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October 5, 2002 ... How is it that you can have lost someone, and still talk to them?

How is it that two people can talk, and both want to talk, but still find they have nothing to say?

Why can one heart at the same time wish someone the greatest happiness and be torn apart that they can't be part of that process?

When is it over?

What are these shells we build around ourselves? How do we crack them? And how, for that matter, do we repair them when they are too weak and too much of ourselves bleeds away?

Why can't more people learn that life is a delicate balancing act? Or that we're all in this together? How many people are going to read this and cynically think, "Look who's talking"? How many people are going to think I'm accusing them personally of being the problems I speak out against? How many people are going to feel smug and say, "I've learned those lessons," and miss an opportunity to learn one more?

When does it end?

Do we have any say in the matter? Do we control the path we walk as well as the speed with which we walk it? Are there trucks in the way, ready to run us down? If so, do they sell ice cream?

Why don't dreams hurt? (I don't know about you, but mine never have. Sometimes finding out they're dreams does, but not the dream itself.)

Why do so many realize that hurting is better than numbness, and claim for themselves the power to hurt themselves, but never make the same leap with happiness?

Why can finding out a single fact about someone change our opinions of them so dramatically?

When is love an excuse?

How many times will it excuse the barb shoved into your heart?

And how many questions does it take before we start becoming grateful that there are some things we don't know?

October 6, 2002 ... For those of you who might be wondering: No, yesterday's entry wasn't about you.

A bit of randomalia to spice up your Monday morning web-surfing follows.

I got the Bugbear virus in my e-mail inbox a day or two ago. Rather, I should say I received it; I deleted it long before it could have posed a threat (even assuming it would have run on my machine, which it won't). What makes this noteworthy is that the message itself was a response to another e-mail that the infected person has at one point received; instead of the standard "I send u [[misleading name]]. Plesae send me ur opinyun" third-grade virus-writer form letter, this virus actually bothers to search its target's hard drive for mailbox files, and then grabs a random letter from there, quotes it, and mails it on with a few generic comments. If it had actually been a response to one of my letters rather than some random conversation about cars and movies, I might have even been fooled.

I noted, though, one interesting and rather scary thing while reading through Symantec's Bugbear information page. To wit:

If the operating system is Windows 95/98/Me, the worm attempts to obtain access to the password cache on the local computer. The cached passwords include modem and dial-up passwords, URL passwords, share passwords, and others. This is done using an officially undocumented function -- WNetEnumCachedPasswords -- that exists only in Windows95/98/Me versions of the Mpr.dll file.
Another warning on the perils of "Security Through Obscurity." If the only thing between your passwords and the hackers is that Microsoft has kept the function that accesses them "officially undocumented," you're not all that safe.

In other news, Gene Ray, of timecube.com fame, has gone completely around the bend. The top of his site now proclaims: "Tis Time to kill any educator who does not teach Cubicism above cubelessness. To save humanity from extinction, like prior civilizations perished, youth must redirect self teachers, or destroy them." Y'know, as someone who also holds fringe beliefs, I really should have some sympathy for his Universal Theory of Four, but I have to draw the line at condoning murder. There's kooky, and then there's dangerous.

On a far brighter note, I start my new job tomorrow (Monday afternoon). I will be working at the Auburn Journal as a page designer. This will mark my return to the newspaper business after a three-year hiatus, which (only somewhat coincidentally) corresponds with the time I lived outside of California.

Maybe it's something about the weather?

October 9, 2002 ... One of the things that I love most about California is the changing of the seasons. Or, rather, the lack thereof.

Down here, at the base of the sunny Sierra Nevadas, you always know what weather to expect. For over nine months of the year, you get the same thing every day. The sky is featureless, placid, a solid wall of color. The hills maintain the same even, golden hue, their grasses adapted to the routine. Only occasionally does the pattern change: Clouds roll in and out, transforming the sky into a patchwork quilt of sun and shadow. And then, for a few brief months, it's all turned upside down. Residents peer out their windows quizzically, wondering when the strangeness stops, glancing uncomfortably at gutters and trying to figure out whether or not now would be a good time to start saving up for those roof repairs they've been thinking about for a while.

Of course, if you change the golden hills to green (and replace the implied blue skies with grey), exactly the same thing could be said about Seattle. ... And I hated the weather there.

October 12, 2002 ... We're going to have to call this one

Son of Return of Revenge of Broken Arm Update II

Here I was, typing away at an idea I had for a quickie little done-in-an-afternoon Tomorrowlands story, and polishing up a morbid little idea for an engaging and thought-provoking journal entry, when it started to dawn on me that my right arm was sitting uncomfortably on the armrest of the computer chair. Shifting it around didn't seem to help, so I got up, bent my arm, and peered at the elbow to figure out if there was any good reason why it was suddenly being uncomfortable.

The good reason popped out at me like a ... well, like an inch-in-diameter, quarter-inch-deep lump under my skin. Before I go any farther, it occurs to me that some of you may not have any proper idea of scale; after all, a quarter-inch isn't all that big, right?

No, it's not that big. It's this big:

[This one's worth a graphical browser, I promise.]

I was going to write a sentence here that began with the phrase "In a word," but I will take pity on my gentler-of-spirit readers and omit the word in question, which is normally invoked in the context of intercourse.

So it was off to the emergency room for our draconic protagonist. (I provide the link to show that, as an interesting side note, I am the first person on the Web to ever use that phrase.)

Mysteriously appearing huge lumps are reason enough for worry, of course. But I had a fairly specific fear. Given that I broke my elbow back in late April, and given that the lump seemed hard to the touch, as if it were mostly bone, I was worrying that somehow, a segment of the previously broken ulna had worked its way out of its proper position and was protruding out where it shouldn't be. I really wasn't thrilled by the prospect of another surgery and another enormous hassle with medical bills.

Of course, there were a lot of things that didn't fit. For one, it was confirmed through outside observation that the lump was new within the last 24 hours; I had showed the roommates my surgery scar at dinner on Friday. I hadn't had any large trauma to the elbow in the intervening time. More mysteriously, the arm was completely free of pain, even when prodded, and I seemed to have a completely normal range of motion. So there was just a big bony protrusion where no big bony protrusion had any right to exist. "Maybe I'll be lucky," I joked to Kras, "and it'll just be a really fast-growing cancer."

I went to the hospital, where they checked me in to the emergency room in fairly short order, and had sent me down to Radiology for X-rays within the span of twenty minutes. (The nurses kept complaining about how busy they were, and indeed, the trip did take nearly two hours all told. But the beginning of the process was smooth.) The radiologist seemed impressed that I had brought along an X-ray from July showing how the arm was supposed to look. (I had made certain to get a copy from the doctor in Seattle when he told me everything was healed up, and it was still in my easily-accessible medical bills folder in the filing cabinet by my computer.) He made a copy so that he could send it to the M.D. along with the new shots he took; we chatted as he handed me the usual "jewel protector" (the lap full of lead to keep the radiation from going where radiation shouldn't go); the X-rays were X-rayed; and I began the long wait for the doctor.

He finally came in a little bit before midnight, looking a little concerned -- or perhaps just preoccupied with some of the other, more critically injured patients he'd been seeing.

"How's it look?" I asked.

"The good news ..." he began -- oh, I hate it when doctors start out that way. It never bodes well. "The good news, Tad, is --"

But, you know, that's a story for tomorrow.

Ain't I a stinker?

October 13, 2002 ... It has come to my understanding that yesterday's entry, about my trip to the emergency room to deal with a possible complication from my broken arm, ended on what those in the entertainment business like to call a "cliffhanger." Some of you, by now, must be pretty curious as to what exactly the doctor told me about that weird protrusion from my elbow.

So have I mentioned anything about the disc golf equipment that my roommates and I bought on Saturday? I got this disc that's a really weird shade of off-white. Let me try to describe it for a few paragraphs ...:

(Just kidding. Don't worry. I'm not that cruel.)

So let's back up to Saturday night, with our draconic protagonist sitting in the Grass Valley hospital's ER ward. Across the hall was a crying baby; down the hall, near the bathroom, a young man lying in bed with an IV in his arm, looking as though he'd lost an argument with something large and metallic. Waiting along with me in the four-bed room, two older women and their families. One was getting casts put on both of her arms -- she'd slipped earlier that night and come down on her hands, breaking some small bones in her wrists. I offered my sympathy and described the springtime incident that had brought me to a similar position (well, half of one, anyway). The other woman was suffering from abdominal cramps and some rectal problem I don't remember the technical name of -- but her husband joined in the conversation, having broken his right shoulder's rotator cuff twice in a row, and still undergoing therapy. It may not have been "broken arm night" there at the hospital, but if so, they certainly could have fooled me.

Apparently, higher-priority ambulance arrivals kept the doctors busy, because I sat in the room for over an hour. Fortunately, I had thought to bring my notebook, and I got some TTU work done. Both women were checked out (the one with broken arms, who noticed my dedicated writing, joking "I hope you're not taking notes about us"); and for a while, the room was empty. Around 11:15, I went back out to the waiting area long enough to drag Kras (who had driven me in) back into the room with me; I didn't want to just leave him out there with no idea of when I'd be finished.

Around 11:30, paramedics wheeled an older man into the room. He was apparently in for some sort of blood clot in his arm, but that seemed to be the least of his worries. When they were asking him for his personal information, he responded to their queries in a voice that sounded ...

Well. Have you ever whispered at full volume before? The difference between whispering and talking is that you're not vibrating your larynx. You can actually whisper quite loudly if you try; actors call it a "stage whisper." Give it a shot; read a sentence from this paragraph out loud that way.

Now, have you ever heard someone trying to imitate how an old person talks? There's a different timbre to that than simply whispering. You can simulate that by holding your tongue completely still as you talk. Try that on top of the stage whisper. You should be talking pretty funny by now; if there are other people around they should be giving you weird looks. That's the effect we're shooting for.

I suppose I simply could have said that the poor man's voice was hoarse and high-pitched. But the problem is that it wasn't a normal hoarse, high-pitched voice. It was a hoarse, high-pitched version of the funny voice you're now speaking in.

That's the sound of lung cancer, folks.

He wasn't coming in for the lung cancer. He was coming in for the blood clot. If it weren't for the fact that he had been unloaded from an ambulance, I would have sworn he was there for the wrong reason.

I suppose there's no particular reason for this digression, other than to reinforce how lucky I felt that I was in the ER for a painless, non-traumatic problem. Considering that the other five visits in my lifetime have been for, respectively: a bad ankle sprain; a bout of appendicitis during which I woke up on the operating table; a tightness in my chest and shortness of breath that fortunately turned out to be non-serious; blunt head trauma; and the aforementioned broken arm ... well, it could have been far, far worse.

Which brings me to the diagnosis. "The good news, Tad," said the doctor after reviewing my X-rays, "is that everything in your arm is right where it should be. We checked the new shots against the one you gave us, and if anything, the arm has healed even better in the meantime. That's not bone. There's no bone out of place."

"So what's the lump?" I asked.

"Well," he said, "you'll notice that it's exactly where your bone was wired together. What I think is that an edge of the wire cut one of your blood vessels, and you're just getting some blood clotting. Essentially, an internal bruise."

"Is there anything you can do?"

"Not really, no. If we stick any needles in, we risk infection by breaking the skin. You're better off just letting it go back down on its own. You can take some ibuprofen to reduce the swelling and deal with the pain." (Which, fortunately, I had none of. Pain, that is.)

"Is it anything to worry about?"

"Only if it gets worse. Just take it easy on the arm for a few days. You need a work release?"

So, gentle readers, I walked out of there vaguely relieved. I knew that that wire was going to be trouble someday, but there's not much I can do about it until my health insurance kicks in (and perhaps not even then). And, all things considered, this could have been much, much worse. As it is I'm just going to be out a few hundred dollars for the visit, less if California Medicaid is any more accommodating than Washington's.

And, hey. For all the worry it caused me, it really wasn't all that much trouble. Since I'm not right-handed, it didn't even stop me from playing disc golf this afternoon.

I spent twenty minutes wading in the water hazard on the ninth hole, but that's another story entirely.

October 16, 2002 ... As one might expect, work is suddenly eating up a big chunk of my life (slightly over 52 hours per week, including lunch, commute and the odd overtime). It's not that this is leaving me unable to keep up with the projects in my personal life that I wish to accomplish ... it is, however, forcing me to learn -- rather quickly, at that -- some good time management habits.

Actually, both at work and away from it, I'm getting a crash course in efficiency. When I arrived at the Auburn Journal, I was assembling about 3-4 pages per night (albeit wide open pages -- none of those "slap two stories in around the ads" jobs). I'm now getting my average up to 4-5 per night, and have started building the front page and jump page set in about two hours instead of three.

(The front page of the newspaper. For the last week straight, I've designed what you see when you look at it in the display rack. This is still a source of awe to me, considering that I was only given a few inside-section fronts back at ANG way back when and mostly entrusted with the grunt work of the unimportant inside wire pages. As much as everyone around the office seems impressed with me, I've surpassed my own expectations far more than theirs; I'm laying out the front page of a respected daily newspaper. End digression.)

Having brought my average up, while admirable, still hasn't reached my goal. Gloria, who did nearly all of the page design before I arrived, said that she regularly would handle eight or more pages per night. It seems likely that I'll be called upon (in a few weeks, anyway, once I'm expected to have "learned the system" -- which I've already done; I'm just learning the routine) to produce the same level of output. I can do this, no question; but it's becoming increasingly clear that in order to do this I will have to cut some corners. Just which ones remains to be seen.

Error control is definitely not going to be one of them.

I was scanning the print-out of the paper's front page this evening, triple-checking for accuracy and fairness all of the headlines that I'd written. Somehow, I didn't notice during the full hour it was on the computer screen in front of me; somehow, I didn't notice when I printed the first proof; somehow, Gloria -- who I had handed the first proof to, as a second set of eyes to catch minor errors -- didn't notice either; but when I fixed a few errant punctuation marks that she'd caught on proof #1, and printed out proof #2 so that I had a clean copy to examine before sending the page back to the pre-press department ...

On the biggest headline of the page, on top of the first and most important story, in glaring bold-face 60-point type ... I had misspelled the city in which the fire we were reporting on had taken place. "Wiemar" instead of "Weimar."


Words cannot express my relief that I noticed that at 10:45 P.M. Wednesday night, instead of 1:30 P.M. Thursday afternoon when I went in to work the next day. Misspelling something that major and that visible, in the newspaper business, is (probably literally) a firing offense. Oh, boy, would that have been Not Good.

I attacked the page with a highlighter pen until it looked like it was bleeding sunshine from the offending city. Then wrote, in thick red pen, "THIS IS WHY WE DOUBLE-CHECK" on top of the page, and pinned it to my cubicle wall.

I don't care what corners I have to cut to make deadline once I'm called upon to lay out eight pages a night. I'm not cutting that one.

October 17, 2002 ... Late-night statistics round-up.

Total amount of time spent driving home after leaving work at 1:45 AM: 39 minutes
Number of hours before I am expected to be at work again: 6

Estimated probability that the ACT server will crash again within the next week, forcing me (and my coworkers) to once again put in 3.5 hours of overtime: 35 percent
Approximate cost of uninterruptible power supply: $500
Approximate total cost in labor and overtime of tonight's crash, caused by having one too few of them: $2,000

Total number of moving vehicles seen during drive home: 31
Average number of vehicles encountered per minute: 0.79
Number of vehicles seen which were big-rig trucks: 5
Number of vehicles seen which were delivery trucks: 2
Number of vehicles seen which were police or sheriff cars: 3
Estimated probability that a given car seen on my late-night commute will be a law enforcement vehicle: 12.5 percent
Estimated probability that a given car seen while driving in Auburn, Calif. at 2 AM will be a law enforcement vehicle: 50 percent

Number of signs along my route home advertising "Owl Realty": 1
Number of owls seen during drive: 0

October 20, 2002 ... To add to last post's statistics:

Approximate number of cars observed per minute along the same route at 11:00 AM on a weekday: 39
Approximate percentage that 11 AM is busier than 2 AM: 4,836%



A friend of mine used an interesting metaphor tonight; it's not mine, but I really would rather maintain their anonymity than embarrass them with proper credit. They were talking about relationships, and the idea of orbits came up. Some people, they said (though I am creatively paraphrasing), have such a strong need for others that they're like stars careening through space, dragging planets in their wake, grabbing whatever comes along because they've got to pull something in, even if it's just space junk. They burn bright, and they burn hot, and they fear running out of fuel and flinging themselves, spent, through the darkness.

The problem with such high-gravity stars is that in their mad quest to yank their nearest luminescent neighbors in, so that they can find someone to temper their fire and ground them into stability, they're whirling chaff around them left and right.

I'm something of a social spaceship, rather than a meteor; I steer myself around, carefully navigating toward others, being very deliberate in my relationships and slowly settling into stable orbits. This is a consequence of several things, the most prominent of which is probably my low drama tolerance. Passion is great for what it is, but far too many people have far too much of it, and when passion outstrips common sense, the inevitable train wreck is called "drama" (or, occasionally, more ugly names that one generally hears out of the mouths of policemen and D.A.s). I've never found emotional intimacy to be worth the cost of drama, especially when such closeness is available without it; and while I do not demand many things of my friends, I expect that they will behave themselves around me in a way that respects my drama boundaries. Some would call this behavior "maturity." I don't think that's an entirely fair assessment, but perhaps it's a good way to sum up the idea.

The point of that digression, of course, being this: For all my care and deliberate work ... for all the time I spend carefully circling people, and choosing carefully those who will respect my slow movements and desire to avoid collision ... there are certain types of person that I may in fact endanger by going into orbit around.

Remember the bright, hot stars of which I spoke? The fast-burning, high-gravity celestial bodies that careen through space in search of a stabilizing influence? Well, if you try stabilizing them, it's a quite intelligent thing to remember that they're still high-gravity. Doesn't matter how much you slow them down to try to steer them onto a good course; doesn't matter how much you can cool their fires ... they're still going to attract a huge cloud of coments, meteors and planets that dance around them in unsteady orbit, whizzing by at crazy angles in their own completely lopsided and yet strangely synchronized manner, skittering past each other and occasionally bouncing with a huge shower of sparks. (Okay, space collisions don't make sparks; I'm mixing metaphors. So sue me.)

Add a body in steady orbit to the mix, and you throw off the equations entirely. What was once a dizzying mix of Tilt-a-Whirl and bumper cars instead starts to look like the carnival's shooting gallery. Suddenly, these meteors start flying in, and there's something in the way, and it has quite cleverly positioned itself to not actually hit anything else in orbit, but the meteor skirts the edge of it, slingshots, and finds itself in a head-on collision path with that comet that just finished rounding the sun.

Then the debris goes everywhere, and a lot of people spend a lot of time picking up all the pieces.

Debris sucks.

October 23, 2002 ... Score a karma point for the local cops.

I was, as usual, driving home from work at what most people would consider to be an ungodly hour of the night. I was driving down a deserted highway, through the sprawling forested wilderness of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Along comes a car in the opposite direction; I lower my headlights. We pass. But wait! The car pulls practically a bootlegger turn a few seconds after passing me, and starts roaring up the hill in my direction.

Now, anyone who's had a driver license for more than about ... oh, eight seconds ... can tell you that there is only one type of vehicle on the road that will do that. And when a cop decides to pull a 180, you're already in trouble.

Even more so at 12:45 in the morning, when -- because there is nobody else on the road for four miles in either direction -- it is blindingly obvious that you're the center of his attention.

Now, because of the work and social schedules that I typically keep, I know how cops work at that hour. Everyone's a suspect. All of the "good" people have gone to bed. More often than not, they'll pull you over just to see if they can find anything wrong. All they need is a pretext; a little bit of swerving, or driving with a typical American's ignorance of speed limits, or a broken headlight. I knew I was safe: there was nothing illegal in the car, I hadn't been speeding (much), and I certainly wasn't going to be going any more than one or two miles per hour over the limit with a cop directly on my tail. So I tried to ignore him as best I could, and keep the speedometer pegged right around 55 (a little harder than it sounds along a hilly road). The inevitable traffic stop was going to be nothing more than a waste of both our times. No ticket for me.

So the cop caught up to me and rode on my tail for a while on the curvy, two-lane highway. For a while, he flashed on his brights -- which I know from experience means that he was trying to get a better look at my license plate to see if the registration was current. The flashing reds and blues didn't come on, so apparently I was good there.

I reached Grass Valley with the cop still on my tail, getting increasingly nervous; how long was he going to take to find his pretext to pull me over?

Then the road split into a divided highway, two lanes in either directions, as we reached the city proper. ... And the cop, getting tired of my goody-two-shoes act, decided to take action:

He pulled into the left lane and roared past me in search of other prey.

I'm still astounded. This strikes a blow against every stereotype of the late-night small-town cop that I have ever heard about or experienced. After checking me out by driving behind me for a few minutes, the guy decided I was legit and let me go, without even pulling me over.

Perhaps it was just that the universe is on crack tonight. Shortly after that incident, I turned on the local radio station, Nevada City's self-described "eclectic community radio" KVMR, to be greeted by ... Spanish music. To be more specific, the Gipsy King's "Di me," which was actually rather catchy. ... But still viscerally wrong.

Now, the station's musical selections are like the old joke about Midwest weather -- if you don't like it, wait half an hour, it'll change -- but previously I hadn't heard any Hispanic selections on that section of the dial. There's a line that isn't usually crossed -- probably because the average listener, scanning the dial for music, will hear Spanish lyrics and assume he's found a Spanish station. I had to wonder if I'd jogged the tuner, myself.

As if to signal a coda, I nearby ran down a jackrabbit the size of a small dog when I turned off Highway 20 into Penn Valley. It's the first local wildlife I've seen running across a road.

And everyone was asleep when I got home.

October 25, 2002 ... The World Wide Web, it is often said, is like having the world's largest encyclopedia in your home. This analogy is fairly accurate, as far as it goes, but I've got a problem with it:

It underestimates "big."

Google keeps track on the front page of its site of the number of web pages it indexes. At press time (which is my newspaper-addled brain's way of saying "as of this writing"), that figure was 2,469,940,685. Two and a half billion pages.

At one page per second, if you could surf in your sleep, you could theoretically look at every page on the Web in your lifetime. It would only require 79.3 man-years of work. I say "theoretically" because this relies on the rather improbable assumption that the Internet won't have even doubled in size in 79.3 years; at its apparent current rate of growth, it seems set to double by 2005. (2 billion in December 2001; 2.5 billion in September 2002.)

The Web is so huge that it's essentially impossible to index. The fall of directories and rise of search engines is ample evidence for that. Fortunately, the search features are good -- but sometimes they get bizarre.

For example, while searching today for art in the style of those old Russian propaganda posters -- you know, the ones that always seemed to feature big, burly steelworkers drawn in bold, angular lines, hammer slung over their shoulder, staring out proudly into the sky? -- I tried a Web search for proletariat. I got many results, and that one was among them. I have to say I certainly wasn't expecting vengeful squirrel poltergeists.

I also learned, completely by accident during the same search, that September 11 is the anniversary of Catalonia's autonomy. Not that anyone in the Western world will make that assocuation after last year, but an interesting fact nonetheless.

I didn't learn about tulpas via my impassioned search for strapping Russian proles, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was a two-degrees-of-separation link there.

And, curse the fates, my wrists are starting to threaten revolution against their bourgeoisie oppressor "The Computer User" again. I've already sent in a request for some ergonomic aids at work. In the meantime, I'd better dig out the old wrist braces again; I am not willing to undergo another round of carpal tunnel.

... Although I'm willing to negotiate on the ninjas.

October 30, 2002 ... Tonight, I drove home under an open sky.

The moon lately hasn't been rising until well after midnight. The nights have been free of clouds. The stars have been shining down like spotlights; there is no good way to describe them to those who haven't experienced the pleasure of a night in the middle of nowhere, except to stumble for poetry and state that the sky is more alive that way, in much the same way that looking down at the scattered gemstones of a city at night indicates there's life to be found there.

Working at a newspaper, one tends to pick up tidbits of local trivia, such as the fact that Placer County (in which I work) is now heading into its 164th consecutive day sans precipitation, which is challenging a local drought record. I wish I could react to this news in the proper manner: worry, along with a healthy dose of impatience. Instead, I find myself quite content to sit back and watch the streak build and build. And not just because tomorrow is Halloween and a rainy Halloween is gauche.

For one thing, cloudless nights mean I get more stars.

I recently moved from Seattle; one must realize that seeing the sky, much less the stars, is something of a novelty there. For all I loved the city, my three years there were overwhelmingly indoor ones. After our move to the University District, within walking distance of Ravenna Canyon, I did finally find some isolated outdoor space to unwind in -- but never anywhere I felt comfortable going at night. Even if I'd been able to enjoy Ravenna after dark, the city lights would have washed out all but the brightest stars. (Assuming, of course, a clear night, which would have been a miracle in itself.)

Now I'm not only back in California, and far enough inland to avoid the coastal fog, but I'm also at least thirty miles from the nearest city of over 50,000 people. Everything here is conducive to star-gazing. I can go outside and get in touch with myself, navel-gazing by proxy, staring at the distant reaches of infinite possibility, and savoring the beauty.

I have more practical reasons for appreciating the lack of rainfall, too. For one, I have a 45-minute commute each way to work every day. That commute wanders through desolate areas of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Parts of the highway I travel on, in fact, require snow tires in the winter. As my current vehicle -- a loaner van from my parents -- would take poorly to such drastic measures, and the commute is long enough that I really don't look forward to the idea of lengthening it further by slowing down and/or taking alternate routes ... well, every day it stays clear is another day I don't have to deal with the complications of weather.

At the same time, there is a small voice in the back of my mind reminding me of one very important difference between Seattle and central California: In Seattle, the hills are typically green.

The rain that I have so many good reasons for disliking keeps things alive. It is ultimately necessary. If it's put off too long, cycles are thrown out of balance. If it's avoided for record-breaking stretches of time, people start worrying, and a potential crisis looms.

And yet I'd really rather not have rain. I'm happier, spiritually speaking and practically speaking, without the grey, stormy skies.

I can't convince myself to believe that the weather revolves around me, but it's an interesting thought experiment to pretend that my presence in California is somehow bringing the pathologically extended sunshine that I've been craving for so long ... and I find myself sliding toward the conclusion that it might be better for me, in the long term, if I "let" the precipitation start.

Incidentally, if this is beginning to sound like a metaphor to you ... you're right.

October 31, 2002 ... I wore a Halloween costume to work today. On my way in to the office, I stopped at a gas station to refill the van's tank.

"What are you?" asked a bystander at the station, eyeing my clothing.

"I'm a dragon," I explained.

"Ah," he said, a little dubiously, looking at the tall, pointy hat and the blue-and-silver robes.

"But I'm dressed up as a mage," I clarified.

     * * * * *

Later on that evening, I also picked up a hitchhiker; I discovered as he got into the car that he was carrying an eighteen-inch sword ... but that's another story.*

*(This is what those in the biz call a "cliffhanger." But I won't keep you in suspense wondering whether I'm okay: there was no altercation involved. There, Mom. You don't have to call me up at 3 A.M. in a panic now. ];=8))

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