I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sisters and best friends

"Two beers or not two beers: What was the question?"
Norma Jean's late husband Pete took this picture of the two of us when we were visiting Texas for a family reunion. I'm not sure what year it was, but I'm sure it was at Thanksgiving, and I don't think Mama was still alive, so it was sometime in the early nineties, most likely. It amazes me to realize that it was around twenty years ago, but when I see this picture of the two of us, I realize how much we have changed.

I tend to date things by major life events: the death of my mother (1993), when Chris died (2002), and when I began to skydive (1990). Thinking back, I try to imagine what else was going on, usually based on how much we each weighed at the time, the length of our hair, and how much gray is (or is not) in my hair. Norma Jean has only a little gray even now, but I am completely white-haired today.

Some other clues taken from the picture: under Norma Jean's leg is a little dog, maybe her dog Radar, but I'm not sure. It was taken at Fia's home in Texas; I recognize the couch. We had purchased the t-shirts at a mall earlier in the day and decided to take a picture commemorating the caption we found amusing enough to buy. I've got no idea if I ever wore that shirt again, but I have a vague memory of posing for the picture. It was in the days before we had digital cameras so I didn't see it at the time, and Pete was busy taking lots of family pictures.

I've got a brother and four other sisters, but the one who is my best friend is Norma Jean, always was. We grew up together, moving from place to place as Daddy was assigned and reassigned in the Air Force. We moved so often that I had many different schools and teachers that simply evaporated from my memory banks. There was a period in the 1950s, however, when we stayed in one place for several years: at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California. I think that's why when I think of where I grew up, that area and those memories are the most vivid. Norma Jean and I often recall events that happened during that time; we are the only ones who share them, since our other family members are either gone or weren't born yet.

After we became adults and had our separate lives, Norma Jean and Pete with their two kids, and I with my numerous tumultuous marriages and liaisons, we only saw each other at these gatherings. But it didn't matter: whenever we got together, we would go running or on long walks or shopping expeditions and it was just like we had never been apart. Our connection has always run very strong in both of our lives. When Chris died, Norma Jean was the first family member I called. I had to cry on her virtual shoulder. That was ten years ago now, and the ensuing years have only bonded us more closely.

Although we have very different personalities, so many aspects of our lives have begun to dovetail ever since Pete died. I went to Florida in February 2011 when he died and spent three weeks with her. We woke early every morning and cried together while we drank coffee and thought about the way forward. She and Pete had made arrangements for her to be relatively well off after he would be gone. She owns her own mobile home in a retirement community and has no debts, allowing her to live comfortably on her social security and some small investments. After I came back to my own home, we got into the habit of talking on video chat two or three times a week. Usually we talk for a long time, often a couple of hours, and the time flies by. It's like we are together, being able to see each other's expressions and mannerisms.

During this time we have begun to share other aspects of our lives: she pretty much stopped eating meat after Pete died and has begun to eat vegetables that she never ate before. I feel like I can take some credit for that. She now loves kale and brussels sprouts and eats them every day. She has turned me on to ways to prepare flax. The list goes on and on, and every once in awhile we discover that we made the same decision about a purchase, independently from one another. We laughed as we held up matching water bottles for the other to see, and on her birthday last week, we shared a glass of wine in our matching wine glasses, pretending to clink them together as we talked.

She sees her next-door neighbor relatively often, so I don't worry about her being without any support in case of emergencies. They each have a little dog and combined their back yards so the dogs can play together. Pete and Doris' husband were close, and they died within a few months of each other, making Norma Jean and Doris both recent widows. Doris has been traveling for the past month or so, and it worried me that Norma Jean has been alone. I am glad that her son Peter has come to visit, because I now no longer worry in quite the same way. I had been counting the days until Doris returned, but now I feel vast relief. It's the only downside to being so far away from my best friend: what if she needed me? How could I get there in a hurry?

She chides me for being a worry wart. I can't help it. She's very important to me, and if something were to happen to her, well, I get distressed just thinking about it. Of course, that's what happens: some life event marks another place where everything changed. I just hope it will be a long, long time before anything like that changes my relationship with my sister, my best friend.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Time marches on

Mama and me at Pete and Norma Jean's wedding
Not only do the years pass quickly, the changes that come about without noticing are profound. This picture was taken of Mama and me at Norma Jean and Pete's wedding in 1965. That young girl in the teal is me, if you can believe it! I was 22 at the time and in four months I would lose my precious baby Stephen to spinal meningitis. But the unmarred young girl standing with her mother didn't know any of that at the time. Mama was 41 and probably felt really old, seeing her second daughter getting married off. It's amazing to me to think I had already given birth to my two sons and had that svelte figure. I'm sure at the time I felt fat, which in retrospect is silly.

Mama lived to be 69 and died four months prior to her seventieth birthday. I remember talking to her on the phone about the big day, but I think she knew she would not live to see it. Not long after this picture was taken, Mama developed breast cancer and, although she survived it, her heart was damaged from the radiation they gave her. She suffered numerous heart attacks over the years that followed. She always rallied and sometimes came back from her trials seemingly hale and hearty, but she took a massive amount of powerful drugs daily to keep her that way. Mama was a fighter. She was the center of my universe in so many ways, but I didn't know it at the time. It was only when she was gone that I realized how bereft I was.

And now, today, I am exactly the same age Mama was when she died: four months shy of my seventieth birthday. The young girl in the picture is now officially old and white-haired. But the difference between the way we have lived our lives, Mama and me, is profound. Yesterday I woke to clouds and grumpily gave up my thoughts of going to Snohomish and skydiving with my friends,  so I joined the women's walking group at 8:00am and walked briskly for more than four miles. I kept looking up at the sky and saw blue sky peeking through the clouds, so I went home and checked the web cam at the Drop Zone. As I saw it was indeed beginning to clear, I hopped in my car and headed south. By the time I got there, the first load had been sent. My skydiving buddies Linny and Christy showed up soon after I did, and we made three wonderful skydives together before I headed home at 6:00pm.

Although I was tired and hungry by the time I arrived home, I related the day's activities to Smart Guy as I drank a glass of wine and then had a wonderful dinner. There is no doubt in my mind that I am fortunate to have the life I have, and hopefully I will be able to continue on in this lifestyle for a while yet. But time passes, sometimes quickly and sometimes not so much, as the years and the decades continue to march on by. Mama has been gone since 1993; the young girl I was in the picture is gone too, and the wedding we were celebrating is no longer, since Pete died last year. My sister is now a grandmother with two grown children in their forties. And both of my children are long gone; next month will mark a decade since my son Chris died, as hard as it is for me to fathom that.

Yes indeed, time marches on, and I find myself here, still here, this morning as the sun begins to rise. It's time to begin another day. I have so much to be thankful for. My dear partner sleeps next to me and I tap away at the keyboard, my slick new Macbook Air in my lap. My iPad lies nearby, with the latest book I downloaded onto it partially read. The technology that allows me to video chat with Norma Jean several times a week continues to amaze me. The difference between a telephone conversation and chatting with her while I can see her is remarkable. We mention that every now and then. She tells me she is so accustomed to video chat when she talks to her kids that on the rare occasion one of them will call her, they find it a real hindrance in communication.

It's all what you get used to, isn't it? Our lives today would look like science fiction to the two women in that picture above. Remember the old show "Believe It or Not"? I remember the prediction of Dick Tracy-like watches that displayed the face of the person you were talking to; today it's a reality. All the latest technology has evolved in a very short span of time, when you think about it, and it makes me wonder what the future holds. Probably things I can't even imagine.

When you reach seventy and you begin to think of the future, you realize that the next decade will most probably be one of decline. It's natural; it's the way of life. Even though there are many vigorous people in their eighties and even nineties, they are the exception rather than the rule, and they will also succumb to the ravages of age. It's natural, and I realize that it's also like the passage of time: it's gradual and you don't even realize it until you see an old picture, or until someone you love passes away.

In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy my activities, both mental and physical. I wish all of you, my readers, a wonderful journey as time marches on.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The best laid plans

Why couldn't the sky look like this today?
Yesterday I didn't get to go skydiving as I'd planned, because the weather didn't cooperate. Actually, compared to today, it was much better skydiving weather, as it cleared out late in the afternoon. But today the clouds are low and dismal and the chances of me going skydiving are very low. This weekend I had planned to go out both Saturday and Sunday, expecting the Pacific Northwest summer blue skies to continue. "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." Makes me realize that things rarely turn out the way you expect.

Last night I woke from a dream in which I was a young woman who was trying to discourage a guy who wouldn't leave me alone. This sort of thing hasn't happened to me for decades, but in the dream it was very immediate and real. When I woke up, I realized that the young man reminded me of someone but I couldn't think who. As I lay in bed thinking, I realized that there are many facets of my mind that remain mysterious to me. Why do we dream? What function do dreams have? I was there in the dream, I could feel the strong emotions, both mine and his, the situation as real and solid as this keyboard. It took a few minutes for the dream to fade away.

Then my mind turned to an old friend I haven't thought of in a while, Baat. I began to imagine what might be going on in her life. We met when she was a skydiving neophyte. Before I even met Smart Guy, she showed up with 35 jumps at Skydive Colorado and we became friends. We ended up traveling together to different places to skydive, such as Arizona, and we shared a tent now and then. I introduced her to the skydiver who ended up becoming her husband, a postgraduate student at the University of Colorado. They now have three children, and I went to her Facebook page when I woke this morning and looked at pictures to see how they're doing these days. That's the nice thing about Facebook: I can see what is going on with friends and family by simply logging on and taking a visual tour.

Back to the early 1990s: Baat was getting ready to attend college but didn't have any idea what she wanted to study. She thought perhaps she might become a teacher, and she was smart enough and talented enough to do whatever might interest her. At the time I needed someone at work who might be able to help me create a web page for our section. This was back in the days before everybody had websites, and there weren't even any tools for creating them. Mosaic had just become available to use as a browser. I hired Baat to take a stab at it, with none of us having much idea how to proceed. Smart Guy taught her the basic functions of html coding, and she was like a duck that just discovered water: she was simply amazing. Within a week she knew more than I could have imagined, than anyone could have taught her, and her imagination and innate ability gave us our first website.

She then knew what she wanted to study: computer science. Baat has gone on to become an innovator in computer science and technology and now works at Women 2.0 in San Francisco, a company that aspires "to increase the number of female founders of technology startups with inspiration, information and education." It just goes to show that you can never tell what occurrence might start any of us on a new path that ends up becoming our passion.

When I think of my life today, with the beginning of my eighth decade just around the corner, I wonder what life event might cross my path and change everything. Of course, it could just as easily be the sudden passing of a loved one, but I'm not even going to go there in my thoughts. That has already happened to me too many times. What I would like to imagine instead is a fortuitous conversation at the coffee shop that leads to an exciting new adventure or two. Doesn't that sound like fun?

My life has a form to it that I hesitate to mess with: riding the bus four days a week to town to have a latte at the coffee shop and then take my exercise class; spending every Thursday in the mountains with my senior friends; riding my bike around town and learning all about the bike trails; and driving down to Snohomish in the summertime to play in the air. I've made many friends and acquaintances and feel a distinct sense of belonging here. But there's always room for improvement.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

How much longer?

Mt. Baker behind me last Thursday
I got up this morning, read my usual blogs and emails, headed over to the news sites I read every morning and even read reviews of the last three movies I've seen (Moonlight Kingdom, Rock of Ages, and To Rome With Love). I felt luxuriant with an abundance of time to get things done this morning, before heading out to the Drop Zone in Snohomish to make a few skydives. I was a little bit amazed that I had so much time, so I decided to pop in a load of laundry.

And then while I was fixing my breakfast, I realized why I had so much time: I had forgotten, again, to write my Sunday morning post on this blog. So once I got my breakfast started, I came out here to my trusty iMac to write this. The title comes from pondering the three things on my mind this morning: how much longer will I be able to skydive? How much longer will my knees hold out so I can hike in these beautiful places? And lastly, how much longer should I keep going with this Eye on the Edge blog?

I'll take them in order: this year I will turn seventy. Smart Guy has already hung up his equipment, which could be taken out and used again if the need surfaced (which it probably won't, given his age, his shoulders, and the age of his skydiving gear). But it could! And I am still driving down to Snohomish to play in the air now and then, as the summer season has just begun. At least this year I will continue to skydive, and if I want to make a jump as a septuagenarian I will need to make a few jumps next spring, since my December birthday will come and go without much chance here in the Pacific Northwest. So that is up in the air, so to speak. Time will tell.

I went on the same hike twice with the Seniors last week, once on Monday and once on Thursday. Al wanted to check out the condition of the snow to see if it was suitable for the larger group. He sent out an email inviting anyone who might want to join him last Monday. I went, although this week he's suggested something similar and I'll probably just go on the Thursday hike rather than make a second excursion. That's not because I wouldn't enjoy it, but because the wear and tear on my body means I feel the aches and pains far more than I like to admit. Of course, I'm not alone in this, since I hike with people around my age, but I have also noticed that in the more than three years I've been hiking with them, many people aren't going out with us any more, mostly because of infirmities such as bad knees and difficulty with the altitude and snow. I know that sometime in the future I might have to start going on the slower, easier hikes that the second group at the Senior Center offers. In the meantime, I really like being able to keep up with the tough guys.

The final "how much longer" is much more difficult to contemplate. I usually don't even begin to think about what I might write here until the night before, when I reflect on what would be interesting to me and to my readers. My readership is continuing to grow, without me even trying, and I get such amazingly insightful comments that I can't begin to express my gratitude... so I will continue here, with fits and starts, some good, some just filling the space, and sometimes, writing one on the fly, like this one today.

My mind has turned toward the day's activities, and I have certain rituals that I follow on a day when I'm going to skydive. Check my gear, make sure everything is in order, gas the car, stop at the coffee shop for a latte to keep me company on the drive south. It's a marvelous beautiful sunny day, and we haven't had one of those for awhile. Almost all of June was weathered out on the weekends, and I only made two jumps at the beginning of the month, nothing since. So there's the butterflies that I get every time when I've had a layoff of any sort. Dealing with those, practicing my emergency procedures (should I need them) so that they are fresh in my mind; it takes up plenty of my brain cells just making sure everything is as good as I can make it.

Then when I get there, my friend Linny takes over and makes decisions about what we will do in the air, what load we will get on, and all my fears recede into the background. Right now my life is more than full; it's overflowing with activity and excitement. I guess I will figure out "how much longer" one day at a time.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Where my deadlines come from

From Network Newsletter archives
I woke up this morning in tears, dreaming that the Newsletter would be discontinued because I was planning to retire from my job of thirty years. In my dream, I cried and cried because I would be leaving my friends and work behind, and because I didn't know who would continue to do the job that seemed essential to me. And then as I became more conscious and came back into the present day, I realized that I have already been retired for four years, and the place where I worked during those decades is gone forever.

It's funny how dreams can seem so real, but it really makes me wonder what brought on this one. Was it the deadline of the Sunday post for Eye on the Edge? I contemplated what I would write about this morning, and it weighed on me. Yesterday I found a picture from my two-month-long excursion to Peru in 1981 and was considering a post about that exciting trip, but the dream has changed all that; now I am thinking I have finally found out why I create these deadlines for myself. It's a reminder of those twenty years that I compiled and wrote that newsletter. It was published four times a year and began when my old boss Mickey came back from a conference in 1984, and decided we needed to create a way to get information out to interested people. Even people in developing countries could learn about the latest scientific theories, what had been created, you name it. Of course, all that is obsolete today, when anyone who has a computer can google whatever interests he or she may have.

It was Google that led me to the online archives of the Newsletter. I remembered that we had begun to put them on line, and it takes an act of strong intention to get things off the internet. I figured nobody had gone to the trouble, and once I realized that our old Annual Scientific Reports would continue to be archived at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), it was easy to find them.

When I was a lowly secretary at NCAR, I worked for a wonderful woman, Maria, who was the administrator to Mickey Glantz. She was the person who put the newsletter together for years, and I followed her lead. She gathered the information and wrote short articles about the things she felt would interest her readers. Mickey was the editor, she was the one who compiled it, and I was the one who got it into a structure and mailed it out to our thousands of readers. This was in the days before everything was on line; the newsletter started in 1985 and continued until 2005. When Maria retired, I took over the writing and editing part of her job and in 1999 was promoted from administrative assistant to writer/editor.

As the years wore on, I realized that I had become an integral part of Mickey's life, and he of mine. We traveled together, he relied on me and my skills more and more, and he would call me day and night. Mickey is a very creative person who generates ideas in great profusion. During our heyday together, he would get some hare-brained scheme and insist that I put it into action. At least it would seem hare-brained to me, but many times the collaboration between us, the idea generator and the person responsible for getting the idea into a realistic framework, created unique contributions to the world. If you go to the link I provide to Mickey's old home page, you'll see links to many of them. His home page and much of the online contributions stopped being updated when I left. Before long, everything stopped, as the entire section I had worked for was discontinued less than a year later. Mickey moved from NCAR to the University of Colorado, and what happened to most of my colleagues I just don't know.

It was partly because of our deep connection that I felt compelled to move away from Boulder. In many ways, I knew that Mickey would never be able to replace me, and if I stayed I would not be able to fully retire. It makes me smile to realize that I have created deadlines in my day-to-day life so that I can continue to have that structure without Mickey to drive it.

It was a huge part of my life and now it's completely gone, not just from my own world, but from the world of all those we worked with. It reminds me that the sphere of existence we move in is in flux, constantly changing from one storyline to the next. Now I sit with my laptop and write in another part of the country, for other reasons. We all have ways to cope with our situations, and my drive to create something out of nothing continues to have me driven by deadlines. Nobody is going to lose any sleep if I fail to write this, but something would be lost inside me.

Sometimes I miss Mickey and that life, but not often. My life today is full of activity as well as thoughtful reflection. Smart Guy and I share our day-to-day tasks and have created a pretty darn good life here in Bellingham. We chose this place wisely, although the rain would not be everyone's cup of tea, the cool climate and lush greenery make the drizzly days worthwhile.

I found this picture of Mickey at his desk, taken by me, back in the days when we were working together. When I look at the picture, I know what is on that bookshelf because I needed to know. Many of the reports we wrote together. Now I write for you, dear reader, and for myself alone.