Sunday, July 24, 2005

Everything is Beautiful ...

"Without a foundation of principles taste is superficial, grace must arise from something deeper than imitation." --Mary Wollstonecraft

My feeling today may be a timeless lament ... a sensation that currently there is more interest in fashion trends and cell phone cameras and the latest "cool" trainers, than there is in heartful social engagement. Than there is in creative genius or originality, service or examples of humanity in action. Than there is in the (human and environmental) cost of producing the extraneous things we are compelled to buy.

There is an idolatry of the heightened image, and the image has nothing to do with authenticity, creativity, integrity, intelligence or accomplishment. It has to do with the right clothes, a "rockin' body," or a one-dimensional face. I am astonished at the amount of money tossed to the glamorous, merely for being "pretty." I am sad at the amount of money and attention that (especially those with oodles of it) won't contribute to issues like third world debt, alternative forms of energy, etc.

Aesthetics is a philosophical area of interest of mine. On a basic level, many of us are drawn to beautiful things, many of us propose that there are movements and content that are innately lovely. What those things specifically are, become the landscape of the Arts. There is good argument made that beauty can be evoked merely by form. But more profoundly, I agree with Mary Wollstonecraft--beauty is hollow without content. I cannot speak to relative intelligence of the myriad entertainers that are considered "beautiful" today, but my imaginary "list of three" is blank. Men and women are uninteresting to me unless they are both true to themselves, compassionate, and intellectually engaged on some level.

That said, I ponder beauty today and some images have floated into my mental camera. I have encountered several beauties in the past week or so:

* The young man with severe cerebral palsy, who patiently crossed a busy intersection in downtown Portland.

* My cousin's new wife playing guitar in my backyard on a pristine summer's evening.

* My cat, curled into my belly, glancing up at me with sleepy, almond eyes. (A rare treat because Aaron is away)

* My neighbor's Pugs running toward me with bodies wiggling in happy greeting.

* My friend, Najwa, proudly displaying to me her crystal collection (her prized possession) with stories to match each piece.

* Two small bats cavorting around my yard shortly after sunset yesterday.

* A peanut-tiny girl I saw in a store yesterday, dressed up and sporting a huge straw hat.

* The extraordinary pathos of the mother of young Samantha (who was kidnapped from her Stanton, CA home, and then killed, about 5 years ago) as she addressed her daughter's killer in court.

* An elderly couple I saw walking hand-in-hand, swinging their arms like teenagers.

Can you add to my list?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Guilty Pleasures

On Monday I felt I’d hit my emotional limit. You know those days when just one more thing will make your head implode or your eyes whirl madly and a train-engine noise emerge from your smoking ears. Yup, that’s where I was—in the same state as a balloon inflated so tightly that you just know one more breath will blow it to smithereens.

My horoscope erroneously advised me that this was to be a tranquil day, a day of particular good will with women, and one where decisions I made would have fortuitous outcomes in the future. With that in mind, I came unglued by a small infraction on the part of my husband and then headed out in my car for one of my guiltiest coping strategies … shopping therapy. If my horoscope couldn’t soothe me, a good bargain was sure to do the trick.

For all my sincere social consciousness, for all my anti-consumeristic, don’t-succumb-to-the-pressure-of-the-market, recycle and reuse jargon, I can’t lie to you—I like pretty things. And when I'm feeling very tenuous, I like acquiring things that I didn't previously have. At those times, I seem to enjoy indulgent things. I like scented lotions and pedicures and a full-priced, newly released book. On a bad day, a new bra can really cheer me up. Or a summer blouse, or new shoes ... OK, you get the picture.

I want to reject this superficial bandage/bondage during times of stress, but sometimes I simply can’t resist. So, last sweltering Monday the air conditioning in TJ Maxx and Marshalls beckoned to me (our house has no AC) with promises of cheap BCBG and DKNY, so I abandoned the cocoon of my humble abode and delivered myself into the sanctuary of the true American drug problem … endless shopping/consumer options.

And, as I drove home with a bagful of my comforting stash (Oh, I was relieved), I felt extraordinary guilt combined with oodles of pleasure. Which led to musing about guilty pleasures, and how indulging them is so therapeutic when you feel your shoulders up around your ears and your neck as tight as steel cables. When I'm still sane enough to do so, I'll generally do some yoga or meditate or take the dogs on a walk, but at times this is simply not enough.

What are your guilty pleasures? Here are some of mine:

* Harry Potter (anything relating thereto, books, movies, candy)
* Sunglasses (this is almost comical during a good portion of the year in Portland, nevertheless I
usually own at least 5 pair that I find nice and cheap at my discount stores)
* The Aztec hot chocolate from Moonstruck Chocolate Bar (requires no explanation)
* Expensive ice cream, especially gelato
* “Designer” hair care (I’ve convinced myself it’s better)
* Organic fruit at ridiculous prices, like $1.50 for a single peach
* Things that smell good—candles, lotion, bath products
* Skin care: preferably with a gimmick, whatever is the newest, latest thing
* Dog shows (I hate what they do to those dogs, but I love watching the proud pups with their freaky handlers)
* Reality TV: Rock Star INXS, Survivor, Project Runway … I know, I know
* Testers and Free Samples: food, perfume, lotion … I may not even want it, but I’ll try it
* Luxury linens, thick soft towels, cool Egyptian cotton …
* Things which impact the house (small statues, vases, pillows, new dish towels)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Sunlight, Dogs and Friends

My friend Cristin is amazing. She works each week with ESL students in the Portland school district. She is beautiful and can run like an antelope. She sees the best in people and works to make the world a better place by way of her presence.

Thought I'd share this moment we had at the Columbia River Gorge last summer.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

On What Matters ...

From the preamble to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner comes this excellent quote:

"Meanwhile I do not deny that it is helpful sometimes to contemplate in the mind, as on a tablet, the image of a greater and better world, lest the intellect, habituated to the petty things of daily life, narrow itself and sink wholly into trivial thoughts. But at the same time we must be watchful for the truth and keep a sense of proportion, so that we may distinguish the certain from the uncertain, day from night" (adapted by Coleridge from Thomas Burnet, credit to the Norton Anthology of English Literature)

What encourages me to share this lovely quote? The following headlines streaming through the homepage at

"Bush has 'confidence' in Rove"

"Tom Cruise starts filming latest movie"

"Harry Potter springs a leak" and "Judge imposes gag order" (on what? the contents of a book until it is appropriately marketed? the secrets of an imaginative franchise?)

"Pitt hospitalized with 'flu-like' symptoms" (my best to Brad Pitt, but who freakin' cares?)

"P. Diddy Resolves Random House Suit"

On the endless barrage of Brad Pitt news, the story copy reads that the name of the hospital has been withheld for security reasons ... it is so surreal to think that someone might try to disturb a hospitalized celebrity ...

... wholly trivial thoughts ...

Monday, July 11, 2005

How To Be A Good Listener

After three days, eight hours each, of an Effective Listening course (a Marylhurst U Liberal Arts requirement), I emerged into the cool mist of this mid-July evening feeling drained and resentful about the deluge of homework still required to complete a course I view as “How to be Human 101.” I wasn’t down with the book the instructor chose, The Zen of Listening, which cannot be unaware of the pretensions of its title. In my modest opinion it is an uneven, repetitive and slightly simplistic book that indicates a form of engagement which employs a heightened state of being called “mindfulness.” I appreciate the concept of mindfulness, and the book does have some excellent moments, but I feel mindfulness is intuitive for any sensitized and curious human. Therefore I felt almost offended at the author’s assumption that most of us wouldn’t have the vaguest clue about characteristics such as compassion, sensitivity, or selflessness without a self-help manual to guide us through the process. I’m sure the author would have something to say about my” barriers” and “internal noise” which prevents me from wholeheartedly embracing the wisdom of her enlightenment.

After a careful delineation of how to ensure a state of mindfulness Rebecca Shafir, then suggests the reader, upon each listening opportunity, should attempt to “get into the speaker’s ‘movie,’”—which carries a world of chaotic possibilities. I’m picturing an average day of bounding from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, to Apocalypse Now, to This is Spinal Tap. I’m pondering the potential for utter confusion as I engage in my mother’s movie, potentially anything from Georgie Girl to Dog Day Afternoon . Or how about entering my husband’s movie, which might be some version of Blazing Saddles, Shrek or Rambo. I mean, picturing someone trying to be present in my own movie is laughable, my scripts are Coen-Brothers oddball.

I just see the whole technique as driven by jargon … and I acknowledge my strong resistance to formulas of any type as part of the backlash of a long-term, as-yet-unresolved teenage rebellion. Don’t even get me started on how I feel about books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

Speaking of movies, I watched one after each long day of class. I watched The Barbarian Invasions, Lost Boys of the Sudan, and Some Kind of Monster. Each movie had its value. Perhaps the most brilliant aspect of The Barbarian Invasions—which I highly recommend to those that enjoy quirky, independent films which reference to social theory and political ironies—was the conversation held by the actors in a special feature separate from the movie. It struck me how intelligent, thoughtful and relevant these foreign actors are—so different from the majority of American entertainers today.

Lost Boys of the Sudan was simply a poignant film I think everyone should see. Completely low-budget and subtle, it broke my heart—not because of the tragedy of the early lives of these men, but because of the sincerity and earnestness of their day-to-day existence. Their awareness of the essential, and their unbelievable resilience is inspiring. No “mindfulness” exercises necessary for them, the simplicity of their needs and earnest sense of hope makes mindfulness intrinsic to their psyches.

* * * *

Sometimes Aaron floors me. He was moved by the stories of the men from the Sudan. Tonight as we trudged through the self-indulgence of Metallica in Some Kind of Monster, which is in no way to indicate that Metallica is singular in this characteristic rampant among modern-day superstars, there was a moment when James Hetfield was exhibiting an annoying level of self-pity. To James Hetfield’s lament that he can’t show emotion because he was never properly taught how to show love, Aaron exhaled loudly, shook his head and commented that maybe Hetfield should talk to one of the Sudanese refugees. I loved that he said that. After all the refugees went through as children (including seeing friends eaten by lions, crocodiles, shot, or kidnapped by mercenary soldiers) they don’t seem to have a similar block to expressing or showing affection or compassion for each other. In fact, they had to learn to refrain from overt physical contact in the United States because of the danger of attack. In the film the group of refugees discusses how they cannot exhibit any physical affection, such as holding hands which they happily did in the Sudan— a gesture which men cannot safely employ in many parts of our country.

Watching these films back to back brought new meaning to my perception of Western self-indulgence. (By the way, one of the few interesting moments in Some Kind of Monster is when Lars Ulrich calls Hetfield on this very quality)

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Snapshot of a Summer's Day

5:45AM: Cat, with a calculated reminder of her dominance over the household, leaps loudly onto the window sill with a chortle to the morning birds actively chirping through the already-warm morning. Recognizing that she hasn't completely woken me, she thunks back down off the windowsill with an inexplicably concentrated weight akin to a rhino leaping off a diving platform. She lands loudly, then looks to see if I've woken. I wake enough to stumble into the laundry room where I dutifully pour her fresh breakfast, close her in, and return to the bedroom hoping that since I never fully opened my eyes I'll be able to return to sleep.

8:30AM: I awake again to find that this (for once) worked. Decide to eek more laziness out of the morning--since a three-day weekend is never enough when you've had company.

9:15AM: Wake yet again with a sense of feeling panic, shake Aaron awake, he bolts into the shower and off to work in a frenzy.

9:30AM: Let cat out of the laundry prison (she's annoyed), give dogs morning biscuits, make myself a cuppa Irish Breakfast tea (milk and sugar), begin to read about defining elements of the romantic movement in literature. Find myself deeply drawn to the purpose and idealism of romanticism.

10:15AM: phone rings, machine answers. Blockbuster's soul calls me to remind me I have a movie past the due date ... my soul ignores the plea. Mental note to look into Netflix.

10:20AM: BeautyFirst automated computer calls to remind me that today is first Tuesday, all merchandise 20% off for preferred cardholders. Consider the surrealism of an automated phone call to remind me to buy my vanity products.

10:30-11:30: Begin to read about Wordsworth--find an eerie similarity in events which influenced his poetry and general revolutionary ideology, and the political climate of today. Wonder if today's literature will respond with its own singularity.

11:30ish: While checking e-mails I find myself compelled by the figures that move past my window. A squirrel clearly exasperated by a misplaced stash does everything but scratch her head in puzzlement. Several branch hopping birds. Two women in cars traveling in opposite directions stop in front of my home and shout an inane conversation back and forth at each other. One couldn't call the other as expected ... something to do with a car seat that didn't fit a kid ... blah blah blah. They part. A very fit woman I've never seen in the neighborhood jogs by clutching an iPod. A woman walking a bichon frise passes a gentleman who always motors past my house in a wheelchair. I have always wanted to know more about him ...

2:00PM: Aaron picks me up for an appointment with an attorney--I'm late. I grab yesterday's backpack, today's purse, a bottle of water, directions, my missing mascara, and somehow grasp them all as I hop into his car. Driving through town I take the time to really observe some of the beautiful architecture through Portland. Feel a groundswell of local pride. On the way home argue with Aaron about who is funnier.

3:30PM: Return home. Call friend, Stephanie, to ascertain that I am, indeed, funnier than Aaron. Check e-mails. Realize I'm totally screwing up an on-line writers group I vaguely committed to. Haven't even bought the book.

4:00PM: Head out to post office. Get there in time to be at the tail-end of an endless line. A woman plops her toddler, clothed only in a diaper, onto the counter. I glare so hard I think my eyes will burn holes in her. She proudly scoots the baby's butt all over the counter while asking a plethora of inane questions. I sigh and posture to no avail. She leaves proudly displaying her baby's ability to say "bye-bye."

4:30PM: Arrive at Beautyfirst. Waste a good 40 minutes reading ingredients on shampoo and conditioner bottles, because after all, this is preferred Tuesday and I must take advantage of hair care discounts. Marvel at the shit they put in shampoo, wonder if any of it really makes a difference. Return with a package that weighs as much as a suitcase of gold bullions.

5:00PM: Pull into gas station. Four of us arrive simultaneously, each car pointing in opposite directions. The attendent becomes frazzled, begins to run and huff. He takes care of everyone out of order. Filling up with regular unleaded costs $22.80 (and I wasn't empty). Have an internal debate with Aaron's theory that gasoline should cost more. Ponder the reasons mass transportation has never been widely implemented in the U.S. Imagine Disneyland's monorail down the center of every freeway. This was my "idea ahead of its time" in third grade. I won an award from ARCO.

5:15PM: Return home. Neighbors have a multitude of plastic toys, loading camper, Jeep, garbage cans, and Ford truck spread out to the boundaries of our property line--they're letting off remaining fireworks. Go inside and read more Wordsworth.

6:00PM: Decide to practice yoga, pop in a tape. Practitioner on tape seems boneless, able to insert head through legs. Happily I find myself considerably more flexible than two days ago. Revel in the sensation of Nameste'.

7:15PM: Get distracted from sauteeing fresh veggies in an iron Le Cruset pan, and start my first ever kitchen fire while on the telephone with Heather. Aaron yells at me as he batters the flames; I laugh. Ruin my favorite pan.

8:00PM: Return calls, search the internet for websites on romanticism--do that thing where you dive deeper and deeper into irrelevant topics.

10:00PM: Pop in Beyond the Sea, decide it was uneven and poorly edited, but still got a bad rap. Ponder the life of Bobby Darin. Begin to internalize the prospect of mortality.

12:15AM: Sit at the edge of bed and ask Aaron what he thinks constitutes "star quality," and if he ever is overwhelmed by the the largeness of the Aaron within him. Without really answering, he asks me to scratch his back and falls asleep.

12:30AM: Google Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, ruminate on the transience of life. Follow up on what happened to their son, Dodd--wonder why I care. Try to find a link between romaticism and the essence of Bobby Darin. Give up and hit the link to blogspot.

12:45AM: Cat reasserts her dominance over my universe by chortling as she leaps onto my lap and then this keyboard as I attempt to construct this post. We compromise as I plop her onto my schoolbooks that straddle my desk. She still wins in the end.

1:18AM: finished.