Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Katie. She was the happiest of dogs! Posted by Hello

Monday, June 27, 2005

A Dog's Life

In my profile here on blogspot I state that I'm an animal lover. I'm entirely convinced that in our human arrogance we often misunderstand and underestimate the sophistication of animals--particularly their emotional lives, which most scientists to this day dispute as an anthropomorphic sentimentality. I think it is anthropomorphic to think that animals do not have emotions, and that they are incapable of existing on the "high plain" of aware reality that we humans do. I can't understand why scientists insist on emotion as an entirely human component, when it seems so clear that animals exhibit behavior that can be as "emotional" as human behavior--jealous, whimsical, violent, loyal, randomly preferential, etc. it makes no sense to me that in an evolutionary continuum we might presume that only one animal species has developed this thing we know as "emotion."

About 7 years ago my mother rescued a Siberian Husky who was living in abominable circumstances. At that time my mother was newly divorced, working for just above minimum wage, and going through tough emotional and financial times. She and the dog, which she called Katie, became each other's lifelines. The dog's physical transformation under my mother's care was profound, and my mother's world became energized by routines driven by Katie. Rain or shine, the dog was walked twice a day. When Katie needed surgery to remove tumors in her breasts, my mother found ways to scrounge together the considerable amount of money. She bathed her, brushed her, talked to her like she was a friend. She and the husky shared identical icy-blue eyes. They became a happy fixture walking through their neighborhood. Katie's early neglect mandated a higher than average number of vet bills.

Katie gave my mother a sense of purpose, energy and family at a time when she had begun to feel the unfortunate societal obsolesence of divorced women in their 60s. I felt that as long as Katie had my mom's back, I didn't have to worry about her. Our 1,000+ mile distance was bridged by a black-nosed critter with piercing eyes who kept my mom safe and occupied when I couldn't.

I hadn't heard from my mother for nearly a week, despite several phone calls. I phoned her again today, almost irritated at what I presumed was her lack of urgency to return my calls. The moment she answered I knew something was very, very wrong. She didn't even have to say it, I knew the only thing that would render her unable to answer my inquiry would have to be something happening to Katie. Over the weekend the Husky, now 12 1/2, had become extremely ill, and the diagnosis was most likely an advanced stage of cancer with internal bleeding. Katie could not even sit up, and was in considerable pain. Mom made the decision to put her down.

That my mother's love for that dog was reciprocated could never be disputed. Those two neglected gals loved each other. I believe they both understood how they were important to the other, and I saw them flourish beneath the umbrella of their mutual need. I don't know what to do or say for my mother, because she has lost a dear friend--and heartfelt words fall like platitudes. But I do know this, it is arrogant to assume that what we percieve as love from an animal is just some biologically-based mannerism, or imitation of behavior adopted to ensure a meal. Katie and my mom were buddies, and if this thing we describe as a soul is our essence, Katie is wafting away into the universal on waves of pure love.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

These are the colors that have lately painted the Portland late-afternoon sky. Posted by Hello


Literature of the Romantic period let out early tonight -- first class. The Instructor forgot (perhaps) to make time for our small class of 8 people to have some means of bonding via the usual introduction or "get to know each other exercise." But he seems warm and committed to the complexities of that era, so I'm sure the class will be worthwhile.

Drove home into a Maxfield Parish sky. Parish--and that kind of surreal light--always reminds me of a long-lost friend who tried to kill herself twice when she was in her late teens. I thought about her as I drove into the salmon shadows cast by the residual glow of a northern summer evening. I remember that at age twelve she had one of the best voices I'd ever heard before or since, and that she played guitar and voilin by ear. And I recall that we were close, but I left her behind as she plunged into a deep depression and I was accepted into the outer circles of the "in" crowd. She let on that my desertion was painful, but at sixteen you are constantly making excuses for your bad behavior.

So I arrived home pensive and sat watching my husband perched in the center of the darkening street, binoculars protruding from his head like insect eyes, pointed to heaven in an attempt to see the Saturn/Venus/Mercury conjunction that is currently in the works.

He ran in to call me out to the street, quite certain I shared his enthusiasm, startling me so that I knocked over my purse. Out fell a small standardized photo I recently took at a little shop across from the Federal Building in downtown Portland. Meant to be attached to my application for a new certificate of naturalization, it was apparently a dud, not centered properly, so the photographer (from Bulgaria) handed it to me au gratis.

I'd crammed it into my purse, in a hurry. Today, I stop to look at myself, maybe for the first time seeing this image that I can't connect to "me." It only happens rarely, seeing ourselves as if we are looking at a stranger. I see, in equal measure, my mother and my father. In similar distribution I see Germany and Mexico, the oppressed and the oppressor--two roots of mine that are far underground, and unknown to me. I see a woman who is no longer young. There is life drawn into the angles of my face now--I see my grandmothers. It seems to me, as I sit examining my face, that things I've worked hard to suppress all my life, are laid bare.

The other night we watched Spanglish, an OK film that made me think of how much things have changed, how much more acceptable it is to be an immigrant than when I was growing up in the 60s, 70s and 80s. I used to be so proud when people were surprised that I was half Mexican. Now I'm ashamed that I can't speak Spanish. Like the girl in the film, I remember my own conflict with the humble origins of my parents.

I tuck the photo--surely not one of my better shots--into my desk drawer and join my husband out in the street, straining to see the pattern of the incandescent planets floating dangerously close to each other, high up in the inky-blue of the new millenium sky.

Guten Nacht, alle.
Via Con Dios, mi hermano.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

From Romanticism to iPods

Tonight I begin a course in Romantic Literature and Culture. I've been reflecting on the concept of Romantic culture, which admittedly is a mystery to me. Romantic surely means something different in literature than it does in our existential cliche's. In the scheme of current news and trends, romanticism seems as distant and meaningful as the lost land of Atlantis. One of the joys of an education is coming to grips with the transience of our uber-important times. There is a tendency to view our immediacy as some sort of end that humankind has been traveling toward.

Back in 1786, did the youth of America feel bombarded with expectations and responsibilities? How different was it when no one could be reached except by direct human contact or written correspondence? What was it like for women wearing layers of garments that were often made by their own hands? How white were their smiles, how fresh were their armpits without Mentadent on their Sonicares and Lady Speed Stick? What was it like to know that none of their food was ever contaminated by pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics?

I don't know if thought, collectively, was deeper than it is now, but Mark Morford makes a point about our current state-of-being in a recent essay called Smoke Pot, Not E-mail:

"It's true. It has now been proven. A
new study sponsored by Hewlett-Packard shows we are now being openly pummeled like Arctic baby seals by our own glorious and demonic tech creations, that when we indulge in huge relentless gobs of e-mail use and cell phone use and instant messaging and Blackberries, et al., that we are, in fact, enduring the ongoing death of brain cells, the happy suicide of mental capacity, a very noticeable drop-off of IQ points."

And I think about what has occured between the span of time from the Romantics to the post-modern, and whether the changes are bad or good ... or just are.

At a birthday dinner for a friend the other day, I watched her dive off into a corner, text-messaging and checking her voice mail while we mimicked an enthusiastic celebration. At TJ Maxx yesterday, I soothed my under-stimulated psyche by entering the dressing room with a shopping cart full to the brim of mass-produced clothes. After I type this post, I will spend hours installing my new Norton Internet Security package, part and parcel of being on high-speed internet, $55/month plus yearly subscriptions to Norton Anti-virus and firewall services.

One of the featured top stories on Comcast's homepage today was Lindsay Lohan's tantrum outside the screening of her new film The Love Bug, an inane movie from the 60s appropriately being rekindled today. She was distressed that her song was not placed in the film where she had been told it would be placed. Then I moved on to the next big story and it was about Football Fervor, and the next was a superficial, say-nothing blurb about a US spy plane downed over the United Arab Emirates--which seems like it should have impact, but is written like a well-considered press release.

I'm not sure where this post is leading. I just know that these days the world feels absurdist to me. Like Orwell or Ionesco or Salvadore Dali are having a go with "reality." No, worse than that really-- those men were at least thinkers. More like double-chinned CEOs with comb-overs and supermodel wives, infomercial writers and inventors of the next great ab-machine, or the Hilton sisters and their dim mother are crafting our realities. Morford says,

"But, alas, we are not smarter. We are not deeper. We are not even all that much more profoundly connected to anything larger or more significant. We need to know this.

All we are now is more adept at allusion, at skimming like lightning over the surface of things, at referencing the world more deftly, while comprehending it less. We can quick-link and cross-text and multi-chat while at the same time remaining blissfully ignorant of how these very info tools are quietly destroying that all-important human skill, that slower, longer, often far more subtle and difficult art called deeper understanding, and if you've lately been anywhere near a roomful of teenagers, you understand this phenom perfectly."

But the irreverence is everywhere. A good friend laments her inexplicable depression. She works and travels so that she can tear up her granite tile in the kitchen and replace it with granite slab. Another friend buys a Land Rover a few months after adopting her daughter from China. I go to Circuit City to buy a stereo ... and they're barely sold anymore. It's home theater or iPods, and I'm out of touch.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

5-Day Run Down - In Fragmented Form

June 6-10, 2005

The beginning of finals week--comparable to "hell week" in theater, labor, the flu, going through customs, getting a very bad haircut, dental work, the peak of allergy season, something beaded coming unstrung, forming a painful zit, the first day of an aggressive workout program, learning to ski ... you get the gist.

Monday: Mythology, mythology, and more mythology. Comprehensive final exam, enthusiastic professor, uninspired/indifferent students--a sense of future fear as I realize that one can lead a horse to water ... Messages unreturned, e-mails accummulate.

Tuesday: The aftermath of wrenching anxiety, jitters that wrench you in and out of sleep, the roller coaster of hyperventilatio; unable to attend two meetings. Mounting fear as pressures cave-in instead of diffuse, even while tasks are accomplished. Send off story for class anthology despite a deep wish to continue "tweaks." Up until wee hours as Word of Mouth website creative work seems irretrievably lost. More messages, more e-mails, more loose ends that beg to be tied-up prior to end of term.

Wednesday: A paper written in one morning (unheard of for me), the breathlessness of being deadline-driven for more than one week now. Those outside of academics take on a glow of surreal serenity. Unforeseen traffic makes me half-an-hour late for class, a presentation, a realization that the first of my friends at school is done and moving on. A sense of dissatisfaction born of a term fraught with obstacles and pressures that obscured the beautiful, simultaneous growth. Dancing to Insomniac Music Theater at 1:30AM.

Thursday: The final brush-strokes on my term. Gathering information on publication twists the knife of my writerly insecurity. The chaos of the week leaves me unable to emote properly, instead I feel like a vehicle in the energy of the day--left with a sense of forgotten "thank-you's," left with an aching nostalgia not yet actually formulated, but projected. A night of such high-voltage creative and social energy I nearly spring out of my skin. More alchohol than I've had in years--the release of it, and the guilt of it. An epiphany about someone I feel I should have been more aware of, reading at 3:00AM and then decompressing in the bathroom by weeping.

Friday: The aftermath of all the above. 16 e-mail messages first thing, a string of unanswered ones from the entire week. Unreturned phone calls beginning to be addressed. First hangover in years, resolution to never have another one. A nasty intrusion from someone I do not know via e-mail, the retaliatory snake that I conjure in response. Finally, the bureacracy is overcome--I am vindicated. Begin internship with esteemed author, share with her the spiders that are creeping from my currently revaged center--she gets it. Hearing myself referred to as a writer--the headiness of it. Traffic again, stops and starts the whole way home in deluges of rain. Still, at the end of the day the sense of beginning to feel rooted in these choices I've made over the past three years. I begin to see myself as a character, to develop a vantage point from which I can be my own friend.

A desperate need to reach out to the person from Thursday, it is heard. A sense, perhaps for the first time, of profound connections to my life.

Good-night. (3:18AM -- Saturday morning).

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The imagined interior of Word of Mouth Bistro, formerly the interior of the once wonderful, now defunct Lucy's Table in Portland, OR. Posted by Hello

Word of Mouth

I have a webpage now. It is shared with a fellow student, Cynthia. The webpage was spawned from the same impetus as this blog, the requirements of one Professor Meg Roland's 400-level lit course, but it has turned out to be a fantastic venue for creative exploration.

Word of Mouth Bistro is a virtual restaurant with a storyline core, and a variety of intersections to enhance the textual experience of the world we have created. This was to comply with the theoretical hypertext implications of our class, framed by the textbook written by George P. Landow "Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology," but we also found, as site construction progressed, that the weblike connections that personify hypertextuality, occured organically in our forum. Providing a non-linear, fluid environment that moves effortlessly from topic to topic, person to person, place to place, and time to time, truly expands what would merely have been a story.

About ten years ago I wrote a one-act play called "Your Table is Ready," saving it on a diskette for future editing or production. I have lost the disk (lesson to be learned: writing can be lost as easily as a glove). When Cynthia and I had trouble agreeing on an author or literary topic upon which to focus our site, we turned to a collaborative creative venture instead.

I'm beginning to beam, Word of Mouth Bistro is a fun place to hang out. I think it will only get better as we begin to play more with the handed-off storylines, as well as incorporating more outrageous situations and techniques.

Check out Word of Mouth, if you'd like, and let me know what you think. We touch upon the creative, the culinary, the personal, the whimsical, the influential. As we intended, the site can tunnel inward or outward depending on a reader's preference. If it still seems sparse, come back later, I intend to continue the process after my course is over. Incidentally, this is a final project. If you want to leave a comment, it would be a fantastic way for me to advise my teacher of a reader's response!

P.S. I must give snaps and a shout-out to Sub-Rosa (listed in our Sites that Spice up our Cooking page), another virtual restaurant endeavor that preceded us. We became aware of Sub-Rosa early in our process, and need to point out their amazing music selection section, and the wickedly irreverent way they engage photographs of food!

Lullaby or Landmine

It's currently 1:27AM. My husband turned in hours ago. My dog is looking at me imploringly from where she patiently hosts my feet.

I am a hopeless, senseless insomniac whose world is so topsy-turvy with sleep issues, that I can stay awake sometimes past 3:00AM, and still get a good 7 hours of sleep. People don't bother calling me--even on weekdays--until after 10:00AM, and even then they sometimes sound defeated. I never feel rested. I'm plagued with guilt that my status as a student allows me to behave like a weekend sorority sister.

I believe I am getting very close to lapping my sleep by a day. Sleep is that damn butterfly in the Ambien commercials, a fluttery thing that I want to grab and crush into my eyes. Once I begin to think--which often occurs late in the day, the wheels turn, and any momentum that continues past 10PM or so, powers a racehorse that just won't stop!

Controlling sleep is my anorexia, my alcoholism. I taunt it, deny it's symptoms, scoff at the insidious implications that sleep deprivation is impacting my life. I lie about when I turn in and wake up, even to my mother. My eyes can be heavy as a volcano, but there ain't no way they are giving in. If I bothered to crawl into bed, the sheets would feel sticky, like fly paper, my bedside lamp would threaten me like a dangling piano, each breath the cat inhaled would sound like a thousand fingernail scratches on the classroom chalkboard.

But these late night, still hours in the shadows of inadequate lamplight, feel precious to me. Like I own the world when it exhales. I feel like Abe Lincoln, all dedicated, martyring my eyesight. I feel like the predatory cat whose vision is unfettered by blackness. I feel like the industrious raccoons, focused and busy without chance of interruption. This is often when I'm most creative, always when I'm most alert.

I can hear the half-words of my husband's funky sleep, and the way he thrashes in the sheets. I can smell the dogginess of Phoebe's deeper sleep, now that she's given up and capitulated on the rug in front of my desk. I look around for inspiration -- Color is different at night, multi-dimensional and prouder. Oh god, I can't help it, suddenly I hear the lyrics to the poem at the end of "Nights in White Satin!" You know what I'm talking about, right? (another effect of night, songs in your head echo loudly into your rooms)

"Cold-hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the Colors from our sight,
Red is grey and yellow white,
But we decide which is right ...

And which IS an illusion ... " --enter mighty crescendo of mournful violins wailing in a pretense of poetic profundity!

Time for "Insomniac's music theater" to cleanse the music now reverberating in my head ... wish me luck ...

It's now 1:50AM.