Thursday, December 29, 2005

Cooking Up Literature

Good blogging is supposed to include photographs -- they grab visual interest. I rarely take pictures, although I am as impressed by a good photo as I am with a good painting. I guess this is a vestige of my days prior to PRK surgery -- when my thick glasses prevented close contact with a camera lens.

So in the interest of maintaining a potential reader's curiosity about my blog, I give to you a tongue-in-cheek picture that I took for a hypertext project called Word of Mouth.

You can see that I am serving up some of my favorite poetry--works I think everyone should delve into: Frost, Plath and Rilke. Enjoy a little bite today!

Runny Noses and Cottony Ears

I am here in my den, gazing out through swollen, watery, dull-brown eyes, at the dreariness that characterizes Portland, OR at this time of year. The forecasts say rain for the next 5 days, which has been pretty much it since … oh, I’d say the middle of October (yes, we did get a few lovely days in November but that’s only a fleeting memory in the scheme of Portland winter).

Around me lie wads of Kleenex, little goopy clouds of safety that I hold to my periodically bleary eyes and faucet nose in some futile attempt to stave my body’s drippy revolt. I am in the miserable throes of a nasty head-cold. If you’re trying to tell me something, I can’t hear anything that isn’t muffled by the pressure that is lurking behind my thick eardrums. And just now I felt the onset of those icky chills that plague you in that relentless low-grade way. And all I can claim is a cold so real sympathy is hardly forthcoming.

And I blame all this on the pre-teen who sat across from me at a Christmas dinner last Sunday—a surly little guy who wiped his running nose from elbow to wrist on several occasions, in addition to open sneezes and coughing with no attempt to cover his mouth. Had he been charming, this may have been worth it, but he embodied much of what I feel is wrong with today’s youth—innate boredom, indifference and lack of personality probably due to a lifetime of indulgence and video virtuality (if his conversation was any indication). He really alienated me when I inadvertently used the word “damn” and he chastised me as if he had some kind of authority over me—I mean ten full minutes of telling me to “watch my mouth”—so you can see that in addition to being germy, he was also self-righteous.

At any rate, the good thing about being sick is that it slows you down. You have time to sort of wallow in reflection as you tend to your misery.

I’ve been reflecting on the future. These are the things that are on my fuzzy brain:

* I can’t imagine 3 more years under our current administration.
* I worry about the weather—things do seem different, and I believe there is significant global warming, and therefore we should be very concerned.
* What am I going to be when I grow up? Or more relevantly, why don’t the arts offer better financial opportunity?
* Why do I harbor such a love/hate relationship with Oprah? I love her compassion and creativity, but hate her propensity for buying into the materialistic status quo (if everyone
gets a car, the world will be happy).
* Why don’t more people read?
* How do we stop the
rampant suffering of children?
* Why is
unadulterated greed so rewarded in our society?
* Why do we presume that there must be a winner and a loser in most endeavors? Can we conceive of a paradigm in which people offer various creative or physical options and we don’t determine a grand-prize financial caveat of which will be valued to the exclusion of all others?
* If there are people scattered all around the US who have converted their cars to
running on vegetable oil, why isn’t the government subsidizing a conversion rather than frantically drilling for more oil?

These, and other conundrums plague me as I type my final words before heading into a steamy shower in an attempt to obtain nasal, and intellectual, clarity!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Bless the Beasts and the Children

In Uganda the children of outlying villages trek miles and miles every evening, to reach the cities where they might be safe from the vile L.R.A. (Lord's Resistance Army), who seeks to kidnap the young ones, subjecting them to atrocities beyond our western imaginations. This kidnap and torture creates an obvious, violent cycle.

They become, as Christopher Hitchens reports in his Vanity Fair article, "Childhood's End," haunted, "feral-child terrorist[s]."

If you can pick up a January issue of Vanity Fair, I suggest you read the article. It is ugly, almost unbearable, but not knowing does not make it not so! I vehemently believe that avoidance of truth breeds indifference.

Hitchens recalls a W.H. Auden Poem, September 1, 1939:

What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

In the same issue, a pictorial nod to Bob Geldof and Bono who labored to achieve a $25 billion promise from nine world leaders (I do not know if Bush was one) in aid to Africa. Geldof purportedly wandered into a garden, knelt and sobbed.

At the end of Hitchens' article, he notes that he provided aid for one child who informed his research, even as he "tried not to notice the hundreds of other eyes that were hungrily turned to me in the darkness"--later that night, after he had left, the encampment was hit by torrential rains that "washed most of the tents and groundsheets away."

I turn to sleep this night with an aching heart.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I hate to ask -- But Are 'Friends' Electric?

Last night I was playing around on the iTunes music store. I don’t recall just how, but suddenly I fumbled upon a song and artist that transported me to the 80’s with the efficacy of Proust’s Madeline. The artist was Gary Numan, the song was “Are ‘Friends’ Electric,” (anyone out there remember Gary?) and with the reminder flooded back memories of the movement of synthesized pop, Goth, and techno of the 80s and 90s. Stephanie brought the album “Replicas” back with her from England when she returned to California in 1979. She used to sing it, imitating the heavy British accent that characterized Gary Numan. Back then in our crowd we shunned big hair and any vestiges of the big stadium rock of the 70s; we were all about Kate Bush and Gary Numan and Ultravox and X—anything new and stated differently. We liked to think we were forging some new sensibility, but were a bit uneasy about fully investing in punk.

I remembered the dance that Lia and I did to “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” in front of the whole High School, and how it bought us some purchase with the more progressive, artistic students at Walnut High (all 5 of them—Walnut was way out of sync back then). We thought we were pretty cool, dressing and copping attitude in the suburbs like we had some knowledge of a metro pulse or Gothic sensibilities.

More importantly, stumbling across the yearning synthesizer, post-modern, referential lyrics, and echoing pain of the song, reminded me of how much music meant to us back then, how it would flood your consciousness like the water from a bath, how songs could make you laugh or cry or ache. I was stunned at how I could recall nearly every word of “Are ‘Friends’ Electric”—a song I haven’t heard in probably 20 years, even while I’ve tried five dozen times to memorize the lyrics from Green Day’s recent “Holiday” with next to no success. Why is that, why do the songs we learn young stick with us forever? Is it because emotionally we are still impressionable in the midst of those early favorites? Is young music like young skin, taking on the wear we give it with each heartbreak, each bad decision, or profound indecision that costs us adventure, in the same way as sun-exposed skin does--eventually unable to maintain it's elasticity?

I love music still, and for a 40-something broad I stay reasonably hip. But the passion is somewhat dulled until I stumble upon that almost-forgotten favorite. Then I'm surprised by the way I can drum up feeling, the sensation of still being that newer person. When I flew around my living room last night, trying to remember the dance steps that Lia and I choreographed all those years ago, I didn't feel a day over 17. This is why life can be beautiful and why music is such an intangible enhancement to living.

“Now the light fades out
And I wonder what I'm doing
In a room like this
There's a knock on the door
And just for a second I thought I remembered you”

p.s. Check Gary’s newer stuff out, it’s very moody and has definitely evolved from what he was doing in the 80s

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I've Come a Long Way, Baby

Today— merely random thoughts.

I completed my fall term with pride, felt I turned in some really thoughtful, engaged, mature work, and I guess my professors concurred with me. I worked very hard. One told me that I’ve come a long way, and those words reverberated in me. I’ve come a long way. I think that, in my realm, this is one of the most momentous things someone can say about me.

I’ve come a long way. I remember being a kid who felt “different,” my ex-farm-worker father and heavily accented German mother didn’t make fitting into elementary school—or the general neighborhood—in the white-bread 60s, very easy. My parents paid for everything with cash only, hence, we didn’t have much materially. Or, we didn’t think we had much because it didn’t measure up to the accoutrements that can be accrued on credit. I felt so different … wished to feel so “same.”

I’ve come a long way. The kids used to have a hey-day with my clothes. I wore clothes that my grandmother sent from Germany: orange, suede shoes, little blouses with hedgehogs or lady bugs all over them (for some reason these are popular creatures on children’s clothes in Germany). Sometimes I was indulged and I’d talk my mother into a brightly-embroidered peasant blouse hanging from a booth at Olvera Street in Los Angeles. My clothes left my classmates anything but speechless. I’d dress in the morning feeling so pretty, and return home in the afternoon ashamed at my missteps. Whether it was the home-made liverwurst sandwiches, or the thickness of my pink, cat-eye glasses, I had a lot to overcome.

I’ve come a long way. I’ve learned to listen. As a kid primed to shamelessly revise myself, I was a reactive creature. Always looking for the way in, a proverbial chameleon that soon developed an instinctive barometer for adaptation. This conditions the act of listening to a self-oriented art. How can I fit in? How can I succeed? How can I gain entry? How will they accept me? For years, when I tuned into people, I invested myself in what they were saying in relation to my awareness of myself. But lately I find myself divested of any personal stake. I have learned to listen with an open mind. I hear the Other (CHS speak), and I open myself to the space that neither of us can adequately define.

I’ve come a long way. After 20+ years of feeling an intense pang when I would think of my missed college education, I’m very nearly done. I never thought I’d make it, let alone take to the process like a bird dog to water. I’ve run my own rigid gauntlet, stayed 4.0 only because I wanted to prove to myself that I could earn it. I used to think a degree proved nothing, and I wasn’t entirely wrong. Learning is what you make of it. I’ve seen more students fake their way through the process than not. The "degree" is the goal, the thing that is supposed to say something about you. I can’t buy into that—and an English Literature & Writing degree rarely buys anyone a ticket to “success” because they have one. It's the process. When you're there for anything else, it becomes a dog and pony show, rather than an introspective, mind-expanding endeavor.

It’s the way of thinking that you learn with a liberal arts education. The way you recognize how easy it is to be fallible, illogical, reductionistic, or dangerously idealistic. Critical thought is a gift. When you develop it, life takes on another dimension, like the difference between walking and ice skating, or roller blading. Our feet propel us forward, it’s true, but the blades or rollers make movement so much more dynamic, so much more artful.

Yup, I feel today, like I’ve come a long way.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Finding the Perfect Tree

My goddaughter's mother and I have been "soul sisters" since we were 5, actually just slightly longerthan that.

Every year her family drives to Wyoming to cut their own wild-growing tree. This year was challenging. To put it in perspective, my goddaughter is taller than me! She's nearing 5'6" now, and she's waste-high in powder.

The scene makes me think of the snow that covers the ground at the end of James Joyce's story, The Dead: "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow faling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."