My favorite Bar is — Haunted

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Halloween is close, so it’s time for ghost stories.  Although some wet blankets will insist, forcefully, that “there’s no such thing as ghosts!”

Oh.  They are so mistaken.  Or so afraid that they’re driven to attempt denying ghosts into nonexistence — which is kinda silly, when you think on it for a few.  The ones that yell the loudest make me suspect they doth protest too much.  A wimpy form of exorcism, but hey, whatever works for you.

I’ve seen ghosts my whole life.  I’ve watched them walking and jumping, little four-legged blurs of ghosts of pets who’ve crossed over the rainbow bridge — they still visit me, nudging my leg or jumping up onto the bed to cuddle next to me.  Yeah, that’d creep out some folks, but I find it reassuring.

Once I greeted a friend’s dog, face to face with eye contact and a tilt of his little doggy head, wagging his tailless rump when I smiled at him and spoke his name — and then I remembered he’d passed on a month prior.  But what I saw appeared to me as solid, as flesh — he looked very much alive, and so it took me a moment to remember that he was gone.  I blinked my breathless shock and the doggy little ghost puffed out, like a candle’s flame.

Most of the ghosts I’ve encountered, though, have been of people.  About twelve years ago I awoke to discover an angry looking pre-Revolution colonialist staring down at me in impotent fury.  Oh yeah, that one creeped me out — what did I do to piss him off so badly?  It was kinda hard to not take it personally.

And there was the time at the ruins of Kenilworth Castle in England, involving spooky mischief with my Nikkormat camera.  Hey, I was a dumb Yank tourist, so that made me fair game, right?  The day I was looking down into the Great Hall, pictured below, was cold, wet, grey and dreary.
Sadly, I don’t have any pix of that visit — the ghost had mucked with the film in my camera, ruining it.  But that’s another ghost story for another post.

Usually I witness these unaware shadows of the past as they drift innocently across my path.  Several times I’ve been awakened by things that go bump in the night, noises of folks who don’t seem to understand they are no longer among ‘the living’.  I grew up with this stuff.

But one night at the Black Rabbit a couple of years back was different.  That night it became interactive.

Ben and I were sitting at the bar, enjoying a light dinner, ale and wine.  The place is cozy — soft light over the bar, dim light in the corners, jazz standards coming in over the speakers.  It wasn’t crowded yet, and for the first hour we nearly had the place to ourselves.

As I lifted my wine glass I heard a man’s voice, whispering something to me.  The voice was soft, very close by my left ear, close enough that I felt his breath on my ear.  But the few syllables he’d murmured were unintelligible.  I turned to Ben — he was sitting to my left — and asked, “What did you say?”

He swallowed the mouthful of food, then took a drink of his ale.  “I didn’t say anything,” he replied.  He’d been busy with his own dinner and hadn’t uttered a word.  The little hairs on my arms stood erect, and I was suddenly covered in chill bumps. “O-kaaaayyyy,” I said.

He asked why, I told him, and we both knew — it was ghost who’d spoke to me, one of the many reported ghosts who roam the halls and grounds of Edgefield.  A couple of minutes later I asked the bartender if he’d had any encounters with ghosts during his tenure at the Black Rabbit —

— he calmly held up three fingers as he filled another pint glass with Ruby.

I told him what had just happened.

His eyes grew round.  “You, too??!  That happened to me just last week, right down there!” he said as he pointed to the darker end of the bar.

Of course, my gaze followed that pointing finger.  Fresh chills crawled over my back in childish thrill as I stared at the empty bar stool, waiting for someone to coalesce from the shadows.  It was a wait in vain, and I confess my disappointment.

But the bartender was happy to have corroboration.  He told us of other sightings and encounters.  There used to be a ‘ghost log’, kept at the hotel desk, that the guests of Edgefield could write in to record their own stories.  But some schmuck swiped it.

What a shame.  Ghost stories are meant to be shared.

Crabby People Suck

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You have dream, a goal — there’s something you want to do, and you really want to do it.  Foolishly you’ve just confided your dream to someone, thinking that you’re sharing an aspiration,…

Instead of encouraging you, your confidant works to convince you that you can’t do it — before you’ve even tried, much less proven anyone right or wrong.  Their argument isn’t that “it can’t be done”, but that “it can’t be done by you.”
Their reasons for “you can’t” will vary, but not by much:  too young, too old, too stupid, no university degrees, no proper documentation, no officially sanctioned training, no third-party validation, wrong sex, wrong era, wrong politics, wrong ideology, etc, so on and so forth.

Sadly for the nay-sayers, these aren’t even their own words — they can only parrot their nay-saying predecessors and hope it works for them, too,…

… but it’s nothing that a growing child, or any student of any discipline for that matter, ever needs to hear.

From my earliest days such dire and doom-filled prognostications have been flung at me by all and sundry — by family, friends, teachers, employers, and by complete strangers, deluded enough to believe they owned authoritative power and/or deep knowledge on the subject of me.

Why were they so certain, first that I would fail, and second that I must be protected from my failures?

“You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time,
  and build your wings on the way down.”
~ Ray Bradbury ~

When I proved steadfast in my belief in myself, in my own abilities — and in my desires to at least try — they switched tactics.  Their nagging arguments were now couched in passive-aggressive terms:  “Oh, you don’t want to do that.”

Really?

How can anyone possibly know what I want better than I know it?

Sometimes the sabotaging nail in the tire is a stunned and incredulous (and often angry), “Whaddya wanna go and do that, for?!”

I shake my head, also incredulously.  Have they no hunger for adventure?  Have they no yearnings to excel?  Have they been so thoroughly brain-washed into complacency that they no longer have any ambition to direct their own lives?  And all to the point that they now feel compelled to muck about with my life?

Have they forgotten what they wanted to be when they grew up?

Few things have the power to provoke me into making a big, fat liar out of another person faster than the noise of “you can’t.”

Instead of this false proclamation deploying itself as the intended impediment — and metaphorically unmanning me — it’s received as a challenge.  The gauntlet is down.  The gauntlet is so down.

Guess what — I love proving these people wrong.  Again, and again.

When you find yourself in a bucket full of crabs who insist that you’re a crab, too, and demand that you share their doom, know this — you will have to fight your way out.

They’ll yell about hurt feelings.  Theirs, not yours.  Never yours.

It’ll be a hard-won freedom.  But when freedom will not be given it must be seized.  With both hands, and held onto with animal ferocity.

These days, instead of merely reacting, I pause to wonder why they’re so damned determined to prevent me even trying.  I wonder that they want me to shelve my dreams.  I wonder that they expect me to be happy with mediocrity.  And I have to wonder what darkness lies at the heart of their campaigns against my endeavors.

Have they no dreams of their own, to protect and pursue?  Gods, how sad.  But fear is their tragic burden, not mine.  I’ve got things to do, and for spite’s own sake and with that gauntlet in mind I will press on all the harder.

Once all is said, done and wept over, I’d rather be a failure than a coward.

So long, Steve

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Steve Jobs was an extraordinary human being.

I knew he’d been ill for some time, that he was battling cancer and that he was aware his life was drawing to an early close.  So it wasn’t a surprise when I saw the sad news as it was popping up all over the web on October 5th.  Once again, the social media was faster, more sincere, genuine and accurate, than the professional news media, with the news being shared on devices of his creation.

Within the hour tributes to Steve Jobs were uploaded, read and watched and heard.  Many moved me to tears and a tight throat.  That’s what surprised me, how strongly the news affected me — a blend of sorrow and anger that he was taken from us (too soon, let alone at all), and a blend of wonder at his genius and gratitude that he shared it with us.

I can’t shake the feeling that he had just found his stride, that his potential was limitless, and I agree with Apple’s official statement:

“The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.”

Though I never had the chance to meet the man, his inventions are indelibly part of my life and many of his philosophies have seeped into my own:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.  They somehow already know what you truly want to become.  Everything else is secondary.  ~  Steve Jobs

Just as I hope to eventually show Prometheus that his sacrifice wasn’t wasted on me, I hope to do justice to the creative wisdom, clean beauty and smooth efficiency of the Apple products I own and use and enjoy.

Thank you, Mr. Jobs — I wouldn’t be able to do this without you.

You are an Activist

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If you’ve ever signed a petition, you’re an activist.
If you’re ever given to a charity, you’re an activist.
If you’ve ever protested an injustice, you’re an activist.
If you’ve ever voted or refused to vote, you’re an activist.
If you’ve ever stood up for another human being, you’re an activist.
If you’ve ever taken a risk on someone else’s behalf, you’re an activist.

Wikipedia says, “Activism consists of intentional efforts to bring about social, political, economic, or environmental change.”

The scope of activism isn’t always by necessity a huge, organized effort.  Sometimes the scope is personal — closely, deeply, quietly personal.

Maybe you believe the effort you made was a small one, a thing of little or no significance or useful consequence.  But it mattered to someone, somewhere.

Plot, by the DMV and the DOT

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I tripped over an old post over at Wyrdsmiths, about the idea of ‘plot’ as ‘car’.

It’s an approach that’s as open and vast as the road itself, giving strength to the metaphor of ‘the journey of life’.  I pondered it for a while and then the whole train of thought derailed and went off road, over the ditches and into the weeds.

First there’s the car — SUV, sedan, or sports; new, used, or stolen — and then the conditions, hence situations, of the road itself.

Sealed and paved streets, primitively cobbled lanes, tree-lined boulevards, or dirt roads whose tracks turn to sucking mud when the wheel ruts fill with rainwater?  The road should be a bit bumpy and winding, since a smooth and straight road can trigger highway hypnosis, resulting in a cruelly boring story.  Does the road run through Big City, Suburbia, Small Town, or into the Rurals and then on into the Vast Wilderness?  And let’s not forget closed roads, lost roads, private roads and detours.

The passengers — are they on the Grand Tour, a lowly milk run, or in flight from some fiendish peril, or the law, or personal responsibility?

Other drivers are a hazard.  Their distractions have a wicked tendency to become your disasters, especially when they’re plagued with a lethal inability to keep their minds and their eyes on their own journeys.  Poor things, they actually think they’re going somewhere, but they exist only to get in the way — the instant you’ve got past them they vanish from the face or the earth.  Or in this case, from the story.

Along with the road to hell being paved with good intentions, there’s also the road map from hell.  Outdated, stained, and faded — and completely useless when you’re off the map, altogether — it’s a labyrinthine accordion of paper that refuses to be properly refolded, thwarting all your efforts to maintain a veneer of civility.  Just as bad is the pushy GPS, programmed by a sadistic lunatic, that devotedly drones on like a bored oracle too jaded to give a sincere damn about you, your journey or your destiny.

Hopefully the people living in my head will have the strength to resist the siren’s call of all the roadside attractions featuring the World’s Largest Ball of String and other such nonsense — but somehow I doubt it.  They’re my figments, after all.

What else?  Flat tires, blown gaskets, toll booths, hitch-hikers, homicidal tractor-trailers, closed bridges, squabbles over which exit to take and why, the petty bickering coming from the back seat — which will always have at least one backseat driver — and the inevitable cries for bladder-induced pit-stops.  Periodic halts for meals and sleep, when exhaustion overtakes driver and passengers alike — oh, yeah, and the psychotically escalating cost of fuel which presents the very real dangers of running of gas, such as being stranded in the wilderness — at night — or in an unfriendly town.

Since I don’t like the presence of dead-weights in my stories, this is when I tell my characters to get out and push.