Those pivotal moments

When I think about those pivotal points when my life’s journey changed in the course of a day or an instant, I also think about some of the times when it could have been drastically altered, but wasn’t. While watching Pretty Little Liars (which I recently admitted to viewing) one of those moments came rushing back to me.

liarsIn the episode (S04E14 “Grave New World”) there’s a scene where a couple of the girls are looking out of a window that’s broken. Cue suspenseful music — cut to a glimpse of the window slipping down — cut to girls’ necks ready to be severed. Spoiler alert: the window does crash. The girls survive.

Working at Aladdin’s Castle in the early 90’s had such an influence on me that I still regularly have dreams about the place 25 years later. Twenty five years?  Yeah… I guess so. In fact, this spring it will be exactly 25 years since I started working there.

I only worked there for two or two-and-a-half years before I quit — the first time. Six months later I worked there again for another couple of years before the Tinseltown movie theater opened up on Highway 50 and soon led to the demise of Old Market Square. Even though the arcade remained for awhile after, Namco Cybertainment closed Store #325 in Kenosha in, um, 1994 or ’95. Maybe ’96. The mid-90’s are a bit blurry for me.

Anyway, one of the games and I didn’t get along so well. This frickin’ beast of a game that tilted forward and backward and left and right. Nevermind that I sucked at the game. Performing maintenance on that sumnabitch was probably the greatest amount of stress I suffered throughout those years. Look at the thing… just look at it!

Sega Afterburner

Every so often, one of the motors would stop working. In an automotive garage, it would be an easy fix. Typically the motor wasn’t completely trashed. Something called a motor brush had to be replaced. Since the thing rocked back and forth and left and right, there were two motors, hence twice the fun of replacing the stupid springy thing.

A view of the Afterburner’s motor

Replacing the brush in the back motor wasn’t much of an issue. The blue metal thing had to be unscrewed, elbows needed to be contorted, batteries needed to be found to put in a flashlight to find a runaway washer. Tedious, but not a big deal.

The front motor, on the other hand, wasn’t so easy. The motor had to be accessed from underneath the cabinet. Obviously, being unable to phase shift through the floor, the left side of the cabinet would have to be tilted up. And, since the cabinet would have to remain propped up during the repair, this process would require two people.

Except that being a small arcade with maybe three customers before 3pm on a school day, I typically worked alone. Combine the impatience of youth with a desire not to remain at work longer than necessary, and my problem solving brain starts working.

Car jack
Flimsy car jack not designed to lift Afterburner cabinet

I thought a car jack should do the trick. But, I was driving a Dodge Shadow at the time that had one of those not-really-a-spare tires. I suppose all spare tires are that variety now, aren’t they? Along with the not-really-a-spare-tire came a flimsy car jack. Fortunately, I was only a couple of years past 18, so I was still more or less immortal and believed this thing would do the trick.

The first trick was to figure out a way to lift the cabinet and get the jack positioned appropriately to prop it up. The fact that I weighed maybe 125 pounds at the time didn’t help at all. After some huffing and puffing and swearing, eventually the cabinet was off the ground enough for me to get my head under it to see what’s what.

Yeah, that’s right: my head. I put my head between this 900 pound machine and the cement floor. There wasn’t much room to spare. I only remained in that position for a moment or two to determine the likelihood of having enough room to maneuver and make the repair. Honestly, at this point, I can’t remember if I did or didn’t.

For whatever reason: a need to get a flashlight or socket driver,  a premonition, a realization that I was being incredibly stupid — whatever — I got out from under the cabinet. Seconds later the jack crumbled and the cabinet crashed down.

That could have been one of those life altering pivotal moments. The weight of the moment was not lost on me. That’s why I don’t really remember what caused me to move right then. I did, however, end up waiting to repair the game until I had someone to help me.

Since then I’ve been accused of sometimes being too cautious or unwilling to press ahead without the proper preparations. As a kid, my father would chastise me for always having to “learn the hard way.” That was largely true. I believe most of us only learn from our own mistakes — not the wisdom of others. After a few significant experiences like having a huge game actually perform a gruesome fatality in real life, I suffer no embarrassment for being overly cautious.

I’ve also come to recognize nearly every moment as a pivotal moment worthy of mindfulness: making sure to walk carefully down the stairs when it’s snowed outside… and when it hasn’t; not trying to carry too much if there’s glassware involved… even if it’s just a few inches so I can dust.

I guess that begs the question: how the hell did I end up spending three-and-a-half hours in Lake Michigan after dumping a kayak last October. The answer to that is pretty obvious. Despite best efforts, it’s impossible to be mindful of everything, yet that doesn’t stop every moment from being a pivotal moment.


Purple talons II

Work continues on “Purple Talons.” The necklace is becoming a netted base that increases to the center. Green splotches represent splotches of seaweed or some other vegetation. This concept seems to be a recurring theme in my necklaces as I work: some sort of water, tangled tendrils, murky.

The companion in my current adventures commented that it isn’t clear what this blog is about. I suppose that’s a valid consideration — if I were concerned about marketing and packaging a product for consumption. But, at this point, that isn’t a large concern of mine. That’s not entirely true.

Soon I’ll be embarking on a wonderful new adventure — not exactly retiring, but not exactly starting a new job. A question that naturally arises is, “What am I going to do with my time?” It’s a pretty obvious answer to me: whatever interests me in the moment. Still, there are limitations to that. I can’t just wake up and decide to go to Paris or buy a sailboat. It’s more like every day will be a Saturday: I can sleep in, stay up late, or take a nap. If chores need doing, I can take care of those… or leave them for Sunday if I want to. It’s a day off, but not really a “vacation.”

There is a concern that life without purpose can drive a person crazy. That may be true. But, a friend of mine reminded me that I have a habit of usually getting focused on something. When I’m no longer teaching, it’s not like I’m going to fluff up a nest to wither away in. I should continue to move toward something.

I enjoy the monotony of beading. It keeps my hands busy. Years and years ago I tried to quit smoking, and in order to keep my hands busy, I started to cross-stitch. That hobby caused me to explore other things, eventually reaching this thing I do with beads. It’s not a stereotypical man hobby, and I haven’t been incredibly open about sharing this interest with others.

Now, as I move toward something else, I consider that with every day being a Saturday, I’m going to end up with a lot of these projects that are going to need a place to be. I’m certainly not going to wear them out and about. But, each piece has been produced from a desire to create: a thought, a concept, a yearning to be. Each piece has a story. Ultimately, that story is influenced by all that surrounds me.

So that’s what my ramblings are all about: the thoughts that influence the story of each of the pieces I’m working on. Putting those stories in the guise of ramblings to specific people are just a way to help me to write. It’s a way for me to confide secrets I don’t necessarily want to publicize… like the fact that I’ve been watching Pretty Little Liars while working on this particular piece. In season four of that show, a bird is featured, which links to the “talons” that I’ve come to recognize as a feature of this current project.

Without context, it is certainly strange for a 43-year-old man to spend a Saturday night with a needle and fishing line stitching together a beaded necklace while watching a TV show geared toward teenage girls. Hell, even with context, it’s probably a cause for questions.

Soon, though, I’ll have plenty of time to provide that context, and explore why I’ve been hesitant to publicize how I’ve spent a great deal of my free time over the past few years.

For now, though, I’ve got another episode to watch and some more beading to do before the desire to blow-shit-up in a video game overtakes me.


Combined thoughts about the end of 2/25

So I just left that meeting. *shrug*. I wish I could say that it ended up being “good.” Hell, I wish I could say that it ended up “bad.” It just was. At the moment, I just feel like it was going through the motions. Things were said. Questions were asked. Thoughts were clarified. I think factions walked in with preconceived notions and will leave without have those perceptions majorly altered.

A sentiment oft repeated is, “It’s all about the journey, not the destination.” With that in mind, I don’t mind having attended the meeting because it was part of today’s journey. But, y’know, as much as I used to love just driving around and taking long road trips, I now prefer to have at least a general destination in mind before getting in the car. I honestly feel like there are a bunch of people in this RUSD car intending on going somewhere… probably different places and planning on different stops along the way while listening to different things on the radio. I’m not even surprised that the superintendent didn’t show up for the ride.

I’m getting off at the next stop, and I truly hope that the rest of the passengers end up getting where they would like to. I would like to end up in that general area too. Disembarking from this analogous car here might cause me to take longer to arrive at that destination, or I might get there a whole heck-of-lot earlier and have to sit around twiddling my thumbs. I likely get sidetracked and lost on the way to where I was going, but that doesn’t really bother me. I’m thankful and excited to continue my journey my own way — with only the people I choose.

That reminds me of the first longish road trip I took by myself. I wanted to go to a Renaissance faire being held in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was a nine hour drive. At one point  I stopped for gas at a truck stop and saw a Star Wars video game. I stayed there for about an hour and a half playing that video game at a truck stop in the middle of Iowa. Sometimes during that journey I thought I should feel lonely or like a loser because I was taking a long trip… through Iowa of all places… to go to a Renaissance faire… by myself (granted, I was meeting someone there and ended up meeting another person that would become a long-time friend), but there were a couple of points that were really profound for me. The first was playing that video game in a truck stop. I didn’t have to be concerned that I was infringing on anyone else’s desire to get moving again. I wasn’t worried that someone else I was with would be bored watching me play the video game, or worse, want to take a turn. I could stay as long as I wanted with only myself to please.

Iowa Sunset taken with a Sony Mavica camera 1999

The second point was when the sun was setting. It was gorgeous. Here I was on an open road surrounded by cornfields in the middle of Iowa with hardly any traffic. I think I was on an Interstate, but it didn’t really matter. I pulled over to the side of the road, took out my digital camera, and shot some pictures of the sunset. No one was telling me that I shouldn’t do that or couldn’t.

The last point was on the way home. I had intended to drive straight through, but I ended up getting tired. I pulled over into the nearest Best Western and got a room for the night. Again, I appreciated where the journey was taking me and the freedom to just do what I wanted to do. The room was pretty darn cool, like a castle chamber. I shit you not, there was a four-post king sized bed with a canopy. Fortunately there was also a pool, and I had brought a pair of swim trunks. You betcha, I decided to enjoy the pool. As I was kicking back in the hot tub, there was another couple in there with me playing smoochie-face (with themselves, not me). At that point I felt a bit awkward. But, only a little bit. Maybe more than a little bit. I don’t know. I remember it — okay!?

Rogues and Gypsies Council Bluffs, Iowa 1999

Yeah, I remember thinking I had some really great moments on that trip feeling liberated and free in my mostly solitary adventure that had a few really awesome moments of fellowship. I remember weighing the scales of those experiences against this one striking moment of awkwardness. Being able to impulsively stop there for the night was pretty cool, but if I had a companion, I wouldn’t have necessarily needed to stop. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have taken the chance to stay in that really neat room. Still, if we had stopped, I wouldn’t have thought about that couple.

Recreating a lesson from Dive! at Trader Joe’s April 14, 2014

That brings me back to how I perceive getting out of the car I’m riding in now. To some degree, yeah, it feels like that trip to Iowa. But, fortunately, there is one big difference. I know I’m not completely alone. I’ll have a companion, and while I might carry a wee bit of concern about stopping at a truck stop for an hour and a half to play a video game or possibly have to defend the sublime serenity and wonder of pulling over on the side of a highway to take a picture of a sunrise because it’s making a largely dull road-trip just a tad longer, I’m pretty confident that she’ll humor those types of whims — usually. There’s no question that it will be infinitely more comfortable not being a lone, strange creeper sharing a hot tub with an amorous couple.

In other news, I’m looking at a closing S&P value of 1951.70. It breached a hard upper barrier I’ve been watching for. If it remains above 1950 all day tomorrow, I may pick up a leveraged bull ETF to hold for a week or so. But, after market trading has it at 1949.25. It would make more sense to me that it will dip again tomorrow until around 1915 before turning back up again. I think it would be a wiser play to wait for that to occur. Yeah… that would be a wiser decision. I’m glad I took the experience of playing the currency markets. It was too easy making gut decisions — I’m seeing it as the difference between playing a game of chess vs. speed chess.

This stupid meeting

I’m going to a meeting this afternoon that causes my brain to race in so many directions. And, while I’d love to explore all those thoughts, I simply don’t have time to do so.

Basically, the meeting was called by our superintendent to gather the high school department chairs together because our input is soooooo valuable. But, here’s the thing: I decided last November that this would be my last year teaching primarily because our district has consistently disregarded effective communication practices.

Granted there are many reasons leading to my decision to quit teaching. However, I sincerely began this school year with the intention of continuing to teach, at least part time, for as long as I felt my time was well spent. Again, there’s a lot of internal conflict there because I know that there will always be reasons that continuing be a teacher would be time well spent. Suffice it to say that when all extraneous motivators have been removed, and I’m left with the decision of does the time I spend devoted to being a teacher in Racine impact me more beneficially or negatively, I’m afraid I’ve been left feeling more angry lately than valued.

That brings me to this meeting tonight. Simply, I don’t want to go. I’ve made my decision and there’s no point belabor the reasons or defend them. The decision has not been made impulsively. It has been the culmination of sixteen years of experiences and one-and-half years of allowing my mind to separate and process the decision of quitting between because I can and because I want to. But, the line between those two is difficult to describe. And, I fear that attending this meeting tonight, I won’t be able to accurately portray that distinction. I’m worried that anything I contribute will be easy to refute with something along the lines of, “Yeah, well Justin can afford to say that because he can quit his job.” Yep. That’s true. What’s also true is that I have absolutely no idea how I would react to everything that’s happened at work over the past couple of years if that wasn’t the case. There’s a strong likelihood that I’d miserably stay in the situation because I couldn’t afford to quit. But, there’s also a strong likelihood that I would have behaved differently along the way.

Unfortunately, in the end none of that really matters, and I’m left in a place where if I put myself in someone else’s shoes, it’s simply not fair that I can look at all the upcoming transformations and say, “I’m outta here.” It’s not. I believe many of my colleagues would say the same thing if they had the financial security to do so — and that’s a problem. It’s a problem I perceive as being solvable with authentic and effective communication. It’s a problem that I used to be able to articulate much better, but the priority of being able to do so has drifted away. So, I’ll be going to this meeting tonight because I feel that I should — since it is an attempt to involve department chairs in a process of communication. But, I also think that’s all it is: a token action to say an attempt at communication has been made.

In my mind, my contribution to the discussion goes something like this: “This attempt *grunt* *smirk* *sneer* obviously not *shrug*… Screw it. What’s the point?”

Oops. I’ve been watching the clock that’s fifteen minutes slow and have to be running along to work now.


1900 Level

She opened up slightly below 1900 today. This causes me to believe that we’re going to drop to around the 1850 level before another up turn.

But, she’s behaving a little tricky today. During the noon hour she took an upward turn, and, surprisingly my Marathon position is up despite the news of oil going down.

I’m still watching for a drop down to around 1850, where I may pick up some leveraged index ETFs for another run up.

Unlike last week, I’m not feeling an intense vibe from the market. She’s dancing between a couple  of levels that make sense to me, which, of course means that either direction is an understandable move. It will become interesting again when the S&P nears 1850 or 1950.