Women Fly

I am an aviatrix, a female pilot of fixed wing aircraft.

While other families had Life magazine or National Geographic on the coffee table, our house had Aviation Week.  There were no flight shows missed and we would sometimes go out to the airport just to watch the planes take off from the observation deck.

My father was obsessed with aviation. I imagine him as a child in the midst of Great Depression hunger, longing to fly away. It was a dream he longed after his whole life but went unfulfilled. He had been accepted into flight training by the Navy but because he developed hypertension he was forced to quit. He was only in his early 20’s.

One of my clearest memories of my dad is standing alone in Uncle Phil’s back yard at a family BBQ. A Cessna flew overhead in the bright, calm summer sky. We both watched it go by, my hand an echo of his as we both shielded our eyes from the sun.

When he looked back down, he hesitated in thought for just a moment. He turned to me with a look as if what he was about to do was something wholly unexpected, something that had only just occurred to him. He asked me, “Do you want to learn how to fly?”

It never occurred to me that I could, that women fly. In the early 80’s, it probably never occurred to him either. But what you must understand is that I was his daughter which meant I could do anything. My father believed that I could have flown to the moon and back if only I had been born with wings. I replied in 10-year-old girl excitement, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” He said, “Ok, when you are 16, I will pay for you to take flight lessons.”

Another morning, about two years later, I woke to a noise outside my second story bedroom window. I looked down to the driveway and there with a sky as bright and clear as that afternoon had been, under the tree of heaven that sheltered my room from the sun, I watched paramedics lift a gurney with my father’s dead body into an ambulance. Heart attack.

That was in August 1985. I was 12 years old, on the cusp of 13. All through high school, I told everyone I was going to learn to fly. In 1995, I took my first flight as a student pilot. Three years after that, I was a certified flight instructor with a commercial certificate with multi-engine and instrument ratings.

All because my father believed I could. And because he believed, I believed.

And because I believed, I flew.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, June 2018

 

 

Endless Summer

When I saw it, I knew. It was van Gogh. I knew it not by his distinct style, but by the raw emotion that radiated off the inanimate canvas. I stood at the opposite end of the gallery and cried.

It was endless summer.

Specifically, it was “Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun” hanging in gallery 355 at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Experts believe it depicts autumn, November in Saint-Rémy, based on the vibrant orange and yellow paint. It was created just seven months prior to his suicide. It stands as the only time art has moved me to tears. And what moved me was how he captured the sunlight.

I know that blazing day.

I forgot about endless summer. Life became as adult life does, a series of days in which there is work to be done for the sake of survival, and a shot at happiness one day when the bills stop exceeding the money. When you’re young, all things are possible if you can just decide what you want to do.

Endless summer of youth.

There was a large field behind the grade school with a gravel track and baseball diamonds. It was June and it was covered with dandelions. Some had turned to seed. And I lay there, relaxed. No hurry, no worry… uncommon for me. In that moment of breeze and blazing sunshine that broke behind the passing clouds, the dandelions glowed as if they were lights themselves. I felt like I belonged. I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I felt one with creation.

All was right with the world.

Laying in the field behind the school in the last days of junior high, dreaming of the life to come, blowing cottony seeds in the wind like candles for wishes. What does the future have in store for me? Will I be happy? Will I be loved?

I, so consumed with grief at the tender age of 12. I, who sought solace in the arts and nature. I, who buried myself inside my own head, inside my dream world. I was ill prepared for the hard realities that would become my life.

But that girl… she was in love with the promise of endless summer.

Life back then, it was hard. I never felt safe or like I belonged anywhere. I knew I would escape to high school. I was convinced that it would be a better experience for me. I was wrong. I was wild and out of control. 13 years old in massive grief with a fuck-off attitude. Not much has changed.

While other girls were concerned about the brand of jeans they wore or their hair and make-up, I was trying to come to terms with my father’s death and the upheaval in my family. I couldn’t relate. I couldn’t see the value of the trivial concerns of others. I still can’t. But innocence was how I was supposed to be. That was stolen from me at too young an age.

That girl… she cried for van Gogh.

We make our choices and try to live with the consequences. Once I was in college, I worked my ass off. I never wanted to be financially dependent and vulnerable to anyone else. People hide how abusive they are… people die. So, as I watched other young people be young, while I held my face to the grindstone, time slipped away. Those years I was meant to be light and free, gone.

But twenty years later, I took up cycling.

That first summer ride along the bluff of the Mississippi River under the sparse clouds and impossible blue sky- that light made the leaves look silver; the heads of flowers, tiny lamps. The sun outlined every detail in the fabric of life. The endorphins rushing through me sucked all the color through my eyes and etched it into my brain.

Endless summer means peace, it means being fully present, it means being shocked into the now by the astonishing beauty of the natural world. It is being in harmony with the flow of life without distress. And on that day, it was OK for me to hope, OK for me to want love. I did not have to be embarrassed by my longing of dreams forgotten.

That endless summer day split my flaming heart.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, June 2019

Hear this blog post on Soundcloud

 

Geek

My career is in information technology (IT).

I am not a developer. I support software and the people who use it. I get excited about figuring out how it works, training people, and managing data. What the hell is wrong with me? I think it feeds a few things. It feeds my natural tendency to see the big picture and translate it into practical explanations. It feeds my need to fix, to find solutions, to create order from chaos. It feeds my deep-seated desire for world domination.

Hey, she who controls information controls the world.

Ok, so why information technology? Why is it my career after I devoted so much energy to music, aviation, and my deep desire and talent for writing?

There is a school of thought that classifies people as either right or left brained- as creative beings or logical beings. While I am right brain dominant (creative), I actually operate within both spaces. I can do either. I have a need for both creative and logical outlets. To me this is normal, so I never understand why people are surprised that I work with computers and am a musician that writes.

For the first part of my life, when I was completely focused on the arts, people categorized me as a creative person. They treated me as if I could not comprehend science, as if I were stupid and a flake. When I switched over to the sciences, at 21+, people then categorized me as a tech geek, unable to appreciate the arts, and super smart. While both categories fit me, both assumptions also offend me.

To explain how I came to IT, I must go back to the beginning. My father was a mechanical engineer and worked for Caterpillar for 25 years until his death. He was an extremely smart man. He held nine patents. My mother is also intelligent so naturally all of us kids are smart.

My brother is a strange bird. He is twelve years my elder and expresses an extreme form of logical intelligence. He was doing long division by age three. He is brilliant at math and science but not the humanities. He was the type to pull things apart and put them back together just to see how they work.

They bought him a Commodore 64 in the early 80’s. I would hang out in his room and watch him solder chips onto circuit boards. He would buy textbooks with BASIC code for computer games and sit for hours typing on that damn B/W TV he used as a monitor. I would watch him type code, I asked him to explain the code, and I would read the code. It made sense to me, a beautiful simple logic like music. At age ten, this all seemed perfectly normal.

So, I got to use his PC at a very young age when he would let me. In high school, I took a computer class because I thought it would be easy and it was. My teacher was surprised by my comfort level. He approached me and wisely advised, “You should consider doing this for a living.” I smiled and thought to myself, “No way dude. I’m going to be a rock star!” I was so obsessed with music…

I have resisted working with computers all my life. I like them, they come easy to me, but they are not my passion. Guess what is. When I gave up on the arts in college, I decided that I needed to get a day job that paid so that I could pursue my passions without trying to pay my bills with them. I was afraid that I would eventually learn to hate the arts for my inability to make a living at them.

Aviation was to be that day job and I did indeed finish my first B.S. in Aviation Management. Unfortunately, too far along in my flight training, I knew I didn’t want to fly for a living. They don’t tell you the reality of that industry until it’s too late. I took a hard look at IT but didn’t pursue it at the time. It would have only been for the money which I am philosophically against.

I was also too embarrassed to jump majors again, after being so sure of aviation in the beginning. I started as a music major then switched to an English major then finally settled on aviation. I struggled in college due to a lot of unresolved baggage. My experience at the University of Iowa went so poorly that I had to prove something to myself. I was not lazy or stupid or flakey. This loud, funny girl became very serious. I became disciplined, focused, and driven. I had no faith in my own work ethic until then.

I have a little too much now!

After I finally finished college I moved to Chicago. I volunteered at a fundraiser for a small non-profit and because I worked so hard, they offered me a temp job as the receptionist. I had so much trouble finding a job, I took it. It was my first non-profit gig. Their mission was workforce and small business development, adult literacy, and alternative high school. They provided educational and economic support and opportunities for disadvantaged communities.

After a time, they decided I was too valuable to let go. They cobbled together a permanent position and offered me a raise. It was the early 2000’s and I watched them struggle with their newly installed client management database. Given my need to ‘help’, to ‘fix’, I offered my assistance. Soon my boss said, “You- sit here, do this, figure it out.” My first foray into a large enterprise level relational database. Eventually, I was offered a position managing all the communications and databases for the company.

I was so not qualified.

So, I put myself back through school. I learned how to read binary and hexadecimal. I learned desktop support and network design. I learned visual basic programming and SQL. I learned systems analysis and web design. I took two years’ worth of classes in one year, worked full-time, and lost my fucking mind in the process. I did finish with honors. I did do my job better. I did complete my second B.S. in Information Technology.

Chicago is a hard place to try to make it in your 20’s. In 2003, I made a decision to move to Minnesota for better opportunities. I came here without a job but landed one at another small non-profit in St. Paul within two weeks. I was hired to work on the databases and reporting for the grant manager, until they needed an onsite IT person. I was then also doing desktop, software, and network support. Their mission is teen and young adult intervention and they provide medical, mental health, pregnancy support and services as well as an alternative high school and homeless drop-in center.

That all lead me to the University of Minnesota in 2009 where I currently work as a sysadmin. Career non-profit in Information Technology. I never set out to do this work. But I have to have a mission. I have to have a challenge. I have to have a job where I feel I am making a difference in the world. It is all just one big puzzle to my mind. I like puzzles. They exercise my brain.

Not bad for an English major drop-out.

 
-Copyright C.M. Mounts, April 2019

Months in review: Jan-Mar 2019

One of the most challenging aspects of writing books is the stamina it requires. There is a trick to writing. If I am happy, that feeling will come through and imbue my work. If I cry, you will cry. If I laugh… well, you might laugh. Comedy is hard. But my deep, turbulent, and powerful emotions are often quite clear to my audience. So is my boredom and stress.

So how then does one sustain the excitement through years of writing and revision?

It’s a lonely life, living with all this ink and paper. Last year, I finally got out and socialized with other writers at various events around town. I met a lot of people and had a lot of fun but quickly realized that the hours I spent out were hours spent away from my writing desk. Everything takes time. We have to make hard choices. And while I enjoyed supporting other writers and listening to their work,  I could no longer justify blowing a whole night to read one lousy poem.

“Solitude sometimes is best society.” -John Milton

Writing is an extremely isolating life simply because it takes hours and hours of concentrated alone time to produce anything of quality. I know this is the reason I was out. I got too lonely. Being among other writers can be a shot in the arm. You can steal their excitement and inspiration.

The best readings I have attended over the years were authors who spoke at the UMN as part of the English department reading series. I got to see Denis Johnson, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Natasha Trethewey read live- in the flesh!!! Absolutely inspiring and breathtaking…

I’ve talked to my mom about writing novels. This is roughly how that conversation went:

Mom- “Have you ever considered writing a romance novel?”
Me- “No mom. If I did, people would think I had been hit over the head.”
Mom- “Really?”
Me- “Yes mom. Really.”

*SIGH*

Sometimes, you just have to make the road by walking. There are no rules about how you get a novel written and really the only way to learn is to do it. I once read that there are two kinds of novelists- architects and gardeners. Architects already know exactly what the structure of their novel will be and fill in the prose. Gardeners have a handful of seeds (ideas), throw them, and wait to see what grows. I am a gardener. I have spent the last three months figuring out the architecture buried within the blob that is my current draft.

A former teacher once told me, “a book can do you in” and it’s true. If you intend to do it right, to cut up your soul and smear it on the page… I never have to look too far to know what makes me burn. I know what my calling is.

But writing a book is a slow, slow grind. You give up one day, only to return to it the next. I often ask myself, “Who is going to want to read this crap, anyway?” But whether it has an audience of 15 or 15 million, I am in it for the work, for the creation, for the birth of whatever *IT* is. Once it’s done, it will find that audience and it will no longer be mine. It will have a life wholly its own and there will be as many versions of it as readers.

How fucking amazing is that?

This past quarter, I posted 11 blog posts- 9 essays and 2 poems. I submitted some poems for possible publication. I got rejected from another submission (it wasn’t my best work). All the usual writerly stuff. And I have an enhancement to my blog in the works… to be launched in May.

Stay tuned!

  

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, April 2019

Valentinus

February is the heart of winter and the Feast of Saint Valentine is less than a week away. I have heard Valentine’s Day referred to as a ‘Hallmark Holiday’, but it has been observed for over 1,500 years. Valentinus, or St. Valentine to us English speakers, was martyred (beheaded) on February 14, 269 for marrying Christians in Rome.

This might explain why he is the patron saint of such seemingly unrelated subjects as affianced couples, against fainting, beekeepers, happy marriages, love, plague, and epilepsy. Think about it. Does falling in love not make one heave and become light headed? Are we not plagued by obsessive thoughts of our beloved? And how much does unrequited love sting us to the marrow?

The photo with this blog post is allegedly the flower-crowned skull of Saint Valentine because nothing says love like a daisy chained dead guy. And nothing says love like hearts printed on boxer shorts, fake roses under glass, heart shaped pizzas, pink cookware, or a stuffed skunk bearing chocolate either.

FYI- If you are my secret admirer, please send the book ‘Love Poems’ by Pablo Neruda.

I was once stood up for Valentine’s Day. It turned out the guy was living in a motel and was strung out on Oxycodone, so he was actually doing me a favor. So much for online dating. Valentine’s Day is often a reminder for us single dateless losers that we are single dateless losers. Actually, it is a great day to avoid going out to dinner if you don’t like watching crowds of people kiss.

I will celebrate this year with some left-over chocolate from Christmas and a beautiful Grand Reserve 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from a vineyard in Argentina. Every year on February 15, I spy single ladies buying heart shaped boxes of chocolates on clearance. Why the hell not. Get yourself a dozen roses too. The truth of it is, if you wait for someone else to get it for you, you might wait a lifetime. Better yet, find a group of single gals and celebrate Galentine’s Day together.

“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
-(from Romeo and Juliet, spoken by Juliet) By William Shakespeare

Love for me is not defined by high romance and it is not inextricably linked to happiness. There is a song ‘Hallelujah’ written by Leonard Cohen. The lyrics of this song state that ‘love is not a victory march; It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah’. I think this is often interpreted as the bitterness of broken relationships. But for me, it speaks to the true nature of deep, devoted love in those hours when it is so hard to love.

When the beloved is struggling, when the bank account is empty, when there are significant health problems- this is when the real work of love comes to bear. And often all we can do is surrender to our heartache and powerlessness and offer our tearful prayers to God for a hopeful resolution. There is a reason that wedding vows refer to poverty and illness and remaining faithful to the beloved in spite of it…

It’s easy to celebrate love when you are young, starry eyed, and horny.

My ideal Valentine’s Day is my ideal any day. Here, I wrote poem about it:

Valentinus
By C.M.Mounts

Plucked truffles
Tissue lined box
Push gently
Through
Wine stained
Ruby lips
Low fireplace
I kiss you
Lean in
Speak poems
Gently
Your ears
Know
How much
I love you…

Have a blessed Valentine’s Day. Don’t get beheaded.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, February 2019

Photo Credit: Relic of St. Valentine in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome by Dnalor 01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32487809

Party of One

It is customary to mark anniversaries. This is a powerful week for me because it marks ten years of being single. My first long-term relationship ended twenty years ago. My second long-term relationship ended ten years ago. These dark cold days of January must really get to me. I will not get into all the reasons each relationship ended. I will only say that we disagreed.

In the ten years since the last break-up, I’ve had to recreate my life at least four times. I had to figure out who I was again, figure out how to manage my life of one- cooking, housing, living, and trying to have some fun. I had great hopes to meet someone, fall in love, get married, and have a home and a child together. I was only 36. I thought I still had time. None of that happened for me.

Life kicked me right in the head. I seem to be on some kind of three-year trauma cycle: 2010 (life threatening depression), 2013 (worst year of my life), 2016 (major medical crisis), and 2019 has the potential to be a real whopper (mom is terminal). It takes two years to recover from one bad one, then it starts all over again. The in-between years are spent losing weight (cycling) or gaining weight (eating) to try to cope with all the emotional consequences.

I have tried to date on and off with very little success. In general, the advice I was given about how to be single was to “stay busy”. Later, I was questioned whether I had time for a relationship… Other great advice from well-meaning people was to “just pick someone”. FYI- whoever you pick is going to be scrutinized to the max by friends and family.

I’ve been told all the reasons I am still single: too serious, too tall, too fat, too independent, too mysterious, too aggressive, too angry, too loud, too stressed, too smart, too confident, too busy, too much a career woman, and (my favorite) because I am not dating women. I’ve been asked, “Do you think your laughter drives men away?”

I once had a girl’s dream of what love was supposed to be… waiting on my one true ‘soulmate’, waiting on that one person who would see me clearly and erase all the pain and fix all the wrong and live up to my impossible standards… And of course, no one could.

I do not have a girl’s dream of what love is anymore. I understand that while love can bring happiness, they are not inextricably linked. In fact, love is most often expressed in patience, in silence, in forgiveness, in acceptance.

It is expressed when you allow another to collapse under depression on the couch by just being there and letting them be. It is expressed by sitting in an ICU for a month, watching someone cling to life, hold their hand and talk to them though they cannot respond.

That is the true work of love, where the rubber meets the road in loving another. It is not high romance or happy memories or exciting and fun. It is the highest form love takes: I am here. I am here. And I love you even now when it is so hard.

I have been asked if I get lonely. Of course I do. But I also know that I’d rather be alone than in bad company. I’d rather be alone than BE the bad company. I was no saint in my relationships. We each brought our good and bad. We each made our mistakes.

I love both of them- that’s a permanent condition and I will not fight my heart on that matter. But I can’t be with them. If we spend too much time together, the stress increases, we start to argue, and who needs that? Not them and not me.

When relationships end, you have to grieve the loss of the life that can never be. You have to grieve the loss of your hopes and dreams: the house never bought, the children never born, the shared memories through time that will sustain you in old age that simply do not exist.

I can not tell you how to deal with it, only that you will cry a lot and maybe for the rest of your life. You will cry at odd times. When you least expect it, a memory will return of what was once so good and is now long gone and there is nothing that can bring it back. You cry and you move on. I read once that in the end we are all faced with a choice: be bitter or not.

Love has yet to return to me but I do believe it is possible. I have many friends to see me through the hard times, past and future. To be honest, sometimes walking through trauma alone is better simply because you only have yourself to worry about. I am not dragging another person down with me. I can be sad or angry or lay in bed all day and no one cares.

I suppose you want me to write about how exciting single life can be and it’s true. I get to travel a lot, even internationally. I can be footloose and fancy free. Meeting new people is exciting. So is getting dressed for a night out with the girls and collecting all those glances the men steal. Feeling good, looking good, concerts, dancing, socializing, bars- it’s not all bad. And I get to hog my queen size bed. The mess in my apartment is mine alone. The orange juice will still be in the fridge where I left it as well as the dishes and laundry. But it’s my dirty underwear and coffee cup. So yes, being single is great in many, many ways.

But I miss the kisses… I miss being held. And most of all, more than anything else, I miss coming home to someone who asks me, “How was your day sweetheart?” and they really, truly want to know.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019