Quote of the Moment

"It's never wrong to hope, Byx," said my mother. "Unless the truth says otherwise."
- from Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Thirst for Words

I haven't been doing much reading for a few months. I can't say I have any real reason, save the usual: other things to do, other crises to handle, no real time to sit down without being bugged by someone or something (or someone and something.) So it came as a relative surprise when, earlier this week, I found myself with some downtime and a book in my hand... and devoured it, cover to cover, in a matter of hours.

The book in question was The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia McKillip, a story of love, war, betrayal, and magical beasties with an elder-day flair. Not a recent purchase, I picked it up some years ago and forgot about it until recently. I'd only intended to skim it, maybe read a chapter or two, but before I knew it I'd plowed past the halfway mark and was well on my way to the back cover. It wasn't that I particularly loved the story. In fact, on a scale of one to ten, I'd only rank it about a five or six. It also had little to do with McKillip's writing style. It was simply that I didn't realize until then just how thirsty I'd been for words. I even started dreaming of words again, something I haven't done for a while.

I've been drawing. I've been writing. But I forgot, in the meantime, just how much I needed the occasional dose of reading, of experiencing the joy of letting someone else tell me their story instead of fishing around in my brain to come up with my own. It's the difference between seeing art and making it, or watching travel shows and actually going somewhere. One may think that the doing of it is all that's necessary for fulfillment, but that's not always the case. Sometimes it's just as necessary to take a look outside your own efforts and your own self, to give yourself a break from pushing and creating and struggling and simply escape. It helps keep the fires burning, rather than burning themselves out. (It also helps one see where one's own creative efforts need to go, or should stay away from; in this book's case, it served as a warning against the overuse of flowery language, profound metaphors, and overwrought seriousness in my own writing.)

I'm still doing some writing and sketching, and I'm still poking at my other creative outlets... but I'll try to remember, from now on, to keep a book or two close at hand in case I get thirsty again.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Changing Weather

We've been through a gray and dismal patch of weather lately. It matched the way my life's been going. Over the past few days, things have changed for the better. The rain slacked off. Blue skies broke through. Coats were discarded and sunscreen was reached for. And the mountain was out for two days running.

For non-Western Washingtonians, "the mountain" would be Mt. Rainier. And "out" refers to it being visible, as opposed to being hidden by haze, clouds, or both. (You might not think simple pollution and atmospheric haze could obscure a mountain the size of Rainier, but it can and does.) When the mountain is out, it's a clear day, the kind of day that reminds you why it's worth living in the Pacific Northwest.

Yesterday, we went out to a local woodcarving show. The show was held at an area fairground which also hosts an interactive museum of old-time "stuff," mostly farm equipment. My sister and I had been up to the woodcarving show the day before (Saturday), but on Sunday we went back with the rest of the family, including Mom, Dad, my aunt, my uncle, and my grandfather. We wandered through woodcarvings and poked around in the museum, which proved more entertaining than initially anticipated. Everyone seemed to enjoy the trip, even Grandpa, who isn't connecting with the external world as well as he used to even a year ago, but one of the highlights had to be the drive back home. We take the "long way" back from these particular fairgrounds, a winding stretch of road where farms and fields and tranquil backwaters endure despite encroaching development. Peeking over the Cascades was our old friend, the mountain. Something about the mountain being out makes a pretty day and a pretty drive that much prettier. It's a good, good trip where the ending is just as wonderful as the trip itself.

Today, I saw the mountain at much closer range. When we returned from yesterday's excursion, we had a message on the machine. It was from the car dealership where we bought the Golden Taurus. Something about the financing... I froze. Something had fallen through, obviously. They wanted the car back. I'd be stuck bicycling to work because no bank wants to deal with a loser with no credit rating and only a part-time job to her name. Then I'd lose the job and the bicycle, and wouldn't even have a car to live in. (Okay, so I've been in a bit of a down mood lately...) But, no, wait - they were talking like they might be able to save us some money on the payments, but we'd have to come back into the dealership to sign something. The depressed, paranoid part of me smelled an elaborate trap; they'd lure us down there with the too-good-to-be-true promise of lower monthly payments, then they'd snatch back the keys and laugh at us as we hitchhiked back two counties home. But, what the hey, I wasn't doing much else today, and the dealership was right in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, so it's a nice drive. We'd go down there and see what the deal was.

Today, the weather outdid itself. The sun shone so bright the trees fairly glowed in their fresh green leaves. The air was clear, the sky was blue. And the mountain... that mountain... The unpredictable weather this April left fresh layers of snow on the upper slopes of the Cascades, and when it comes to upper slopes, Rainier is mostly made of them. So as we headed south towards the dealership, we were treated to a spectacular view of the mountain dressed in winter whites under a summerlike sunny sky. If I'd had my camera with me, I'd have tried to pull over off the freeway to snap a photo. It was that beautiful. I hoped against hope it was a Good Sign.

Down at the dealership, things got off to an inauspicious start; the guy who had called us in had just left, and nobody seemed to know if or when he'd wander back. So we sat there for twenty minutes waiting, being mocked by the beautiful day we could've been out enjoying if we hadn't been called in. At long last, the man in question sauntered back from lunch, and we got the story. The first place we'd tried to finance through somehow failed to come through. The dealers, however, kept at it, trying more places. And more places. And more places. At last, they came up with someone willing to take a chance on a puny little loan to someone with no credit (whose cosigner didn't exactly have the greatest credit rating, either, but at least had a credit rating - it seems wrong that banks are more willing to take a chance on someone they know to be a credit risk than on someone they don't know either way about, but I digress...) I'd never heard of the outfit in question, but right now they're my favorite institution in the world. Why? Not only did they take on the financing, but they did so at about half the interest rate of the original lenders... and for nearly 30 bucks less a month. All we had to do was sign some new paperwork and pay five bucks each to start a savings account with them. Done and done - five bucks to save nearly thirty a month is a no-brainer, even for one with as little brain as me.

On the way home, we stopped for a celebratory Peanut Buster Parfait (and lunch, as we were pretty much starving by then.) I hadn't felt like one after we got the car - for some reason, it just didn't seem "real" - but now I figured I officially had something to celebrate. Looks like the Golden Taurus really is here to stay... and it made today look all the more beautiful. Hope the nice weather sticks around awhile...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Taurus is Dead - Long Live The... er... Taurus?

I set out today to find myself a functioning used car. I had a price range in my head, and a couple dealers, too. Cars cost less in the next county, so we headed that direction ("we" being Dad, my sister, and I.)

First up was a possibly affordable Fusion I'd seen on the internet. The price and mileage almost seemed too good to be true, but I figured I'd see what was there; even if they didn't have the Fusion, they might have something else. After some frustrated lot hunting, we spotted the place I was looking for... and eventually found a place to park. I climbed out and looked at what seemed to be a fairly anemic car section (though their Truck/SUV lot across the way was bursting at the gills.) A salesman swooped down, and I asked about the Fusion I'd seen on the internet. The black one. He waved us over to a black Fusion... which was roughly four grand more than the ad said. Um, no thank you, but I checked your site this morning and there's supposed to be another one around here somewhere. He shrugged, not that interested, and went to ask his manager about it. Unsurprisingly, that car had "just been sold yesterday," but they had a nice Ford Five Hundred on the lot... with over 50,000 miles on it... for more than the online Fusion had been advertized to boot. No, thank you. By the time I'd looked up from the spec sheet to ask what else they had, he'd left. Evidently, he'd decided we weren't worth his time. I wish I'd known that before we hunted all over town for their lousy dealership.

So, back in the car we piled to head further afield. We were halfway between a no-dicker place we knew of, and a place where the sales taxes were less horrendous. I'd seen a couple things on the internet at both places, but I figured by now that the internet wasn't going to be particularly helpful in my car hunt. Figuring we could hit the no-dicker place on the way back, we wandered to yet another Auto Row. My sister had bought her Sable from one of the dealers here, so we figured we'd start there, for lack of a better plan.

As soon as we parked, a salesman descended. I mentioned what I was looking for and about the price range, and he led us over to a newer Taurus with not-so-bad mileage. It looked clean. It smelled clean. Nothing appeared to be dripping or pooling or torn or worn. I took it out for a test drive, and it handed much better than the Focus I'd tried out earlier in my car hunt.

Back at the dealership, I thought about it.

I could hunt all over for another car and possibly find something a bit better, though if my internet hunting had taught me anything about the going rates, this was a pretty good deal.

It was right in the range I was looking for, and it had everything I wanted except ABS (I think - there's a chance they're some sort of electronic ABS, but for some reason nobody could clarify that for me.) I even was okay with the color.

I was really, really sick of looking for a used car.

So some numbers were crunched. Calls were crossed. Faxes got lost and found and messed up. Umpteen billion forms were checked and initialed and signed.

And in the end, I came home.

In a newer Taurus.

I'm still going to get it checked out by our own mechanic, just to be on the safe side. And I'm still going to find a way to pay it off ASAP (I triple-checked to be sure that there would be no penalties for early repayment), even if it means borrowing from and repaying a relative at a lower interest rate. And I still have to finagle insurance in my own name. Hopefully, though, that's the end of the car hunting for a while.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Red Skies at Night

Okay, so the car-juggling and overtime have been eating into my efforts to write, draw, and generally do more with my life. And I'm feeling the financial fingers tightening as the need to purchase a new car grows greater and greater, in addition to being unable to locate secondary employment that wouldn't interfere with my existing job. And I didn't get a good walk in today because idiots were lurking all over, and as a general rule I avoid idiots whenever possible (part of why I dislike car shopping, but I digress.) And I haven't even let myself buy a book in months. And a million other little issues are gnawing at me like invisible badgers with one dam thing after another. (And I just got whacked with a dozen virtual 2 x 4's and stale donuts for that last sentence...)

It's not all bad, though.

There was, at least, the sunset.

Some sunsets start with a promise of beauty and fizzle out. Others begin with a whimper and spring a bang on you at the very end, when you've given up looking. Tonight's sunset was neither. A golden misty glow hung under the clouds, which separated and striated at the perfect altitudes to catch the light. The gold shifted ever so subtly to pink as the mist thinned. In the center, a shaft of light could be seen rising like a column from the setting sun to the heavens. After the sun was gone and the pink vanished, the clouds turned a deep steely blue with lingering golden-yellow in the background.

Mom and I, out on a (mostly disappointing) book run, couldn't stop staring at the sky as it burned and glowed overhead. It made me wish I'd brought my camera, even though I knew I couldn't capture it (and even if I could, I was never far enough from buildings or power lines to do the shot justice.)

And not one other person we talked to, in parking lots or at checkouts, even gave it so much as a glance.

Sometimes I wonder about people...

Monday, April 06, 2009

Last Gasps of the Mighty Taurus

The Mighty Taurus isn't so mighty anymore. After 19 years, it's developed several rattles and rasps and rumbles that have only gotten worse. One back door sticks, and the other doesn't respond to the master door lock/unlock button. Half of the speakers have died. We still have no idea where the coolant leaks, or why it leaks, or even what triggers it to leak.

On Friday, after work, Dad took the Mighty Taurus on the biweekly dump run. When he came back, with its usual chorus of rattles and creaks, I noticed an unusual amount of steam from the engine. It hadn't steamed that bad in a while. We checked the fluid levels and everything appeared normal. So I figured it was just being temperamental, as older cars are wont to do.

Today, I took it for a quick run to Target. It started rough, but it does that sometimes. Usually, if you let it run for a bit and warm up, it smooths out. This time, it only got rougher. Putting it in gear made it rougher still. The steering wheel shook. The engine lurched and sputtered. It didn't die, but I felt it was constantly on the verge. In the parking lot, I heard a disturbing, lingering buzz/tick after I killed the engine. The Mighty Taurus got me out and back, but it complained the whole way.

At home, I checked the transmission fluid, hoping against hope that that was the problem; we knew about the tranny leak, so I figured maybe it just needed topping off. No such luck. All fluid levels, even the coolant, checked out normal. During the transmission fluid check, I had to put it in first gear, which I never use. The car nearly died on me. I tried it again, after checking the fluid. Just as rough, and it nearly died in first again. Granted, I don't use first gear, but I can't help thinking that that's a Very Bad Sign. This isn't a car I can trust to get me to work anymore. It's not a car I can even trust to get me to the mailbox.

So it seems I'll have to speed up my car-shopping process. The Mighty Taurus may very well have driven its last mile today.