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“…escape velocity is the speed at which the sum of an object’s kinetic energy and its gravitational potential energy is equal to zero.”

Wikipedia

All of us space geeks out here have a rudimentary understanding of the terms telemetry, trajectory, and escape velocity. Normally these terms are applied to things like space ships, satellites, and missiles. Today I’m going to show you how they apply to humans.

You’re probably thinking, “Crap, she’s on another of her weird tangents,” and you’d be right. But you don’t come here looking for normal, and you also get what you paid for. So there.

These terms are actually pretty relevant to humans in this age of electronic blitzkrieg. Telemetry is what social media gives us in the form of likes/dislikes, tweets/re-tweets, comments/followers, and a variety of other indicators of just how funny/relevant/popular we aren’t. Trajectory is the path of our life, whether we fly to the top of the bestseller list, or we just end up asking someone if they want fries with that. We achieve escape velocity when our dogged work over the ages finally starts showing some positive results, despite our basic lack of self confidence and general hate of anything resembling daylight.

Artisans of all flavors live for telemetry. While every artisan must demonstrate proficiency in the basic skills of their chosen field to an objective standard, art with a capital “A” is largely a subjective thing. I can acknowledge John Steinbeck as one of the great writers of the 20th century because I understand the building blocks of good writing (objective). But I don’t read his works because I don’t find them interesting (subjective). Sales and reviews and recommendations are parts of a writer’s telemetry. Feed back in any form becomes almost like a drug: positive numbers give you a high, and negative numbers send you crashing into the depths. But we need both to keep improving and moving forward.

For most artisans, the trajectory of their careers is often barely a suggestion of a path. The vast majority toil away in obscurity, lucky to achieve any sort of recognition from anyone besides their (widely acknowledged) crazy aunt. Some may make it into the lower tiers of their chosen vocation: their Impressionist oil paintings grace the local courthouse; they play their music in a niche club that offers line dancing on Tuesdays and electro-pop on Thursdays; they head a column in an e-zine that specializes in New Age poetry. It’s not the headlining they dreamed of, but they’re still working at what they love, so it’s okay. Occasionally a shooting star manages to rocket to the top, appearing seemingly out of nowhere to rave reviews, and we all sigh in day-dreaming jealousy. The irony is, most “overnight” success stories are actually decades long in the making. Everybody slogs through the crazy aunt and electro-pop stages at some point in their careers. It’s called paying your dues.

When you start to achieve some success in your chosen field (whatever your definition of success may be), you’ve reached escape velocity. For a writer that means making that first sale. Some of you might be thinking that’s an awfully low bar, but without that FIRST sale you will never have a second or a third or a forth. Doesn’t matter what that first sale is, it just became the cornerstone for the rest of your career. The day may come when you look back and wonder how the hell that rickety thing is keeping up the rest of your McMansion, but it signifies the beginning so it’s gold-plated and diamond encrusted as far as you’re concerned.

I’m still waiting for my cornerstone. What limited telemetry I have indicates I’m decent at this thing called writing. My last two rejections even included personal, albeit short, notes. Not in-depth enough to actually help figure out why they hadn’t bought the submission, but enough to let me know it was close and keep me encouraged. That makes my trajectory still largely a straight line barely above ground level. And with all the bullshit eye stuff this last year (and ongoing – more surgery scheduled for October), my velocity would make a banana slug seem positively speedy by comparison. So the only escape I’ll be getting anytime soon involves binge watching stuff on Hulu, or killing things in my computer games.

So I’ll hang out on idle for a while working on my targeting system, as the cameras in this rocket are upgraded. Then I’ll get the engines throttled up again. I don’t have to break any speed records, I just have to outlast the pull of that gravity well known as self-doubt. It’s a rough ride, but I’m built for that.

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Last week my husband and I journeyed to Eureka, California for the expressed purpose of witnessing my middle niece graduate high school. The same high school I graduated from thirty-five years ago. While I’ve been back several times over the years (even attended the 20th Year Reunion of my class, for reasons largely unknown to me now), it’s weird to walk the old campus and sit in the old stadium. In fact, it was kind of weird in general, because so much has changed despite so much staying just the same.

I’ve spent most of my adult life far too many miles away from home. I did my undergraduate work in Texas, and moved to Los Angeles in 1986 to work on my graduate degree. I’ve been in Southern California ever since. The expense of traveling over 700 miles has kept my visits home to a minimum. Something I am continually frustrated about, especially as my mother gets older and other family issues keep cropping up. And it’s not just that my family is there (and north into Oregon), but I just really love the area. It’s green (not as green as usual since the drought has touched there as well, but still far more than in SoCal) and cool, with ocean breezes, clean air and a sun that doesn’t feel like you’re under a microwave.

The area is home to some of the most beautiful examples of Victorian houses:

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The Gingerbread Mansion               Ferndale, CA                

And some of the largest and oldest trees on the planet:

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Coastal Redwoods, Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park            

It used to be a hub for the fishing and logging industries, but those were eco-regulated into near inexistence in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Now economically depressed, the area staggers along as a tourist destination, but it’s lost a lot of its charm and independence as it sells its soul to survive.

This is the first time my husband has made the trip with me. He’s never been to the Pacific Northwest and since we’ve been talking about moving north, I thought it would be a good idea for him to see for himself just what we’re likely getting into. While the temperatures were much nicer than down south, the usual fog and rain never made an appearance during our visit. That was the first noticeable sign that things just weren’t the same anymore. I really miss fog.

And since my husband hadn’t seen any of the area before, I made it my mission to play tour guide and exhaust us both exploring all my favorite places. On Monday we hit Old Town. The area was far less appealing when I was a kid, but there has been a concerted effort over the last two decades to clean it up and bring in nice businesses as part of the area’s effort to attract the all-mighty tourist dollar. I discovered that a couple of my favorites were no longer in business, but I made up for it by spending too much money in the ones that were still around:

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Ciara’s Irish Shop   Old Town Eureka, CA

And:

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Yarn (yes, that’s actually the name of the place) Old Town Eureka, CA

There never seems to be enough money…

On Tuesday we visited the Blue Ox, an historic millworks combined with a community school that teaches various hands-on trades to at-risk youth. My husband the blacksmith was particularly interested in their resident smithy:

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Blue Ox Blacksmith   Eureka, CA

He groused about its setup and organization, but given that all tools and materials are donated and the teacher is barely out of school himself, I’d say they at least get points for the effort.

On Wednesday, we made the sojourn to Ferndale.

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Main Street Ferndale, CA

A lovely little town, I was particularly dismayed to find several of my long time favorite shops out of business. Most of them were owned and run by locals who have now retired and had no one to pass or sell the shops to. Even more sad, they were replaced by less artistic/crafty more touristy places. My husband was happy to see the blacksmith shop I’d spoken so highly of was still there, but admitted to being underwhelmed by the rest. It does still have one of the most beautiful cemeteries you can find, though, despite my husband’s superstitious refusal to visit it.

We made up for our disappointment by visiting the Loleta Cheese Factory on the way back to the hotel. They have a viewing area where you can watch them make their wares (during our visit, it was cheddar), and free samples for nearly all their varieties. Every one of their cheeses is fantastic, but we managed to hold our purchase to only four different ones. It will be hard to control ourselves once the eating starts…

Thursday found us at my most favorite place: Fern Canyon.

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Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

To give you some perspective, that’s my 6’ 3” husband in the middle of the picture. As you might expect, the area is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. Besides the usual insects, we also witnessed a lovely garter snake, a fledgling bird still figuring out how those wing things work, the ubiquitous banana slug, and, most striking of all, these:

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Roosevelt Elk, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

We encountered about a half dozen Roosevelt Elk grazing along the side of the road out of Fern Canyon. They are protected and have obviously become used to us tourists snapping pictures of them. This one was only about fifteen feet away as we drove along, and barely paused his grazing as we stopped for our photo op. Later as we came to the exit of the park itself, we encountered a much larger herd of about forty animals. They were a bit farther off the road than this guy, and in tall grass so those pictures didn’t turn out very well.

It was a good bit of walking down the canyon and then we took one of the short hikes into the forest itself. I huffed and puffed my way through it, getting my feet wet (literally) in the creek, tearing my jeans on a broken branch, smacking mosquitos (Mosquitos?? Here?? Wow, things have changed) and loving every second of it. I’d be a whole lot happier and healthier if I had that to walk in everyday, but I guess I’ll just have to make due with what I have in SoCal for the time being.

Ended the day at a great BBQ place, where we shared food and conversation with my dad. He had made the trek from San Antonio for graduation and it had been years since we’d actually seen each other, so it was awesome to just sit and chat. It’s amazing and depressing at the same time how fast time flies, and how much we miss when we can’t be close to family. Gotta fix that.

The end of the week brought us to graduation:

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Albee Stadium, Eureka High School

My niece has grown to a lovely young woman and will be continuing her education, looking to do something with interior design. She’s talented and determined so I have no doubts she will be successful in whatever she decides to do. My only regret is that her father couldn’t be with us to see how beautiful his daughter has become. I’m sure he would be the proudest father on Earth.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and Saturday found us making the arduous twelve-hour drive back to our abode in SoCal. This return trip seemed to be hardest of all. Not because anything out of the ordinary happened on the way, but because I was leaving the one place I’ve always felt most connected to once again. After all the years of moving because of the Air Force, all the new schools and new kids to get to know, and new houses, my family finally settling in Eureka gave me the one constant in my life I’ve been able to hold on to for almost forty years. It’s lush greenery and huge trees and fresh, cool ocean breezes embraced me from the moment I set foot there and has never let me go, no matter how far away I’ve always been. I love my husband and I love the house we share and the life we’re trying to build together, but Eureka, despite its changes and its struggles, will always be home.

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

All photos by Cheri K. Endsley.

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