It’s the Only Way to Fly! Can I Get a Refund?

I’m in Pennsylvania right now, spending time with Brooke and her family. I’m having a great time, but there was one hitch in getting here. I had to fly.

I hate flying.

It’s not that I’m afraid to fly, although I do get anxious during take-offs and landings. And whenever the plane hits turbulence. But that’s what Xanax and Dramamine are for, right? No, it’s not the fear that makes me dislike flying. It’s…well, pretty much everything else.

I’ve traveled by car, bus, train and plane. The most inconvenient way to travel, by far, is by air. Airports are never conveniently located to anywhere. Parking at airports is always inconvenient. Getting a direct flight anywhere is pretty much impossible, so you’re constantly dealing with very long layovers and/or rushed transfers from one part of the airport to another. You have to get to the airport at least an hour or two before your flight, to be subjected to intrusive, insulting and essentially pointless security measures. All in all, the time involved in flying is incredibly inconvenient, especially if one of your flights is canceled or overbooked, an all-too-common occurrence. Traveling by air takes too long, but always feels rushed.

The seating on planes is cramped. There’s rarely anything to see out the windows. There are no free snacks or meals on domestic flights anymore. Airlines now charge you to check bags and they limit the number of bags you can carry on flights. I can only imagine how much fuel air travel uses every day and how much pollution jets cause. (OK, I could do more than imagine if I took the time to look up numbers on this, but I’ve got a head full of steam right now and don’t want to take the time to do research. Sorry.)

I think it’s tragic that air travel has become the default mode of travel in the U.S. It’s become relatively cheap (although with lots of extra costs, like overpriced food at airports, parking, etc.), so people use it despite its inconvenience. Every time I fly, I swear it will be the last time. I’m swearing it again. I hope this time it really is the last time I fly, unless I’m traveling to another continent.

Because I really, really hate flying.

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The Fire This Time

My place of work recently ordered some new e-readers and tablets for staff to use. I had the opportunity to take a Kindle Fire home for the weekend to play around with it and see how it works. After a couple of days using it, here are my impressions.

As an e-reader, it’s pretty sweet. It’s got a nice interface with really fast, accurate touch response. As long as backlit reading doesn’t bother you, e-books and PDFs look really nice and crisp. The 7″ size is comfortable and handy, and with a case on it, it feels like you’re carrying a book or Moleskine journal around, which I like a lot. I was disappointed when calibre wouldn’t recognize it, although I assume it’s because the Fire is so new. On the other hand, it was easy to connect the Fire to my laptop through a USB cord and transfer e-books and PDFs from my laptop to the Fire.

But the Fire isn’t just being promoted as an e-reader, it’s Amazon’s entry into the tablet field, and as a tablet, it falls short of what I would want. There’s no camera, for one thing. Also, while it’s an Android tablet, Amazon does it’s level best to push you to the Amazon App Store instead of the Android App Store. I was only able to get to the Android App store by going through the web browser, but when I tried to search the Android App Store, the Fire would instead search the Amazon App Store. Obvious it’s an Amazon product, so it’s no surprise they want you to use the Amazon App Store, but…it’s still frustrating for what’s essentially an Android tablet. The web browser, Silk, isn’t bad. It’s no Dolphin (or Chrome or Firefox), but it’s perfectly serviceable.

If you want an amped-up e-reader, I think the Kindle Fire is pretty cool. But as a fully functioning tablet, it think it leaves a lot to be desired.

Nothing Ever Dies

Nothing dies. Nothing ever dies.

— Ian McCulloch, “Start Again”

My Grandma Mary died 23 years ago. It was Election Day, 1988. I was a freshman in college and excited to be voting in my first Presidential election. Just before I left my dorm room to go vote, my dad called to tell me my grandmother had died. I was shocked and dazed. I felt numb inside.

I’d never felt close to Mary. She was a brilliant woman, but she didn’t really know how to relate to children, and I found a lot of her behavior embarrassing and annoying. But her death still hit me like a slap to the face. And as the years have gone by, I’ve realized just how much she doted on her grandchildren. She never knew how to show it well, but she absolutely adored us. I’ve been terribly sad that I never got to know her as one adult to another, and although I’m sure she would have loved to see my grow up to be a librarian and writer, I’m sad that she never got to see it happen.

I went to visit my father in the ICU this evening. He was sedated to the point that I’m pretty sure he didn’t know I was there. But I talked to him anyway. As I talked to him, I thought about how he’s having difficulty recovering from his surgery, in large part because of his COPD. His mother, my Grandma Mary, also had COPD. I took his hand and looked at my dad, intubated, breathing shallowly, sedated into unconsciousness, and I suddenly felt as if I were looking at my Grandma Mary. It occurred to me that Mary had seen me grow into an adult, becoming a librarian and a writer–not personally, but through my father. I don’t believe in an afterlife, but it was clear to me that in many ways, my grandmother lives on in my father, just as my father will live on in me. It was incredibly hard to see my father hooked up to so many machines, sedated into a deep sleep, but I also felt comforted that he was carrying on my grandma’s life while also living his own.

Life goes on forever. Life goes on.

–Guadalcanal Diary, “Litany (Life Goes On)”

The Old College Try

I dreamt that I was in school. I was doing very well in two of my classes, but I suddenly realized I had been blowing off my other two classes for the second half of the semester and was almost certainly failing them. Instead of panicking, I pulled out the syllabi for the two classes and began looking at past assignments I could make up, calmly planning on bringing my grades back up as best as I could.

I take that as a good sign, that what would normally be an anxiety dream was instead a dream about figuring out where I’d gone wrong and working methodically to fix it as best I could.

Living in Hope

My father had major surgery on Wednesday. There were some concerns with this. My father has COPD, and surgeons really don’t like to put COPD patients under with general anesthesia. My father needed to have this surgery done, and his heart was strong enough to clear him for the surgery, but there was still a distinct possibility he wouldn’t come out of the anesthesia on his own and have to be on a machine for the rest of his life. My brother and I were at the hospital for at least 12 hours, waiting to find out how the surgery was going and how our dad was doing.

Well, he came through the surgery just fine. The lead surgeon was very positive and spoke highly of our dad’s constitution. It took quite a while for the doctors to get him from post-op to the ICU, but he was finally moved to the ICU, albeit on a respirator. This morning, he was taken off the respirator. He’s breathing on his own. It looks like he’s not just going to be OK, he’s actually going to be better, thanks to the surgery.

I received a lot of messages of support from close friends, family members, and people I know only vaguely through the internet leading up to the surgery, the whole day I sat at the hospital, and afterwards. At my dad’s request, I sent out an email letting his friends and family know how he’s doing, and many of those people have written me back to thank me for the update and to offer their emotional support. It’s been a strong reminder of just how lucky I am–how lucky we all are–to live in a world with so many thoughtful, caring, strong people.

Today is Veterans Day in the US. It would be easy for me to throw out a quick, simple “Thanks, veterans!” message. But I don’t want to do that. My feelings about soldiers are complicated, tied up with my feelings on wars and military build-ups. What I’m doing for this day is to take a moment to think of all the people in the world who have served in militaries, who have fought for their nations and for their people, and to hope that we will all continue to work towards better solutions than warfare. Veterans Day came out of celebrating the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. Let’s honor our veterans by continuing to work towards ending war. We live in a magical world, a world full of human beings who are kind, caring, supportive, imaginative and constructive. It’s easy for us to rally around our friends and family when they’re in pain–even those people we don’t know all that well. Let’s extend that support around the world, to every human being. I know war won’t go extinct any time soon, but I’ve seen how well we can all support each other, and I know we’re just as capable of being kind to each other as we are capable of being cruel. I continue to live in hope that we keep getting better at supporting each other and finding better solutions than war.

Day of the Dead

It was 20 years ago today, but I can remember so much of it crisply, like it only just happened. It was the day after Hallowe’en, and it was snowing. It seemed way too early in the year for snow, even for Iowa. I was working at the checkout desk at the south entrance of the main University of Iowa library. As I sat at the counter, there was a huge window at my back. I could see the snow swirling down from the dismal, slate-grey sky. The day had a strange vibe to it.

And then things went from strange to terrifying.

People started coming into the library with nervous, confused faces, muttering all kinds of bizarre rumors. Library staff started rushing around the building, spouting the same weird rumors. There was a man walking around campus with a handgun, shooting random people. No, it was two men with guns. No, it was one man with a rifle. Or a shotgun.

I couldn’t believe it. It sounded so insane. Things like this didn’t happen in Iowa! I mean, I’d heard some racist, homophobic, misogynist bullshit from people, I’d seen some angry drunks wandering around Iowa City, but shooters? No way!

People in the library got more anxious and frantic. An announcement told everyone in the building, “There’s a crisis situation on campus. Please remain in the library.” But nothing more specific was said. Rumors continued to fly, but nobody seemed to know what was really going on.

It wasn’t until much later, after the “crisis situation” was all over, that we found out what happened. A graduate student in the Physics department, Gang Lu, had walked into a classroom in Van Allen Hall and shot four people, killing all of them. He then walked over to the administration offices in Jessup Hall and shot two more people. One of them died the next day. The other was paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of her life. Gang Lu then shot himself and died.

The days after that were hushed, smothered in fear and sadness. Nobody knew how to deal with this. It was unprecedented. It was confusing, horrible, frightening. It was a nightmare, but it had really happened.

The lone survivor of the shootings was a student named Miya Rodolfo-Sioson. I remembered seeing her around campus, usually at the front of some political protest. I thought she was really pretty and I admired her activism. After the shootings, she was still politically active, but now she was in a wheelchair, a quadriplegic. She started receiving recognition for her activism, which made me angry. I felt she should have received that before she’d been shot. Now it just seemed like she was getting a “pity vote,” when she deserved much more. Last year, I found out that she’d died in 2008 of breast cancer. When I read that, I cried.

Thanks to a friend from college, I read this newspaper article on the 20th anniversary of the shootings. The day, and the days that followed, came rushing back to me. My heart began racing. I started shaking. Tears welled up in my eyes. So I’m writing this now. Not to exorcise the ghosts of that day, but to acknowledge them and pay tribute to them.

And now I’m going to go outside and breathe some fresh air.