This is a post about death and dying. "There's nothing to see here, folks. Move along, move along."

I didn't plan on looking at the body, but when my sister and mother did, I had to.

It wasn't him. He was done with that shell. The body that had betrayed him. He had left already, with his last breath — that had been hard to witness, had left me kind of numb. Exhausted. So seeing his body now, in the casket, was more abstract. My sister was crying. My mother silent. I was watching myself in that room.

The crematorium was a bizarre mix of French Rennaisance architecture and well-worn industrial utility. Ornate gothic arches, carved doors, steel platforms, and the cremation chamber. The low, faint rumble of the furnace behind the wall.

The attendants closed the casket, rolled it to the conveyor platform, engaged the electric lift up into alignment, and rolled my father's body in its wood-and-silk container through the double-double doors, into the furnace. The casket clunked down before disappearing inside.

We walked outside and watched the black and gray smoke, streaked by tears, drift up into the sun.

A year and a half ago, Dad was rushed to the hospital, unable to walk or move his left side. Subdural hematoma. It was mere luck that my sister had come to visit: There he was, lying on the floor of the livingroom.

"What are you doing down there, Dad?" my sister asked.

"I fell."

"So get up!"

"I can't."

We all thought this was perhaps an injury. It's what the doctors assumed. Maybe he bumped his head and didn't remember it? However, as we talked with the medical team more, we learned that, for the previous two years, Dad had been undergoing treatment for metastatic prostate cancer.

He had never told us. Never told anyone. And if the hematoma had not happened, I don't know when we would have learned of this.

He was embarrassed. Always a private person, he didn't want anyone to know.

The memorial service was just over a month ago. We didn't know if 4 or 40 people would show up.

100 people came. Some in their 80s, many in their 50s, quite a few in their 20s and 30s. As the small chapel filled up, the funeral home silently and efficiently provided extra folding chairs. There was no murmur of conversations. Everyone sat quietly in their own thoughts while the first two movements of Beethoven's Appasionata piano sonata played almost too low to hear.

There was no pastor or "celebrant." We didn't want a stranger to speak for Dad. For us. We wanted only people close to Dad to speak. First was a friend and colleague from the university, Linda, who revealed a side of Dad I knew of but never really knew. She shared about first meeting Dad, working with Dad, his regular lunches with his friends. She read from letters he had received from students over the years. "You are why I am who I am now," was the gist of all of them. He had changed their lives. Encouraged them when they were down. Made it easy for them to try again rather than give up. And invited some to try in the first place. The waitress who became a law student, working as a paralegal. The Iraq veteran who worked his way to being a university professor. It was amazing and awesome to hear all these voices of lives he touched and changed for the better.

Hat brain

illustration of brain processes, by Robert Fludd circa 1619

Do you ever get hat hair? You know, what happens when you've been wearing a hat or visor and you take it off and your hair is all dented and messed up?

I get hat brain. It comes from having to change hats so often during the work day. Designer hat. Project manager hat. CEO hat. Coder hat. Community member hat. Marketer hat. So many hats! And I have to wear many of them each and every day.

And that's hard. It's especially hard when jumping from a designer or coder hat, where I'm deep in flow puzzling out something, experimenting, totally immersed, to a project manager or CEO hat, where I'm stepping back, looking at the big picture, strategy stuff, people interactions. Each hat leaves dents in my brain. It takes a few minutes to let the dents fade, a few minutes before I can realistically and effectively wear a different hat.

Right now I see timeboxing as an answer. I'm tempted to write a quick app to facilitate it, since I haven't seen anything too useful so far. But of course that would require changing hats.

[Illustration by Robert Fludd circa 1619, via Wikimedia Commons]

The great pumpkin, etc.

So it's Halloween time. People don costumes and mock scariness in the face of a world full of scary things.

I should be blogging more. I should be publicizing more. I should be marketing more.

Time, alas, is a limiter. And my energy. I've had a flu shot. I eat not enough enough vegetables. I will on occasion have more than 1.5 glasses of red wine. I eat red meat and watch, now and then, R-rated movies. I don't exercise enough. Cherry pie is my downfall.

Am I scared? So?

Hurry hurry hurry hurry stop! (Did you get all that?)

So by the time the party started, I was totally and profoundly exhausted. Kate and I had done our best to recharge with a yummy Thai dinner following a brisk walk up Market Street, which had been just the trick to recover from the way-too-dance-clubby music and the way-too-comfortable comfy chairs in the W lobby, where we had been attempting to relax after a several-hour client meeting where I had walked client and web developer through the web design process I was envisioning, which, in the end, was the reason I was even in The City -- not for the party.

But here I was at the party, not quite awake, not at all alert, and, among all these brilliant, beautiful and oh-so-hip and in-the-know BlogHers, feeling like a total dork from the boonies -- and probably acting like a pod person. And this was not good, considering that the celebration was for the official beta launch of the BlogHer website, which was designed and developed by yours truly.

"Hi, I'm Marnie Webb. I'm involved with a lot of web projects that use Drupal and CivicSpace...." I prepare a response and she's now ten feet away, turned in the other direction....

Several people came up and introduced themselves like this. A big guy named Marc came up and sat at the next table, and I listened to him talk about structured blogging. Elisa and Jory introduced themselves. I had moments of clarity, but otherwise I was on the event horizon of a black hole, moving in slower time relativity, not quite able to keep up with everything. In fact, I think what shook me out of orbit was Jennifer Myronuk's Sony DV camera. Here I was, tired after 20 hours of driving, untold hours of website preparation, several hours of client meetings and not nearly enough hours of sleep, and feeling like a tired kitchen towel; there was no way anyone was going to get me on tape. She was quite insistent. I was quite resistant. Jennifer is tall, and I appreciated the company above 5'8", but I did not appreciate the camera -- or, rather, the tape inside it, ready to roll.

Suddenly, Lisa Stone was in front of me, saying, "Make your escape now, while you can!" It took a moment to register, but then I saw Jennifer's camera pointing my way and I dragged by rolling computer bag on out of the restaurant.


I have a general sense that people liked the site. It took a lot of doing to pull together. I had to hack several of the modules, and write a few php calls to pull up content dynamically in ways Drupal and its contributed modules don't quite do. But that wasn't the hard part.

The hard part was getting the theme to work on all major browsers. (A pox on Internet Explorer!)

In the end, it came together and, if I do say so myself, the site looks pretty good, and people are using it in the ways that it was designed for. And as things progress as they must, the designer/developer fades from their awareness ... until there's a problem. Such is life.

Beware that stomach flu

It hit me on Christmas Day, and for the next week I was either emptying myself or green with anticipation. Never mind that it's only 2 days after Christmas -- that first night felt like a week!

Now I'm drained and a few pounds lighter -- not a recommended regimen, it's not worth it! -- and rather disoriented. Today I celebrated surviving Christmas by eating a bland meal ... and keeping it down. I suppose that's enough. It's a good time to be alive.

Not much of a Christmas. It wasn't for my mother, either, who, as it turns out, got the same bug. My sister has taken her to the emergency room because, while she's otherwise much better, she now has a terrible rattling cough. I wish I could be there. But I'm here, and I don't think I'm going anywhere soon.

Holiday stress 2.0

This has been a strange holiday so far. I've been stressed, but not in the usual holiday way.

The usual holiday stress would be all wrapped up in gift idea angst, anticipation of extended family gatherings, air travel butterflies and a general sense that I should be happier than I really am (which, of course, would not bring much joy).

This year's holiday stress is all about work, and feeling not really able to truly justify just taking some time off and enjoying myself. Rather than offer up a list, I'll just put down a ramble:

I'm building a rather involved website right now. It could truly benefit from the new features in Drupal 4.7, but since that's still in beta and many modules have not been ported yet, I can't really base their site's fortunes on it yet, so we're sticking with a modestly hacked Drupal 4.6. Of course, Drupal 4.7 could reach final release status sooner if I were participating in the debugging of the betas and, once they come, the release candidates. But I don't have the time, as I'm doing this community site. Not only that, I'm also doing a redesign on a popular blog site, a project that looks to be rather enjoyable. Meanwhile, I have the mega DVD project that has so overloaded my media drives that I'm coming to the conclusion that I'm going to have to dump all the media, restripe the drives and redigitize the footage -- which, even if I just go with the semi-fine cut timelines, plus handles, will still add up to 5-6 hours; yet that will give me the room to digitize the several hours of new footage of pick-ups and our beautifully shot introduction; which will allow me to finally lock picture and work on sound and titles, at which point I can start encoding to mpeg-2 and AC-3 and getting on with the actual DVD menu design, which will be the real fun part, except for the part of handing to the client her completed DVD masters, which is a moment a long time coming because I did not realize just how involved the subject matter was and I don't think she realized just how involved the DVD production process is; but still every day that I fail to boot up the editing system adds to that stress. And this all is while I prepare for a design job starting late January. And it really is wonderful to be busy, really busy, but right now, this week, there's a lot of pressure not to be busy, not to work so much, not to be staring at various computer screens and video monitors all day, and to be just relaxing and hanging out and "getting in the Christmas spirit," which is something I've always wanted to do but never really quite got the hang of, I think, and so my heart is in work work work but the week is conspiring against me to the point that I'm even feeling guilty just typing all this nonsense here, so I'm going to wrap it up, except to say that these are the reasons why I have not yet prettied up this little blog, because if I really did have time I'd be playing with the design and, who knows, perhaps even upgrading it to Drupal 4.7 beta just to get things moving along on this front. But alas this blog is a little side project at this point, and it doesn't pay the bills, so maybe I should stop typing this post and just upload it.

Happy Holidays!

Escape from Wal-Mart

So on Saturday, I went with my mother to Wal-Mart to look at their microwaves.

On just about any day, a trip to Wal-Mart can be a sort of modern anthropological excursion: you see a cross-section of the community you never knew existed. I mean, sure, the preponderance of clientele lives in the lower and lower-middle classes of our economic strata. But everyone, it seems, goes to Wal-Mart at some time or another -- especially on Saturday, when people are off work.

In this store, situated in a rather red county (where regular letters to the editor of the local paper decry the evils of yoga, pagan holidays and liberals) in a rather red state (where Democrats sound more Republican than many Republicans), we saw punks and gay couples and super-successful yuppies who've already made enough money elsewhere so they could buy Gucci bags and Neiman Marcus clothing not available within at least 100 miles, probably 200 miles.

The parking lot reflected the same, from rusty old pickups coughing grey and blue smoke to glossy urban assault vehicles driven by soft-bodies.

Anyway, we ended up spending over an hour hiking through the store ... and then we waited to check out.

Why does Wal-Mart always involve a huge, ugly check-out process? It's like they don't want to take our money! I think it's a rare Wal-Mart experience when checking out alone does not take at least 20-30 minutes. Even their self-check-out stands, where the customers do Wal-Mart's work for them, are sloooowwwwwwww -- probably because the checkout machines are persnickety and don't like it when you don't jump through their pre-programmed behavior loops in proper sequence.

We walked out of Wal-Mart with body wash and ketchup and kitty litter and some other things -- but no microwave. We held off on the microwave because their selection seemed a bit limited.

And so on Sunday, we drove 58 miles to Target, where we found essentially the same microwave selection at roughly the same prices. So we bought one there.

Checking out was a breeze, with cheerful associates waiting to help us. No lines. In fact, I've rarely had to wait very long at Target. And it always seems like the clerks there are more cheerful. (Maybe that's because Target pays their employees more -- an investment that does not seem to have hurt their bottom line.)

My preference would be to shop at neither store, given their politics. --And I'm not one to make big shopping decisions on the basis of politics, but because they've made a point of getting political, I spend my money at either big box chain with great regret.

But alas, there is no Costco anywhere around here -- nor any local electronics or appliance store. And online shopping, well, it just lacks the tactile experience that can make even burdensome shopping a weekend occasion.


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