Yesterday a campus e-mail went out announcing the sad news of the sudden death the night before of our head swimming coach here at Ferrum College, Tom Calomeris. I regret that I didn't get to know him very well. But he was a library regular - at least once a week he would come in to check out movies and sometimes books. He would always smile. He would always chat with me for a few minutes while he was here. There are a lot of people here who knew him a lot better than I did, so I was surprised when I realized how much I was going to miss seeing him around.

It never surprises me when I miss people I was close to for a long time, of course, and how much time can pass before I stop expecting to see them around the corner, or when I keep thinking of things I want to tell them. It doesn't surprise me how much I can miss people I never met in person but knew online for years, especially when those people died decades before there time, like our losing Jay Lake and Eugie Foster this year. But after I got over being knocked off guard realizing that I would miss someone I didn't know nearly as well as I should have, something obvious occurred to me that I'm ashamed of myself for not thinking of before.

It also occurred to me yesterday, and has bothered me ever since, that Coach Calomeris was almost always the one to say "Good to see you" first whenever he came to the library.

There are a lot of people and things out there telling you not to take your loved ones for granted. And those are great, and should be out there, because sometimes we do need reminders of that. But I don't know if there's anywhere out there reminding you to appreciate the ones you don't know as well. The co-worker in a different department. That customer who comes in now and again who always has something nice to say to or about you. The particular clerk at the store whose line you always want to get into. The mail carrier who leaves a card in your box on holidays. The owner of your favorite store or restaurant, the waitress who sneaks you a little extra onto your plate, the barrista who remembers exactly how you take your drink. And heck, maybe the librarian who always has a pretty good idea of what to recommend to you when you're looking for a new book or movie.

So this is that message. While you're remembering not to take your loved ones for granted and to make sure you tell them how much they mean to you, don't forget the people you interact with every day that you may hardly know, but make your life a little better for being there. Maybe not a big expression of emotion. But say something nice back to them, add a little to the tip, leave a card for your mail carrier too. Tell them first that it's good to see them.

Appreciation. When you get right down to it, it does just as much for ourselves as for the people we show it to.
This is not the entry I would like to have returned to blogging with after a month-long hiatus. But then again, this is an entry I hoped I wouldn't have to write for a long time, because (for reasons I'll make plain shortly) I wasn't going to write it while Jay was still with us. And I'd hoped that despite everything, he would still have years yet. But his passing yesterday after the six-year bout with cancer(s) that he documented so thoroughly over the years has gotten me reflecting about many things, of which this one item I'll share publicly because it's one example of his generosity.

To sum up: Jay Lake in all likelihood saved my life. I mean that literally.

I never met Jay in person, but we became Live Journal friends about nine years ago or so. I'd started hearing his name from other writer friends who blogged on LJ, and was instantly fascinated by his posts about the writing process as well as his fearless political posts. (Some people said he had a reputation for being arrogant or condescending; I never saw that. He was frank and unashamed of his beliefs and his writing, and didn't suffer fools, and I think this rubbed a few people the wrong way. But those tend to be the sort of people who need to be rubbed the wrong way. Anyway.)

In the summer of 2009, I was bitten by a spider on my left arm. The bite got swollen; I was advised to ice it. The swelling went down and I thought nothing more of it for a few weeks as I went about my normal routines, which included a 45-60 minute workout three to four days a week. Then both arms started swelling up again. I resumed icing them. This time I knew I'd need to see a doctor about it, but while I had insurance, I wouldn't be able to get to a doctor for a few days. At the time money was super-tight and I was, as the saying goes, living from paycheck to four days before paycheck. I was a few days away from a paycheck, thus I was a few days away from seeing a doctor.

Now one of Jay's political leanings was being an unabashed supporter of Obamacare, and he had numerous lively discussions about it on his blog. I commented on one of these at the time, citing my frustration about not having money for a doctor visit. It was a passing remark, bolstering some comment about medical expenses that he'd made, and I thought no more about it.

At least I didn't think about it again till the next day, when money showed up in my Paypal account with the note that it was from Jay Lake, telling me to go to the doctor. I won't say how much but it covered the next two visits...out of what became five appointments over the course of two weeks.

Because that's the kind of person he was. And he refused to let me pay it back, instead insisting that I pay it forward.

So to the doctor I went. She checked out my arms and was horrified. The swelling I thought had gone "down" was in fact the fluid in my arm hardening - hastened by the ice I'd been using. Between that and my workouts, the doctor told me that it was an almost complete certainty that within the next few days a piece of that hardened fluid would have broken off, caused a block somewhere, and likely become fatal. In other words, that few days' wait for my paycheck that Jay eliminated very well could have been lethal.

I got a round of antibiotics - also paid for with the money Jay gave me - with instructions not to exercise beyond a gentle walk for a month.

I told Jay all of this. He still wouldn't accept any repayment. His first cancer had been going for a year by this point and I told him I knew about his own health issues; he told me he'd been helped this way in the past and was now passing that help along. Eventually he did consent to me sending him a signed copy of The City Beyond Play, but that was all.

I did also vow to him that I wouldn't tell anyone about this publicly. That was my idea - he never asked it of me. I was just afraid people might start begging him for money if I did.

Two months ago, at last, I was in a position to pay it forward, and with Jay in mind I did so. A friend who was unemployed and uninsured had to be rushed into an emergency surgery, and wasn't sure how she could pay for it. I sent her the amount Jay had sent me. I knew it wouldn't have as profound an effect as his donation did for me, but I could do it, so I did.

And I let Jay know that I had. Despite being what I know now was so close to death, he sent me back an e-mail thanking me for letting him know and - because he was still generous even then - wishing both my friend and me good health.

So while many people are remembering Jay's personality, his Hawaiian shirts, his stories and his writing work ethic, I'm remembering him for my existence.

Thank you, Jay. I won't forget, and I'll keep paying it forward whenever I can.
Along with doing some writing chopping today as I try not to examine the Camelot Book's Amazon ranking, plus sending out my first large check to the bank towards this idea of buying a house, I figured it might be a good time to remind myself of some simple but fundamental truths.

My dog Tucker, for instance, reminds me that I should always take time out to play with friends.

Playing with friends

Even if you have to visit with those friends online, because something is keeping you apart.

Visiting friends

No matter who those friends happen to be, and even if some people disapprove of your friendship.

Darth and Friends

And finally, my nephew Evan reminds me to visit family as much as I can - especially kids, because kids grow up way too fast.

Old Evan 2

All things I am trying hard to remember, despite everything.

I've decided that worrying about kidney stone time bombs is silly. With one precaution I've started planning outings more distant than the nearest town, and it's a precaution I'd prefer to do anyway: Going somewhere with a companion or three. I like that better regardless of any other circumstances; I always enjoy outings more when they're shared.

With the hope that my newly-acquired reliable car will stay reliable (but getting AAA in case it doesn't), I've already started planning one such semi-distant outing: A trip with friends up to the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway for scenic photo-shooting and a hike to the top of Humpback Rocks. A couple of invitees have already accepted just so long as we can plan it around work schedules. At any rate, I'm shooting to do this sometime in late June or early July.

More immediately, I'm also gathering a small group to go watch Star Trek: Into Darkness on the 17th. Much less ambitious but anticipated just as much.

As has been the case many times in the past--especially at this time of year, when students leave campus and dump their animals--a cat is living just outside the library. Our building is ideal for small animals wanting to hide, as the facing is built in such a way that they can go up into the exterior wall and stay out of sight. This time, though, the cat was pregnant, and there are now several few-week-old kittens living with her. Food is being left for them most days. Sad and infuriating all at once...though I caught sight of one of the tiny fuzzball kittens out of the wall and playfully hopping around, which was a highlight of my day.

Writing: I'm back to a shift going in at noon, which guts most of my usual writing time. Unlike last year, though, this isn't going to last for months, just most of May. Then I'll spend the summer getting used to writing at night again. At any rate, my word counts are lower but the writing is still getting done.


New Words: 1800 on chapter 9 ("Copper Heart") of Arizona. Ulpian Shively--former U.S. officer, former Confederate officer, now pistoleer-for-hire--arrives in Copper Heart and has a fateful meeting with the 13-year-old Gus Beckett that will put the latter on the road to eventually being a soldier in the hunt for Geronimo, a sheriff, a marshall, and an Arizona Ranger hunting Pancho Villa.

Total Words: 276,550.

Reason For Stopping: End of scene and getting ready for work, both days.

Stimulants: Today, An ice cream sammich.

Mammalian Assistance: Yesterday, Vegas guarded my lap. Today, none.

Exercise: Walking Tucker around the neighborhood.

Today's Opening Passage:

Yesterday: Two years before, the slab of mountain on the west side of the Verde Valley had been devoid of any human presence—not even Indians had frequented it for a generation or more, and certainly no whites. Except one, Will Beckett, seeking copper. Now there was a sprawling town across the eastern face overlooking the tiny ribbon of the Verde River far below, all at once looking as boisterously young as it was, but its terraces lined with adobe and brick buildings already showing some weathering as if they had been there since time before memory. Wind sweeping across the mountainside carried voices down toward the valley; Copper Heart was a town that never slept.

Today: Most saloons looked the same to Shively, and the Queen of the Mountain was no different: Like the better class of such places he’d seen, it had a long bar—polished walnut from who knew how many hundreds of thousands of miles away—a mirror behind the bar—which Shively always found useful in case anyone tried sneaking up on him—and a piano, which was unattended at the moment. No doubt there were whores upstairs, busy servicing the men who’d come off the night shift. The place was half full, including some women Shively didn’t bother making guesses about.

What he wasn’t expecting was the boy.

Darling Du Jour: But Beckett was not why Ulpian Shively ascended the mountain to Copper Heart. Shively was a hired shootist looking for work, and he loved mining towns. Most were new and wild and frontier enough that the rules hadn’t quite been figured out yet, and enough men took things past the line that somebody sooner or later would want Shively’s gun.

And often, if there was some legal presence in the town, they turned the other cheek on him. He still carried his law books, the ones his father gave him what felt like a lifetime ago, and they were more than just horse ballast. Shively wouldn’t kill anyone he felt had done no wrong. True, the punishment might not fit the crime, but there was always a crime nevertheless.

Non-Research / Review Books In Progress: Babylon Confidential by Claudia Christian; Paris by Edward Rutherfurd.

The first seven years I worked for our college library I made a lot of friends among the students. In 2009 that came to a grinding halt.

This was due to two events I chronicled here at the time of each: The first, in early '09, was someone who I thought was one of the closest among those friends turning on me after her super-jealous boyfriend (now happily ex-boyfriend) convinced her I was bad news, that our hanging out together for a couple of years was nothing more than a big ploy to hit on her. The second came in late '09 when another friend, Jess Goode, was killed by a hunter who admitted later that he had no idea what he was shooting at.

These happened months apart but were emotionally cumulative. After Jess died I let myself turn into an emotional recluse for a long while--being nice to students but never letting myself get close to any of them if I wasn't already. A lot of friends and family, here and elsewhere, counseled me against this, but I allowed it to happen nevertheless.

Oblivious on so many levels as I am, especially when it comes to introspection, I only realized a few days ago that this is no longer the case.

The last of the folks who were already friends by late 2009 all graduated last year; yet it only occurred to me this week that I have a big group of friends this year too. They snuck up on me through trusted channels. Some I met through Laurie during her time as a student here; some I met through another student named Samantha who'd already been a friend for some years before she enrolled here; a few I met through both.

This revelation was followed by it dawning on me that the frustration and fear following 2009 is almost completely lifted. The unburdening came about so gradually that I hadn't been aware how much lighter my emotional footsteps were getting--until I started getting depressed about how many of these friends were graduating and heading off this coming Saturday.

But melancholy though I may be about graduation (as always), I'm also happier about it than I've ever been--coming as it does with the knowing how I gained friends by their stealthily sneaking through my armor. I'm a social person; generally I'm an extrovert. This has brought home just how painful that emotional wall was. I'm annoyed that it took me so long, but overall I'm vastly more happy than annoyed now that it's tumbled down.

As it happens some of these friends are local--I've just gotten spoiled by having them around all the time. But even being spoiled, considering the circumstances, pleases me. Today I'm grateful, relieved, and feeling blessed.

Happy Graduation, everyone!
By the end of the night, Mary declared the trip to be an awesome excursion.

Mary / [personal profile] viedma checking out Pine Creek Mill in Floyd, VA.

+9 )

Since my birthday falls around the time that the leaves are changing colors in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, I always like to do a hike or some sort of photographic excursion close at hand to the date. My original plan was to grab Laurie this past Saturday and head up to the mountains via the Blue Ridge Parkway--including Floyd County, which is built entirely across mountaintops.

Saturday morning, though, we got a surprise call from our out-of-state friend Mary / [personal profile] viedma, letting us know she was in town!, and could she come with us? Aside from the fact that we've been close friends for half my life, Mary has the twin distinctions that she introduced Laurie and me, and is one of a handful of people who talked me into getting on Live Journal. So what would have been a good day became an awesome day as ranged across the peaks looking for gorgeous pictures and tasty country food (succeeding in finding both).

Mary meeting me at the campus library before we head out.

+7 )


Chuck is a little dog, maybe a Kuchi. My friend Ken and his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan are trying to raise $3,000 to send Chuck home to America: "That seems like a lot, but it also seems like such a small amount! I truly believe it is reachable by our deadline: May of 2012. That is a few months before Ken returns to the U.S. himself. I really hope we can raise the money well before that, to be honest, with the help of wonderful people out there like you!"

Any help would be appreciated by all involved both in Afghanistan and here in the U.S.
My friend [personal profile] thetalkingmoose offers up a couple of extra steps to my recent environmental deregulation posts to help critics put their money where their mouths are.



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