if I’m going ten or twenty blocks (on most days). When I’m a driver, I respect pedestrian rights. When I’m a pedestrian I respect car driver rights. Too many people feel entitled, but last I looked  no one owns the world. Although pedestrians have the right of way in British Columbia (and many other places) this does not mean they have the right of way in the middle of the street or against lights. At intersections and corners, yes they do but there are still rules. You can’t step right in front of a car and expect them to stop. You would become road pizza.

However, in Vancouver I’ve noticed that if you are standing at a corner, most cars will never ever stop for you. I step off of the curb but not in front of the car, and make eye contact. I kinda like my life. When I start walking I have the right of way but even when I hit the lane going in the other direction, I stop first and look, making sure cars are slowing down and stopping. I’ve had people try to run me over halfway through a crosswalk.

The best way to end your life is to cross against a light, or run across the street because you just have to catch that bus or get that coffee. In the dark or in Vancouver’s notorious rains, people aren’t always that visible. All cars have blind spots and if you run out suddenly, even at a corner, the driver who is turning might not see you. This happened to me once, in the rain, in the dark. All I  saw was a flash of legs and it was so sudden. A few seconds different and that person would have been severely injured.

BC has intersections with blinking green (or yellow) lights on the main street, and stop signs for the side streets. The blinking light means they’re pedestrian controlled and it takes a person pressing the button to have the light turn red. When the light changes, the cars on the side street can get through. When the light turns red the pedestrian is supposed to stop and let the cars go. Red always means stop, even for pedestrians, yet you’ll find people sauntering across without even looking. And crossing anywhere, whether with the light or if you have the right of way, without  looking is a good way to make yourself a smear on the road. Bicyclists and skateboarders (and rollerbladers) who feel that the rules don’t apply to them and think they should go down the middle of the road could find themselves statistics.

Yes, pedestrians often have the right of way, but we’re soft flesh and cars are giant metal monsters with exoskeletons. So if you want to end your life sooner than later, walk against the traffic rules or step out in front of a car without looking, because you want to make them  brake suddenly. The best thing to remember is respect. Riders, drivers and pedestrians have to respect each other and not feel that they’re the entitled ones where the rules don’t apply. Go talk to the bodies in the morgue and see if disobeying those rules helped them.

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Filed under cars, Culture, driving, health, life, security

The Benefits of Courtesy

kindness, courtesy, politeness, good feelings

Creative Commons: Nicole Ellis, Sunshine's Reflections http://sunshinereflections.wordpress.com

It’s amazing how self-centered we’ve become, worrying about our finances, getting the kids here or there, keeping our jobs, getting a better job, finding time for fun, rushing to or from the supermarket, the game, the meeting, the mall, the party. It goes on so that we’re caught up in a whirlwind of activity and sometimes barely notice the world around us.

That world isn’t all strife, war and trauma as the news likes to focus upon but also full of beauty, ingenuity and intelligence. We get so caught up at times that we forget that there are thinking and caring humans all around us. Their lives are as important as your or mine. And some days, we just have bad days.

So would it hurt any of us to try to be a bit nicer, to try some courtesy? I have found that often this can go farther than being grouchy and boy, do I have my cranky pants days. I’ve taken to telling random strangers that I like their hair, or dress or shoes if I do. It doesn’t hurt me to say it and makes their day a bit shiny. I know when some stranger has paid me a compliment that it gives me a bit of a glow.

I try to think about others when I’m shopping so I don’t stop with my cart in the middle of the aisle but pull it over so it’s out of the way. I don’t stand in front of the mushrooms blocking it for all others to reaching in but try to stand a bit to one side so that others can share. I say thank you when someone holds a door open for me and likewise hold doors for others. I wave when someone lets me change lanes while driving and try to let people in. It’s especially hard while driving to stay in a good mood because people feel they’re losing a race if they let anyone in. But there is someone always ahead of us.

Don’t get me wrong. I have pretty big crankypants and get really irate when I think people aren’t being fair. But I try to reciprocate kindness with kindness. Sometimes I’ve been in line with groceries with two items and someone will let me in, in front of them. Suddenly we’ll chat a bit and become human to each other, not just another stranger whose in our way. It makes that waiting in line pass faster and you get to know something about another person.

Just imagine how pleasant we could all be if we did a small kindness for someone else, said something nice? Giving a gift of courtesy could be the biggest reward and put some sunshine in everyone’s day. Here’s hoping we can all just be nicer to each other and find the world transformed without us trying to transform others or ignore them.

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Platitudes For Attitude

Ever wondered what a platitude is? Probably not but we use them all the time. A platitude is defined by Websters as a “banal, trite or stale remark.” A homily is an “inspirational catchphrase.” Making any sense yet?

Let’s put it into context. I’ve heard plenty on being single, without people necessarily knowing my situation. Here are a few.

  • Oh, you’re trying too hard.
  • When you stop trying, that’s when it will happen.
  • You’re not trying hard enough.
  • You need to look in new places.
  • You’re too picky.
  • The right one will come along.
  • Don’t give up hope.

They work for all situations, such as being laid off or being fired.

  • A better one will come along.
  • Sometimes we just need a change.
  • Things are bound to change.
  • I’m sure you’ll get another job soon.
  • If you don’t succeed, try and try again.
  • Don’t give up hope.

How about for health? “It’s God’s will.” Children? “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” People? “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Travel? Sports? Education?

I’m sure there are a million platitudes. The road to hell is, after all, paved with good intentions. And platitudes. Gobs and buckets full of oozing platitudes.

After hearing the numerous and often contradictory homilies from well-meaning friends I just started saying, please, no more platitudes. These phrases seem to be a way for a person to try to ease someone’s pain, fears, worry, sadness or situation that looks lacking to those who have better circumstances. Perhaps it is just a human need to try to offer some form of cheerleading. Perhaps we feel uncomfortable when someone has encountered a setback in their lives. Perhaps, like reading crystal balls and tea leaves, we believe that to offer a homily will be a prediction come true. But the fact is, no one knows what the future holds and there are many people who don’t get what they want or need through their lives. Giving some shallow catchphrase does very little good.

Sad fact, but life isn’t fair and it takes work. Only those privileged few born with gold spoons in their mouths don’t have to try. Maybe they get platitudes too. But I’ve found, after hearing some of these phrases far too many times and catching myself even saying them, that they just sound hollow. I would prefer someone saying, We’re here to support or help you as a friend and I hope things get better soon. That seems far more genuine.

I’ll leave you with Aldous Huxley‘s comment about platitudes: Proverbs are always platitudes until you have personally experienced the truth of them.

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Our Lives: the Microcosm vs the Macrocosm

The world revolves on a grand scale and on a small or microcosmic scale. The macrocosm can be something as enormous as the galaxy or the universe. But within the environs of the earth it comes down to a country’s personality. It is also earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanoes. It is war, and pandemic diseases. As well it is the nature of both humankind as a whole and the planet in its entirety. On this grand scale we see the war in Libya, the overturning of the government in Egypt, the rising price of gas, heating, food, etc., the many deaths from Japan’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the political temperament of France or Tunisia, the cholera in Haiti, the religious fervor in Afghanistan or the human rights issues of China.

The macrocosm can be scary and all-encompassing. It is the onslaught of the human condition. It can also be beautiful: the ocean, the skies above, a forest, the many species that blanket the earth. It is humanity in all its great creativity, the collective consciousness, the evolution of our kind.

But when we look at the world as a whole we see doom and despair. We see death and cataclysms and everything looks like it’s spiraling down the hole. There are rapists and murderers and pedophiles, drug dealers and car accidents, disease and poverty, wars and subjugation. The news dwells on the negative and not the uplifting. It’s one reason I don’t read newspapers or watch TV; to lessen the onslaught to my sensibilities. My soul weeps when all I see is the tragedy of life and ever impending doom.

But…and this is a big emphasis on a small word…but when I look at the microcosm I see my neighbor who will rescue my cat, the friends who push my car through the snow, the person who holds the door open for me, the intimacy and love of friends and family. I smell a flower, watch a tree slowly unfurl its leaves and blooms, pet a cat, plant a flower, nod to a fellow shopper, go to a party, have a drink with friends and listen to their trials and tribulations, and relate to people every day. That’s my world.

We have to remember this  to achieve some balance in life. To look only at the macrocosm means the world is a despairing place bereft of good and beauty. To look only at the microcosm can mean your problems seem to be mountains or you are ignorant of the world around you. I remember the microcosm daily so that my spirit lifts and I have hope and joy. What matters most are the relationships we form with the people around us, and our environment. What is greatest is sharing love and joy. It is the only way to exist and stay sane in a world filled with chaos. Here’s to the intimate moments in the microcosm.

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My Religion’s Better Than Yours

Religion, ain’t it grand? Everyone can use it to feel righteous, superior and special. In fact, people can use it to preach tolerance, yet in the same breath turn around and show bigotry and narrow-mindedness.

Nine years after September 11 and what have we learned? Place the blame elsewhere and stoke the fires under the fetid brew of religious intolerance. I speak of some Qu’ran burning putz in the US and the masses of protesters screaming against a mosque being built near ground zero in New York.

The masses, as has been shown again and again, are mostly ignorant, easily swayed and influenced by hype. If there is a complete intelligence amongst them, they hide it in the mob mentality. Notice I don’t say the Christian masses or the Hindu masses or any specific religion, because a mass of people (as opposed to the Catholic mass) is just that; not necessarily an unthinking organism but a lower thinking one.

The problem with religion is that it’s open to interpretation, interpretations of interpretations, offshoots, branches, sects and other views of the same religion, let alone all the different religions out there. Take just one, even Buddhism, and you have moderates, those who are orthodox or who adhere to the most stringent rules, and those who are liberal. One extreme end holds the fundamentalists. It makes no difference if this is Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam or one of the host of many religious practices. Fundamentalists are sometimes raised in the tradition but just as often (if not moreso) they are brought to this view as adults.

Fundamentalists are often recognized as being stringent and unbending, narrow-minded, and resistant to truth and facts. They like going on tirades, performing highly dramatic proclamations and at the worst, killing people in the name of their religion. A fundamentalist, whether a Taoist (Are there fundamentalist Taoists? Probably),  a Wiccan or some other religion is annoying at best and downright threatening to life and liberty at worst.

Who is a fundamentalist? The Taliban subjugating men and women, the Holy Roman Empire feeding Christians to lions, the Spanish Inquisition toasting witches, and southern Baptists burning religious texts. This is only a small sampling of pointing the finger at another group and ostracizing them for their beliefs. Sometimes this religious prejudice has been wholly one group against another and that’s not necessarily fundamentalism (really, the Roman Empire was a state religion and not fundamental beyond that) as it is the tenets and interpretations of the era and culture, such as various pogroms against the Jews in Medieval Europe. But fundamentalists will loudly proclaim the right and might of their belief system, then put their hands over their ears so they do not hear anything which would make them doubt. And they just as loudly denounce everyone else of not being on the “one true faith.”

Most religions preach love, compassion and turning the other cheek but it seems it doesn’t run to your neighbor if they are of a different ilk. It’s okay to tell your wives to stay home and raise babies if you’re a fundamentalist Christian but it’s not okay if you’re a fundamentalist Muslim and tell your wife to wear the hijab.  It’s okay to guilt trip people into being of a particular faith but then not let homosexuals into your church. It’s okay to convert by the gun or the sword because that will really give you more believers but it will only be lip service. Oh and do I even have to mention that should you start burning, breaking or otherwise destroying one group’s symbols of faith, that that won’t make them go away but will have them in your face. But if it’s war you want, in your religious peace, then it’s war you’ll get.

I’m not sure when the world is going to grow up. I have little faith it will be anytime soon as religious superstition, suspicion and intolerance seem to be on the rise. And people, no matter their faith, should be willing to listen to another person’s belief system. If they’re threatened, then they’re already insecure in their beliefs. If they change to another path, so what? Spirituality is always an individual journey and coercing or forcing people is not the way to spirit and belief.

Blaming all people of one faith for what some men did of dubious and most likely fundamentalist beliefs is the same as saying half of the species (say, women) is inferior to the other half. It’s the same as saying, Joe killed someone; therefore all of humanity should be punished. It’s the same as saying, my great grandfather raped someone so all the men in my family line are rapists (and this is a what-if and not indicative of my family). It’s the same as saying all Christians are good and all Muslims are bad. Switch the nouns and names around and it will sound as ludicrous.

Anyone who supports such wholesale bigotry should not be surprised when vengeance is wreaked upon them by the group they denounce. Look at the individual and do not use that wide brush to paint all of any group with it. There are evil Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists (Burma/Myanmar is run by Buddhists), pagans, agnostics, atheists, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. all over the world. And there are many more people of all faiths and none who are compassionate, charitable, giving and willing to let each person live, as long as they do not damage or subjugate another person in any way.

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Filed under crime, Culture, history, news, people, politics, relationships, religion

The Outsider Syndrome: Feeling Alone

I’ve been on holidays so I haven’t posted for a bit, but a conversation with a friend got me thinking about this phenomenon that I’ve experienced, and others have as well. I’m not a psychologist but I do like to delve into the whys and wherefores of the human psyche and some life experience has taught me a few things about the way we think and behave.

outsider, being alone, loneliness, the other, personality

Sculpture Niobe (1951) by Constant Permeke in sculpture park Kröller-Müller Museum

The Outsider Syndrome is my name for the feeling that you don’t belong, no matter what. That somehow, even if you’re doing the same activity as everyone else, that you just don’t fit in or they know you are different. Sometimes the feeling is real and sometimes it is our own perception.

My feelings of being an outsider began (as I suspect they did for many of us) in childhood. When church was something everyone did, we didn’t attend (except for a brief spate) and this was still when we recited the Lord’s Prayer in elementary school. The teacher would ask us what we did in Sunday school that weekend and I felt different because I couldn’t answer the question. It made me embarrassed, and as a child I was quite shy. Shyness and being picked on because of it did not help with the Outsider feeling.

I also came from a home where my parents divorced at a time when  most of my friends had both parents at home. So yes, I felt different there too. I’m sure there are studies that show people have this Outsider feeling if they are teased, are shy, have broken homes, or are somehow different from the crowd. And of course there are psychological or personality dispositions to all of these feelings.

I felt different for various reasons but those were the ones that shaped me. I felt different because my body wasn’t quite in the norm as everyone else’s, that I was poorer than many of my friends, that I somehow didn’t relate. At times I’ve realized that other people, almost everyone, is different or unique in their own way. In that essence we are all outsiders trying to fit in to the social organism.

This weekend I was at an event, a group that might just be made up of Outsiders; people who find the norm boring, who might be more strongly individualistic, who might like to roleplay, who might geek out over medieval history and things of the Middle Ages. It’s called the Society for Creative Anachronism and it has its share of social misfits as well as artisans practicing crafts that were once done hundreds of years ago. I haven’t been to these events for a while so I was feeling like an outsider again, not quite fitting into the whole game. Another friend was there who hadn’t been at an event in about eight years. He too felt even more acutely than me that he didn’t belong. People go on with their current interests and they’re not sure how to fit you back into their lives either.

This feeling isn’t particular to one group but any established group to which a new person tries to belong may cause this feeling. People like to stay with the familiar and if someone you don’t know walks up to your group you might completely ignore them, and continue talking to your friends. You might turn your back, making a circle and physically excluding them. We are inclusive…of those we know but we can exclude too without realizing it. If the group or event is one meant for people to meet, share and mingle something as small as turning slightly away can cause a person to move off and feel alone.

The world is rife with stories of Outsiders and sometimes they choose to be so. As I entered art college with all those other people who try to push boundaries, move beyond the envelope and think outside the box I found I fit in, because there were many like minds. At the same time I began to embrace my otherness. If people are going to treat me as other or different, than I shall choose to like my difference and be proud of it. People in the arts and sciences are often moving beyond the norm in trying to explore new things or make over old ones.

Being an Outsider can be an isolating experience. If you find there is a new person in your social or working group, or someone who lives farther out, then a little extra attention can help both of you transition and fit in. Long ago, when I moved to Vancouver with a turquoise streak in my hair, a woman who I worked with took a chance to move past the preconception about people who did such things to their hair and got to know me, becoming a very long-term friend. If you’re feeling an Outsider too, even if you have chosen it in some way, it may be harder to find people accepting, but being open and receptive can eliminate that feeling of being alone. Outsiders really are just people you do not yet know

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Innocence on the Job

I’ve worked a variety of jobs over the years; some that people would never expect if they didn’t know my past. I started young, very young, selling Regal Christmas cards from door to door. Somehow my mother got me started on it and I guess in the shyness of my youth, this did not bother me. I made some spending money and I think I was about nine or ten when I started this entrepreneurship. Now, I wouldn’t have the guts to bang on people’s doors and bother them. But as a little innocent with my cute cherubic face I could sell the cards and people weren’t suspicious of a child.

Innocence probably accompanied me through most of my jobs as a teen and young adult. When I was in college I had a job one summer surveying city lots for construction. I had worked in a store before that but the money was better surveying. I didn’t know how to survey but only one person on the team needs to know how to use the instrument.

The surveying teams were often two or three people; one (the actual surveyor) would set the instrument. Another would possibly hold the meter stick and another, the plumb bob, the weighted piece that gives a perpendicular line to the earth’s surface, important for accurate readings on uneven terrain. We were a team of three, consisting of the surveyor, me and another guy who was large, sweaty, unkempt and smelly. The three of us would ride around in the cab of the truck from lot to lot, me and the surveyor often saying disparaging things to the guy who never seemed to bathe.

I also was the more intelligent of the two workers and overtime the surveyor was teaching me how to read the equipment. The other guy wasn’t interested. This helped the day go faster because I was doing more than just holding a giant ruler. And there wasn’t a lot else to do when in a big flat space full of dirt.

It was summer in Calgary, hot and sunny, and dusty from all the grading trucks in the empty lots. So there were other workers there from those grading the land, to any operators of the heavy machinery and those pouring foundations for homes. I often worked with my hair braided, to keep it out of my face, and wearing this white, stretchy and therefore form-fitting halter top. With no bra of course. I actually had no clue that perhaps this got me more attention than I needed, often being the only woman on the site.

Yet I don’t really remember guys coming on to me, wolf-whistling or ogling me. Perhaps they were but if so they were surreptitious about it. However, I tend to think that it was because most of them were barely above the bar that would have them rated as intelligent. I actually don’t remember much about this job, except for the lunch hours. The lunch truck would come around and blare its horn. Everyone gathered there to eat, even if they brought their own food. Often they’d buy something else; a milk or juice, chocolate bar, or sandwich. The fodder was fairly pedestrian and there was little that resembled a vegetable that these guys probably wouldn’t have eaten anyways.

But the most astounding thing was to watch these construction workers eat, which makes me think that most of them had to be single. They shoveled, literally shoveled food into their mouths, chewing as pieces fell out. Others chewed open mouth and ate like ravenous hyenas. And others drank their milk or juice, pouring it into their mouths so that it spilled out and across their faces or down the corners over their chin and onto their shirts. In essence they ate like pigs.

Me sitting there in my white halter top, naively unaware that I was the only woman on site, gaped and was astounded at the animal ferocity of the men. These guys were barely human. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like if I’d been working on my own without a team. The other helper guy fit into the piggy category and was pretty stupid but the surveyor was a decent guy, educated and with manners. I think in a way that he probably was a shield to the other men. That and the fact that we were usually away from the construction crews, working where it was devoid of nearly inhuman men.

Still, I think back to that job and shake my head at what I wore, and I’m thankful that for all the animalness of the men in eating, they remained decent enough to leave me alone.

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The Sucky World of Being Robbed

In my life I’ve been robbed a few times, too many in fact. My first robbery was in Mexico City, the first place I traveled to alone. Having only a week there, I did a whirlwind tour of three places, starting in la ciudad Mexico and ending there. Returning on a Sunday, I went to Chapultapec Park and the world famous anthropology museum, Museo Nacional de Antropologia where, speaking hardly any Spanish at all, I still managed to carry on a conversation with a Spanish speaking guard and understand most of the signs in the museum.

Mexico City is vast, with a population topping 2o million at that time (over 8 million in the city proper). The subway is extremely cheap and the only way to get around quickly. I had been warned to keep my bags close and where I could see them and I did that, but as I boarded the subway train I was pushed on. Now I know that the crowded cities do this to pack the people on but it was a Sunday and not that crowded. As I was putting my transfer into my bag I noticed the slash through it where the guys who had pushed me on the train had taken my wallet. Lucky for me I had less than $10 USD and one credit card with a very non-Mexican name that I canceled immediately. The rest of my traveler’s checks were in my room. Unlucky for me, it was a Sunday, with no banks open and no place that would take a traveler’s check so I couldn’t eat dinner.

When I was in India, backpacking around, I locked down every pocket I could on my giant backpack, leaving only two side pockets open, which carried shampoo and dirty underwear. At one point I got stuck on a train, which had four open beds to every partitioned but open area. I had asked for the women’s carriage but hadn’t been given it. I couldn’t sleep because I was on the top bunk and my backpack was shoved under the bottom one, way too heavy to have been lifted had it even fit up top. My face was about six inches away from the ceiling fan, which luckily was covered. I kept looking down to check on my pack but at one point I just had to go to the bathroom, the squat toilet on a moving train (and how fun was that). Eventually when I disembarked I found that my shampoo and dirty underwear were gone. I hope they enjoyed both.

I was robbed again in New York City. By now, I was quite aware of the sneaky way in which robbers try to get your goods. I’d had a small pack to carry around with me for the week. But I let my guard down at the airport, at the last minute. My friends had driven me to the airport and we were have a coffee when a man came up on my left and asked us the time. Of course we all looked at him, unaware of the person behind me and on my right who grabbed my purse. We realized it in minutes but it was too late. Off went my purse, $200, two plane tickets, my film, my glasses, my contact case and all my ID (I had only brought the ID I needed though). The airline said they would replace my ticket for free but I had to pay for it first. Of course I couldn’t because I had no money or ID. This was before 9-11 because I can’t imagine how screwed I would have been otherwise. Luckily my friends could cover the cost and I could pay them back later. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise.

The most robberies I’ve experienced have actually been burglaries of my home or car. And they are the ones that have happened more recently. Several years ago I was home on a very hot night with my windows and doors open. My patio door faces the back yard and the other door does not face the street so not visible to anyone walking by. I was packing for a trip the next day and was in my den typing when I smelled cigarette smoke.

I don’t smoke but I looked up to see someone brazenly in my living room. Somewhat in a surreal state I ran into the room as the guy left and was gone by the time I could look out on the street. I called the police but to no avail of course. I believe it was my ex-drug addict neighbor, someone who knew where all the doors were. I searched the neighborhood that night, looking in every dumpster I could find, sure that he had taken what he needed, and dumped the rest.

The next day I had to get a driver’s licence before I could leave on my trip. All I had was an expired passport so I could get the license done but would not be allowed to pick it up until I had my birth certificate. Somehow a photo ID  like a passport isn’t good enough but anyone could walk in with my birth certificate and get my driver’s license picture shot and paid for. That makes a lot of sense. And of course I had to write back to my birth province for the birth certificate and ask my sister what hospital I was born in because I certainly didn’t know.

I made it through, canceling credit cards and paying for new ID. About two months later I received a call from a dumpster company where they had found my purse, complete with ID and even postage stamps. The purse and wallet were disgusting soaked with garbage juices but I reclaimed my ID and now have spares of a few things. But I was out the cost of the replacement ID, the purse and wallet and of course my cash. I’m even more cautious now but on a nice day at home, you’d think you could leave your door open. I have friends that live in a small town outside of Seattle and they never lock their doors.

Personally, I think I’ve done my time being robbed and burgled and that it’s now time to win the lottery. Hopefully I can write about that exciting change some day soon.

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The Cornucopia List: May 27

(Some glitch happened with Facebook and this didn’t go out last week, so here it is a bit late.) I’m wondering if I need to differentiate the weekly titles or if it will get confusing calling them all the Cornucopia List. So I’ll start adding a date. The list of five things for which I’m grateful this week follows:

  1. Emotions–They are what makes us. Many animals (at least mammals) have emotions as well and this can

    From the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow

    be seen by their attitudes, such as contentment in cat when purring, or feeling angry or threatened in a dog by growling. There is a range that we may not even quite grasp in animals because we can’t truly ask them. But with people, yeah, emotions can run helter skelter, causing chaos, trauma and tragedy. Without them though we would be mere androids, with less attitude than Spock. I like that we can feel good or bad. With the bad we would not appreciate the happy times and everything would be pretty boring. People whose emotions are out of control can be scary but I like that we can change and feel a range of things. I’d rather a world with the vagaries of emotion than a world of robots. (I took the above picture while in Scotland.)

  2. Sun–Hello, Sun! It’s been somewhat sporadic for a mostly chilly and wet spring, but boyoboy do I love the sun. I don’t love it beating intensely down upon me. I have to move in it. But I love the way it will play light over things, making water sparkle, leaves adding shadows, warming the earth and giving us flowers and life overall, of course. It also takes us pasty white people to a color a little more robust. I wouldn’t want to stare at the sun, nor actually visit it (unless it was completely safe) but I do love the sun and I quite understand  how people would see it as a god.
  3. Limbs–As in legs and arms. Not everyone is born with them and not everyone gets to keep theirs and many people have ones that stop working. So I truly appreciate that I have two legs and two arms (though sometimes I wish I had three arms). They ache sometimes and they may not be the most beautiful out there but they’re functional, giving me a fairly normal range of movement and working in tandem with my mind. I don’t have to concentrate to move my arm; it will just go as I decide to pick something up. I don’t have to put each foot forward in a laborious process, I just do it. Limbs let me move faster, sometimes elegantly and I can crawl under things, or climb over them. I have known people who had limited to no use and those who were born that way adapted well but it made me more grateful for the ease in which our limbs work with us.
  4. Shells

    –They all begin as homes and exoskeletons for sea creatures and they are beautiful pieces of nature’s sculpture. The shapes are myriad and the color diverse. We make them into sculptures, jewelery, food and supplement sources. The ocean’s floor is a foundation of ground stone and millions of shells, corals and other aquatic debris. They hold the secrets of mollusks and of the sea and are worn as lingerie by mermaids.

  5. Babies–I’m fortunate enough to work in a place where there is always a baby or two.  I’ve come to learn much better the stages of development by watching the babies grow. And it’s fascinating to see how much of an individual personality they have from day one; everything from calm to fretful to mischievous to coy to angry. Babies are full of uninhibited joy and use their whole bodies to express their emotions, squealing in happiness, turning red and tense with frustration. They’re very pure, not yet formed by society’s culture and moires, not yet tamed or shaped by conventions and fads. Sometimes it would be nice to be able to attain this state again, but really only in the happy emotions. People do not take well to adults displaying rage and having temper tantrums, so yes we are constrained by society and manners, which isn’t always a bad thing. But babies are a true natural joy of the world.

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Traveling in India: Transportation Travails

I think there are many great tales that often take place around transportation: planes, cars, trains, buses, elephants, camels, bikes, rickshaws, etc. Especially if you’re traveling (obviously) there are more tales than the everyday commute, but even living in one’s own city will afford you adventures.

India was probably the most diverse in terms of transportation and terror. I already wrote about flying in “Frightful Flights” but the rest was its own adventure. I never did ride an elephant and though I saw one being ridden it was definitely not the most common form of transportation in India. That would be feet, as most people are too poor to afford more.

I took a few buses from town to town. Many of these were Greyhound size buses and usually without incident But a few trips were driven by kamikaze drivers on winding hills through treacherous roadways. These buses tended to be more like school buses with a picture of one or several Hindu deities up from as well as bright color trims or other decoration. The bus could be one where everyone had a seat and was a mixture of tourists and locals, or one that was a reservation only, air-conditioned, elite tourist only bus. Reservations certainly didn’t guarantee the type of bus or a seat.

On one supposedly reserved bus it was jam-packed full of locals with live chickens and other produce. We knew that we’d paid extra for the privilege of riding locally. It was a bumpy, dusty and long ride and we were packed close enough to examine the weave of each other’s clothes. After someone managed to puke on the bus, the answer being to put paper over the acrid mess and continue onward, several of us opted to ride on the roof of the bus. The tourist luggage was up there anyways and this was a good way to keep an eye on our goods and get some fresh nonvomit-ridden air. Of course this is illegal and had we been stopped some baksheesh would have changed hands, probably from tourist hands to police hands.

As it was, it was a fun way to see the country, and not experience the claustrophobia of the overcrowded bus. I had a couple of bus rides in Nepal too but they were calmer and cleaner. Busing to the next town wasn’t that far but the seats were narrow and metal. Metal is fine in a warm climate but at 5’4″ I was nearly too tall to sit in the seats. I would have stood but I was hit so badly with dysentery I nearly fainted and had to sit, thanks to the Nepalese who noticed my state and motioned for me to sit. Three of them can fit on a bench but I could barely jam my knees down and they were pressed against the seat in front of me. I also took up the room of 1.5 Nepalis. And anyone taller than me had to stand because they just wouldn’t fit. Imagine a 6’2″ man standing next to a tiny Nepalese woman.

Perhaps the most terrifying ride of my life took place in a jeep. The Himalayan hill tribes in the state of Meghalaya tended to drive mostly jeeps, which makes a lot of sense when you see the winding, curving roads with nothing but the foothills of the Himalayas framing them (those foothills equal some of our mountain ranges). One day we went out to Cherapunjee with Hanocia’s brother driving us in the jeep. I had tried to the drive the jeeps there but with the handling of a jeep which is somehow different and tippier, and the right-hand steering, left-hand gear shifting, I just couldn’t get it to work. (Oddly in Ireland with the same type of driving but a car instead, I had no problem.)

So we drove up and took the day looking around. We were there in Oct./Nov. and the days get shorter sooner. We ended up driving back in full darkness. There is no light pollution from distant cities in the foothills of Meghalaya. And the roads are narrow hairpins. As we found common and strange in India, cars would drive with their lights off and only turn them on when they encountered another vehicle. Imagine how terrifying this is as we wind through a hairpin, get to the outside curve and then there is a truck barreling at us, and they both turn their lights on to blind each other.

Hanocia’s brother swore he had to do this to save his lights and that the battery was going. Usually driving regenerates the battery but needless to say we were nearly breathless with fright. After a few encounters with oncoming trucks on the narrow roads we insisted he turn the lights on or we were going to get out and walk. We were miles and miles from Shillong but a long walk in the dark was preferable to dying in the dark.

Since this post has gone long enough I’ll leave off the train rides for a another time, but I can say this: after all these years I still vividly remember the transportation and the tales attached with traveling in India.

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