Saturday, July 31, 2010

Where mocking birds used to sing

I recently went back to New Orleans, and had to make a stop at St. Louis Cemetery (#1, if you're getting specific). I love cemeteries. I can spend hours in even a small, local one. I love the peace, the history, the unknown stories that are all around. But there's something extra special about St. Louis Cemetery. It may be the way New Orleans wears religion and death, voodoo and a crucifix, like they all belong together. People leave flowers at the graves (fake, with bright, almost unnatural colors; the real thing wouldn't last very long in the New Orleans heat), and they also leave bottles of Tabasco, tubes of lip gloss, beads (of course), a pair of glasses. They leave bits of their lives, bits of the everyday. They draw the "XXX" on the side and make their wishes or give their offerings.

St. Louis is an unusual cemetery, especially for those of us used to the the tree-lined cemeteries where people are actually buried in the ground, in individual graves, clearly marked with stones or markers. St. Louis has vaults, where the bodies are placed, unembalmed, sealed away for a year as they decompose. After a year, there's nothing left but bones, bones that will mix with the other members of the vault. Some vaults are families, some are groups: workers of a certain union, the poor Spanish. St. Louis has no trees, so I find myself walking around in the bright sunlight and heat, the sounds of traffic in the distance. And yet there is still that cemetery vibe all around. People talk in hushed tones, they pause at certain places, saying silent prayers.

Some of the vaults are well-maintained, some are crumbling into piles of bricks. There are simple ones and ones with gates and statues. There are the famous, much-visited sites and there are the ones off in the corner with a few simple flowers. There is a statue of a child angel, beautiful against the cloudy sky, labeled simply with the oddly-adult name "Larry" and "1947-1949." I walk by all of them, wondering who is there, who is still here, thinking about them. I wonder who the last person was that placed their hand on the vault and whispered that they missed them.

Toward the end of my visit, a black cat crossed my path. For a moment I wondered what sort of omen this might be: is this a good thing? But as he rubbed his head against my leg, I knew that all he needed was a scratch or two behind his ears, which I happily gave him. He wasn't good luck or a bad sign; he was just a kitty, at home among the voodoo priestesses and former mayors of New Orleans.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Short a few credits

Recently I had a blip on my credit rating (a credit card that we [me and the former Mr. HP] thought we had canceled was not, there were late charges, bill got sent to an address neither of us have ever had, bill was unpaid. Bill is now paid.) One little blip, easily explained, taken care of immediately. But my credit rating plummeted, and will likely remain much lower for up to ten years! No, that isn't a typo.

This sort of thing just plays on my biggest fear: if I make one little mistake, if I stop paying attention for one moment, it'll all fall apart. And after it falls apart, it'll be so hard to fix. I just hate that feeling and things like this reenforce this fear.

But it did show me how flawed the credit system truly is. When I went to fix all this, I (obviously) checked my whole record and it's nothing but a series of green checks. Years of on-time payments of mortgages, credit cards, etc, not a scratch on the record, except for this blip. But as a result of this (explainable) blip, there goes 100 points. Oh, I also got dinged for opening new accounts last year: a new mortgage and new solo credit cards. But I moved and got a divorce! No matter, says the credit agencies -- you are clearly some sort of crazy risk to us.

I understand that the agencies exist for a reason. But that number should be a guide, not the be-all and end-all. Because mistakes happen. Moving and changes in people's lives happen. People have bad times in their lives, they get back on their feet, but maybe they let a couple of things slip. It shouldn't follow them for ten years!

As a result of this blip, I decided to get a new credit card (I tend to use one card for pretty much everything) through my bank. The bank I have been with for over 15 years. The bank that I have a fairly large sum of cash in savings with. The bank where I've never had an overdraft, never had any sort of issue with. I'm a fan of this bank, really I am. But I when I applied for this card: rejection! I called and got an approval for a small-ish credit limit (a few percent of what I have in the bank with them, I'd like to point out), but it was embarrassing and annoying.

I'm lucky. When something like this happens to me, I have back-ups. I can go to other places to pay for things. But if I were struggling, if I had waited to buy my house, if I lived paycheck to paycheck, this would have been a huge issue. For me, for now, this is an annoyance.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Modern medicine falls short

When I was a kid, I was terribly shy. This was not just simply a bit awkward in front of strangers. This was wishing-to-be-invisble shy. Wishing-to-disappear-into-the-floor shy. I didn't want to be called on in class; I didn't want to be noticed at all. It didn't bother me that I felt this way. I didn't want to be pulled out of my shell, I didn't want to have a spotlight. I was fine with my books and the couple of friends I had. I saw people around me that needed that attention, and that was fine by me.

As I got older, I saw some the advantages of not being shy. With my shyness, I found when I was noticed, I was almost too petrified to react, like a deer in the headlights. If I fought my shyness, maybe I could fit in a bit better. I realized that sometimes you had to put yourself out there. It was a scary thing for me. Maybe I cared too much about what other people were thinking about me. Maybe it was a sort of vanity, that people would even notice if I mispronounced a word or if I said something that didn't quite make sense.

I wonder about being shy. Is this one of those things that everyone feels now and again or is it just some of us? I look at some people and think that they've never felt shy for a moment. I see some people who always want to be noticed. I see people who are comfortable being the center of attention, who would go on stage in a minute. Me, I am always fighting that shyness on some level. There are moments that the shyness comes over me like a blanket.

True shyness is an emotion that only kids can have. A shy 4-year-old is cute in a way. As an adult, you have to interact with strangers, even if it's just to pick up the cleaning or paying for groceries; you have to give that presentation at work. I suppose as an adult (especially these days), you could craft an existence where you didn't have to interact with anyone, but then you'd be that weirdo cat lady who never leaves her house.

The fact is, these days I usually want some interaction with people. Sure, some of them get on my nerves, but that's not a shyness thing. I feel like I conquered that shyness I had. But there are times it sneaks up on me, and I just want to run away and hide for a bit. And I guess that's alright for a bit, but then I have to go back to fighting.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Through the lens

As I pass Day 300 of the 365 project, I am wondering what should happen on September 1, the day I hit 365. Should I go for 730? Just to clarify, I'm in a flickr group where you take one picture and only one picture to represent each day for a year. To see what I've been up to, you can go here:

It's been fun and interesting, and it's made me a bit less shy about whipping out the camera and grabbing a shot. It has taught me some things about how to use my camera (how to frame shots, super-cool filters for photographing the sky, things like that) and a tiny bit about editing my photos. I now carry my camera pretty much everywhere, just in case there's a shot. I look around wherever I go: maybe there's something interesting happening that needs to be captured. I see more sunrises and sunsets, flowers in bloom, writing on the wall, individuals in their worlds.

But I do worry that the camera sets up a barrier between me and the world. Watching the sun set through the camera is not the same as just watching it and experiencing what's around me. With a camera, I've got a limited piece of the sky. I can put on a filter that gives me some extra pinks and oranges but it's not the reality. I'm trying to get the best bit of the sky, spinning around as I look through the veiwer. What am I missing by trying to capture the world in a 4" x 6" picture?

There is a woman in the 365 group who is taking a picture a day of her baby and I wonder if she is missing out on something by waiting for her daughter to have that pose for the day. Does she get frustrated if she misses out on getting the picture when her daughter does something especially cute? Does she get annoyed if her daughter is having a cranky day and won't cooperate for the camera?

Sometimes it's best to just capture the moment in your own memory. The other day as I walked to work, a fox passed by. For a moment, I wanted to grab my camera, to get that shot, but then I decided against it. Instead, I just watched him pass. We looked at each other, nodded, and he went on his way. There was something a bit magical about that moment. I'm glad I didn't break the spell.