*two years ago, standing in our unpurchased house*

ME: I don't like how it's all-electric.

JOSH THE PILOT: Yeah, but we can't afford a place that's gas.

ME: It's everything-- the water heater, the stove, the washer-- what if the power goes out for a long time?

JTP: You're thinking like we still live in Florida. That probably won't happen.

ME: Yeah... I guess... and we can always shower at the gym, right?


A BAT IN CHINA: heh heh

Thus begins the part of this blog which isn't The Thing Is. It will continue to grow as I reconstruct my typing past. The posts which follow are a pour-over of what I've written since I began creating online columns online across a variety of platforms. Although I've been columning since I was sixteen, those earlier pieces exist solely on papyrus and as pictograms in Southwestern rock outcroppings.

This is the writer and person I was; the writer and person I was becoming. You'll notice that the earliest posts are suspiciously short, almost tweet-like. These are from a time when I was compulsively logging in as a matter of survival on a day job in an engineering firm. They are abbreviated shrieks from the deep, as time at work allowed. What now would have made for a social media post was slathered on a blog, even if it was only a line about the upcoming television schedule, especially if it was a line or two about the upcoming television schedule. Where else was I going to go with this? Have an actual conversation with another human being?

Part of me shied away from preserving what is the literary equivalent of hanging a finger painting next to a college admission essay, but the history minor in me won out. They constitute a record just as much as a census. Why find embarrassment over a listing of my old addresses and phone numbers? I made friends, both personal and virtual, with these posts. I built a (tiny, tiny) fan base. Where I see fault, they found something worthwhile at the time, and who am I to tell them otherwise? When my husband found my writing and, he says, began to fall in love with me, this is what he read.

Most of these posts survive in all their awkward angles and aunt jokes, although some weren't carried over because 1) they were just too... embarrassingly nasty and hurtful and are either words I would no longer write or reflect beliefs I no longer have (I had a lot to learn; still do) 2) they contained links to articles listed either in my portfolio or which have vanished into the Internet deep 3) they were political in nature, a thing I have quite abandoned.

Although I aimed for some time at a career in political commentary, I retired at the age of 27, after the 2004 election. The ugliness of that contest, combined with the polito-emotional agony of the 2000 recount, had seeped too far into my pores. And I found that I was becoming ugly, too. This turned out to be that great rarity--a wise career decision on my part. I thought we'd never see the like of that kind of inter-voter fighting again, but, as you might expect when humans are given a lifesaving device for instantaneous communication, it got worse.

We are now experiencing an all-out American civil cold war, and my role is now to create space for those who must rest awhile. I still closely follow politics, but as a quiet, tormented observer sitting atop a Red Cross wagon. Maybe someday we can speak softly and thoughtfully to one another as human begins. I suspect this happens now, in coffee shop lines and across bartops. But not often enough.

I vote; I read; I pray. But the daily exhausting e-fray is for people who don't burst into tears when her sandal accidentally falls in the trash can (don't ask.)

Working with this text has granted me a fresh appreciation for those of you who have supported me from the very beginning of my career--as far back as high school, as far back as those fat pixels on a hard-curved computer monitor. You commented. You emailed. You bought books. You sent money. Most of all, you settled in across the chasm, waving back, and I knew that no matter what else happened in my switchback career or spiky life changes, I wasn't alone.

Thank you.

What you need to do on the second date, ladies, is put your life in the gentleman’s hands, because all the awkwardness is so much easier to bear when trees and cows and people are rushing up at several hundred miles an hour. Let’s have a big blonde welcome for the lovely and talented Josh The Pilot, also known as Person Who Put Me Into a Very Small Aircraft and Totally Did Not Let Me Die. Also, men, an excellent second-date strategy? Kick things off by asking your date how much she weighs. Josh did not do this outright, possibly because he wanted a third date, possibly because he did not want his face bashed in, but it is my understanding that he had to do some guesstimation to figure our center of gravity. This involved, apparently, performing all sorts of horrible scary calculations involving numbers, some of which were, I’m afraid, decimals. “You’ve heard of ‘the envelope'?” an airport employee asked, pointing at the computer. “That’s the envelope.” The envelope, as it happens, is highly disappointing. Turns out it's a graph, with lines, and quadrants, and further math, and is not very exciting at all. I was hoping for a large, Tic-Tac-Dough-style dragon, or a wall of flames, or, at the very least, an actual envelope. Given the size of the plane, though, it’s probably safe to say that I accounted for at least a third of the total weight. I fly on a regular basis, but on large commercial jets featuring multiple engines and massive cargo holds and enormous, odorous passengers crammed into the seat next door. This plane… this plane had clearly come out of a box from Children's Palace, accessories sold separately. I followed Josh around the Micro-Machine as he prepared it for flight. (It was a Cessna 172RG, I later discovered when I reported in to my Air Force father, and he said “Ooooohhh.” It was not a good “Ooooohhh.” “What?” I said. "That airplne," he said, "was older than you. Possibly older than me.") I watched as Josh drained some fuel out of the tank (“You’re going to put that back, right?”) “What color do you see in there?” he said, holding a vial of it up to the light. “Blue.” “Guess what that means.” “The plane is pregnant?” I trotted after him to the other side. “What’s that?” I said, pointing at an irregular silver section. “Duct tape.” “What?” “It’s not like it’s an important part of the plane,” he said. “The wing isn’t an important part of the plane?” I think the Home Depot section of the aircraft was probably closer to the fuselage, but in my world? Every part of the plane is important. Every part. The brakes are important. The airspeed indicator is important. The little bags of pretzels are important, and I want them all certifiably duct-tape free. This is the very first time I’ve been able to say this regarding a second date, but: He opened the door of the airplane for me. And, you know what? Planes have keys. The man needed a key to start the airplane. I sincerely hope this is also not the case on fighter jets. What if you forget them? What if you lose them? Because I would definitely lose the key to my F16. Our plane, however, perhaps because it was, I don’t know, older than God, did not start, which was temporarily excellent because it provided me the opportunity to bust out the Princess Leia impression (“Would it help if I got out and pushed?”) but it ceased to be so once I saw Josh bang on the console to get the thing going. (I reported this incident to Nick the NASA Poobah, and there was a pause on the other end of the line, which I presumed was a small moment of silence in honor of Josh’s ego. “A pilot,” Nick said, “would rather stand in front of a group of strangers in his underwear rather than have something go wrong on an airplane in front of a woman.”) Josh told me to latch the window, and I did, and then applauded myself for having helped fly the plane. Later, I retracted the landing gear, which, according to NASA regulations, qualifies me to command the next space shuttle mission. I will say this: I can Velcro up a sandal, and occasionally start a dishwasher, and every now and then flush a toilet without creating too much destruction, but I will never, ever, successfully guide any object heavier than fuzz into the air and over the ocean and back down again in one piece. Josh did this, without effort, and with a medium-sized passenger constantly pressing her headset mike against her face yelling “Red Five, coming in.” We landed and took off a couple times at an isolated airstrip, and one of the landings was a little bumpy, about which I said absolutely nothing, because let’s face it, I am frequently unable to find the state of Florida, let alone a barely-lit strip of land in East Pieceofcrap. “Remember that second landing?” Josh said as we drove away from the airport. “Uh-huh,” I said, watching the ground go by at an altitude of two and a half feet. “Yeah, I did it blind.” “You what?” “The landing lights,” he said. “They short-circuited, and I had to land it blind.” “Well I,” I said, “can recite the entire preamble to The Canterbury Tales in the original medieval English.” Which is slightly less impressive, but the last time I checked, nobody really cared how much Chaucer weighed.

November 13, 2004

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Mary Beth is an introvert.

She is eager to communicate but prefers doing so via email, a giant stage, or intense conversation about Important Things.

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