party bus.

The wedding had two receptions. That was the answer to the question I'd had when I saw that the wedding started at 2 PM, but the reception wouldn't be until 6. What were we supposed to do in the meantime? The answer was eat some more.

The first reception was at the church, out the door, to the left, and then down the stairs. The room was not really big enough for the crowd, but that issue worked itself out as the more agoraphobic among us cleared out. There were sandwiches and spring rolls and cheeses and tiny red velvet cupcakes. There was also wine, because this was a Catholic church. I recognized it as being left over from the rehearsal dinner the night before. I ate and drank and mingled, like you do at a reception.

Then the crowd really started to thin out, and I spied the groom carrying a couple of bottles of wine, full, but opened and recorked. He beckoned for us to follow. Josh was an usher that afternoon, which I have discovered as the sweet spot for wedding enjoyment. Very little responsibility, no posing for pictures, but full wedding party privileges. Actually, I guess being the date of an usher is the sweetest spot of all.

We walked outside with the rest of the wedding party and there, as if it were waiting for us, was a party bus. Maybe this was the answer to the two receptions. There were not actually two receptions, but one long one at three different locations: the church, the country club, and the party bus itself.

I have never been on a party bus. In fact, I don't think I even knew you could just rent one. It was a regular short-style bus, purple, with the name of the company on the side. The driver was separated from the party area by walls and a door. There was one long padded bench that ran along the inside. Beneath the bench were compartments where you could store your party supplies. Along the top were a variety of glasses - pint, shot, and wine. We passed out the wine glasses, which were all souvenirs from local vineyards. The lights and the windows were dimmed, and there was music. More than once, I caught the reflection of my flushed and happy face in the mirrored door.

The groom told the driver that we didn't have to be at the country club until 5, so just drive around awhile. He poured everyone a fresh glass of wine. Someone tried to pass around a flask, but it seems that we are all old enough to know how to pace ourselves.

So we just rode around for a while. There was a place to hookup an iPod in the back, so someone designated themselves DJ. We danced as well as we could in our seats and sang enthusiastically when we knew the words - our rendition of "Piano Man" was surely for the ages. Every once in a while, someone would raise their glass to toast the newlyweds, at which point the rest of us would go "Wooooo!" Once, I said "Woo!" out of pure excitement, which started up everyone else. We were in a woo-ing kind of mood.

After only a short trip on the party bus, we pulled up to a pristine golf course and club, our final destination. There was more wine, appetizers, wine, dinner, cake, and then dancing.

At 10 PM, I discovered the only drawback about arriving on the party bus - our car was still at the church. And since we had been woo-ing it up in the bus rather than watching the road, I really had no idea where I even was. Some club employees gave me a number for a cab, which I guess means that there is a hidden fee in riding the party bus. Whatever. Worth it.


the thirty-seven most promising graduates in all the land.

Josh's little brother graduated from high school this past weekend. I've been to lots of graduations, and they're never very exciting, but it seems to be the kind of thing you go do to be supportive. I think every previous event I've attended was in a sports facility of some kind, like a gym or a stadium. This one was in a church, a beautiful Methodist chapel that must've been modeled after Duke Chapel.

It was a schmancy affair. The organist played the processional, accompanied by a bagpiper. It was not "Pomp and Circumstance". I don't know what it was, only that it was not what I expected to hear. Or maybe it's just hard to recognize P&C on a bagpipe. The teachers filed in first, followed by the line of graduates. Everywhere there were phones and tablets out, aimed at the line of kids in general or trying to capture one specifically.

There were a series of remarks by various local bigwigs. The salutatorian was given time for a speech, except it was really just an introduction to the valedictorian (salt in an open wound, that). The valedictorian spoke next, providing a top ten list of advice that included things like "work hard" and "persevere." It also included the command to "be gracious," but judging by the comments afterward, what she meant was "be grateful." You know, when I graduated, someone gave me a dictionary. I thought it was lame, but maybe it's just what some kids need.

And then - we're moving right along here, might be done before McDonald's stops serving breakfast - it was time to give out the diplomas. There were only thirty-seven kids in the class, so one would expect that this part would be briefer than my niece's graduation, where something like 500 kids filed across the stage. In every graduation I've ever seen, some uptight administrator would sternly warn us not to cheer or show any sort of enthusiasm when our graduate's name was called. The reasoning given is that it takes up time, plus other kids who don't have a slew of relatives in the stands would feel left out when no one screamed for them. Mostly, it always seemed to be targeted against the poor kids, whose families are assumed to not know that graduation is a dignified affair and therefore not the place for yeehawing. Or maybe those are the kids for whom graduating was not a forgone conclusion, so their families are actually, you know, proud and happy.


There was no lecture about cheering here, because there was ample time for it. Cheering time had been purchased in advance, built right in to the cost of tuition. First, the kid's name was called, along with his parent's names. The fresh-faced be-gowned youth would come forward and then stand up front while a teacher or coach would give a personal remembrance about them. This took a very long time, but was not as dry as it could have been. The speeches were short, and some of them were pretty funny or interesting. I also had fun picking out the families of each individual, as that was when a whole row of people would pull out their phones to take pictures.

While the speakers were generally comfortable with public speaking from their professions, the quality of each speech varied a lot. It was also clear that some kids were just hard to write about. I felt the worst for a stone-faced young man who stood there while his chemistry teacher did a word association poem that was ostensibly about him. Some of them talked about the kid's parents, which makes sense, as the continuing existence of the school likely depends on the donations of parents of former students. Particularly amusing was a tennis coach who referred to a set of parents as being "very involved," followed by a story about them all going out to lunch approximately an hour after he first set foot in the school. Other speeches were sort of confusing, which I chalk up to being written in a hurry during the last crunch of the semester. Someone said a student was able to dish it out and also take it, then concluded that this probably had something to do with his Belgian heritage. I don't know enough about the history of Belgium to know what that even means. My favorite, though, was the young man who was said to have "business-minded social awareness," which I can only interpret as meaning "knowing how to tell who will be useful to him someday."

It was, after all, a giant self-congratulation session, like all graduations. I felt the urge to grumble about it, because rich people are so much better at self-congratulation than us regular folks, but in the end, these kids did not choose to be rich and go to a fancy school. Also, the speeches totally worked, as I left convinced that I had just been introduced to the thirty-seven most promising graduates in all the land. We can expect great things from them all, I'm sure.



The office move is this week. The shredding has continued, mostly done by the accountant with the rest of us assisting in shifts. She was even in here over the weekend with her kids, feeding more invoices and packing slips and expense reports into the hungry hungry shredder. I helped out on Monday, and there were four of us standing in a circle around the shredder. We made Enron jokes.

Last week, we were given boxes and told to pack up. I was amazed at how much crap I had, since I moved desks just a couple of years ago. But moving to a new spot in the same office is just a matter of dumping your drawers into a box, moving the box ten feet, then dumping the contents into a different drawer. This time, I actually bothered to look through each item and decide whether it was worth keeping.

Of course, my coworkers have it worse. Some of them have been with the company for twenty years, and they last changed offices in the mid-90s. In fact, one of them even found a piece of paper from the previous move, with information about their new address, the one we are now leaving. He decided to let that go. He was going through his desk, pulling out notebooks.

"I probably don't need this notebook from 2004, huh."

"My cut-off date is 2007."


"Yeah, before that I didn't work here."

"Oh." He threw 2004 away.

After cleaning out my desk, I was left with stuff that I didn't want, so I started a little Goodwill bag (using a paper bag I'd saved from a trip to Dunkin Donuts, who knows when). Then I saw other people throwing things out that were definitely still useful, so I grabbed one of the packing boxes and wrote "GOODWILL or FREE" on it. I dumped the Dunkin bag in there and sent out an email letting everyone know. By today, we required a third Goodwill box. Someone had left a big stack of cassettes in there, so if you're looking for some Van Halen to play in your beater car, just let me know.

Today was the last day in the old office. Tonight, people will come and dismantle the cube farm so they can set it up again at the new place. Tomorrow, movers will pick up all these boxes and hopefully put them in the right cube, as designated by the stickers on the sides of each box. All our computers are to be put into the conference room and plugged into the internet so we developers can all work from home the next two or three days. The sales guys, the support team, and the accountant will all work in the conference room at one table.

This morning, there was a call for help, so I put away my Fortran project and went to pack up the kitchen. For the first cabinet, I faithfully boxed up everything, using packing peanuts to cushion the breakables. By the second cabinet, I asked someone if we were ever going to use these four vases again. During the third cabinet, I gave myself the authority to decide what to get rid of, and so went a basket, four plastic bowls, and three coffee grinders. I salvaged a canister for myself. I wish I'd taken this initiative before I packed up fifty coffee mugs. I packed up the three champagne flutes, though I can't imagine us using them. It must've been a different kind of company before 2007.


adult formation.

Last week, I went to a meeting at church about Adult Formation. And if you don't know what that means, then you are pretty much where I was before I went to the meeting. I thought it was going to be about Sunday School for grownups, and since I go to Sunday School, I might have ideas about it. Basically, someone asked me to come, and I said okay. That's how they getcha.

There were ten or so of us, and I knew who everyone was, at least by face. These were church people, the ones you see every week, usually doing something like reading the scripture or carrying the banner or singing in the choir.

Our priest started the meeting by asking everyone to say their name and what their passion was in Adult Formation. I got sort of a panicked look in my eyes, because I do not as of yet really feel a passion about Sunday School. I managed to get by with only saying that I was here because I was an Adult interested in being formed. Other people seemed much more passionate. A couple of them spoke intensely about something called "EFM" that happens on Wednesday nights. I wanted to ask what it stood for, but the moment passed.

As it turns out, Adult Formation does not mean just Sunday School. It basically means any programs in the church targeted at adults. So that includes the evening Bible studies and mission trips and EFM, whatever it is.

The meeting stuff was fine. We talked about the results from a previous meeting, where some other group of passionate individuals had come up with a list of things we did well and things we would like to do better. I didn't really say much. I laughed when things were funny or made a sly comment or two, but for the most part, I just listened. I got the feeling that the meeting was really more for ideas-people than implementers like myself, but I was still interested.

About halfway through, the priest looked at me and asked, "Sandra, are we giving you room to speak?"

The lady next to her said, "Yes, I'd like to know what Sandra thinks!"

Oh, geez, no. No no no no no no. My face red, I assured them that I would say something if I felt the need. We moved on to talk about Wednesday night Bible study.

Up until that moment, I had felt very comfortable. I was interested in the conversation, and any thoughts that I'd had, someone else had spoken up about them.

And then I just wanted to go home. I did not feel comfortable, I felt anxious, like I needed to be sure and have something to say in case I was called on. And then I felt more anxious about the fact that I was so busy worrying about not having anything to say that I wasn't paying attention to the meeting anymore.

That was the first time I have ever left my church feeling mad. Room to speak, bah. Can't I just have room to listen?

On Sunday, I was at the cookie hour following the service when I saw someone who had been at the meeting. She said it was funny how different people can be about speaking. She mentioned a person at EFM (?!) who never used to say anything, but after a year or so, began to speak up more. Then she said something about people needing to feel they are in a safe space.

So do I need to feel safe? Or do I need room to speak? I really don't know. But I do not like being treated like I'm fragile or even just shy, because I don't think I am. I'm just quiet...right?

I don't know. I still don't know what EFM is, either.



Today, we went on a research mission with regards to my new goal to disguise the well with a piece of yard art. Oh, you didn't know I was serious?
This serpent is like the one our neighbors have.
Like I said, I want a gargoyle. Maybe it was last year's trip to France, or maybe I watched a lot of that Disney Afternoon show in my formative years, but to have a gargoyle seemed like something I could mark off my life's list. They ward off evil spirits, you know. Maybe that's why the trees have been taking out our Toyotas. Evil spirits.
This Chinese dragon came in a pair.  You can't really tell from the picture, but there are pretty intricate lines on him.
As soon as I mentioned the gargoyle idea to Josh, he decided he wanted a lion. And I have to admit, a lion would be pretty good; we could call it Aslan. Josh says that then everyone would know that we were Gryffindors.
Our preferred lion was like this one, but in a darker shade
We drove out to the garden center across from the farmer's market. It has a name, but I'm pretty sure most people just refer to it as That Place With the Statues. I took some pictures for your amusement (and my own recollection). There were lots of other things that I did not photograph, because while they were interesting, I wasn't going to buy them. So you'll just have to imagine the cement Yoda, saints, Easter Island heads, and palm trees.

This guy's pretty nuts, right?  Not sure what the cultural influence is, but I bet he could get rid of some spirits.  He was sadly a little small for our needs.
The statues were predictably kind of expensive. Or maybe they were about right for giant cement statues. The lion that Josh picked out was $150, and the gargoyle that we agreed was superior was $175. While my desire for a well statue is strong, my patience is great. I have seen statues at estate sales, but they are usually bird baths and occasionally an angel or a cat. Either the kind of people who buy yardgoyles are few and far between, or they live forever due to being protected from evil spirits and therefore never have estate sales. Now that we have an idea of what is out there and what kind of price to expect, our next step is to look online. And maybe I'll put out a swear jar or something where we can start a statue fund.

Some other fine fictional beasts.
One of the guys running the shop came up to us a couple of times to see if we needed assistance in fulfilling our yard art needs. I guess he could tell we more than just browers, as we had covered the whole area, and then kept going back and forth between the lions and the gargoyles. He said, "Narrowing it down? Maybe not sure where you could put it?" I assured him that we had just the spot, which he seemed to find surprising. I think that's when he decided we were the kind of customers that know what we want from life.

Our preferred gargoyle - large and scary, but not nightmarish
So, nothing to report just yet.  I assure you, I will keep you updated.


master shredders.

We are switching offices at work at the end of the month. It's not a huge move, actually just around the corner in the same office park. But it's nice to have a change.

I think we're moving to save money. A few years ago, after the economy tanked, we cut our office in half. The office park people came in and literally threw up a wall in the middle of a hallway. We used to have a different front door and some fancy big-wig type offices down there, but now some other company works there. We lost our big kitchen and conference rooms, but they remodeled part of our warehouse space into new ones.

We had a lot of warehouse space. Years ago, we used to ship an actual product, on a disc in a box with a manual and everything. Apparently, they had shipping parties when a new version came out. Everyone would stay late and they would package product in an assembly line. I assume there was pizza. I'm not sure when they stopped doing that. Every once in a while, someone here will ask if I was here for that, and the fact that I wasn't makes them feel old.

We still have a fair amount of storage. There is a cage in the back which holds boxes and boxes of paper records. And we still have all the old shipping equipment, which means stacks of boxes and a thing that does shrink-wrapping. It mostly just sits in the back, but whenever I need to mail a package, I do help myself to a box and some packing peanuts.

Our new space will be smaller again, and I expect the shipping supplies to just go away, since there won't be space to store them. And something has to be done with all the other things that just hang around the office, reminding us of a bygone era.

Like all those records. This week, the accountant has been bringing in the boxes of records and recruiting the rest of us to help her shred. The shredder is massive and impressive-looking, but it honestly is not really up to the task. You can only feed it so many pages at a time or it grinds to a halt and sometimes shorts out. We had to take a break in our destruction this morning, because it had overheated.

The amount to be shredded is staggering. Paystubs, receipts from water bills, reimbursement records, invoices from orders filled, and stacks of technology patents. There was stuff from the 80s in there. Apparently, our company used to bank with First Union. Remember First Union? It was funny to come across paystubs that were paid out when I was still in high school and recognize the name as my current coworkers. We have some long-timers here.

Given the amount of material, it appears that it will take several of us, working in shifts to get rid of the years of documents. The recycling man is going to have a nice surprise when he comes for a pickup this week.


for o'malley, a good dog.

"Hey, Sandra, I gotta take Devin to the vet-"

I laughed. See, Devin is a person, and it sounded like he needed to go to the vet. Funny!

"-because he just found out that O'Malley has a brain tumor, and they have to put him down today," Trevor finished.

Aw, crap. That was not a good time to laugh.

O'Malley is not a person, he is a dog. I'd last seen him a month or so ago, when we were hanging out at the house with Devin and his girlfriend Celia. O'Malley always surprises me with how big a dog he is, part lab and part something shaggy and part something else, too. I remember back when he was a puppy, and then there were a couple years when I didn't see him, and then later there was this huge, shiny black dog they were calling by the same name.

Celia was talking about his health issues, which seemed to be many. He had some kind of abscess and so he got frequent nosebleeds. They'd had to switch dog foods, because he'd quit eating the regular old Purina stuff they'd been buying him. Now, they had to buy something with the word "holistic" on the bag.

"I bet it only comes in small bags, doesn't it?" I had asked, maybe a little smugly. My dog will eat whatever.

She nodded yes.

So he was going to have to have surgery for his abscess, and she was going to make sure they trimmed his nails while he was sedated. He would not consent to it while awake, and his nails were so long that he was having trouble walking.

To be smug again, my dog actually will bite her own nails.

She sighed and looked down at the floor. "We were saving money to put in hardwood floors, but I guess that'll have to wait." But then she brightened. "I'd do anything for my animals."

My smugness vanished. I've never priced hardwood floors, but if my pet required a surgery that cost that much, I'm not sure that I would pay it. I love my dog a lot, I swear, but if we're putting a price on it, I guess not as much as Devin and Celia love O'Malley.

I guess it wasn't an abscess after all. O'Malley's decline was quick and completely unexpected. He was in pain. He couldn't sit still, and yet he could barely walk. He seemed disoriented. The doctor said there was nothing to do. So they sent O'Malley to the beyond. Trevor said it was peaceful.

He got home later that afternoon, and our dogs greeted him with enthusiastic tail wags and good health. To pet them both, he put down the package he'd brought in. It was a small bag of holistic dog food.


wedding night.

It was late. I don't know how late, but all the people who were above the age of forty or had children had left hours ago. Most of them were locals, some of them local enough to just cross the street to get to their own warm beds. My warm bed was two hours away, though I'd reserved a bed about five miles away. The others had planned to drive the hour back to their homes, but then it got late and no one stopped drinking. So they were just going to have to stay here, in the home of a bride and groom on their wedding night.

To be fair, the bride and groom did say they should just stay.

We were in the back yard, where a fire flickered merrily, surrounded by camp chairs, stumps, and overturned buckets. We, the remaining six, were playing soccer. There were seven of us if you counted the cooler full of ice and beer, which was actually a better soccer player than a couple of us. We weren't really playing soccer, but rather standing in a circle and kicking the ball to each other in no particular order. Sort of like Catch, but with your feet. Kick, I suppose.

They said I played soccer like a robot. Ball comes toward me, I throw out a foot mechanically. I've never played soccer before, and I think this was the longest I'd ever played Kick. As the game went on, I figured it out a bit more until I was playing like a robot who had at least played before. Someone who had actually played real soccer tried to recall tricks he'd mastered years ago. A couple of others would attempt to imitate his successful ones. There were a lot of trips into the woods to fetch the wayward ball.

I wish I could convey the moment of it. It was just six people and one cooler, old friends and new, kicking a ball back and forth under the stars. We were all happy and giggly from the beer and the fact of a wedding. It was nothing. One of those nothings that you look back on fondly and wish you could recapture whatever power a memory has to make you smile just by recalling it.



Last Friday, Josh called me while I was at work. He said a guy had come to inspect our crawlspace. The dude had a stack of papers with names and addresses on it, one of which was me. Josh called me because it sounded kinda weird and he wasn't sure if it was legit.

Well, it was kinda weird. We did have work done on our crawlspace last October by the company whose logo was all over the guy's car. But I didn't ask for an inspection. Is it part of company policy to just roll up a few months later and check everything out?

I agreed it sounded fishy, but if the guy wanted to look at our crawlspace, I couldn't see what harm it would do. I did advise Josh to go with him to make sure he didn't...steal our box of old tools, I guess. In the crawlspace, the guy poked at the dehumidifier and said it was leaking, and that we should have the company replace it. Then he left.

Later, I emailed the salesman I had dealt with when we got the crawlspace work done. His response was alarmed, as no, they do not randomly send out inspectors. I had Josh give me a full description of the guy and the encounter, which I emailed back to the salesman.

So it seems clear that there is some kind of scam, but I can't figure out what it was. Possibilities:

1. The guy was, as they say, casing the joint, to come back later and rob us. The odd thing about this is that he would not have cause to go into the house proper, so he really would not be able to tell much more than he could by just driving casually about the neighborhood. Also, I mark this as "least concern." While on paper, I am just a single woman having her crawlspace fixed, in reality, I have a husband, a brother-in-law, a pitbull, and a rottweiler. The man saw the men of the house, and he heard the dogs barking within. They do not sound like small dogs.

2. The guy was looking to steal things from our crawlspace. I have to admit, this would be trivially easy, with nothing but a plywood door and a master lock standing in his way. But, as he would have seen, there just isn't much down there worth stealing. Since we had the space encapsulated, it does make for nice extra storage. We have a bike and some containers that contain tools and whatnot. If this is the game, then I have to assume he's going to conclude our house just isn't worth the hit. But who keeps valuables in the crawlspace anyway? The most valuable thing down there is probably the dehumidifier that was installed as part of our encapsulation. Which brings us to the third theory...

3. The guy deals in used dehumidifiers. He was going around, telling customers that their equipment was broken so that they would have it replaced under warranty. He apparently has some relationship with the company (hence the decals on the car and the list of recent customers), so maybe he gets the old equipment, which he then resells. Okay, pretty far-fetched.

We are keeping an eye on the crawlspace, checking it often so that if something does go missing, we can report it quickly. I'm not worried about our personal safety (see dogs, ferocious). It's just really, really strange.

Any other ideas?


artists and patrons.

All of the friendships that I have preserved from my summer at nerd camp have done me well, because these people who were awesome in high school continue to be awesome to this very day. One of them was so awesome that I just gave up on ever finding anyone awesomer and married him. It was easy to pick which was the awesomest for this purpose, because the others were all female.

I hung out with the art kids, even though I was there to study math. I think every single subject was represented in our little social group, but somehow most of the kids came from the art department. Some of them, like the orchestra and English students, were artists themselves, so it makes sense that they would seek out the visual artists. I have no explanation for the math kids.

Art kids are weirdos. The theatre kids were weirdos, too, but I think they were extroverted or something.

Anyway, of the art kids, the only one I have kept up with is Helena. Many times in our friendship, I have wondered how on earth I came to be friends with someone like her. Like, I am not that surprised that people like her exist, as I've seen all kinds of crazy people and I've seen even more crazy art, and so I understand that some people were assigned a different kind of brain than mine. But the fact that I even know a person like that blows my mind. When you talk to her, she seems like a perfectly normal person, until she starts talking about things she has done. One thing I remember in particular is that she has hopped trains. Who does that?

I cannot comprehend her decision-making. If we were both reading the same Choose Your Own Adventure book, we would end up in completely opposite endings. I suspect that if I did make those decisions, I wouldn't be able to get away with it. It works out for her, but she's Helena. I'm not, and there is nothing I can do about that.

Helena lives in Amsterdam now. How did she get to Amsterdam? She went over there for her grandmother's funeral, decided she didn't like how her life was going back in Chicago, and just picked up and moved to the Netherlands. At that point in my Choose Your Own Adventure, I probably would've stayed home, maybe started taking a different route home or something.

When we were planning our European trip, Helena said she could put us up for the night. Are there sweeter words in the English language? Yes, let's go to Amsterdam, we won't even have to pay to sleep somewhere. After a day of wandering around the city, we followed her directions, got lost, but eventually wound up at her studio. You go down a street that is named something very similar to the street next to it, walk through a courtyard full of bicycles and picnic tables and yard art before winding up at a barn.

The studio reminded me a lot of the art room back at nerd camp. Books, art, and art supplies, like you'd expect, but then just a whole bunch of stuff that may or may not be art. She shares the studio with a couple of other ladies. One of them is really into making body parts out of glass, and so there were noses and brains and hearts lying around. The other seems to be working mostly with fabrics, so she had mannequins and dresses made out of some kind of weird shiny stuff. Helena paints, and her current project, four giant canvases, was in progress. There was a small kitchen, which was stocked with tea and stroopwafels, but not much else. The bathroom was found by going through a door that connected to the back-end of a bar. It was pretty gross, and the door didn't lock properly.

Aside from her painting space, Helena had a little office set up underneath a loft. She had shelves full of books, ranging from novels and poetry and diaries of creative types to artisan craft manuals. She had anthologies of Foxfire, and I was fascinated to see the pages she had marked - welding, glass-blowing. You can make art out of anything.

Up in the loft, there was a tent with a mattress inside, where Helena slept when she was working all night at the studio. Otherwise, she stayed at her boyfriend's. Helena has no official residence. Apparently, they are actually squatting in the barn studio, but squatting is legal in Amsterdam, because Amsterdam is a ridiculous place. She said she questions her life choices sometimes, thirty years old and living in a tent in a barn. Well, when you put it like that...

I don't pretend to know Helena well enough to say whether her life choices have been good ones, but the funny thing is, it seems like the right kind of life for her. Yes, she lives in a tent. But she is an artist for a living, which, as far as I can tell, was her goal. She does not have a day job to support her art. She lives very frugally and has help from friends, but she is a professional artist. Artistic success looks very different from other kinds.

I snuck a peak at Helena's calendar. Later that month, she would be leaving to go on tour on the west coast with some musician friends. Her upcoming week was marked PAINTING. The next week, INSTALLATION, when she would be putting up her paintings at an exhibit. I was struck with the discipline and organization of it. Helena is definitely a problem creator, but perhaps she is also a problem solver. Maybe that is the difference. As a problem solver, I had to marry a problem creator to get some spark in my life, and the conflicts in our personalities and outlooks sometimes drive me batty. I can't imagine having that conflict internally.

Once upon a time, I was going to grow up to be a writer. My sensible mother gave me the speech that all concerned mothers everywhere give budding artists, which was that making it as an artist is statistically unlikely, so get a college degree and a real job, you know, just as a backup. I don't know if anyone ever becomes a professional artist with that route. Being a teenager, my reaction was to rebel and to insist all the more vehemently that I was going to be a writer, GEEZ MOM. But that was brief. By the time I went to college, I was perfectly content with the idea of being a computer programmer, which probably indicates that my mom could have saved her speech.

What did Helena's mother tell her? What kind of parents does a Helena come from, anyway? For the record, she did go to college. Art college.

I would not say that my mom was wrong to mercilessly crush my dreams. I wonder sometimes what I would say to my own children (seeing who I've married, it is likely to come up). I don't want to downplay their ambition or their inspiration. I am totally supportive of them going for a career in the arts, but I want them to go with their eyes open. I wonder if a slice of Helena's life would be the right response. She gets to live the romantic, bohemian, artist's life - paint for a living, go on tour with musicians, work in a barn studio. But she lives in a tent and her bathroom is really nasty. Possibly the stuff we saw in the studio is the extent of her possessions. So the difference between being an artist and not is less about the statistical likelihood of fame and more about how much you want it. If you are comfortable with instability and uncertainty and really all you want to do is paint, then yeah! If you can't not make art, then go out there and make some art. Maybe even in Amsterdam, because squatting is legal, and there is socialized healthcare.

I dunno why I'm even worrying about it, dang kids won't listen to me anyways.

Staying in Helena's tent was a way for me to see a life I might have had. I've also gone on tour for a couple of days with a band, and honestly, there is very little sleeping or bathing, and the food is terrible. I like my comforts. And I am able to write, without having to rely on it for food. I can do it for the sake of doing it. And I have my in-house problem creator, who is able to work a job that leaves him time to create and still sleep in a nice bed. I suppose that makes me a patron. I am okay with that. I am happy with the gifts I have, even though sometimes my creative friends make me feel like a robot. Mostly, though, I feel lucky to know them and to get to see just where the art comes from.


a pirate's life not for me.

Years ago, I had a friend who did not pirate music. I thought that was weird. Why wouldn't you pirate music? It was free and easy. Okay, fine, technically it was illegal, but the chances of ever being caught were pretty slim. Being in a long-term relationship with a musician did not sway me. Most of the musicians I know pirate music, because they are too poor to buy it.

Somewhere in the last few years, I've turned weird and stopped pirating music. It got to the point where I did not feel good about it, mostly because it is stealing and I can afford to not steal. Piracy became such a problem because previously, record companies grossly overcharged for their music. Prices have become sane again, and lo, and behold, people are willing to pay for music. They just don't want to be gouged.

I do buy a lot of CDs, but mostly I get them used. This puts no money in the artist's pocket, though it does support used record stores and thrift stores. It seems like the secondhand market is overrun with music lately, probably because people are transitioning to digital music - ripping their music collections to their computers and then just getting rid of the disc.

I always check the music section at the thrift stores now, and a lot of times come away with an album or two. I've walked away with as many as ten. Sometimes I swear I come in right after some unknown person of great awesomeness has dropped off their beloved collection. As I poke through the selection, finding more and more good albums, adding them to my stack, looking around in amazement to see if anyone else has noticed the audio bounty, I wonder who brought in all this musical goodness. I wish I'd been here to meet them. We could've been friends.

So I buy their old CDs, rip them to my computer, and then get rid of them. This is better than piracy, but still in a gray area. By purchasing a CD, I am buying the rights to the music. When I get rid of the CD, I should relinquish my rights to the music, because then the rights have transferred to the thrift store and then to the new owner who excitedly pulled it off the shelf, wondering who donated it and wishing we could be friends. What's really shady is when I take the CD to the used book/record store, where I actually get store credit in exchange for it. So I have kept my access to the music, and I've actually made money off the CD.

I recognize that this is not exactly right, either. I am not interested in keeping physical media anymore. In the car, I use a USB stick that holds 8 gbs of music. At home and at work, I stream my music from the cloud, where I've uploaded pretty much every song I own. The only way to keep the music and get rid of the CD while not letting anyone else have access to the music would be to destroy the physical media. That seems like a really crappy solution. So what's the right thing to do?