Figuring Out Priorities

I first drafted this post two weeks ago after a hectic couple of weeks where I hadn’t gotten much done.  That’s continued, but since the head cold, it’s mostly been fun stuff with the family and work.  There was a weird schedule for the last week of June and first two of July, a grade 8 graduation (which made me feel proud and old at the same time), a christening, the mentioned head cold, and a handful of other things.  Haven’t had a lot of extra time and energy lately.  I’d planned for this to have audio to go with it, but haven’t managed to record (although I’ve learned a bit more about recording and my next audio blog should sound better when it happens).

All of the stuff I’ve had going on lately, added in my head to the events of the past couple of years, has had me thinking about priorities again.  For some of my commute (aka: quiet time), I’ve been trying to think about how I spend my waking time, things I do every day or only when necessary, things I seek out and things I avoid.  While life is less finite than it used to be, there’s no way to know how long your own personal stretch in the world is going to be.  There may always be fewer days ahead than there are behind.

So on some level, it’s important to prioritize the time you have, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

In uncontested first place: family. This seems obvious, but it’s something that you need to remind yourself of frequently.  Just about every little shiny thing that comes along has the ability to take time from your family.  Yes, there are things that need to be done, but only seen in the light of contributing to the well being of your family or one of its members.  (Example, the, um, spirited discussion I had with my oldest about going to the beach a week or so ago.  Not fun, but needed to happen.  He needed some daylight.)

Second comes career.  Not in and of itself, but as a consequence of Priority #1.  While arguments about being happy in your job or productive in society certainly apply, the main reason this comes second is that it provides for my family. I actually like my job most of the time, but I don’t like how much it takes me away from home.  The equation is pretty simple, though: no paycheque = no food, power, internet, etc.

There’s a huge gap between second and the two items sharing third: Writing and Karate.

Writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but I only really started to take it seriously a few years ago.  I realized a while back that I was getting a bit obsessive about it.  In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing; I think if you want to get good at something, you probably need to be a bit obsessive, but if you get to the point where you’re stealing time from more important things, it’s probably time to reign it in a bit.  I’ve managed to massage my writing schedule to the point I’m mostly writing every day (motivation has been hard the last couple of weeks) but I get very little done on days off.  The second part of that seems counterintuitive until you remember point number one.

Karate. I took up martial arts about two years ago with my son as a shared activity.  He’s taking an extended break from it, but in the meantime my wife and oldest daughter started coming too.  I don’t go by myself very often, but I spend a little time training every day.  Karate satisfies several deep needs in my psyche.

Why are these two things tied?  Well, I spend time on each every day and roughly equally.  I’ve discovered that I’m happy when I’m learning something new or when I’m creating something new, but I’m happiest when some part of my time is spent doing both.  The learning thing is also partly why I’m taking audio Japanese lessons in the car several days each week.

Which brings us to the item in fifth place: dreams.  Dreams are important.  You need things to strive for.  It’s part of what makes the difference between existing and living.  The dream in question here is studying Karate in Japan for a year.  A big dream when you’re taking four people along for the experience.  I’ve got lots of little dreams, too, and a pretty extensive bucket list.  More on those another time.

Priorities.  The final decision is that everything in my life needs to apply to one of those five things, and it’s nice when something can serve multiple causes.

And, if the universe will humour me for a moment, as much of it as possible should be fun.

Be well.


Mummy Powder, Part 7

The renewed hollow grinding sound startled me.  I didn’t know how long I’d lain there, but I must have been asleep.  Falling asleep in a sarcophagus, wrapped up like a mummy.  No point in struggling.  They’d wrapped me too tight.  Nightmare faces jumped out of my memory.  Mummies, the old Pharaoh and the young one, Bruce.

Ah hell.  Bruce.  No tears, but I felt his death again.

Grinding.  I knew the sound.  Someone had started to move the sarcophagus’ lid.  Was it opening?  Had Pharaoh changed his mind?  A chill ran through me.  I’d be fodder for his restored youth after all.  Or could I be so lucky that the mummies were gone and someone had come to rescue me?  Was there a Van Helsing for mummies?

Voices.  Muffled, but definite voices.  I tried to say something, but my lips locked shut.  Talking right now might not be the best idea I’d ever had.  I didn’t know if I wanted to be discovered yet.  Only a few words reached through the mask, not enough to make sense of anything except that there was more than one voice.  Accented English but not Egyptian-flavoured, or even anything from America.  A couple more words, and I pinned it to the British Isles, probably, but couldn’t do better than that.  Mediterranean accents were more my specialty.

Fingers wrapped around the mask’s edge and lifted it away.  I wanted to close my eyes, but needed to see what was going on.  When the mask had risen far enough to be clear of the edge of the sarcophagus, it moved aside and Doctor Harold Witkinstein held it.  That didn’t make any sense.  I’d seen his body, or parts of it at least.

“What did I tell you, guv?”  A broad grin showed several missing teeth and half of the rest were crooked.  His bushy eyebrows jumped up and down at someone I couldn’t see.  “Look at the preservation on this one.  Why, three thousand years old if he’s a day, but he doesn’t look a day over three hundred.”

Not the accent or the dental work I expected from a member of the modern German upper class.  The second voice, belonging to someone I couldn’t see, fit a little better.  Cooler, even, and with the barest touch of an accent.  Probably still British.  “Indeed.  It appears well preserved.”

Witkinstein reached into the coffin and slapped my stomach.  I didn’t have time to flinch, but the touch was weird, hollow, and didn’t carry a lot of sensation with it.  It didn’t feel much like a slap, but more like remembering what a slap to the stomach might have felt like.  It wasn’t worth a flinch or even an ouch.

And I couldn’t say ouch, anyway.  I tried opening my mouth to say something, anything and couldn’t feel my lips move, couldn’t make my lips move.  Breathing deep, I found I couldn’t breathe and fought down a sense of panic.  What had they done to me?  Why didn’t Witkinstein and his unseen friend see me?  They acted as if I weren’t present.  Thoughts tumbled in my head, coalescing and shattering again.

Three thousand years old if he’s a day, but he doesn’t look a day over three hundred.

“As well preserved as you can get, guv.  So, is it worth a few pounds to you?”

“Yes.  Yes, I think so.”  A sniff.  “I’m quite willing to pay a few coins above the current market rate.  You can keep the stone box, though.  I’ve no need for that.”

“Of course, of course.  The customer’s always right, isn’t he?”

“Indeed.  I understand you have the ability to powder them?”

Sleep now, if you can, though when you wake, you will wish you had not.

Witkinstein bowed.  “Aye.  We grind the mummies to order for a nominal fee.  It’s all about what the customer wants.  There’s them what want the whole thing shipped back home, box and all, but those in the medical profession, such as yourself, usually want just the powdered remains for treatment and whatnot.”

“Exactly.  The grinding will be fine.”  A short pause as a shadow shifted just out of my sight.  “Just be sure you don’t cut it with anything.  My master treats a higher class of patients than most.  Only pure ground mummy will do.  Anything else, aside from being less efficacious, would be insulting to his patients.”

Look at the preservation on this one.

The look of shock on Witkinstein’s face, so obvious, so expressive, belonged to an earlier age when haggling was part of every transaction, as much friendly banter as driving the price up or down.  “Certainly not, guv.  You’re in Egypt, the land of mummies.  That kind of thing might go on back home, but there’s no need for it here with a nearly limitless supply at hand.”

“See that it doesn’t.”

You will suffer the indignity of the New Kingdom’s dead.

If I could feel the cold, it would wrap around my heart.  If I had a heart.  I wondered where the jars holding my organs were.  And shouldn’t my brain be in one of them?  How could I be aware and thinking in my present state?  Why should I expect any kind of logic to hold sway in my present state?

Money changed hands.  The clink of metal coins in a leather bag.

“How soon can I expect delivery?”

Witkinstein bowed and bits of dandruff rained down over my face.  “We’ll have it rendered down for you and packaged by lunch time tomorrow, if that’s acceptable.”

“Quite.”  Departing footsteps.

Tucking the small bag of coins into his shirt, the old Doctor, if he was a doctor any more, looked down at me and smiled.  He reached into the sarcophagus and patted my cheek, not using enough force to give any sensation to my preserved flesh.  “Alas, it’s the grinding mill for you, my lad.  I don’t know if it’ll hurt much the first time, but the Holy Master assures me you’ll come back in every mummy that goes through the rods.”

You will suffer the indignity of the New Kingdom’s dead.

Witkinstein chuckled and dropped the mask back onto my face.


The Beginning

Mummy Powder, Part 6

We stopped five or six feet from the sarcophagus, my feet still dangling above the floor.  A slightly more mobile mummy stepped into view, bits of its exposed flesh a little lighter, a little less like leather, and the rags covering its chest stained red.  The red of fresh blood.  I closed my eyes for a moment.  Fresh blood could only have come from one place.

They flew open again when something grabbed my foot.  I kicked and squirmed even before I looked down to see the stained mummy grasping for the other.  It straightened its arm, locking my knee while taught fingers snatched at air.  The mummies were strong, but not very fast and I didn’t see any reason to make it easy for them.  Pharaoh’s voice floated through space from somewhere behind me.  “If you struggle, you will only add to your suffering.  I leave the choice to you.  Perhaps you may enjoy a few broken bones, though I doubt it.”

“Fuck you.”  I kicked harder.

Something smashed the back of my head and the world went very dark for a moment.  I didn’t lose consciousness, but I stopped struggling long enough that the newest arrival caught both of my feet and I felt something pressing them together.  By the time I could open my eyes long enough to focus on anything, my legs had been wrapped in linen nearly to my crotch.  Before I managed to pull one coherent word out of my head, they had me wrapped to the waist.  After tilting me back, something braced me from below and the wrapping continued.  Slow, but somehow their extreme age had only built their strength and the hands that held me still could have been carved from the same limestone as the coffin.

They bent my arms into the classic mummy pose and wrapped my chest so tight I had to work to draw breath.  When only my face remained free of the bandage, the hands tilted me back further until I rested flat in the air.  I hung suspended for several seconds before they shuffled to the side and lowered me directly into the sarcophagus.  Even through my wrappings, the stone felt cool, cooler than I’d felt since coming to Egypt.

I tried to flex my arms, to move any muscle, but they’d wrapped me too well, too tightly.  A slow suffocation instead of a quick knife to the heart.  I wasn’t sure which would be worse.  How long did Bruce’s death last from his perspective?

Pharaoh leaned over the edge of the sarcophagus and smiled.  “I hope your discomfort is not too great.”

Not too great?  Wrapped like a mummy and stuffed in a coffin?  God, were they really going to leave me in a stone box to die?  I wished I could come up with something clever to say, or just something, but my brain refused to cooperate.  All I could manage was a weak glare.

“Your thoughts are plain enough, if simple.  Sleep now, if you can, though when you wake, you will wish you had not.”  With both hands, he lowered a mask over my face.  I wondered what it looked like, if my features were worked into the surface.  From my side, without holes or even slits for my eyes, it served only to block out the light, to leave me in darkness.

I felt as much as heard the thud of the limestone lid and then the low, steady grinding as it slid into place.  After that, nothing but hollow sound of laboured breath and my own heartbeat.  Would even loud noises come through the stone walls?  The coffin was pretty thick so I doubted I’d hear anything.  I didn’t think it could sealed completely, but I might easily use up the air faster than it could be replenished.  Horrible as the thought was, I decided that would still be better than slowly starving to death.

No, don’t think about that.  Focus on breathing and think about options.  There had to be a way to survive, but how the hell could I get out?  Unwrap myself from the ridiculously tight cloth, push the lid from the stone coffin, and fight my way through a horde of mummies into the streets of Cairo without my bodyguard.

My dead bodyguard.

I tried to wiggle my toes.  Inside my shoes, the circulation to my feet hadn’t quite been cut off but they already felt a bit numb.

I wasn’t going anywhere.


Continue Reading * The Beginning