Witch-fueled dreams?

Apologies for not blogging for the past two or three months, but I’ve been rather busy with my grad school program (last class starts March 7!) (Yea!)  I promise to frequent my blog more often now that I’m finally truly conquering my migraines and my writer’s block. (The discipline of once again having homework has really helped to focus my mind.)

THE-WITCH-e1443454804128Being that I do start my next (last!) class soon, I treated myself to a weekend outing to see the horror movie “The Witch” with my friend Ann and also met some new friends from a horror fan group on Facebook. (Yes, Facebook.) Hello Nikki, Kim, and Miyaka!  We all enjoyed being creeped out. It’s not a scary movie, and definitely not a slasher flick, but builds the fear through tension and atmosphere. I’ve read somewhere – I think in an interview of a famous horror writer – that the most important emotion any horror writer needs to create is DREAD. And “The Witch” definitely has that, as we watch the family fall apart, partly through internal turmoil and partly through external influences. (The exact balance of how much is internal vs. external is open to viewer interpretation.) I won’t give any spoilers here, but if you’d like to read more try these reviews (SPOILERS!):

http://filmschoolrejects.com/reviews/sundance-2015-the-witch.php

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2016/02/23/the_witch_director_robert_eggers_on_the_real_history_behind_the_movie_s.html

It was good to escape out into the bright sunshine, discussing the Puritan interpretation of Christianity with Ann, carrying cute little mini-cupcakes. It was a beautiful day. But then came bedtime. I haven’t had any bad dreams caused by movies in years (like “Jaws” – and yes this was while living nowhere near an ocean). And I’m not saying this dream was caused by my afternoon viewing choice but….

I started to fall asleep in front of the t.v., so I turned it off around 11 p.m., and went to bed. But somewhere around 2 a.m., I had one of the more realistic dreams I’ve ever had (at least in terms of physical sensations). I could feel my heart hammering in my chest, trying to break through my rib cage. My heart jerked to a stop, followed by the strangest feeling of my body going limp and sliding out of the chair (the big comfy t.v. chair I’d been sitting in earlier), face first onto the ottoman, and then over the side of the ottoman, all in this weird slow motion like you see in the movies. The upper half of my body was hanging upside down, the top of my head brushing against the carpet.

It was then I woke up and was, of course, laying in my bed on the opposite side of the apartment. For a few moments I couldn’t move, although I’m not sure if that was more fear, more WTF?, or that sleep paralysis you hear about (which I’ve never experienced before). My cat Paco was curled up next to me; he jumped to his feet and cried at me as if he’d been the one having a bad dream, so I pulled him close for a cuddle while wondering what that black shadow on the far wall was before remembering it’s just the map of our solar system that’s been hanging there for years.

So that’s why I was awake – back in the big comfy t.v. chair at 3 a.m., watching re-runs of Law & Order, and eating a bowl of cereal.

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Never been to Spain…

…but in a couple of months, I will!

CAMINO-DE-SANTIAGO-MAPA5

 

It’s not the trip I had envisioned for myself this year, but sometimes fate intervenes. I was looking through my options for an African safari but the variety of itineraries and available dates did not meet my needs, especially because I am specifically interested in including Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia where the local herd of elephants are known to hang around and even walk through the lobby…but primarily in November when the nearby mango trees bear fruit. Apparently they’re very fond of those mangoes. Of course, one can never guarantee a particular experience when wildlife is involved, but I’d like to maximize my chances of witnessing these magnificent, intelligent and emotional creatures quietly filing through the lobby. I’d also like to combine the safari with a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, but I’m not quite in shape for a hike up 19,000+ feet of mountainous terrain. I’m in good shape, yes, but I still need to prepare more for such a feat, and so I’m putting those plans off until next year.

With plans up in the air, and me casting about for a particular destination on my extremely long list of must-see places to jump up and shout “pick me” I was surprised when a good friend, and fellow writer, Xina Marie Uhl, announced that she was going to do Camino de Santiago, an ancient 500-mile pilgrimage route across Northern Spain favored by both religious adherents and hiking enthusiasts. When she asked if I would like to accompany her, I said yes without hesitation. (There were the twin caveats of securing time off from work and arranging pet sitting, but as they say, “where this is a will, there is a way.”)

Xina is doing it for reasons of faith and I admire her for her belief that “the spirit has called” her to do this pilgrimage at this particular time. Although not religious myself, I support my friends who are and enjoy attending their children’s baptisms or confirmations. So I’ve told Xina I’ll be her emotional support, butt-kicker (when needed) and plucky comic relief.

Why am I doing it? For the challenge, to prove to myself that I am as strong as I believe I am. (And, yes, as training for Mount Kilimanjaro.) And you might say I’m doing it for my spirit. As you know, I’ve been dealing with migraines, and while I’m doing much better, I still don’t feel back to my old self. I miss myself. I miss my creativity, the ability to turn scraps of paper with scribbled ideas on them into short stories in a matter of days. Seeking to re-awaken my brain by going to graduate school is helping, but it’s not enough. My spirit needs more. It needs the open road, my own two feet, a small camera, a notebook. It needs freedom.

Catching up….

Ever feel like you’re constantly playing catch up? I certainly do, especially these past six months since I’ve gone back to grad school to study Crisis Management.

It’s left little time for writing and even less for blogging, which I’ve come to enjoy since I began “The Far Places” blog. I apologize for being absent, but we do sometimes have to sacrifice hobbies for educational opportunities and other life-changing events. I’m glad I’m going to school again: in a strange way it has helped me fight the migraines and the allure of pain killers. I have to be mentally sharp to cope with the class load (reading those hundreds of pages of textbooks; writing research paper after research paper). I don’t want to use the migraines as an excuse to not turn in an assignment on time. I don’t want my mind to be too fuzzy and doped up that it can’t comprehend what I’m reading. The forced mental exercise is helping to re-awaken my brain.

Even if school has robbed me of spare time to write new stories, my brain’s enlivened neurons are spitting out ideas. I am once again accumulating scraps of paper filled with scribbled plot concepts, creepy visions, new interpretations of old legends, warped characters, and interesting little tidbits I come across. I’ll be starting a new class in a few days, but I’m determined to get at least an outline written for a couple of short stories.

I’ll also be sure to take a break from classes here and there. After all, there are more things to do than study and more places to see besides the local library. I’m hoping to get in a nice vacation this year, and hang out with friends. Dawn_BLogNot sure I can top last year which held a family wedding and a chance to reunite with childhood friends, Lisa and Dawn, who I hadn’t seen in more than thirty years. Lisa_BlogBut I’m sure 2015 will offer something exciting…I just have to be not so busy catching up with 2014 that I miss it.

Speaking of catch up…it would seem I’ve missed a couple episodes of “Sleepy Hollow” because I’m feeling lost in tonight’s episode. How did they kill Henry? How did Frank get his soul back? DID he get his soul back? And……I’m thinking a certain writer(s) got really drunk, watched “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and then wrote this episode while hungover. Still, I must scour on-demand for more drool-worthy Tom Mison/Ichabod Crane and those missed episodes.

Crisis Management 101

Bender_blogThe trackpad on your MacBook Pro begins to malfunction, making it nearly impossible to navigate through your hard drive, let alone through the internet. What do you do?

1) Resist the urge to throw the computer across the room and/or out the window.

2) Repeatedly swear at computer.

3) Feeling a migraine attempt to explode behind your right eyeball, give up, take medication, and go to bed.

4) Get perhaps three hours of sleep before your brain wakes you up with a “pssst….hey, you have an old trackball plugged into the much older non-functioning desktop over in the corner.

5) Try to sleep anyway. Not much success.

6) The next morning, try plugging in the trackball. No success.

7) Borrow laptop from very nice neighbor and finish the paper about a fictitious disaster along the Mississippi River for your “Crisis Management Law” class. Turn assignment in. Get a 92% (That’s an “A”)!!

8) After perusing the Apple User Forums, you take MacBook Pro to Apple Store where it is diagnosed with a bad battery (bad battery! bad!). When batteries go bad, they swell and – being located directly underneath the trackpad – place pressure on the trackpad, confusing it. New battery: $140.

9) Start working on next assignment for your “Crisis Management Law” class. The cat – the most sweetest, calmest tabby ever – sitting at your feet suddenly flips over onto his back and makes like a turtle which has been flipped onto its back and can’t right itself. Seizure lasts nearly a minute.

10) Forget homework. Rush cat to vet. Battery of tests: $300. Results negative.

11) Hope it’s a one-time event. Cat has another seizure three days later, doing the “drunk walk” like his back half and front half aren’t speaking to each other.

12) Rush cat back to vet. More tests and x-rays: $300. Results negative. Most likely diagnosis: neurological. Conclusive results would require $1500 MRI at neurologist. I don’t have $1500.

13) Put cat on phenobarbital to control seizures. Hope for the best. Drugs: $40

14) Suffer through series of tension-related migraines during the next couple of weeks.  Run out of migraine medication.  Order more: $15

15) Only with the help of the calming influence of acupuncture, manage to complete the next “Crisis Management Law” class assignment. (And some really nice friends who proofread.)

16) Start working on final research paper for “Crisis Management Law” class and discover the MacBook Pro’s problems have not been completely solved by replacing the battery.  Symptoms not as disruptive, but still damn inconvenient. How’d you like it if your computer spontaneously minimized windows you were working in, or thinking you had clicked on something you hadn’t?

17) Decide to work on WordPress blog posting instead. Malfunctioning computer “publishes” the blog before it’s finished despite the fact that I never clicked on “publish.”

18) Delete half-finished blog and do it over again.

19) Resist the urge to throw the computer across the room and/or out the window.

20) Instead, go give love and attention to ailing cat.

Dear Apple: I hate you

images-2Two months ago, I changed email service providers (and, thus, my email address). Simple, huh?

Wong. If you are an Apple customer, with iTunes and iCloud accounts, your email address is synonymous with your Apple ID. After going through the tedious process of notifying various friends and businesses of the email change, I discovered I could no longer access my iTunes or iCloud accounts.  Why, you ask? Because every time I tried, it kept directing me back to my old Apple ID (the old email address).  I repeatedly was confronted and confounded with screens which wanted my password, but would not let me change the related Apple ID.  iTunes and iCloud would not recognize the old password or the new password.  Hunting through “settings” on my iPhone revealed no place to change my Apple ID (it was always grayed out).

I turned to the online Apple User Forums. Wonderful folks! They directed me on how to fix the problem. I don’t remember all of the steps I had to take, but they included: temporarily switching back to my old Apple ID (fortunately, I had not yet cancelled the old email account so Apple could perform its due diligence in verifying me); turning off find my iPhone; deleting my iCloud account and starting all over again; and doing a hard reboot of the iPhone.  I then had to repeat all of these steps (yes, there were more) for my iPad.

Although my frustration remained (why is it so hard just to change your email address?), the problem was solved. I had access. Or so I thought.

Fast forward to this past week, Apple announced a “limited recall for certain iPhone 5’s” and, since the battery life on mine was really sucking, I checked my phone’s serial number on their website. It says it qualified. So I scheduled an appointment with the Apple Genius Bar staff at their Bay Street store in Emeryville, CA. images

 

Upon arrival, they checked my battery, and discovered that it is still good despite being in the designated batch (not every battery in the batch will actually be bad, they explained). I complained that it must be because my battery life sucked. He took another look at the phone and discovered there was some corruption to the iOS software which, admittedly, was my fault. Like a lot of you, I repeatedly double tap the home button to get to the app switcher and quit apps by swiping up. Guess what? You’re not supposed to that! The employee explained that even though the apps appear to still be running, they are dormant and taxing the battery in minute amounts. That process is only for quitting apps that are frozen.  So – don’t try that at home kids!

He offered to reset the phone in order to wipe its memory (and the battery’s memory). I said yes. My mistake. We went through that process, he ran me through how and where to look on the phone for the button that chooses which iCloud backup to restore from when I got home when I was on my own wi-fi network. I left the store.

I got home. Discovered that when I chose that restore option, the next screen it led me to wanted my password re-entered (for obvious security reasons) but…guess what? It pre-populated the Apple ID for me. You know what’s coming next, right? It was the old Apple ID coming back to haunt me!

The phone did offer me the opportunity to continue on without restoring from that iCloud backup (so that the phone would be functional) but warned that it would not give me all of my purchased content and, of course, I still wouldn’t be able to access anything in iCloud.

Furious, I called the store. Could not get a live human being on the phone. (I later found out the trick to do so: don’t respond to the recording with anything like “my iPhone is broken,” rather ask a retail question like “how much is the new iPhone?” or “does the store have the new iPad Air in stock?”  You’ll thank me later for that advice.

Still furious, I drove to the store. Encountered a very nice young woman who navigated to the screen where she was able to change the Apple ID to the correct (new) one, and began the download of my iCloud data for me…over the store’s wi-fi…which is very slow to say the least. She warned me not to leave the store because it would cancel the download and I would have to start all over again (but be back at the same initial problem of having the wrong Apple ID confronting me).

So I stayed. And I stayed, and I stayed. Until they kicked me out at closing time. Because of the limited number of stools available in the store, I was on my feet for over three hours. The only plus side to this incredible time sink was that I had brought my textbook with me, and I did all my reading.

They told me I could stand outside the store and still be connected to their wi-fi, which I did for a little while, until I just couldn’t take it anymore. I said screw it, and even if I lost the still-not-retrieved-photos, left.

Guess what happened next? You got it. I walked in my door, pulled my iPhone out of my pocket, set it on the counter, and glanced at it. Without me pushing any button or selecting anything, it had automatically connected to my home wi-fi and resumed the download of my photos and apps. And it did so at near the pace of lightning.

So. Approximately four hours of my life wasted that I will never get back because the Apple Genius Bar employee isn’t such a genius after all. And don’t get me started on how many times she kept telling me “we respect your time.”  Gah!  I can think of at least one Apple employee who needs a new job.

Of course all this wouldn’t have happened if Apple didn’t make changing your Apple ID such an incredible hardship.

There are reasons for that, a different employee explained to me, but I will address that topic in my next blog posting which will be titled “Guilty until proven innocent.”

In the meanwhile, thanks, Apple, for the migraine I suffered a sleepless night with, thanks for making me run out of migraine medication, thanks for the heartburn, thanks for wasting my time.

The Apple slogan of “It Just Works” is bullshit.

Penguins, Sharks, Zombies, Shatner…and Crisis Management

Two weeks ago, I vowed to finish the first draft of my latest zombie short story. And I’m proud to say that I did! (I even finished it a day earlier than promised.)  It’s not quite ready for publication. I need to allow a little time for it to marinade…I suppose I could get gross and make some kind of zombie analogy about stewing in bodily fluids…but I’ll save that for the story. I did express concern to my first readers that the story wasn’t quite creepy or gruesome enough and was promptly informed “Oh, yes it is. Eeewww.”  What I need to work on, I’m told, is some character development. So I’ll be revisiting the story this coming weekend.

In the meantime I’ve started a new Twitter feed under @TheFarPlaces describing the adventures of #PenguinAboutTown. It was inspired by the humorous Twitter feed of @BronxZoosCobra and two of my fellow travelers in Baja during March who brought along stuffed critters for photo ops. So, last week when I needed to make a quick business trip to D.C., I took along Penguin (yes, my penguin’s name is Penguin) and took him barhopping.PenguinMetro Here he is hitching a ride on the D.C. Metro. After all, penguins can’t fly. They can’t buy Metro passes either (no pockets for money or credit cards) but I don’t think the station attendants noticed him sneaking on board tucked away in my bag.

Watch Twitter for future #PenguinAboutTown adventures.

And to further wake up my brain – dare I say celebrate the reawakening of my brain from the fog of migraines and pain killers – this week I am beginning a graduate certification program in Crisis Management. First class up: constitutional law. Yeah. Really. I’ll see if I survive the eight weeks without case law turning me into a zombie. Wish me luck. (But, hey, I might get inspiration for yet another zombie story! Do you think they’d let me write a case study of the zombie apocalypse?)

But before I delve into Marbury v. Madison and Jew Ho v. Williamson, etc., I gave my brain a break and thoroughly enjoyed “Sharknado 2: The Second One.” If you love cheesiness, this is the movie for you. I think it was even better than the first one. In the first 5-10 minutes alone they managed to parody “Airplane!” (itself a parody) and the classic “Twilight Zone” ‘Nightmare at 20,000 feet’ episode with William Shatner (who frequently parodies himself). I knew I was in for a great ride the moment I saw Robert Hays in the cockpit.

 

Circles

blogphototrackMany days you find yourself right back where you started.

The short story which remains unfinished; the screenplay which remains unstarted; the photo organization photo stalled; the kitchen still dirty.

Excuses are everywhere: too many projects, too many ideas, tugging you in different directions; or yet another migraine dragging your brain down into mucky pits of stagnation and dullness.

But sometimes excuses are good ones. Like friendship. Instead of spending yet another day at the computer trying to think of effective marketing strategies, I spent Saturday walking. And walking. And walking. In a big circle around a dirt track at a local middle school. One of my friends is a breast cancer survivor and every year she participates in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Since I can’t afford to donate money, I do what I can. I walk the track with her, supporting her in her goal to raise the much needed funds for research.

Amidst the sun, the wind, and the allergens assaulting me, I remind myself that migraines, debilitating as they are, aren’t cancer. And I remind myself that writer’s block, although it can be deadly to my career, won’t kill me. So I walk, and let my brain float free with no thoughts other than those of putting one foot in front of the other. If a cancer survivor can do this, so can I.

So, days later, I continue to put one foot in front of the other. And I continue to hit one key on the keyboard after the other.

Progress in defeating my migraines is slow, but steady. With the help of acupuncture, every week shows improvement. I can look at that bottle of pain killers and say, I don’t need one of those.

And I will (WILL) finish that zombie story which popped into my head during my Baja vacation (way back in March). I will finish a first draft by Sunday. If I don’t, you can scold me. The first draft may not be pretty, but it will be done. One stumbling zombie step at a time.