You fall down, you get up

I’ve fallen down on my determination to keep this blog updated. I think I need to make myself do this.

Today, I discovered I missed a deadline to get into the MA TESOL program at PSU. It’s possible I can rectify this. It’s possible I won’t be able to.

I won’t lie: I’m scared. I’m also kicking myself. I made a mistake, but if I’d gotten off my backside and applied as early as I meant to, it wouldn’t be an issue. But the process scared me, so I put it off. And now I may not be able to salvage much of the situation. I hope I will.

But there are options. I can apply to an online program and get in at semester. PSU is a better option, but it’s not the only one.

The thing is, I’m not giving myself enough credit. I’ve shown myself to be able to stick with things and do well. I’ve lost about 30 pounds. I’ve stuck with an exercise program since 2011. Two years, come June. I also got a great review at work today. The assistant director said I’m doing a great job, that the kids like me. I’ve had so much worry that I was on the brink there, and it was unnecessary. I’m doing a good job. I’m doing well.

I have to keep reminding myself of that. I can do well. I can stick with things. I’m not a victim of circumstance, I’m not helpless, and I’m not alone.

We went to the coast today.

It’s the third time I’ve been to the Oregon coast since returning to the US after the tsunami.

The first time was awful. It was a beautiful day, and I had always loved the Oregon coast. I looked forward to going any time I could while I was in college. But I couldn’t enjoy it after the tsunami. All I could think about was how vulnerable we were. How vulnerable Seaside was. A flat little piece of land like that? The Japanese tsunami would have wiped it out. I kept looking around, trying to figure out the best escape route if there were an earthquake. And I wondered how many of the other people there–the families–would understand the threat or know what to do.

The second time was better. My oldest sister’s family was down for a visit, and we went to a beach that suited my fears more. High ground was closer. I was able to play with the kids and enjoy the day more, but the fear was still there in the background.

This time, again, was better. We walked on the beach and enjoyed an unusually nice February day. It was relaxing. All the same, I did keep looking out for escape routes, and I was aware, the whole time, how utterly screwed Seaside would be if a tsunami hit. Look what happened to Otsuchi.

The acute fear has faded, and I can enjoy the coast again. Still, I’ll never be innocent about it again. I know, all too well, that you can’t trust the ocean. I know how destructive it can be. We’ve taken it for granted here, and in so many places. We’ve built up communities on the coast like we don’t believe it can hurt us.

It can. Eventually, it will. The Cascadia fault is exactly the same kind of fault as the one that went in Japan. Oh, it may be more geologically stable here, but that fault will eventually go. I just hope we’re ready when it does.

And it frustrates me that people don’t understand what can happen. If I could do just one thing, I’d tell my story and make them understand that, yes, this can happen here. That they need to be prepared. Communities need to be prepared. Here in the US, we like to believe we’re the best at everything. We see disasters overseas and feel sorry for those poor brown people, but we feel like the same thing couldn’t happen here.

If the same kind of earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan’s Tohoku coast were to hit the West Coast, it wouldn’t be the same, no. It would be worse. The Japanese have us beaten hollow when it comes to tsunami preparedness. They’re better at building for earthquakes, better at having tsunami warning systems, better at educating their populace. Like it or not, the 2011 Tohoku quake was actually a best-case scenario. The confirmed death toll was 15,878. For such a populous coast, it could have been so much worse.

In America, I fear it would be. But I feel like no one wants to hear that. People don’t like to hear about potential disasters, especially if it would require action on their part or cost them money. I wish I could help, but I don’t know how.

So, for the record: If you’re near the ocean and the earth begins to shake, get out of there. If you haven’t felt an earthquake, but the tide suddenly starts to recede, get out of there. Get inland, get to high ground (30 feet at the minimum), but get out. The ocean is beautiful, but it isn’t safe.

Health worries

In most ways, health-wise, I’ve been very lucky. I get really sick, like the flu, about once a year at most. Aside from the odd minor cold, I don’t have much to complain about.

It hasn’t always been that way. When I was a teen, I had Graves’ disease, or hyperthyroidism. It puts a big strain on the body by jacking up all your hormones. I had my first panic attacks while I was sick with Graves’. I don’t know if I can truly trace my anxiety disorder and depression back to it (not sure I was ever the picture of mental health, even as a kid), but it’s possible. I also have a slightly-enlarged heart muscle that’s probably a result of it.

The upshot of it is that I have to take Synthroid every day to replace the thyroid hormone I no longer have. I also have to take meds for my anxiety and depression. And I have to worry about any other systems that might’ve been affected. All of this means I really should be getting regular health screenings.

I can’t. I don’t have insurance, and my job doesn’t pay well enough for me to buy it. I can’t get the health screenings I should. My last mammogram was in 2009. I had to borrow money to see a doctor to get my prescriptions renewed. I can’t get the ear that’s bothering me checked out. If I develop more serious symptoms, I either borrow money or hope it gets better. I’m doing what I can to stay healthy, but there are things I don’t have control over.

Problem is, if I can’t get health screenings, little problems could turn into big ones. My lack of insurance now could end up killing me. That’s a real fear of mine–that I have something, even now, that could end my life, and I don’t even know. Something that’s treatable now and won’t be later. Something that’ll end up costing my family money, because they’ll want to help.

I know universal health care isn’t popular among my set, but people like me need an alternative. What’s the right to life worth if you can’t protect it? I hear lots of noise about shiftless people and drags on society and entitlement, but that’s not me. It’s not a lot of people who are unemployed or underemployed. And it’s not a lot of people who have been utterly wiped out by medical bills.

So, what’s the answer? I don’t know. I don’t pretend to. I just know I’m scared, and I have every reason to be.

Interesting dream

I’ve been chewing over a dream I had a couple of nights ago.  I was back in the house where I grew up, and I was basically being held captive there. By whom, I don’t know. I just know I wasn’t allowed to leave the basement.

But I discovered one of the windows could be opened wide enough for me to get through. Our house was a split entry, so the basement was partially belowground. There were several windows right at ground level, and one of them could be slipped from its hinge. Which, by the way, was true, and we kids sometimes did crawl in and out of these windows. Dream-me, though, just discovered it, and I decided to get out. I packed up a bag, perhaps a backpack of some kind (interesting choice, given my life events), and prepared to leave at night.

I remember being concerned because I was running out of Synthroid, which I have to take every day, and I didn’t have much money. Those two things come from my real life–I just had to reorder my Synthroid, and I’m still not very far from broke–and I was just hoping both would hold out long enough for me to get . . . somewhere. I think I was trying to get to Oregon, because I knew my parents would help me if I could reach them. But I didn’t know how I’d get there. I just had to leave as quickly as I could. There was no doubt in my mind I had to leave right then, and not wake up my captors as I left. Because they’d come after me and try to take me back and pen me up again.

I think this dream was a manifestation of feeling stuck in my life again. Before I went to Japan, I was feeling trapped in that childhood home. My bedroom was in the basement I was trying to escape from in my dream. I think that’s why I never saw my captors. They weren’t important. It was just the feeling of being trapped, like I couldn’t leave. Kind of like now.

But there was a way out. It required daring. Courage. A certain disregard for practical obstacles. There was a way out.

I’m gonna have to think about that.

To expose a fear

Fear exists best in darkness. I feel I need to shine a light on one of mine that’s been preying on me recently.

As most of you know, I just went through an extended period of unemployment. I’ve finally found work (yay!) as a tutor at a learning center. It’s unfortunately only part-time, but at least it’s work, and it’s something I really enjoy.

My fear is, yet again, that I won’t be good enough. That I’ll mess up once too many times and get fired. I’m beating myself up over the slightest mistakes, overanalyzing everything I say to the director or assistant director and everything they say to me, trying so hard to be perfect that it’s inevitable I’ll slip up. It’s making me anxious, winding me up so tight I’m getting headaches.

I was talking it over with Mom and Dad, and Dad said something that nailed it: I feel vulnerable. It’s the truth. I’m just starting to get back on my feet, just starting to feel like a contributing member of society, just starting to be able to work with my own money instead of borrowing, and it all feels so fragile. It terrifies me that I’ll lose it. I’m so desperate not to screw this up that I’m sure that desperation shows.

And I’m exhausted.

Book recommendation: The Dresden Files

For today’s topic, instead of something heavy, let’s talk books. Specifically, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. The series comprises 14 books so far, as well as numerous short stories, most of which have been collected in a volume titled Side Jobs. Start with Storm Front and go from there. Butcher’s style does nothing but improve through the series, and it was pretty great to begin with.

So, what’s so great about Harry? Well, to start with, he’s the only wizard in Chicago’s yellow pages. He works as a private investigator. As he puts it: “My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. When things get strange, when what goes bump in the night flicks on the lights, when no one else can help you, give me a call. I’m in the book.” Yes, it’s modern fantasy fiction noir, and it’s just the best. Major players:

Harry Dresden: Wisecracking, pop-culture-quoting wizard with a thing for setting stuff on fire and a heaping helping of disdain for the White Council, which is the wizarding law-enforcing body. They don’t like him much, either.

Bob the Skull: A spirit of intellect who lives in a skull and acts as Harry’s all-purpose reference. Has no physical form but it obsessed with sex anyway. Go figure.

Karrin Murphy: A cop with the Chicago Police Department. She knows about the weird side of life and is Harry’s main contact on the force. She occasionally calls him in as a consultant when she suspects magic or creatures from the Nevernever are doing no good in town. Harry trusts her, which can be said about very few people.

Ebenezar McCoy: Harry’s mentor and the youngest and least powerful of the Senior Council of wizards. You still don’t want to mess with him. The only man Harry calls “sir”.

Morgan: Harry’s personal Warden courtesy of the White Council. That is, he’s assigned to lop Harry’s head off if he steps one foot out of line. Harry’s not crazy about him.

Susan Rodriguez: Reporter for the Midwest Arcane and Harry’s sometime girlfriend. Takes a level in badass as the series goes on.

Waldo Butters: A medical examiner and polka fanatic who becomes Harry’s personal physician. It’s a long story.

Thomas Raith: A White Court vampire who becomes Harry’s ally for his own reasons.

Michael Carpenter: The clues are in the name. Michael is a Knight of the Cross, wielder of a holy sword. Sometimes, he and Harry find themselves on the same business. Quite possibly the man Harry respects most in the world. Dedicated Catholic, husband and father of seven.

Charity Carpenter: Michael’s she-wolf of a wife. She and Harry have a strained relationship for a number of reasons, but he respects her. Mainly because she scares him, wizard or no wizard.

Molly Carpenter: Oldest child of the above, she becomes Harry’s apprentice.

Leanansidhe: Harry’s literal fairy godmother. This is not a good thing. One of the most powerful beings in the Winter Court of the Faerie.

Gentleman Johnny Marcone: Chicago’s biggest crime boss. Runs a tight ship. Harry doesn’t like him, but the two of them keep ending up on the same side.

Mab: Queen of the Winter Court and one of the most powerful beings in the Nevernever, period. Unfortunately, she takes an interest in Harry.

Lasciel: A fallen angel who takes an interest in Harry.

Uriel: An un-fallen angel who takes an interest in Harry.

Ivy, or the Archive: A young girl with all the knowledge of humankind in her mind. She likes cats. Fortunately, Harry has one.

Mister: Harry’s oversized cat.

Mouse: Harry’s oversized dog. Or, possibly, Harry is Mouse’s human. Mouse is a very unusual dog.

The Alphas: A group of young werewolves who ally themselves with Harry. Their leaders are Billy and Georgia, a size-mismatched couple still in college.

The Denarians: Some of the most dangerous creatures Harry’s ever faced, the mortal enemies of the Knights of the Cross. Each one is a human who’s joined with a fallen angel attached to the thirty denarii Judas received for betraying Jesus. Led by Nicodemus Archleone, who’s a couple of millennia old and one truly nasty customer.

The  Knights of the Cross: Michael is one. He wields Amoracchius, the Sword of Love. The other two are Shiro, a Japanese man who wields Fidelacchius, the Sword of Faith; and Sanya, a Russian who wields Esperacchius, the Sword of Hope. Shiro mentored the other two. Sanya is a former Denarian who willingly gave up his coin and now fights his former colleagues.

White Court Vampires: Psychic vampires who feed on human emotions. House Raith feeds on lust through sex. House Malvora feeds on fear, and House Skavis feeds on despair. House Raith rules the roost. The major players are the aforementioned Thomas, black sheep of his family; Lord Raith, oldest and most powerful of the White Court; and Lara Raith, Thomas’s eldest sister. Harry generally doesn’t like these guys.

Black Court Vampires: Your standard Nosferatu. They have all the standard vampire strengths and weaknesses. Led by Mavra, a sorceress. Harry can’t stand these guys.

Red Court Vampires: Wear glamorous flesh masks, but are in reality hideous, batlike demons. Extremely powerful and well-organized. Led by Kukulkan, as in the Mayan god. Harry really hates these guys.

There are loads and loads more characters, but the above are the ones you see again and again. The books contain a lot of violence, some sex and a good dollop of bad language. They also contain great plots, amazing characters, and a surprisingly redemptive theme. Michael’s faith, for instance, is treated seriously and with great respect. There aren’t an awful lot of fantasy authors who’ll do that.

Be warned, though: These books are addictive. I’m re-reading them because the latest book puts a whole new shine on a number of events in previous books. And I know I’m not the only one doing it.

The Terror of Applying

I have a job ahead of me that I’ve been putting off for months because it scares me to death. To wit, I need to apply to grad school. I want to get my MA in TESOL (Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages) because it’ll open up a lot of doors for me. But the process of application itself is absolutely terrifying to me.

It’s partially why I had such a hard time finding a job, too. Applying is all kinds of awful. It opens you up to rejection. What if the people I list as references don’t actually like me that much? What if I look stupid on paper? What if I’m not good enough? Worse, what if I get the job, and it turns out I can’t do the job? That’s happened. It’s an order of magnitude worse than mere awfulness. Given that and the fact that I’d almost never hear from prospective employers, or that they’d drag me along a bit before giving the job to someone else, the effort-reward ratio for each application was badly unbalanced.

Same thing goes for this application. I know I need to do it, and that every day I delay makes things worse. I need to get moving if I don’t want to be living in Mom and Dad’s guest room for the next . . . ever. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a fearful thing. If I don’t apply, I can’t be rejected. And what if grad school’s not the right thing for me, anyway? I can’t say I’m really looking forward to taking classes again. See, it’s all moot if I don’t apply.

I’ve got pieces of my application ready. I need to gather everything, though, and do stuff like write an essay and crap like that. It’s just that I don’t want to. It scares me.

And I think that’s exactly the reason I most need to. If it’s not the right thing, it’ll all come out in the wash eventually. I need to face my fear, the way I did with my job applications (which I still hate). If anyone’s in academia or is otherwise really good at this sort of stuff, I’d sorely appreciate some help and encouragement.