Brown Rot

This cluster of peaches is in various stages of brown rot. The rotted portions are soft and squishy to the touch. I just pick these off the tree and throw them like baseballs into the pasture.
This cluster of peaches is in various stages of brown rot. The rotted portions are soft and squishy to the touch. I just pick these off the tree and throw them like baseballs into the pasture.

My readers and neighbors know that I live on a patch of land in Byng where I have planted fruit trees. I have seven peach trees, two plum trees, two cherry trees, and a Choctaw pecan tree. My next door neighbors have about four peach trees, but three of them have been walled off by poison ivy.

Peaches grow at my home by the grace and whim of the weather, and about every other year I have no peaches at all, often due to a late freeze. Some years like 2019 and 2022 yield unlimited peaches, and I delight in eating them.

This year, as we all know, has been unusually rainy, so much so that my peaches are suffering from brown rot, which is common in very wet years. The fungus responsible is called monilinia fructicola. I expect professional orchards have some way to deal with this, like runoff control or fungicides, but my little orchard is as organic as it gets. I just watch them grow.

Even with the brown rot, I can still cut off the rotted parts and have a bowl of sliced peaches pretty regularly. Some of my friends like to make things with fresh fruit like cobbler or pies, but I eat fresh fruit of any kind simply as-is, and it feels right.

These two peaches have only a small amount of brown rot, which I can cut off and throw away.
These two peaches have only a small amount of brown rot, which I can cut off and throw away.

Memories of Dusty Failure

"Everybody experiments in college," as the saying goes. I experimented with light.
“Everybody experiments in college,” as the saying goes. I experimented with light.

I visited a friend on the local college campus recently. When we stepped out into the cool late-morning air, I was struck by the memories it summoned.

Many college memories center around the start of college, the start of semesters, the start of the school year. Those are often associated with the excitement of the potential ahead of us, wearing sweaters and walking to class among the falling leaves.

But that late morning moment this spring: the humid, hazy look in the sky, the green grass with fresh clippings lightly littering the sidewalk, that odd silence after classes were done for the year as students and teachers readied for exams, summer plans, graduation… where was I when all this was happening to me years ago?

It would be another summer of scraping by selling news photos to the Daily for $3.50 each, trying to make rent, trying to eat cheap, trying to imagine the future of my photography, a career.

It had the smell of loneliness, the smell of failure. When did I devolve from arrogant freshman to lonely senior? How did my bright future turn so dark and dusty?

I could blame guidance councilors and college advisors, but I won’t. I could blame the company I kept, but I won’t. I could blame high school and college curriculums, but I won’t. Parents, friends, enemies, society, academia, nutrition, the threat of nuclear war, television, sugar, fat, salt. None of those.

That pretty much leaves the mirror.

I failed myself. To posit otherwise would be to admit that we aren’t sentient, that we aren’t people.

A tenth grade English teacher once wrote to me, “You. You. You are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.” At the time, I thought it sounded like nonsense. I was so busy acting like I understood everything, I missed out on actually understanding.

I see myself in that mirror in that ratty rooming house, looking at a dreamer. I dreamed about money, cameras, cars, airplanes. But I didn’t plan. I waited.

In my journal, it became The Summer of Private Drama. By July, I found myself wondering if I meant anything at all. The girl I adored with the Zeta Tau Alpha socks and the hazel eyes had told me off, again.

In my journal, I wrote, “Right now I’ve got fear, pain, and boredom. These are good ones, because they can get so real, so sharp, so clear. I have blurred visions. Blurred by what? The telephone line. Honesty. Your presence. The realness. History. Ghosts. The sky on fire. Silence.”

What was I writing? Why was I writing? I hadn’t been discovered as the next Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus?

Wasn’t that supposed to happen if I wrote in my journal?

Then I wrote, “If I kept a journal for other people… the concept sounds ridiculous. Every night, there is a blank page, just for me. Create an image with words instead of creating an image with suffering.”

That was my turning point. I realized the journal was for me.

In 2024, this looks like it was at least Photoshopped, and maybe even created by AI, but it wasn't. It is a ten-second exposure during which I move my eyes, making them look this way. It seems like nothing today, but it was one way I experimented with imaging in college.
In 2024, this looks like it was at least Photoshopped, and maybe even created by AI, but it wasn’t. It is a ten-second exposure during which I move my eyes, making them look this way. It seems like nothing today, but it was one way I experimented with imaging in college.

The Perfect Drug

I just finished watching both parts of the newest motion picture iteration of Dune, and I had fun.

I got to thinking about the spice melange, what it was and how it worked.

Sidebar: if you read the Frank Herberts Dune books in high school, please go somewhere else. I’m not up for a “but in the book” debate.

In The Underestimated Importance Diagram, I wrote, “27th century dynamic Third Eye is saturated with a powerful psychotropic drug (PPD) that yields perfect perception.”

Wow. “Perfect perception.” Am I a genius?

Dune’s spice melange is a reddish, sparkling powder, but I had in mind that PPD would be clear, contain all flavors, all scents, and is so complex that it actually contains a couple of substances that only exist in the future, even it’s future. It is so transparent that you actually can’t see it, and that wouldn’t matter anyway, since you are looking into the future.

CBS turned this on his head in a show called Limitless, when a professional douchebag named Brian takes NZT-48, a miracle drug that gives him access to every neuron in his brain. The series wasn’t great, though Abby and I watched the whole thing and had a lot of fun. (Abby and I could watch grass grow and have fun if we did it together.)

NZT was dangerous and would eventually kill you, but PPD does not. Like the spice melange, it extends life and health, though unlike melange, it doesn’t make you trip, doesn’t color your eyes, and cleans up your terrible grammar.

The most beautiful thing about PPD is that it never wears off. This is because perfect perception is completely transcendent of time.

xHere is a simulated sample of one millionth of a gram of PPD. I can't show actual PPD because the tidal effects on the brain being exposed to perfect perception without actually experiencing perfect perfection quickly cause insanity. The sample is held in a special psychomagnetic field designed to enhance its quality and lustre.
Here is a simulated sample of one millionth of a gram of PPD. I can’t show actual PPD because the tidal effects on the brain being exposed to perfect perception without actually experiencing perfect perfection quickly cause insanity. The sample is held in a special psychomagnetic field designed to enhance its quality and lustre.

 

 

A Single Wish

There is a song by This Mortal Coil called A Single Wish. The lyrics to it are difficult to hear, and neither the liner notes nor the internet seem willing to define them. So I decided to write them down as I hear them.

 

I wonder, alone here
The sound
The living now
The longing’s end
It’ll end in tears

And now as follows
Let’s hide a single wish

The living love, forever
Oh, no, it’ll end in tears
It’ll end in tears

Are these lyrics incomplete, or are they intentional?
Are these lyrics incomplete, or are they intentional?

The No-Fly Zone

Sometimes flying on a Saturday is the most fun you can have, and sometimes factors as fickle as the wind and the weather bring that all to a halt.

Your host poses with the Douglas A-26 Invader this morning at Ada Regional Airport.
Your host poses with the Douglas A-26 Invader this morning at Ada Regional Airport.

Today was one of those Saturdays.

I was invited by General Aviation Modifications Inc. President and fellow pilot Tim Roehl to be the photographer for a high-visibility demonstration of their newly-certified G100UL unleaded aviation gasoline.

The plan was to fuel up the Douglas A-26 Invader that lives on the field here at Ada Regional Airport, an aircraft I wrote a news story about in January 2022 (link), and fly it in formation with GAMI’s Beech Bonanza A36 with the right side door removed so I could photograph the Invader as it flew from Ada to Chickasha, Oklahoma for an air show.

Patchy dense fog rolled into the area just as we got the word that our pilot couldn't make it.
Patchy dense fog rolled into the area just as we got the word that our pilot couldn’t make it.

Right around our planned departure time, Tim got a text from the A-26 pilot that he needed to go to Florida unexpectedly, and at that same time, dense fog rolled up all around us.

We finished the last of the prep work, including fitting the new safety harness on me and testing it, so we will all be ready – hopefully – when the pilot and the weather are good to go.

Your host poses in the doorway of our camera ship, a Beech Bonanza A36, with a brand new safety harness. Hopefully we will be able to put this mission together again soon.
Your host poses in the doorway of our camera ship, a Beech Bonanza A36, with a brand new safety harness. Hopefully we will be able to put this mission together again soon.

Maybe Some of Us Shouldn’t Fly

In 1996, at a meeting of the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, a fellow pilot, one of the guys I learned to fly with, told us he departed Guthrie, Oklahoma to fly to Ada under low ceilings and visibility, without any charts. He tried to “scud run” under the clouds until he passed under the top of a television broadcast tower. He urgently climbed into the clouds without a clearance, but couldn’t remember any of the Oklahoma City approach/departure frequencies (I know them by heart: 124.4, 120.45, 126.4). He called Fort Worth Center, who handed him off the Oklahoma City. When his transponder wouldn’t work, even on 7700, they gave him a vector based on primary (not transponder) radar contact.

In early 1993, when my pilot class and I were doing our flight work, a fellow student did his long cross-country flight to Stillwater, then Enid, then back to Ada. When he returned, one fuel tank was almost empty, and the other tank was completely full. Since the fuel selector in the Cessna 150 is either “off” or “both,” he must have simply forgotten to fill one of the tanks when he stopped.

The pilot of one of the airplanes I rent made a forced landing in it near Tecumseh, having run it out of fuel. He told authorities the right fuel gauge indicated he still had half a tank left.

The same week I got my pilot’s license, May 1993, a 30-year pilot made a forced landing about 10 miles north of the airport after his engine ran out of oil and failed. The pilot was notorious for getting in and flying his airplane with no preflight checks of any kind.

This is my home airport, Ada, Oklahoma, KADH.
This is my home airport, Ada, Oklahoma, KADH.

A Day of Chaos and Mystery

This is the source of the mystery.
This is the source of the mystery.

Readers probably know now that tornadoes struck across Oklahoma Saturday night into Sunday morning. I listened to non-stop amateur radio and public safety communications, and when tornado warnings were issued for my location, I brought Hawken, my Irish wolfhound, inside, and sheltered in the center of the house with him and my Chihuahua, Summer.

Those storms passed us without causing any damage, but nearby Sulphur, Oklahoma, wasn’t so lucky, and late Saturday my notes from the radio traffic say, “11:17 p.m., Murrah County is requesting help, houses leveled.”

Knowing I could do little until day break, I planned to go to Sulphur first thing Sunday morning.

The downtown portion of Sulphur was devastated by a tornado Saturday night. I made this image with the drone my newspaper bought for me. Mine was not the only drone in the air that morning.
The downtown portion of Sulphur was devastated by a tornado Saturday night. I made this image with the drone my newspaper bought for me. Mine was not the only drone in the air that morning.

At the time I left my house in Byng, the water and the electricity were both off. I got a text from the power company saying it was back on at 12:13 p.m., but got home an hour later to find that it was not, so I went to the office to work my photos, video, and the storm story.

Home around 5 p.m., the power was back on, but the water was a muddy trickle. My neighbors said their water was back on. I tried all the faucets inside, but it seemed the pressure was near zero. I decided I need to be able to flush, so I grabbed a bucket and started toward the pond, but quickly checked the outside faucet, which, much to my surprise, was flowing like a waterfall.

Hmm. No water inside, full pressure outside, all connected to the same pipes.

I summoned a buddy of mine, who looked around with me and was just as baffled. We found the tub ran full flow, but the sinks and toilets did not. He then got the idea to remove a screen from the bathroom faucet, where we discovered it was fully clogged with tiny, yellow plastic balls. It looked like resin from the water softener, which shouldn’t be able to make it into the flow.

We concluded that when the house was re-pressurized after the outage was repaired, the shock must have dislodged resin, which traveled to the screens, clogging them.

Neither of us had ever seen this before.

I thanked him, then set out to clean all the screens in the house, with an unexpected result of  improving the flow from all the faucets, which is a sign that I should clean them out regularly.

This is the screen from the backroom faucet, completely clogged with resin from the water softener. It is shown with a quarter and a penny for scale.
This is the screen from the backroom faucet, completely clogged with resin from the water softener. It is shown with a quarter and a penny for scale.

Eclipse Postscript

A Native American woman prepares to perform a traditional sage smudging ceremony, while a man plays a quartz chakra bowl.
A Native American woman prepares to perform a traditional sage smudging ceremony, while a man plays a quartz chakra bowl.

As we all wind down from the excitement of Monday’s total solar eclipse, I thought I would weigh in on what worked, what didn’t, and what was fun and what wasn’t.

For more than a year, Tulsa photographer Robert Stinson and I planned to travel to the Moon.

The drive from Ada to Moon, Oklahoma, a town that is little more than a wide spot in the road and a mark on the map, took about three hours, about what we expected.

We got an early start, so we were just the second vehicle to arrive in Moon, but as the time of totality got closer, more people arrived.

As some had predicted, we had clouds for most of the day in Moon, but that didn’t squelch the mood at all. In fact, the crowd at Moon grew and became more festive, almost like a block party.

A Native American woman held a sage smudging ceremony.

A man played a quartz chakra bowl, telling me, “this is a chakra bowl for the third eye chakra, for balance and harmony.”

A family showed up with blankets, then played baseball on the gravel road to pass the time as we waited.

Eclipse viewers had chairs, blankets, and, of course, paper eclipse glasses for viewing the moon from Moon.
Eclipse viewers had chairs, blankets, and, of course, paper eclipse glasses for viewing the moon from Moon.

As the totality arrived, we had cloud cover, so the experience of the moment became the sudden, profound darkness and quiet. The clouds parted briefly, so we did get to see the totality for maybe 30 seconds.

All that, rather than the actual eclipse, ended up being the best part of the day, and on a bigger scale, the shared experience of millions of people became the most memorable part of the Great North American Eclipse.

On the drive back to Ada, we experienced a 45-minute traffic stoppage south of Antlers, which was exactly what happened to Abby and me on the drive home from the 2017 eclipse. It was the only negative thing about the whole day, and it really wasn’t a big deal.

Overall, the trip to the moon was a great experience.

You can read more about the Great North American Total Eclipse on my travel site here (link.)

To paraphrase Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, “That’s one small step for Moon, one giant leap for Moonkind.”

We were all equally struck by how dark it got, and how quiet it got, at the start of the eclipse totality.
We were all equally struck by how dark it got, and how quiet it got, at the start of the eclipse totality.

The Season of Hollow Soul

I just returned from a trip to Arkansas, the central purpose of which was to attend a memorial dinner for Pam Hudspeth, a fellow journalist and one-time girlfriend who died in November at age 58.

I will have much more to say about her, especially the things she wrote, later.

One of the few souvenirs of Pam I took home was this slick of Pam sleeping on a couch, probably shot in the mid 1990s, with her Shelty. I love this image both because Pam looks absolutely angelic in it, and because it so closely resembles me napping with my own Chihuahua Summer.Sleep was hard for Pam, especially at the end of her life, so this picture of her resting has extra merit.
One of the few souvenirs of Pam I took home was this slick of Pam sleeping on a couch, probably shot in the mid 1990s, with her Shelty. I love this image both because Pam looks absolutely angelic in it, and because it so closely resembles me napping with my own Chihuahua Summer. Sleep was hard for Pam, especially at the end of her life, so this picture of her resting has extra merit.

I made a few notes about the dinner, but my insights are tenuous at best when it comes to her life. I thought I knew her, and she thought she loved me, but those are black-and-white definitions of what could only be described as a dark grey relationship.

My romantic time with Pam was dark and difficult, and was shaped, as many parts of my life are, by music. Among other music I discovered in 1992 was k. d. lang’s album Ingénue, so that season ended up being called Season of Hollow Soul from the song from that album, and expresses very accurately how I was feeling at the time…

“Fate must have a reasonWhy else endure the seasonOf hollow soulThe ground on which we leave onHow strangely fuels the seasonOf hollow soul hollow soul”

Everyone who knew Pam remembers that she wrote anywhere and everywhere, often on the legs of her jeans, often angry and politically charged.
Everyone who knew Pam remembers that she wrote anywhere and everywhere, often on the legs of her jeans, often angry and politically charged.

I entered my romantic relationship with her feeling lonely and unhappy, but emerged from it feeling energized and optimistic, partially because I was learning to fly.

Dinner was hosted by Pam’s long-time supporter, caretaker, benefactor, housemate …there aren’t actually words to accurately describe their relationship… Dr. Bill Ashmore. We all met at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Rogers, Arkansas. I was just two minutes late for the designated starting time of 5:30 pm, but was the last to arrive, which seemed odd to me.

Guests included Pam’s father Phil and his wife, Pam’s son Dane and his wife, Pam’s longest-time and best friend Stacy and her husband, and other friends and co-workers, for a total of 15 of us around the table.

We discussed her life, how we met her, our thoughts about who she was and what she did. It was cordial. Stacy talked about how she only ever knew her as Elo, but no one seemed to recall why. I told them that Pam told me it stood for Electric Lips Orchestra.

After I spoke, I said that I was really in love with her at the time she moved away in 1992, and more than one person chimed in that she felt the same way, but that’s very revisionist. If you could have seen and heard her at the end, she was very distant and ready to be done with me.

This vial of Pam's ashes is about the size of a couple of Tylenol. In this image, it sits on one of the notebooks we shared, and bears her signature "Elo," which was her nickname, as well as one of her smiling "Elo people."
This vial of Pam’s ashes is about the size of a couple of Tylenol. In this image, it sits on one of the notebooks we shared, and bears her signature “Elo,” which was her nickname, as well as one of her smiling “Elo people.”

At the end of the night, her son Dane gave me a tiny vial of her ashes, which was thoughtful.

The next day, Dr. Ashmore invited me to take a tour of her room and her things, which was also very kind. It didn’t yield any pearls, but I saw a few interesting artifacts of her life. She had a couple of recent photos of me on her walls, which was flattering.

One thing Pam and I had in common was that we both wrote journals our whole lives. I'm not sure what the disposition of her journals will eventually be, but I made it clear I wouldn't want them to disappear.
One thing Pam and I had in common was that we both wrote journals our whole lives. I’m not sure what the disposition of her journals will eventually be, but I made it clear I wouldn’t want them to disappear.

Those who know me know I have been cleaning and reducing my material footprint since my wife died two years ago, so I only took a couple of small souvenirs. One of them was the green and gold notebook she and I wrote in at the very start of the “Journal Project,” an idea of mine in which writers write something – the start of a short story, a few pages of poems, other creative ideas – in a note book, then send it to the next person. It can work as a group, or just between two writers.

Here is a little bit of something I wrote in it…

There was the smokey haze of late spring and early summer. There were Friday nights around tables with beer and cigarettes and pretentious poetry.

As winter had faded, four of us gathered to read what we had written.

What did we write? Whatever it was, it better be brilliant to impress the company.

One of them, Melany. She was a tomboy. She drank too much and smoked too much weed. Once when she was pretty wasted, she walked over to me and talked for a minute, then, as she started to walk away, reached up with one finger and brushed the hair out of my eyes. Oh. Melany.

Then, Hank. If Melany was too… hm. If Melany was soft and attractive and vulnerable, Hank was equally angry and volatile. His stories were full of symbolism from the Old Testament, full of fire and brimstone. Hank was on fire.

Hank and Melany cracked open another beer and blazed up another doobie, and argued about the motivation to write.

And then, Pam.

Through the smoke and the fire and the yelling and the endless theories about this voice and that structure and which simile, Pam.

Across the table from me she sat, and I was lost in her pearl-black eyes.

She replied at length, so it seemed like an excellent idea, though she only used it as a journal, and never made any effort to create a narrative from it.

“Richard always wrote – never failed. It was part of his day, an important part. His words were opaque, and later, when he was just writing to me, his words – poetry, story, letter – each were like white feathers falling from the sky, landing gently in the palm of my hand. Scrolls, full of past, present, future.

“Richard, loaded with his camera and camera bag, would glide by and lean over, resting his head in his hands on top of my computer, and stare at me. His hair a soft red, eyes ice-cube-tray blue, small freckles running over the bridge of his nose, and always, ALWAYS with a huge smile.

“His photography was palpable, no matter the subject. God I loved looking at ALL of his pictures, feel what they conveyed to me. I would have filled the walls with every single photograph he took. I would have asked for the ones I could taste.”

Pam shared the Ella Henderson song Beautifully Unfinished with me a couple of years ago, saying it was her song about me…

“… ‘Cause every time I’m with you somehow I forget to breatheYou got me like a rag doll,Now I’m dancing on your stringAnd I keep trying to figure out who you are to meBut maybe all that we are meant to beIs beautifully unfinished, beautifully unfinished…”

The song that ended up being about Pam the most comes from when she moved away in 1992, Don’t Go Away by Toad the Wet Sprocket…

“We’ve been sharing so many words and feelingsAge is heavier, it seems, than years aloneBut, I told you things I wouldn’t dream of telling anyoneAre we drying out, like flowers from a forgotten someone

Don’t go awayI can’t feel the same without you…”

Really though, the song that best describe’s Pam life was, by her own admission, The Girl with the Weight of the World in Her Hands by the Indigo Girls…

” ‘Is the glass half-full or empty?’ I ask her as I fill itShe said it doesn’t really matter, pretty soon you’re bound to spill it.With the half logic language of the sermon she deliversAnd the way she smiles so knowingly at me gives me the shiversI pull the blanket higher when I’m finally safe at homeAnd she’ll take a hundred with her, but she always sleeps alone,The girl with the weight of the world in her hands.”

I know this all sounds dramatic and tragic, but I’m good with it all. It is absolutely true that I am thinking about her a lot right now, but not with regret. I think Pam spent much too much time with regret. I know so many people who can’t get out of that mindset. For me, today is the day, and tomorrow looks bright. I loved Pam for all the right reasons, and miss her now that she’s gone, but life, as they say, goes on.

Pam had a beautiful smile if should could find it to give.
Pam had a beautiful smile if should could find it to give.

Movie Reviews: Airport, Airport 1975, Airport ’77, The Concorde… Airport ’79, and Airplane!

I recently wanted to switch off, tune out, and relax, so I picked one of the least threatening movies in my DVD collection, Airport. As it happens, I own the “Terminal Pack” of airplane disaster movies, a box set of four of these films that also includes Airport 1975, Airport ’77, and The Concorde… Airport ’79, and I also own Airplane!, the parody of them all.

Dean Martin plays the airline captain, and Jacqueline Bisset is the head Stewardess who he's gotten pregnant. In one scene they discuss getting an abortion (though they avoid that word), and Martin says he believes Sweden is the best place to get one.
Dean Martin plays the airline captain, and Jacqueline Bisset is the head Stewardess who he’s gotten pregnant. In one scene they discuss getting an abortion (though they avoid that word), and Martin says he believes Sweden is the best place to get one.

A quick word about these names: during that era, we lived in a world that thought the 1970s was so modern, and shows like Match Game sounded the coolest when it became Match Game 75! that year.

The senior film of the bunch is easily the one of the four that seems to have a legitimate story to tell, in which various intertwined plots (seven, in fact) flow around a busy fictional international airport in Chicago. It’s somewhat formulaic, but in many ways, it created this formula, the so-called “disaster” film.

Abby and I watched this film together, and typical of her, Abby fell in love with the elderly stowaway played by Helen Hayes. I loved the film for its campy self-importance and overblown drama, and, of course, for the aviation angle.

One of the best performances of the show (as Abby always called movies) came from Maureen Stapleton as Inez Guerrero, wife of suicidal passenger D.O. Guerrero. Her urgency and utter dismay that ends in learning her husband was dead is completely believable.

Air traffic controllers and pilots actually have some realistic conversations, including the tense, foreboding “PAR approach” near the end of the movie. A PAR approach, which is a type of ground-controlled approach using precision approach radar to provide both vertical and horizontal guidance for an aircraft, is never used any more except maybe by the military for combat training.

There are some charming and funny scenes, but none more that Dean Martin bullshifting a nosey young passenger…

Schuyler Schultz: [pointing out the window] Before, Virgo and Leo were right there, sir. Now I’m beginning to see Ursa Minor and Cassiopeia. We MUST be turning around.

Capt. Vernon Demerest: You have a young navigator here! Well, I’ll tell ya, son… due to a setslow wind, Dystor’s vectored us into a 360 turn for some slow traffic. Now, we’ll maintain this board and hold until we receive a Forta Magnus clearance from MELNIX.

Dana Wynter sold her role so hard in dialog with Burt Lancaster that I wanted to divorce her myself.
Dana Wynter sold her role so hard in dialog with Burt Lancaster that I wanted to divorce her myself.

Of course, some of the characters are flat, like the airport manager’s wife, who is monotonously hateful for most of the movie, and George Kennedy, who, well, is George Kennedy.

An interesting and tragic side note to this movie is that Lancaster’s romantic interest, Jean Seberg, killed herself in Paris in 1979.

I was saddened to learn that Jean Seberg killed herself in 1979. We liked her performance in this movie.
I was saddened to learn that Jean Seberg killed herself in 1979. We liked her performance in this movie.

Airport is the pick of the litter, but when I was a kid, I fell in love with Airport 1975. Sure, the writing, acting, and directing are clumsy and insincere, especially between Charlton Heston and Karen Black, but it has a 747 in it!

Okay, yes, you read that correctly. Heston and Black’s utter romantic miscasting remained unrivaled until the chemistry between Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis made our libidos shrivel to nothing in Top Gun.

It's a little unfair to pick on Linda Blair, who was just 14 at the time, for her role in Airport 1975, since the script and direction are stacked against her. It has been parodied time and again, but it really does a stand-up job of parodying itself.
It’s a little unfair to pick on Linda Blair, who was just 14 at the time, for her role in Airport 1975, since the script and direction are stacked against her. It has been parodied time and again, but it really does a stand-up job of parodying itself.

One direct effect of Airport 1975 when I was 12 was to immerse me even deeper into aviation, and I decided then, and kinda believe to this day, that the Beechcraft Baron is the coolest, sexiest airplane ever built.

The plot is pretty unrealistic: a giant airliner is flying across the country when ATC tells them the “entire coast is socked in, but Salt Lake is available.” Meanwhile, the gorgeous Baron (which doesn’t bear the tail number of the aircraft in the dialog) ends up wildly out-of-control because Dana Andrews’ pilot character has a heart attack.

Yes, I know. ATC has radar, and they would vector the jumbo jet away from the twin, but I guess maybe, uh, reasons.

Before I continue: if you thought the infidelity and womanizing in Airport is bad, Airport 1975 is absolutely appalling, especially the mercilessly sexist, demeaning “flirtation” toward the flight attendants by the second officer, played by Erik Estrada.

The twin crashes into the jumbo, with hilarious results! Okay, maybe not intentionally hilarious results, but between the crash-test-dummy first officer being sucked out of the hole in the cockpit, the ketchupy blood on Efrem Zimbalist Jr., the fact that we have a critical kidney patient (Linda Blair!), and Heston saying “damn!” every 40 seconds, it is a non-stop parody of itself.

My sister Nicole does a hilarious impersonation of Karen Black at the controls of the stricken 747.

I would never describe Karen Black as a great actor, but she really bottomed out reading the lines from Airport 1975.
I would never describe Karen Black as a great actor, but she really bottomed out reading the lines from Airport 1975.
I asked my sister Nicole to send me a photo of her impersonating Karen Black in Airport 1975, and she had generated this in about 20 minutes. Um, are those corn dogs?
I asked my sister Nicole to send me a photo of her impersonating Karen Black in Airport 1975, and she had generated this in about 20 minutes. Um, are those corn dogs?

So, yada yada yada, dramatic midair suspense, and we land in Salt Lake City. But, wait, “Damn! Brake pressure’s dropping!” Heston screams, and we crash into a utility shack at the end of the runway.

It really isn’t a very put-together movie.

Predictably, the next two in the series, Airport ’77, and The Concorde… Airport ’79, are even less watchable, to the point of being insufferably pointless.

It’s kind of a shame Jack Lemmon got connected to Airport ’77, because just a year later he was excellent in The China Syndrome. Watch this space for a review of that hidden gem.

But then, a new hope dawns on the airliner movie scene: Airplane! If you felt unclean after attempting to watch the Airport series, you will feel literal pain from laughing so hard at Airplane! It takes something from every Airport movie, plus a few others that take themselves way too seriously, like The High and The Mighty, even Saturday Night Fever, and crams it into 88 minutes of irreverent, and often inappropriate, humor that, if you can lower your offendable defenses for a bit, will have you pausing it just to catch your breath from laughing so hard. It makes fun of everybody in a way movie makers just can’t do today.

Airplane! is probably not the movie for the millienial/woke set.
Airplane! is probably not the movie for the millienial/woke set.

Movie Review: Solaris (2002), My First Netflix Movie

My wife Abby and I had only been married a couple of months when, for Christmas 2004, her daughter Chele bought us a subscription to Netflix. At the time, the Netflix model was to send you three movies on DVD to watch at your leisure, then each time you returned a movie in the prepaid envelope, they’d send you another based on a list you made on their website.

Will somebody please get George Clooney a towel?
Will somebody please get George Clooney a towel?

Among our first movies was Solaris, the 2002 version by Steven Soderbergh. (I don’t recall the other two). We based this choice on the idea that we would pick movies we thought we’d both like, and we had both liked Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape from 1989, and liked at least some of Ocean’s Eleven.

Solaris is beautiful film. The photography is spectacular, and, in most aspects, offers realistic depictions of an epic space adventure, and the score by Cliff Martinez is both off-scale amazing and definitely unusual.

The scene of Chris Kelvin, played by George Clooney, arriving at Solaris in the Athena is possibly one of the most elegant, beautiful, and engaging in the history of science fiction. I have watched that scene over and over, and it’s amazing.

I love all the actors and all the performances; George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Viola Davis, Jeremy Davies, and Ulrich Tukur. It was well-cast, and well-acted.

I wish I could say the whole movie is amazing.

We start with Kelvin, a psychologist, living in a bleak, unfriendly near-future city. He trods around in the rain and gloom, quietly, woodenly dealing with his patients, obviously unhappy. The only reason given at that point is McElhone’s voice saying, “Chris, don’t you love me any more?”

Early in the movie we seem to hear characters refer to the psychological fallout from 9/11 in a way that doesn’t age well, with Kelvin’s patients saying they saw something that “took them back” to that day, “like a commemorative t-shirt or something on the web.”

Mysterious representatives arrive to deliver a video message from Gibarian, a friend of Kelvin’s, in the fashion of a 1960s French espionage movie: they let us know that they’re not going to let us know much. Gibarian’s message is even less clear: “I need you to come to Solaris, Chris,” but at this point, we don’t yet know if Solaris is a galaxy, a code name for a new video game, or a brothel.

The representatives call it a “ship,” but we learn in the next scene that it’s a space station, not a ship.

Kelvin boards the station, finds a blood trail, and discovers his friend Gibarian is dead. He is then lead by the sound of Insane Clown Posse’s Riddle Box to a crew member named Snow.

Sidebar: when naming your characters, find a way to make their names clear. When someone says, “I’m looking for Snow,” is he looking for a ski lodge? Even when Kelvin finds him, all he says is, “Snow.” Is he asking for a line of blow? Maybe a better way to write would be, “Are you Snow?”

Riddle Box and the eccentric performance of Jeremy Davies bluntly suggest he has gone at least a little insane during his stay on Solaris.

Snow tells Kelvin that “security forces showed up” and killed a crew member named Coutard, but we never get any more information about how many in the security force, and what happened to them. Kelvin asks Snow point blank, “Can you tell me what’s happening here?” but Snow is completely evasive in his answer: “I could tell you what’s happening, but I don’t know if that would tell you what’s really happening.”

As we move along the slow-paced plot line, we see shots of the space station and out its windows showing Solaris, which looks more like a star than a planet. One of the trailers, obviously made early in the production schedule, shows it as ocean, but in the movie, it seems like a blue supergiant star with giant prominences.

We never really get an explanation about what Solaris is.

Kelvin finds the commander, Dr. Gordon, who, like everyone so far in the movie, is completely evasive about what is going on, saying, “Until it starts happening to you, there’s really no point in talking about it.”

And what is happening? I appreciate letting an audience uncover and figure out a mystery, but this narrative is just being difficult. Very gradually, we find out that each crew member is seeing and interacting with “visitors.”

We never get to see Dr. Gordon’s visitor, but based on the noises coming from her quarters early in the movie, and just who I am, I think it might not be a person at all, but a beloved pet.

From Kelvin’s dreams and memories, we flash back to a time when he was falling in love with and marrying McElhone’s character Rheya. All the scenes on Solaris are toned in cold blues, and all the flashback scenes are very warm-toned. Obvious, but effective.

Sure, okay, fine, we’re orbiting an enigmatic stellar body. But where the movie fails is (spoilers) that Solaris turns out to be a stellar or planetary dream weaver ad/or wish machine that lets, or forces, crew members to interact with their absent loved ones. Magic. Fairy dust. Feel good. As one of the trailers says, “How far will you go for a second chance?”

As the movie progresses and Kelvin interacts with Rheya, Solaris seems to turn from blue to pink. I know this is supposed to represent something, but the symbolism is nebulous at best. More dreams, more memories, more awareness? Or is Solaris expressing a change in gender? Maybe we’re just meant to think it is changing.

Misdirected scene: when Kelvin first wakes up to discover his apparently alive dead wife there in the room with him, he leaps up and runs to the other side of the room, facing away from her, slapping himself in the head, then slowly bracing himself with both hands and finally looking up at her. But no human in history has ever reacted to a potential threat or radical unknown in this manner. He might fight or flight, but the way he played it, it isn’t consistent with human reaction to surprise.

Martinez might be the real star of this movie. Between the way he is so gentle in the musical narrative of Kelvin and Rheya falling in love, to the urgency of the idea they need to hurry up and board the Agena and go home, it stands as one of the most unusual and convincing musical narratives ever.

Some of the “science” is just technobabble nonsense…

“Are they or are then not made of subatomic matter?” Everything is made up of subatomic matter.

“Solaris has been taking on mass exponentially.” From what?

And, of course, our characters use too much power, which leads to a crisis with a deadline.

And the punch line of the movie doesn’t live up to even the little hope we built as we watched. Loud noises, blinking lights, Solaris kind of swallowing the space station. Then, Kelvin is back at home, which is probably supposed to be in Solaris dream space, kissing his alive dead wife. The end.

Okay, okay, sure, I should read the book. Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe it’s even stupider than this movie.

But, I keep putting the DVD back in and watching it, despite all its flaws. The ultimate saving grace for Solaris is that it is beautiful. My favorite quote from the movie, which translates so well into real life, is, “There are no answers, only choices.”

Sometimes love is so strong it can pad a 44 minute script into an hour and a half.
Sometimes love is so strong it can pad a 44 minute script into an hour and a half.

A Night Full of Words

It was my privilege to participate in an open mic night this weekend.

Those like me who love the written word listen attentively as authors read their poems, stories and essays at an open mic night.
Those like me who love the written word listen attentively as authors read their poems, stories and essays at an open mic night.

Longtime readers might recall that from 2017 through 2019, I participated in an open mic night on the first Monday of every month. I made some new friends, and saw many old friends, and got very comfortable reading my creative writing and showing my photos.

Event organizer Cody Baggerly got the night started by reading one of his poems.
Event organizer Cody Baggerly got the night started by reading one of his poems.

I was sad when that ended, and although I got a chance or two to participate occasionally in the years that followed, I really missed it.

Ken Hada, who spoke to my Rotary Club just a day before, read one of the poems from his most recent book "Come Before Winter."
Ken Hada, who spoke to my Rotary Club just a day before, read one of the poems from his most recent book “Come Before Winter.”

So I was very enthusiastic when I heard of another open mic event in my area, hosted by Kind Origins Cannabis.

Cody Baggerly reads one of his wife Bethany's poems.
Cody Baggerly reads one of his wife Bethany’s poems.
Bethany Baggerly reacts as her husband Cody reads one of her poems to the group.
Bethany Baggerly reacts as her husband Cody reads one of her poems to the group.

One reason I was sorry to see it go was that I used reading to my audience as motivation to polish my work.

Nikki Herrin reads a poem. At the end of the night, I bought her book of poems, "The Progression."
Nikki Herrin reads a poem. At the end of the night, I bought her book of poems, “The Progression.”
Mark Walling reacts to a reading. Like Ken Hada, I've known Mark for a couple of decades, and very much admire his work. His most recent book is called "I Can Hear Everything from Here."
Mark Walling reacts to a reading. Like Ken Hada, I’ve known Mark for a couple of decades, and very much admire his work. His most recent book is called “I Can Hear Everything from Here.”

As usual, and since it is my nature, I ended up making most of the photographs of the night. I made a point to shoot them in an entirely different style than my newspaper work, using my Lumix 4/3 mirrorless and a 1960s-era Minolta 58mm f/1.4 in black-and-white.

Everything about this Lumix GH2 and this 58mm f/1.4 lens says "fine art," and that was the photographer I was trying to be.
Everything about this Lumix GH2 and this 58mm f/1.4 lens says “fine art,” and that was the photographer I was trying to be.

I was also very much reminded of a one-time open mic I joined in October 2020, The Esoteric Verse (link). I wish we had more of these kinds of events.

I'd never been to Kind Origins. There is a nice, big space with good seating, and I was very pleased we filled the place.
I’d never been to Kind Origins. There is a nice, big space with good seating, and I was very pleased we filled the place.

The Early Days in the Air

I got my pilot’s license Saturday, May 1, 1993.

I shot this from Cougar Field, the Ada High School baseball field, which is right next to the airport. You can see the date stamp on the left edge of the photo, April 30, 1993, and the tail number, N6059G. It was just the next day, in this airplane, that I took my check ride and became a private pilot.
I shot this from Cougar Field, the Ada High School baseball field, which is right next to the airport. You can see the date stamp on the left edge of the photo, April 30, 1993, and the tail number, N6059G. It was just the next day, in this airplane, that I took my check ride and became a private pilot.

Every pilot remembers seminal moments in their flying careers, like their first solo, their first long cross-country, or the first time they carried passengers.

The day of my check ride was no different. Fellow student Dub and I were both getting our check rides that day. The examiner was about two hours late. He gave a rambling, three-hour oral “exam,” which was mostly him telling us to…

  1. Stay out of the weather
  2. Don’t fly at night
  3. Don’t mis-load the airplane.

We plotted our cross-country flights. I knew my charts, numbers, and regs pretty well.

Dub flew his check ride in a Cessna 172 he had just bought. I flew mine in the Cessna 150 I’d trained in.

On my check ride, which is slang for Private Pilot Practical Test, he had me do a soft-field take off on runway 12 (the shorter crosswind runway), which I executed well. We turned east and practiced some slow flight, then climbed north for some steep turns, one (yes, just one) stall (straight ahead, power-on), and about five minutes under the hood (a view-limiting device) for unusual-attitude recovery and VOR navigation. Over the river north of town, we did turns around a point and half an s-turn, then headed to the airport. I set up for a soft-field landing. He told me to go around at about 50-feet above the ground. We climbed to pattern altitude and turned downwind for 17, where he pulled the throttle to idle to simulate an engine failure.

We taxied to the ramp, where he said, “You go tell Phil (my instructor) you flunked your check ride, and make it convincing. Then I’ll go inside and write your license. Congratulations.”

Dub went next in his 172. Phil was nervous like an expectant father. And since I tested first, I had the honor of being Phil’s first student to “graduate.”

I flew my first passengers just two days later, in a 1966 Cessna 150 I rented in Norman, Oklahoma.

Robert and I horse around one fine and fun afternoon in the air.
Robert and I horse around one fine and fun afternoon in the air.

A couple of days later, Dub and I flew his 172 north of town to find and look at an airplane one of our fellow pilots, we’ll call him “Frank,” had landed his plane in a wheat field after the engine failed. “Frank” was notorious for getting in his airplane and flying off without any preflight checklist or briefing of any kind, and on this occasion, it was rumored he flew it without any engine oil, causing it to fail.

It was also that spring when I found out I had won the AP’s Photo of the Year, and The Oklahoma Press Association’s Photographer of the Year awards, so I really was flying high.

Here are some items about flying to commit to memory.

  1. Be humble, approachable, and credible.
  2. Always, in order: aviate, navigate, communicate.
  3. If you are lost, climb, communicate, confess.

And I can’t stress this one enough: put. the. nose. down. How many more tragic accident reports and YouTube videos (including four fatality accidents that I covered for my newspaper) before pilots stop being so incompetent with the elevator?

Just weeks after I got my license, I was flying with someone from my class who was still working towards his license. The cross-country went fine, but on final I saw his airspeed decay to something like 40 knots, and although I was a green pilot myself, I said, “my airplane,” and salvaged the landing. How? By putting the nose down!

This is a pretty good setup for turning base to final in a Cessna 150; about 70 knots, 1800 rpm, 700 fpm down, 10 degrees of flap. The temptation is to let too much speed bleed off from here to the threshold, but I typically kept that 1800 rpm until I was over the numbers, maybe even pushing it up just a bit to slow my descent rate. I got very good at landing this airplane in just a few hundred feet of runway. And if you feel too low or too slow, don't raise the nose! Stay calm and add power!
This is a pretty good setup for turning base to final in a Cessna 150; about 70 knots, 1800 rpm, 700 fpm down, 10 degrees of flap. The temptation is to let too much speed bleed off from here to the threshold, but I typically kept that 1800 rpm until I was over the numbers, maybe even pushing it up just a bit to slow my descent rate. I got very good at landing this airplane in just a few hundred feet of runway. And if you feel too low or too slow, don’t raise the nose! Stay calm and add power!

Ellen in Grey at The Red Cup

The Red Cup is a coffee house and vegetarian restaurant in Oklahoma City.
The Red Cup is a coffee house and vegetarian restaurant in Oklahoma City.

Mackenzee Crosby invited me to have lunch with her at The Red Cup, a vegan coffee house and restaurant in Oklahoma City. She is hoping to move to New York soon, and despite her repeated invitations, I’d never managed to make it up there, so this was her last chance to share the experience with me.

According to some sources, looking up and to the right can mean a person is constructing a picture. This can indicate that someone is imagining something or visualizing a constructed event.
According to some sources, looking up and to the right can mean a person is constructing a picture. This can indicate that someone is imagining something or visualizing a constructed event.

Mackenzee and I have been friends since for more than a decade, since she was in junior high. She took my class in 2014. Right before the pandemic in 2020, she photographed Abby and me at home for a college project. In 2021, she spent her newspaper internship at my newspaper (you can read more about her internship here [link], and here [link]). During her internship, I wanted her to write a column. My column is called Picture This, so I wanted hers to have an appealing name. After bantering twenty or so names, she loved the sound of Ellen in Grey. Her middle name is Ellen.

Mackenzee really liked the look of these bar stools, and wanted me to photographer her with them.
Mackenzee really liked the look of these bar stools, and wanted me to photographer her with them.

One running photographic laugh between us is that she is very nearsighted, and as I get older, I need readers to see up close. As a result, when she puts my camera to her eye, everything is blurry, and when I put her camera to my eye, everything is blurry.

Mackenzee is known for "acting with her eyes."
Mackenzee is known for “acting with her eyes.”

Mackenzee is also an aspiring poet and author, and I’m always glad when I get to read something of hers. She and I were part of the open mic scene in Ada, and during the pandemic, we both took part in an amazing one-night reading called Esoteric Verse (here, link.)

We found this dilapidated store on Western, and took turns posing with it.
We found this dilapidated store on Western, and took turns posing with it.

After lunch, we walked east toward a cathedral she admires, then over to a spot on Western with a couple of graphic features she knew would make pictures.

Early on her internship, Mackenzee invested in a Fujifilm X100V with its fixed 23mm f/2, a camera that has gotten rare and coveted since being introduced. I have a Fuji X-T10, which I brought with my 18mm f/2 attached, so we were both shooting in a similar set.

Your host shoots with his Fujifilm X-T10.
Your host shoots with his Fujifilm X-T10.
Shot just a second or two after the last image, I love this image because she is laughing.
Shot just a second or two after the last image, I love this image because she is laughing.
It had been cold and foggy for ten days, but the weather turned beautiful, perfect, for our photowalk.
It had been cold and foggy for ten days, but the weather turned beautiful, perfect, for our photowalk.
Mackenzee didn't deny she looked like she had just come from The Matrix.
Mackenzee didn’t deny she looked like she had just come from The Matrix.
I love the way my Fuji makes black-and-white images. This was made using the green filter film simulation mode.
I love the way my Fuji makes black-and-white images. This was made using the green filter film simulation mode.

I am excited for her that she’s moving to New York, but I also know I’ll miss her being close by.

Mackenzee is among the most artistic personalities in my life, and that comes very naturally to her.
Mackenzee is among the most artistic personalities in my life, and that comes very naturally to her.

Words of Wisdom, January 12, 2024

Seven Social Sins is a list by Frederick Lewis Donaldson that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi published in his weekly newspaper Young India on October 22, 1925. Later he gave this same list to his grandson, Arun Gandhi, written on a piece of paper on their final day together shortly before his assassination. The Seven Sins are:

Wealth without work.
Pleasure without conscience.
Knowledge without character.
Commerce without morality.
Science without humanity.
Religion without sacrifice.
Politics without principle.

Of what value?
Of what value?

Some Sci-Fi Gripes

NASA has been developing directed-energy weapons since the 1950s. These devices are aimed at an object in deep space.
NASA has been developing directed-energy weapons since the 1950s. These devices are aimed at an object in deep space.

Engines: most science fiction depicts spacecraft with their engines running the entire time they are shown on-screen; Prometheus, The Martian, Star Wars, Star Trek, and on and on. This is probably because the graphic designers were in love with the deep blue glow they created in the engine exhaust.

Why this is a problem: aside from conserving fuel, the obvious problem with engines that run all the time in space is that it creates constant acceleration. Any time you move a vehicle, that movement requires Delta-v (), defined as change in velocity. If you had unlimited fuel, you certainly could continue to accelerate, but that’s not how it’s done. In space flight, Delta-v is applied, accelerating the craft to the required speed, followed by coasting in space until another change is required. Think about the Apollo Program. Once the vehicles were in Earth orbit, another force was required to push the vehicle toward the moon, Delta-v exerted by the S-IVB (the third stage), increasing the eccentricity of the orbit (not, as is sometimes asserted, to “leave Earth orbit”). This maneuver is called the trans-lunar injection (TLI), and lasts about 300 seconds. By then, enough Delta-v has been applied, the S-IVB is left behind, and the remaining vehicles coast into the moon’s gravity.

All the time in science fiction we see spacecraft depicted as arriving at their destinations with their engines, in the back of the vehicle, producing thrust, when, in fact, the goal is to slow down, which would require a different vector than blasting forward.

Important exceptions: Apollo 13, Solaris, 2001 A Space Odyssey

Gravity: this one is only a factor if you need actors to walk around as they do on earth. Various fictions are used to simulate normal Earth-like gravity inside spacecraft. Sometimes freefall (not “zero gravity” as is sometimes asserted) is simulated in practical affects (Apollo 13), or with computer graphics (The Martian). The most popular sci-fi explanation for artificial gravity is to have the crew on the inside of a spinning mass, like a hamster wheel, though Star Trek only addresses this a couple of times with some bullshift like having gravity plates, and it’s only a problem in one of the movies for about two minutes. Also for fans, one of the often re-used background voices in the original series is “gravity is down to point-8.”

This weapon is able to accelerate dense objects to velocities exceeding the speed of sound.
This weapon is able to accelerate dense objects to velocities exceeding the speed of sound.

As bad as The Midnight Sky was, props at least for the scene of the injured crew member’s blood floating inside her helmet.

Also, The Martian, Ad Astra: gravity on the moon is only 1/6 Earth’s, and Mars’ is only about 2/3 Earth’s, yet actors pounce around like they were in their back yards.

The difference between CO and CO2: this one is so aggravating to me because it’s so easy to understand. Carbon monoxide (CO) is deadly even in small doses, while carbon dioxide (CO2) is present in the atmosphere and in ever breath we exhale. I saw this error recently in Prometheus, in which a character compares the atmosphere to an “exhaust pipe,” at almost three percent CO2. Screen writers: figure this out!

Ignoring distances and the speed of light: Solaris really bugs me on this one, but Star Trek loves to change the rules based on the plot (“out here we won’t get a reply for weeks,” vs livestreaming via subspace). Solaris is set on a distant world in a distant solar system (unless my map of our solar system is missing a planet or small star), yet it seems to take George Clooney maybe six months (?) to reach it (and in the mean time, surely stuff must have changed on the space station in six months), yet if we acknowledge speed of light is the speed limit of the universe, the next closest star to our sun is Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2465 light years aways. Thus, even if you could accelerate Clooney to just ten percent of the speed of light, it would take him more than 42 years to get there, and Proxima Centauri certainly isn’t anything like Solaris, so that’s not where he is going.

Related: distance, warp drive, and hyperspace. This one gets flattened into nothingness all the time by lazy screen writing. “We’re the only starship within range,” or, “at warp seven we can be there in ten minutes.” Star Wars goes one lazier in The Last Jedi by having the ships lope along at sub-light speeds on the way to Crait, but didn’t we just discuss the speed of light and how far apart stars are? Even in the tightly-packed star cluster, even travel at nearly the speed of light equals months. Don’t believe me? Light, which of course is at the speed of light, takes 13 minutes to travel from Earth to Mars. How far is Crait supposed to be?

I collected these orbs in my yard one day. I believe them to be eggs of some sort, possibly alien in origin.
I collected these orbs in my yard one day. I believe them to be eggs of some sort, possibly alien in origin.

Related: time, speed, distance. Pilots know all about time, speed and distance. In the Star Trek episode Tomorrow is Yesterday, the Enterprise flies toward the sun at multi-warp-speed to “break away” at the last second to re-create the time warp that got them to 1967 in the first place. Uh, Captain? The sun is just eight light-minutes away. Then, as we are flashing across the solar system at Warp Zillion, we see stars zipping by like fireflies. At one point, and Sulu says they are traveling at Warp 8. Spock says, “Since we have passed Mercury, the sun’s pull on us has increased greatly. From here, we’ll move even faster.” Mercury is just 3.2 light minutes away from the sun, and Warp 8 is 512 times the speed of light, so, there’s the … oops, splat.

And of course, the time paradox. You knew this was coming. If you go back in time and change anything, everything changes in the “present.” Sure, it was super-cool to let Joan Collins get run over by a car, but you still changed about a hundred things around you, like stealing those clothes? Huh? Maybe naked Audie Murphy decided not to join the army. What then?

Battles in space. Okay, I know, it’s only science fiction, but if energy weapons like phasers, blasters, and photon torpedoes move at the speed of light, and your ship can go faster than that, why don’t you just scurry away from the danger?

Also related: gravity in open space. This is one of the most glaring problems with The Last Jedi, when the rebellion sends in “bombers” to drop bombs on a star destroyer. Drop bombs in space? Drop bombs in space?

Text makes sound: spy movies also do this, but science fiction is the worst about it. When text appears on the screen, little blipping sounds accompany it. Why did anyone ever think this was a thing? Think I’m wrong? Create a text document right now and listen for the blips. No? Text is silent?

Propellers that stop: this isn’t directly connected to science fiction, but it’s an aviation fact: when an airplane engine stops producing power for whatever reason, the propeller almost always continues to turn, a process called windmilling. It’s actually hard to get a prop to stop on an airplane in flight – I’ve tried it a time or two, by choking the mixture to fail the motor, then pulling to nose up to an imminent stall, when airflow over the prop no longer forces it to spin. Some of the time, lowering the nose and letting the aircraft accelerate toward the ground will make the prop start to windmill again; in fact, this is the relight procedure on many aircraft after an engine failure.

Okay, yeah, the reason directors show this in movies is to tell the audience that the engine quit.

Growing potatoes on Mars: as I rewatch The Martian, and simultaneously look up how to grow potatoes, I realize the missing piece: there isn’t enough sunlight on Mars, especially indoors, to grow potatoes. It’s that pesky inverse square law: since Mars is twice the distance from the sun as the Earth is, meaning the amount of sunlight on Mars is eight times less than on Earth.

In conclusion, I need some really realistic science fiction to read. Ideas?

A collection of phasers and communicators is shown is this set display from the short-lived NBC series Star Trek: Straight Up Squabble.
A collection of phasers and communicators is shown is this set display from the short-lived NBC series Star Trek: Straight Up Squabble.

Things You See When You Fly

Chris Eckler, Ada City School’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) educator, invited me to fly with him in the Cessna 172 we both rent, the one that lives at our home airport in Ada, to Weatherford, Oklahoma, to deliver some Christmas gifts for children in need, and pick up some for kids back in Ada.

Your humble host smiles for a selfie in the Cessna today. You can see the back seat over my shoulder is crammed with Christmas presents.
Your humble host smiles for a selfie in the Cessna today. You can see the back seat over my shoulder is crammed with Christmas presents.

I mostly ran the radios, and we talked to Fort Worth Center and Oklahoma City approach for Flight Following, which is radar service that adds a layer of safety by providing traffic advisories.

Chris gets the airplane settled in for cruise.
Chris gets the airplane settled in for cruise.

Anyone who knows me knows that there is nothing I won’t climb, crawl or fly in just for fun, or to make pictures.

It was an absolutely beautiful day to be in the sky, and I have always loved the things I see when I am flying.

Every time I drive out west, I see these wind farms, but when seen from the air, they seem smaller and farther apart.
Every time I drive out west, I see these wind farms, but when seen from the air, they seem smaller and farther apart.
This is the cloverleaf intersection of Interstate 44 and the H.E. Bailey Turnpike Extension.
This is the cloverleaf intersection of Interstate 44 and the H.E. Bailey Turnpike Extension.
Holy smackeral, look at this house!
Holy smackeral, look at this house!
It was smooth at all altitudes, and the airplane pretty much flew itself.
It was smooth at all altitudes, and the airplane pretty much flew itself.

That Little Souvenir

Pamela Michelle Young Hudspeth has died. She was 58.

I was unmarried and lonely in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In May 1992, I started dating Pam, and, quite honestly, she was incredibly beautiful. She was so beautiful, in fact, that it blinded me to more realistic considerations, such as the fact that she believed in things that I didn’t: spirit photography, the “inner child,” Satanism, astrology and much more.

This is Pam in 1991. She was waifish and delicate, both physically and emotionally.
This is Pam in 1991. She was waifish and delicate, both physically and emotionally.

Still, I was so taken with her, I probably would have married her if she hadn’t moved away. Despite her odd canon of beliefs, she was always interesting.

The Writing Group

Over the years I have organized several groups that got together on a weekly basis to share our writing and challenge each other to write. Among other things, the endeavor was intended to get me closer to attractive women, and in particular, attractive creative women.

I shot this Polaroid of Pam at her desk in the newsroom. Later, she hand tinted it.
I shot this Polaroid of Pam at her desk in the newsroom. Later, she hand tinted it.

I found it very attractive that Pam wrote. She penned a column at our newspaper, often politically unpopular and inflammatory, and claimed she wanted to write books, stories, and an autobiography. Along with Frank Rodrigues and Melissa Price, Pam joined my writing club in 1991. Oddly, it was hard to get her to write much, and now, decades later, her claims of wanting to continue to write had never come to fruition.

At one point in that group, Pam and I sat across a kitchen table. She looked at me and asked, “Richard, are in a lot of pain all the time?” Now, knowing her intense spiritual pain, I realize she wasn’t asking me, she was inviting me.

Music Guides My Heart

As I write this, I listen to music that brings back those days.

My Pam playlist includes…

Here’s Where the Story Ends, Goodbye, and Wild Horses by The Sundays

I Must Have Been Blind by This Mortal Coil

Ghost and The Girl with the weight of the World in her Hands by The Indigo Girls

All I Want is You and Love is Blindness by U2

Friday I’m in Love, High, and To Wish Impossible Things by The Cure

Season of Hollow Soul by k.d. lang

Torn, High on a Riverbed, and Don’t Go Away by Toad the Wet Sprocket

Three Wishes by Roger Waters

The One by Elton John (after she heard the lyrics “a spirit born of earth and water” and said she looked up our elemental signs to find she was water and I was earth.) At one point I had the cassette single of The One, which we listened to in her car.

While we were dating, I brought her cassette mix tapes. She fell in love with the music of Phil Keaggy, so In the Light of the Common Day puts me right there on her couch with her.

Despite her emotional shortcomings, Pam was petite and beautiful, and my feelings for her were honest and genuine.
Despite her emotional shortcomings, Pam was petite and beautiful, and my feelings for her were honest and genuine.

A Brief and Difficult Romance

Pam and I attempted to get romantically involved starting in the late spring of 1992. At first it was just an invitation to dinner at her apartment or mine, but our relationship quickly grew into romance.

She was never comfortable with that. On some of the evenings that I had hoped and planned to spend with her disappeared because she was so threatened by genuine intimacy.

We talked about getting married. We talked about ideas. Of course, we were both working journalists at the time, so we talked about that.

Despite her efforts to do interesting things and have fun times, Pam's very posture was guarded and defensive, and her eyes seemed to have the "1000-yard stare."
Despite her efforts to do interesting things and have fun times, Pam’s very posture was guarded and defensive, and her eyes seemed to have the “1000-yard stare.”

Her perfume was Tribute. She smoked Virginia Slims. Her smell on me at the end of the night was oddly intoxicating.

Evenings with her were always charged with emotional energy, a promise of drama in the midst of her smoke and perfume that would light my night afire. She would always “need to talk about it.”

I knew that our night was going to be full of closeness when she would invite me to sit close to her on the couch with her legs across my lap.

At the end of all our evenings, we’d walk out to my car parked at her apartment, where I would gather her waifish body, and we would hold each other close, so close.

At one point when I could feel her withdrawing emotionally, I asked, “Do you feel it when I hold you?”

“Sometimes,” she answered.

She decided that her problems were getting in the way of our romance, and her well being, so she decided to go to a 28-day treatment facility in central New Mexico, the details of which she would not want me to share. I wrote her almost every day. She wrote back five times.

As part of the program, I joined her for the third week, and there, in the midst of a thousand tears, in the perfect New Mexico sunshine, we broke up.

We’ve been sharing so many words and feelingsAge is heavier, it seems, than years aloneBut, I told you things I wouldn’t dream of telling anyoneAre we drying out, like flowers from a forgotten someone
Don’t go awayI can’t feel the same without you
Don’t go awayI can’t feel the same without you
~Toad the Wet Sprocket

 

I Flew Away

My saving grace was that I was, at the time, learning to fly, and the exceptionally positive learning experience of aviation couldn’t have come at a more perfect point in my life. She moved away, and I devoted much of my time to flight training, so it was easier to let her go.

This key fob was "that little souvenir." Family members of the clients all got one. For this photo, it is sitting on a "God bag," which bore the "serenity prayer." The idea is to write down your problems, thus "giving them to God."
This key fob was “that little souvenir.” Family members of the clients all got one. For this photo, it is sitting on a “God bag,” which bore the “serenity prayer.” The idea is to write down your problems, thus “giving them to God.”

That Little Souvenir

It’s that little souvenir, of a terrible year
Which makes my eyes feel sore
It’s that little souvenir, of a colorful year
Which makes me smile inside… ~The Sundays


In the decades that followed my short time with Pam, I have thought about her often, and stayed in touch, more so in the last couple of years of her life. In those conversations, she expressed endless regret at letting me go. “Now,” she said in an email, “I know with all my heart, you were who I should have been with. You were the best man I ever dated, period.”

Pam came to Ada for the first time in many years for her grandmother's funeral March 2, 2022. I only saw her for a short time, but we had a good talk, and she held me tight when it was time for me to leave.
Pam came to Ada for the first time in many years for her grandmother’s funeral March 2, 2022. I only saw her for a short time, but we had a good talk, and she held me tight when it was time for me to leave.

In one written correspondence not that long ago, I asked her what she wanted. “Out,” was her answer.

In August of this year, she and I hatched a plan to have lunch in Henrietta, Oklahoma, halfway between her home and mine. We both got pretty excited, dreaming about the buffet at Mazzio’s Pizza and spending the afternoon together. But as the day grew near, she called it off, saying she was sick again.

In tremendous physical and emotional pain for years, and no longer wanting to live, she died at home this week in hospice care.

This is from the evening Pam and I went to Robert Erwin's Cole Porter Party. It was a great time.
This is from the evening Pam and I went to Robert Erwin’s Cole Porter Party. It was a great time.

Goodbye, Pam.

The Abyss Gazes Also into You

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” – Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

How am I happy? It’s an interesting puzzle, isn’t it? I am a happy person, and I expect I will be happy for the rest of my life. But how, especially after witnessing the illness and death of the love of my life 19 months ago, can this be?

I thought about that after a search of a cloud storage folder yielded, accidentally, the transcribed journal of someone I knew and dated in the early 1990s, who took her own life in early 1994.

In that journal, which I discovered only after she died, I found a potent sense of depression, despair, resentment, self-contempt, and misanthropy. Why? What drove her to such bone-crushing lows?

There were certainly the unambiguous signs of anxiety and clinical depression, and certainly some very serious post-traumatic stress disorder. She couldn’t sleep or eat well. She was disinclined to reach out (at least to me.)

In her journal (which she wrote as letters to me, which all started, “Dear Richard”), she wrote again and again about wanting to die. “I’m afraid no one will ever love me again, and I will be alone all my life,” she wrote. “If I live to be forty and am still alone, I think I will interfere with my destiny,” she later wrote, though at that time, she was 43.

One of the least-accurate things she wrote was that she was, “easy to get along with.” She was about as “easy” as a nuclear war. The reason that I stopped courting her was that she was so hard to get along with.

But okay. Doesn’t all that describe me to some degree during various periods in my life? Sure. But now am I alone, living with the echoes and memories of the most amazing love I have ever witnessed, let alone experienced, yet still smile and eat and work and love my life.

It’s too easy to write her off with “she was crazy.” Is the real truth that we are just blobs of delicately-balanced biomass? Are we all just “one trade away from humility,” to cite the movie Wall Street?

Three months before she killed herself, she wrote, “You know NOT ONE IOTA of the pain I live with daily. You are NOT forced to live my life. So LAY OFF.”

I knew fragments of that kind of pain when I was younger, but I dealt with it. She was consumed and destroyed by it.

What, then, do we think and do about this? I will ponder further.

"Every action is filled with light and with darkness." ~Black Filigree Notebook
“Every action is filled with light and with darkness.” ~Black Filigree Notebook

Life on the Patch

Here are a few images of my life this week on this patch of green in Byng, Oklahoma.

There were three corn spiders making a living in my tomato garden this week.
There were three corn spiders making a living in my tomato garden this week.
Hawken chased an adult eastern cottontail rabbit the entire length of the back yard this week. It was amazing to see 180-pound dog move so fast.
Hawken chased an adult eastern cottontail rabbit the entire length of the back yard this week. It was amazing to see 180-pound dog move so fast.
Someone challenged me to make a photo with the theme "fall," so I thought of all the times Abby and I took an anniversary trip in the fall, and made this image.
Someone challenged me to make a photo with the theme “fall,” so I thought of all the times Abby and I took an anniversary trip in the fall, and made this image.
I made this dreamy rendition of a morning glory vine on the fence in the front yard. These vines once covered that entire fence, but have mostly died off.
I made this dreamy rendition of a morning glory vine on the fence in the front yard. These vines once covered that entire fence, but have mostly died off.
Someone sent me this snapshot of me working in Ada's Wintersmith Park. Based on my attire and the white brace on my elbow, I think this was made in about 2002.
Someone sent me this snapshot of me working in Ada’s Wintersmith Park. Based on my attire and the white brace on my elbow, and looking at my files from that day, this image was made July 4, 2002.
We have tons of grasshoppers this year. Infer what you will about antennas on antennas.
We have tons of grasshoppers this year. Infer what you will about antennas on antennas.
Summer sniffs the morning air this week.
Summer sniffs the morning air this week.
The mornings are beautiful right now. This is the front yard.
The mornings are beautiful right now. This is the front yard.

Best Pictures I Have Seen and Liked or Disliked

Unlike some movie fans, I still have a fair amount of content, good and bad, on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Unlike some movie fans, I still have a fair amount of content, good and bad, on DVD and Blu-Ray.

My sister reported watching and hating Reds, maybe my all-time favorite movie. It got me thinking about the best movies I have seen, and the movies I have seen that were highly touted, yet I didn’t like. Here are some the Academy Awards for Best Picture, ones that I have seen, and ones I thought should have been the Best Picture for that year instead.

There are years in which I saw very few movies, so they aren’t all listed here.

1953: From Here to Eternity. Amazing film.

1957: The Bridge on the River Kwai. The plot of this film is riveting. Runner-up: 12 Angry Men.

1959: Ben-Hur. I know this is supposed to be a classic, especially the chariot race, but this is the most closeted home-erotic film of all time. Should have won: North by Northwest.

1962: Lawrence of Arabia. This is a top ten film for me.

1966: A Man for All Seasons. I love this film for a lot of reasons, especially the intelligent, elegant dialog, and the idea of a man standing up for his beliefs no matter what befalls him. A dent is this script is its revisionist absence of Thomas More’s cruel persecution of heretics.

1970: Patton. Love the story, the cinematography, the acting. Great film.

1976: Rocky. Should have won: All the President’s Men. Marry this with The Post, and you have an evening of truly engaging stories about journalism. But then there’s Taxi Driver. It was a good year for films.

1977: Annie Hall. My wife hated Woody Allen for his personal life, but I never turn down the chance to spend the evening with Annie. Also of note: this was the lowest-grossing Best Picture of all time.

1978: The Deer Hunter. Coming Home was a close second. But I don’t feel engaged by either of these films. Their biggest flaws was my inability to relate to any of the characters. Should have won: Interiors, possibly my number two favorite movie. It’s not an easy movie to love, but I relate to every character.

1979: Kramer vs Kramer. Should have won: Apocalypse Now.

1980: Ordinary People. Maybe in my top five list.

1981: Chariots of Fire. This one might go in my bottom ten list. Should have won: Reds.

1982: Gandhi. Also in my top five list.

1983: Terms of Endearment. Almost unwatchable. Should have won: The Big Chill or The Right Stuff.

1984: Amadeus. Watched and was engaged, but wasn’t the best that year, especially the way it let Tom Hulce be just a little bit 1980s. Should have won: The Killing Fields.

1985: Out of Africa was a long, boring masterpiece. Should have won: The Color Purple, which is also kind of a long, boring masterpiece.

1986: Platoon. I considered Platoon as one of my favorite war movies for years, but it hasn’t age well, especially tainted by the presence of Charlie Sheen and his wooden narration and 80s haircut. Should have won: Hannah and Her Sisters.

1987: The Last Emperor. Meh. Should have won: Broadcast News.

1988: Rain Man. This movie made a huge splash, but I might have watched it one more time. Should have won: it wasn’t a great year in film, so maybe Colors or Wings of Desire. Die Hard was fun, but isn’t really “great.”

1989: Driving Miss Daisy. I am one of the few who are really bored by this film. Should have won: Dead Poets Society.

1990: Dances with Wolves. I reluctantly accept this win, with the caveat that I despise Kevin Costner’s bland, monotonal narration.

1991: The Silence of the Lambs. It has its moments, but given a choice, Slacker is the 1991 film for me.

1992: Unforgiven. Abby and I both loved it.

1993: Schindler’s List. This isn’t, as a film critic friend of mine recently pointed out, a fun film to watch, but it merits its Best Picture standing. Unfortunately, it competes with The Age of Innocence, another movie in my top ten.

1994: Forrest Gump. I never liked this movie. Should have won: Pulp Fiction. Duh.

1995: Braveheart. I am really bugged by this movie’s revisionist history, and it’s too long. Should have won but surprisingly is not even nominated: Heat.

1996: The English Patient. Long and boring. Should have won: Fargo.

1997: Titanic. This movie might be at the top of the “Worst Best Pictures Ever” list. My girlfriend in 2000 wouldn’t shut up about it. Should have won: maybe Good Will Hunting, but it wasn’t a very good year in film.

1998: Shakespeare in Love. Should have won: The Thin Red Line.

1999: American Beauty. This movie takes us down a dark path, but it’s masterful.

2000: Gladiator. I love this movie, but often turn it down in favor of something easier to watch.

2001: A Beautiful Mind. This might be Russell Crowe’s best work.

2002: Chicago. Should have won: The Pianist.

2003: The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King. Abby and I gave the Lord trilogy its day in court, and found it guilty of boring us. Should have won: hmm. It wasn’t a good year.

2004: Million Dollar Baby. This movie was great, but so difficult to watch at the end. Should have won: The Aviator.

2005: Crash. Should have won: Brokeback Mountain, maybe another near the top of my list. An interesting aside is that people who don’t understand relationships or society very well called this “a gay cowboy movie,” but is really about how the difficult pursuit of happiness is, and the consequences of adultery.

2006: The Departed is a pretty solid choice, but I also liked Letters from Iwo Jima, the companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers, also a great film. It’s a toss-up.

2007: No Country for Old Men. Abby never turned down this movie, so we saw it a dozen or more times; it’s a great piece of cinema.

2009: The Hurt Locker impressed me on the first pass, but re-viewing revealed it’s flaws. Should have won: Inglourious Basterds.

2017: The Shape of Water. This might have been more of a political win. Should have won: Dunkirk.

2021: CODA. Should have won: Don’t Look Up!, just because it is SO funny.

In constructing this list, I looked at a lot of lists of movies, and I felt very discouraged at the state of entertainment. There are too many sequels made just to sell tickets, and too many showy special-effects movies that don’t have good plot or characters. Many nights, it’s smarter to read a good book.

Is entertainment what separates us from the animals?
Is entertainment what separates us from the animals?

My Vision for Ada Sunrise Rotary

We ring this brass bell at the start and end of each meeting, as well as during our "bell ringers" segment. A bell ringer can ring for anything from getting their PhD to a grandchild's birthday.
We ring this brass bell at the start and end of each meeting, as well as during our “bell ringers” segment. A bell ringer can ring for anything from getting their PhD to a grandchild’s birthday.

Here my vision for my service as 2023-24 Ada Sunrise Rotary President.

This year’s Rotary International theme is “Create Hope in the World.”

My keyword: fun.

My first goal for Rotary is to make it more popular and appealing to those who might not have considered joining. Rotary is a lot of fun, and many don’t realize that, and I would like to enhance the idea that Rotary is fun by participating in more visible activities. We need to plan to have a much bigger Rotary presence at events like Step Out of the Darkness, the Elks Fall Fest, Homecoming on Main, Fall Cruise on Main, Halloween on Main (we could hand out candy), Open House on Main, the Parade of Lights, and more as they get scheduled for 2024.

My second goal is to add five members during my tenure. I’d like to ask that each member find and bring at least one individual who might be interested in joining between now and June 2024. The sticky selling point is getting up early, so we should offer to buy them “the best breakfast in town.”

The Aldridge Hotel serves a pretty delicious breakfast, but it is the camaraderie that makes it the best in town.
The Aldridge Hotel serves a pretty delicious breakfast, but it is the camaraderie that makes it the best in town.

My third goal; Rotary is known for its diversity and inclusion, but I want to publicize the idea that we are leaders in those areas. We have great service programs,  but I know we can do more, especially if we can recruit more members. To that end, I’d also like to improve our public presence on social media. I would like to create a “Meet Your Ada Sunrise Rotarian” each month, with an individual photograph and bio.

My fourth goal is in keeping with the theme, “Create Hope in the World,” I would love to bring in more guest speakers who would be willing to share their stories of hope. They could be anyone who faces adversity and overcomes it. I am asking our members and our program committee to keep these goals in mind when we invite our guest speaker.

I presented these ideas at our Friday, September 8, 2023 meeting, and they were a big hit, leaving everyone talking about how to make these things happen.

Your host speaks Friday at Ada Sunrise Rotary.
Your host speaks Friday at Ada Sunrise Rotary.

The Journal Turns 45!

For the first 20 years of my journal, I wrote in Mead college-ruled notebooks because it was the first format assigned by a tenth grade English II teacher.
For the first 20 years of my journal, I wrote in Mead college-ruled notebooks because it was the first format assigned by a tenth grade English II teacher.

Many of my readers will recall that I have been writing in a journal for most of my life. September 5, 2023 marks the 45-year mark. As I thought about this anniversary, I began to think about breaking it up into various periods, a kind of lifelong chronology of my writing.

1978 really was a different time. No internet. No cell phones. No air conditioning in schools (at least not in mine.) The top five television shows were Laverne & Shirley, Three’s Company, Mork & Mindy, Happy Days, and Angie. I watched the first four, but I have no idea what Angie was. We must have liked another show on another network, because I even watched the intro on YouTube, and I’d never seen even a single second of that show.

Anyway, the journal got started as an assignment for English II class in tenth grade. The first thing I wrote was the date on the second line of the first page, “Tuesday, September 5, 1978,” in a handwriting that might best be described as resembling Comic Sans.

So, what might the epochs of Richard’s journal be called? I’ll take a stab at it.

1978-1980: The Innocent Age. This was a time in my life magnified by the drama and innocence of being a mid-teenager, unspoiled by the crush of adulthood, yet with a  decidedly distorted perspective about life. I felt emotionally isolated, but also thought it all revolved around me and my feelings.

1980: The First Writing Group. I took a creative writing class in eleventh grade, and decided I was going to be a brilliant novelist before I turned 18. I wrote a lot, but it wasn’t very good. I got my girlfriend and my best friend interested in writing, and they joined in, sometimes giving each other writing assignments or challenges.

1981: The Chatter Box. By this point in my writing, I was doing a daily writing dump. Anything I could think of went on the page, and while it kept me disciplined and literate, it was emotionally empty, often falling back on a sense of humor I culled from M*A*S*H reruns and Peanuts comic strips.

1982-1983: The Dark Age. By the time I was a freshman in college, I thought of myself as a deep thinker, and honestly, I kind of was. I listened to a lot of music with deep lyrics, and cobbled together an elementary philosophy. As a result, there were many nights I didn’t write anything at all in my journal. Two important deaths, both college friends, happened during this period, but I breezed over them in my journal with a kind of arrogant nonchalance.

1984-1985: The Days and Nights of Private Drama. By the time I was 21, in the summer of 1984, I was starting to express real feelings about my life in my journal, including a very powerful sense of loneliness. It was a valid expression, since I was alone in a lot of ways during that period.

1986-1988: The Bridge. I started dating a fellow journalist in the summer of 1986. It started with late night breakfasts and sitting out under the stars on a bridge over an interstate.  She and I were both young and not very good at being in relationships, and if I had listened to her, I would have heard she wanted out, and if I listened to myself, I would have heard that I was into someone else more than her. It was a hard breakup, but it needed to happen.

1988-1989: My Time in Exile. I tried to move to another state to be with that girlfriend, but when it didn’t work out,  I moved back to Oklahoma. It felt both like I had been exiled, and that I was living in a self-imposed exile.

1990-1991: The Second Writing Group. Three other journalists and I got together every other Friday night to trade short stories and novel chapters. We were all writing well during that period.

1991-1992: The Season of Hollow Soul. I dated a beautiful, young, creative, and at least somewhat troubled fellow journalist during this time. We were only together a few months, but I was really in love. The k. d. lang song Season of Hollow Soul came along just then and became an anthem for our break-up.

1993-1998: I Flew Away. During this period I was flying all the time. Airplanes were cheap to rent, and I had disposable income and spare time. My journal is full of fun entries about flying.

1999-2000: The Third Writing Group, Robert’s Frost. I briefly, and with difficulty, dated an endocrinologist who told me she wrote poems and stories, so we formed a writing club called Robert’s Frost. It was her, me, and four other writers I knew. We all wrote some pretty great stuff for the short time we kept it going.

2003-2004: The High Road. Abby and I met and fell in love, and my journal is all over it. She even wrote a journal for a while. Our first vacation was called The High Road, but that very phrase ended up describing our whole relationship. We got married in October 2004.

2005-2015: Diamond Days. For a while, one of our web pages was called Diamond Days, and was an expression of how happy our lives together were. We loved being married, we loved traveling together, and we loved each other. The journal, and, by then, this blog expressed that without doubt.

2016-2019: The Fourth Writing Group, Open Mic Nyte. I started attending an interesting group in 2016, and open mic venue at a local coffee house. We all read, sang, performed, or showed our art, and it was amazing. I wrote all kinds of great stuff during that great period, and often read passages from the journal itself, and I wrote about the sessions in my journal.

2020-2021: The Isolation Journals. My friend Mackenzee crafted some poems during the early pandemic under the heading of The Isolations Journals, but I like that title enough to steal it. During this period, we all faced the difficulties and missteps of the pandemic, and this period marked a sharp decline in my wife’s health.

September 5, 2023: Abby died in March 2022. The journal has it all there in black and white, but it’s not easy to look at those pages. But I am still writing.

Here is a strange truism about journal writing that has not served us well: I wrote things in my journal in tenth grade that would have gotten me arrested and/or medicated 25 years ago, 15 years ago, or today. If anyone in today’s social network scene posted some of the stuff I wrote back then, the schools would go on instant lockdown.

That seems like a reasonable course of action, but the truth is that has the effect of driving self-expression underground, where it festers and builds instead of being expressed and dealt with, and I wonder if that is a contributor to more violent trends now than in 1978.

And it’s not that I was broken and violent. We all have broken and unsettling thoughts and feelings when we are inundated by the cruelties, and hormones, of teen life, and we can deal with them, or we can bury them.

Finally, today I finished my current journal volume, number 56, and tomorrow will start the next one. Question: what can I do to amp the creativity in the next one?

Starting 1998, I wrote in 4-inch by 8-inch hardback volumes, and made a point to let myself be messier and have more fun.
Starting 1998, I wrote in 4-inch by 8-inch hardback volumes, and made a point to let myself be messier and have more fun.

The Second Year of Grieving

My wife Abby sometimes looked like sunshine itself to me.
My wife Abby sometimes looked like sunshine itself to me.

I recognize that I have never experienced grieving the death of a spouse before. My wife Abby died 18 months ago, and I am finding my second year of grieving her death  to be harder than the first.

I miss her more than ever.

Losing her wasn’t as hard as watching her lose the fight. I was there for her every day, but aside from loving her and advocating for her care, there wasn’t really anything I could do to make her well.

One of the best things I have going now is my relationship with the community. It has purpose and remains positive. This image is from a recent Friday night. I was working a football game and over my left shoulder I hear, "Richard!" I turn to see these three kids, who wanted me to take their picture. It's such a great feeling to be a part of that scene.
One of the best things I have going now is my relationship with the community. It has purpose and remains positive. This image is from a recent Friday night. I was working a football game and over my left shoulder I hear, “Richard!” I turn to see these three kids, who wanted me to take their picture. It’s such a great feeling to be a part of that scene.

When I was 14, I read in The Book of Lists that the top two most stressful events in a human life were divorce, and the death of a spouse, but I had always questioned the validity of that assertion since I imagined the death of a child, especially a young child, would be the worst.

On the other hand, paindoctor.com gives an updated list, with a stress index number assigned to it…

  1. Death of a spouse or child: 100
  2. Divorce: 73
  3. Marital separation: 65
  4. Imprisonment: 63
  5. Death of a close family member: 63
  6. Personal injury or illness: 53
  7. Marriage: 50
  8. Dismissal from work: 47
  9. Marital reconciliation: 45
  10. Retirement: 45

I know other people who are currently grieving things like divorce or the death of a parent, but they haven’t expressed it to me in obvious terms. I can understand this. It can be hard to admit that something outside ourselves has taken something valuable from us – that feels weak and vulnerable.

And of course theres always room for self doubt.

Sad songs make me sad, but happy songs make me sad too, since so many of them were about us.

I talk to Abby sometimes. Usually it is just to say that I miss her.

What do I miss? I miss our debriefs at the end of every day. I miss her hand in mine as we slept. I miss the hope of another adventure down the road with her. I miss her laughter as we watched movies. I miss bringing her Braum’s vanilla milkshakes and Sonic burgers. I miss her “I love you” every day and every night. I miss saying “I love you” to her every day and every night. I miss the smell of her hair. I miss that she was proud of me and the things I accomplished. I miss her telling me every day that I looked great.

I miss you, Abby.

Someone told me once that if I never took another picture in my life, this was enough. I have to say I love this image every time I see it: my wife Abby walking through the trees at sunset on a late-spring evening, her Chihuahua in her arms and another curious dog at her heels.
Someone told me once that if I never took another picture in my life, this was enough. I have to say I love this image every time I see it: my wife Abby walking through the trees at sunset on a late-spring evening, her Chihuahua in her arms and another curious dog at her heels.

Mission Accomplished!

No matter what else is going on, there is always time to photograph a beautiful sunset.
No matter what else is going on, there is always time to photograph a beautiful sunset.

There is a joke I used to tell. Robert Oppenheimer and Erico Fermi are in the bunker at the Trinity test in New Mexico in July 1945. After the bomb goes off, they turn to each other, high-five, and Oppenheimer says, “fission accomplished!”

I stopped telling that joke because so few people got it or laughed at it.

This was the scene of my driveway blocked by huge portions of a maple tree that had broken off July 11 during a severe thunderstorm. The tree is now about three stories tall, which amazes me, since I pulled it out of George and Dorothy's garden as a leafless, 24-inch stick, and planted it in our front yard, in about 2006.
This was the scene of my driveway blocked by huge portions of a maple tree that had broken off July 11 during a severe thunderstorm. The tree is now about three stories tall, which amazes me, since I pulled it out of George and Dorothy’s garden as a leafless, 24-inch stick, and planted it in our front yard, in about 2006.

Flash forward to May 1, 2003 with George Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, declaring “mission accomplished!”

Well, my most recent mission has been accomplished. After more than three weeks of cutting, pruning, sawing, and dragging, I finally got the mess of tangled branches cleaned up after a July 11 severe thunderstorm wrecked a huge number of trees in the Byng area.

This was the chaotic scene under my 100-year+ old black walnut after the thunderstorm.
This was the chaotic scene under my 100-year+ old black walnut after the thunderstorm.

As I cleaned and cut and lifted and dragged, I got into one really great rhythm after another, with my ipod shuffling song after song that made the work fun, and very good for my body. I felt strong and healthy.

I have no trouble identifying poison ivy, as in this shot of some very classic poison ivy growth. The reason I got a bit of it on me is that a few of the hairy vines on the walnut were active years ago, and the oil remains in the plants even after they die.
I have no trouble identifying poison ivy, as in this shot of some very classic poison ivy growth. The reason I got a bit of it on me is that a few of the hairy vines on the walnut were active years ago, and the oil remains in the plants even after they die.

On the last day or two, I got a tiny squinch of contact dermatitis on my forearms, probably from long-dead poison ivy vines that clung to high branches that fell from the walnut tree.

Your host poses with a rake by his giant brush pile of branches cut, sawed, and dragged over a three-week period.
Your host poses with a rake by his giant brush pile of branches cut, sawed, and dragged over a three-week period.

As I cleaned, I decided that the thunderstorm must have been in the dissipating stage, since none of the damaged branches were moved anywhere, but just forced straight down to the ground.

I stole this graphic from the interwebs.
I stole this graphic from the interwebs.

In a perfect finale to the clean-up, a friend of mine who does wood turning came by last night and got most of the black walnut logs that sat on the ground after the clean-up was over, giving them a good home.

This whole incident reminds us all that we are always at the mercy of forces much larger that us, like the atmosphere.
This whole incident reminds us all that we are always at the mercy of forces much larger that us, like the atmosphere.

These Aren’t My Memories

In 1998, just before switching to smaller notebooks, I wrote in my margins all the time. I love this style.
In 1998, just before switching to smaller notebooks, I wrote in my margins all the time. I love this style.

I was digging through a journal recently, and if I am completely honest, it was to find out when I had sex with someone that year. I didn’t find that, but I came across some extraordinary notes.

May 11, 1998…

“I’m tied of ice chest boyfriends.” ~Lisa, who was hitting on me at the time.

The most suffocating fantasy of all: the white picket fence.

The biggest imagination gap: self image. Look at yourself!

May 12, 1998…

What makes greatness? Only the struggle of the human spirit against nature, against each other, against ourselves, can make us great. Let greatness come about on its own. Yet I yearn to capture it!

May 18, 1998…

I must remember to keep expanding. My diet can always be better. I can always take better pictures. My words can always say more. I can always fly better. I can make more friends. I can forgive you.

Where are you tonight? … not in my arms.

May 19, 1998…

(In the margin) All this waits inside me. Some day we will take hold of each other and this will all come pouring out.

Does she have any idea of the depth and complexity that resides behind these oddly innocent blue eyes?

I am emptied by my honesty.

Decoy wine and decoy not wine? I see what you did there.
Decoy wine and decoy not wine? I see what you did there.

Alarming similarities between Anaîs Nin and me:

“I am unable to move from journal to fiction,” and, “I copy the pithiest aphorisms into the diary.”

June 5, 1998…

Her shallow indifference to my life was never enough to separate my quixotic fantasies from her real self.

Last night was a parade of stereotyping and sexism. Donna was our master of ceremonies.

I don’t despise who you are. I despise who you think you are.

“That was very sexy.” ~woman who watched me lick the salt off a margarita glass.

Your lies are of no interest to me, even if they are just lies to yourself.

June 10, 1998…

Mary drew the dull-orange rag from the pocket of her filthy blue overalls to wipe the mist of sweat from her forehead. The rag was dirty from engine grease, and made a black steak across her brow. Her face had been pale years ago, framed by almost-black shoulder-length hair, but the sun and age and violent unhappiness had all taken their toll, mixing her coloring to a greyish tan, peppered by by grey hair pulled back onto a pony tail.

Who is she? What does she fear?

Last night I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep, so I sat in my camp chair on the deck for a while. It was cool and breezy and amazing.
Last night I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I sat in my camp chair on the deck for a while. It was cool and breezy and amazing.

Summer Time Is Fine in the Summer Time

Summer, my Chihuahua, has been off her feed for a few days.

I was really worried for a while, since she wasn’t eating, and had a bad bout of diarrhea that required shampooing the carpet in my home office.

The day I decided I would take her to the vet when I got home from work was the day I got home to find her wagging her tail, ready to play, and begging for a treat. She was fine.

Summer the Chihuahua plays the cute card one more time this morning.
Summer the Chihuahua plays the cute card one more time this morning.

Slow Motion Clean-Up

Branches lay strewn across the area just north of the house.
Branches lay strewn across the area just north of the house.

Readers might recall that the town where I live, Byng, Oklahoma, was hit by a severe thunderstorm in the predawn hours of July 11.

We were fortunate that very few structures were damaged, but a huge number of trees, including some of the trees on the patch where I live, were damaged. The neighborhood is buzzing with the sound of chain saws, and the air is full of light wood smoke as we all slowly, as time permits, clean it up and burn the branches.

The big, beautiful black walnut tree looks pretty pitiful after the storm torn it up.
The big, beautiful black walnut tree looks pretty pitiful after the storm torn it up.

Here on the patch, the big, 125-year-old black walnut just north of the house got the worst of it. It didn’t look too terrible at first, but as the damaged branches turned brown, it became obvious that more than half of this huge, beautiful hardwood was damaged.

I mentioned this to a photographer friend of mine, Wes Edens, who offered to bring his three chair saws over to help cut it up so I could drag it all down the hill and burn it. When I mentioned this to my next door neighbor Mike Nipps, he offered to bring his tractor over to pull some of the biggest broken branches out of the tree, where they hung by threads and tangles.

There are a couple of very large branches that none of us could reach, and I’m not interested in hiring an expensive tree guy to get them, since they don’t threaten to fall on any structures.

Abby loved the old walnut, and she would be sad to see it so torn up. But it’s not the first time the weather has roughed up this tree, so time will tell if it can recover.

Thanks again to Mike and Wes for the manpower and the horsepower.

One thing I was not able to do was cut up larger branches, like this 14-inch-thick walnut trunk.
One thing I was not able to do was cut up larger branches, like this 14-inch-thick walnut trunk.

The Hard Work After the Storm

Readers of my newspaper and my social media friends know that Tuesday, July 11, 2023, a severe thunderstorm struck the town where I live, Byng, Oklahoma.

A very large branch from the maple tree in my front yard dangles from the tree by a thin piece of bark, blocking my driveway. The tree closer to the camera, a redbud, also contributed to the mess.
A very large branch from the maple tree in my front yard dangles from the tree by a thin piece of bark, blocking my driveway. The tree closer to the camera, a redbud, also contributed to the mess.

I don’t know if the storm was straight-line winds or a tornado, but it made a lot of noise, and did a fair amount of tree damage.

Fortunately, only a small number of structures suffered any damage. The house where I live, for instance, lost just one siding panel, which I nailed back up with no trouble at all.

Power lines across the street were taken to the ground by falling trees, and the power was off for 13 hours as a result.

The trees – mine and most of my neighbors’ – got pretty roughed up. Two maple trees along my 100-yard driveway, for example, dropped large branches onto my driveway, such that while I was trying to figure out how to clear them out of the way so I could use the driveway, my next-door neighbor Mike showed up with his tractor, attached a chain to the branches, and pulled them into the pasture, out of the way.

Neighbor Mike Nipps ties a chain around the largest of the down maple tree limbs to move it from my driveway.
Neighbor Mike Nipps ties a chain around the largest of the down maple tree limbs to move it from my driveway.

Those weren’t the only trees of mine that shed limbs or need further pruning, but it allowed me to get the cars out of the driveway without any off-road excursions.

The last couple of day, I’ve use my six-inch, battery-operated chain saw to dice up some of the branches into manageable sections, allowing me to drag them to the brush pile.

Marry this for a minute with the fact that our guest at Ada Sunrise Rotary Friday was Briana Coureur, who talked to us about paths to health and fitness. I told her that this activity, dragging branches across a pasture on a summer evening, was a legitimate workout, and she agreed.

I still have a way to go. My most-damaged tree is the giant black walnut on the north side of the house. One entire main branch blew down, though only mostly, since it is still hanging on by a sliver of bark. Other parts of this 125-year-old tree are damaged too. My plan is to clear out all I can by hand, then re-assess.

You can see that the 125-year-old black walnut tree north of the house took quite a beating in Tuesday's storm.
You can see that the 125-year-old black walnut tree north of the house took quite a beating in Tuesday’s storm.