Hunger Games

"Well, I know," she said. "You'll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you'll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we'll have a lot more of them. And they'll be fought by babies." -Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

Each year 24 tributes, one boy and one girl from each district, are sent to the Capitol to fight to the death on national television. These are the Hunger Games, a part of Suzanne Collins's trilogy -- The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and The Mockingjay.

Suzanne Collins drops you into District 12 in the country of Panem after the rebellion of the districts. The Capitol ruled Panem's thirteen districts--each specializing in some resource--until the Dark Days when the districts rebelled. The rebellion failed; the population was decimated, resources depleted, and District 13 destroyed. The Capitol's punishment is the Hunger Games. Reality television meets the Roman Colosseum.

Collins has readers experience the story through the first-person narrative of Katniss Everdeen. Katniss is a barbed unforgiving 16-year-old girl whose two thoughts are to protect her younger sister and to survive. She hunts for her family's food, making her an excellent archer and strong contender for the Games. She reads like the angsty Harry Potter from book five only less annoying.

Katniss is talented, two desirable men fall in love with her, through the Hunger Games she becomes famous, she is given an excellent stylist, she is an icon for the districts and a favorite pet for the capitol, and yet--I love Collins for this--Hunger Games is not a case of teenage wish fulfillment.

When we were younger, I had a friend who tried to break her arm. She had never broken a bone and coveted the attention that people got when they wore a cast. You could wish to be Katniss to receive the attention of a nation, but Collins will make you feel the break.

Katniss is often injured (to the point that I wonder if Collins really likes her), experiences horrors in the arena, and has emotional fall-out because of them. She has constant nightmares, wanders around looking for small spaces to fall asleep in, emotional episodes, and a possible psychotic break. The previous victors of the Games take to drinking or drug addiction--and this in an adolescent book. Not the all-better magical recovery of the movie Taken.

Katniss is glamorous, famous, and swooned-after, and Collins is good enough to write her situation honestly so that I do not want to be Katniss -- the girl who killed people to survive.

By the last book Katniss says, "I think that Peeta was on to something about us destroying one another and letting some decent species take over. Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children's lives to settle its differences."

And as for glamor: "All I can think of is the emaciated bodies of the children on our kitchen table as my mother prescribes what the parents can't give. More food. [...] And at the Capitol they're vomiting for the pleasure of filling their bellies again and again. Not from some illness of body or mind, not from spoiled food. It's what everyone does at a party. Expected. Part of the fun."

Sci-fi. Dystopic. Hunger Games is an unlikely sketch of what could be with harrowing notes of what already is.


Food in the Midwest

My mom's side of the family lives in Indiana, and my family has been coming here (Indianapolis) every Christmas since I was born. I hadn't thought about how Midwestern cuisine could be different than that of Colorado or the Northwest until I was reading in Bill Bryson's "The Lost Continent." Or at least I think that's where I was reading about it.

Bryson said something about Midwestern fair consisting of depression-era food: odd casseroles, white bread, plates of lunch meat, and every meal adorned with green olives. The olive part was what really caught my attention. Every supper we eat (and it's called "supper") is buffet-style with an option of olives and sweet pickles. I thought my grandpa bought them because I like them (and that may still be the case), but Bryson knew about the olives! Maybe it's cultural.

I spent a half hour looking through the book to find the exact quote without success. According to Google there is no use of the words "olive", "olives", "pickle", or "pickles" in the entire book. (What would olives have to do with the Depression anyway?)

We had cheeseburger pie two nights ago. It's hamburger, tomato paste, onion, and Italian seasoning covered in mozzarella cheese. All this happens in a pie tin, hence the name, and is drizzled with a tomato-paste sauce according to the diner's taste.

Spaghetti noodles make unexpected appearances. We had lunch and opened presents with Mitch's mom's side of the family. There was a spaghetti-based pasta salad. And my favorite food at Grandma's is her chili with tomato paste, hamburger, chili pepper, and spaghetti noodles.

Midwesterners like their beer light and macro brewed. It wouldn't make sense for them to drink anything that would take their attention off the Colts game they're watching. Even Fat Tire has only made a recent and slight appearance in this area. Mitch's cousin allegedly doesn't care for hops.

In an attempt to spread the canned-food love, I have made my beloved cherry-pineapple pie (quick-acting tapioca balls, a can of sour pitted cherries, canned pineapple, sugar, almond extract) for Washingtonian housemates without much success.

I'll be spending a rare New Year's outside of Indiana and intend to make the traditional and delicious Polish Mistakes: sausage cooked in Velveeta cheese placed on pieces of rye bread and baked in the oven.

I had thought it a bit extreme that the second thing anybody would say about Mitch's cousin was, "She's a vegan. She doesn't eat anything." Veganism: more restricting than vegitarianism, but not unheard of. It took me writing this blog to realize that a Midwest meal is never without meat, cheese, and eggs--sometimes all three in the same dish. A vegan from the Midwest is kind of like a cow that only eats strawberries.


Over Lunch

We had spent lunch over crepes and coffee. The Creperie was about as tall as it was wide. A shelf with bottles--Glenlivet, Chimay, Bombay gin--crowned the walls, under which was rose-colored wallpaper. We sat at a small table, white linen under glass, in the corner. We had cleaned our plates and were drinking our second cups of coffee--water too, with lemon.

"We had a dog, when M. and I got married, a toy dachshund named Mary Collins" R.D. told me.

"Growing up we couldn't have a dog (and we tried three times) because my father was so unpleasant with them. He was gone most of the time, but when he came home he was so grumpy that we had to get rid of each.

"My father had an airplane, so when M. and I moved he picked us up in it. I didn't think about it before hand, and I brought Mary Collins with us, if I had thought of it.... No, I would have brought her anyway.

"When we were packing to move we couldn't find her. We called her name and looked all over the house. We finally found her already in the car. She was not going to be left behind. Smart girl.

"In the cabin of the plane there were four seats that narrowed towards the front where there was a ledge and a shelf. Mary Collins, before we did anything, went pip pip pip and curled up beneath the shelf. She stayed there the whole flight on her own accord. She didn't yelp or anything. By the time we got to Florida, my father had undergone a complete transformation. He had Mary Collins sit on his lap--and I had never seen him let a dog sit on his lap before. Because Mary Collins knew how to fly, he figured she was alright with him.

"He liked her so much that when we moved to Italy my parents offered to keep her because she was too old to move with us."

We talked about other things, but before we left I prompted R.D. to talk about her childhood some more.

"Everything was different then," R.D. said.

"Like what?"

"Everything," she shook her head.


"I was a little girl on an oil field in East Texas. We were a minority numerically, a part of the population. There were mostly blacks, and all the blacks were servants, and we didn't call them blacks."

She looked at me.

"I was just a little girl on an oil field in Texas," she said. "I didn't know to dream. If you had told me then that my life would be what it was and is, I--"

She didn't finish. And if there is, somewhere, a congregation of our younger selves, I wonder what they are thinking.


a christmas rambling.

I know
Where to find cookie cutters
in the shapes of:
pigs, ducks, cowboy boots, and sunglasses.

The shepherd who watches his flock by night,
is not watched by anyone
except for a few, brief glances
from oblivious sheep.

After the drive-by shooting,
Erika watched her cousin die.
Mary was young and hopeful.
Joseph planned to leave her.
Erika was nine years old.

A sixty-year-old woman roller blades
and glides about in neon colors.
The old widow Anna prayed her lifetime
to see the son of man.

Black watches White chase the sunset.
Sonya wept.

Joy to the Word, the Lord has come.
Let Earth receive her King.


The S-Word

I help/observe a classroom for Mrs. B, a five foot tall (and that is probably being generous, I'm taller) Canadian woman with a loud voice, a very pregnant belly, and a spunky personality. The ratio between her small stature and her bursting stomach makes you feel as if you should stand next to her at all times in case she tips over. She is a great teacher. We have the same Uggs. (The blackish/greyish knitted kind, not the obnoxiously bland, beige ones.)

Yesterday she had a substitute, Mr. Griffin. I walk into the classroom and introduce myself. I told him I help run the after-school program for the Bellevue Boys and Girls Club at the middle school, blah blah blah. He took one look at me, saw a young Jr. higher and dismissed everything I said. I sat down and snickered. If he can't have a conversation with an older person who resembles a jr. higher, he'll be dominated by the real ones.

The kids see Mr. Griffin, ignore the seating arrangement, and talk with their friends. Their confidence level escalates. The last bell rings, no one has taken a seat except for me.

"Class, please stop talking."


"Class, please stop talking."

"Hello class, shhhh, I have some advice for you. Shhh..."

The noise has died down at this point. He's an older, white American male who lives in Bellevue. As far as the students can tell, his entire life has surmounted to substitute teaching. They already have little respect for the guy. But they are all excited. What he mentions in the next few minutes might provide them with a chance to say some wise-ass comment. This unique accomplishment would crown them the god of the classroom.

He takes the silence as an encouragement.

"Class, I am sorry but we have to wait for everyone to be quiet in order for us to begin. Sad to say it is a requirement now. We have to wait for everyone. Class, this is why, shhh.. it is because of No Child Left Behind. My first piece of advice is to be quiet....

Hey you, please listen...

...is to be quiet in the classroom because schools have to wait for every student before they can move forward. I know it is frustrating, but it is the rule. I personally think it's a good rule."

I squirm in my chair. I have no idea why he's talking about No Child Left Behind. He is blaming his inability to start class on a policy which he eventually claims to support. Everyone including himself, I think, is confused.

Phoebe, a girl who I've never heard speak up the entire time I've worked in their classroom proudly blurts out, "Sir, what does that have to do with anything?"

(that made me happy.)

"Shhh.... please, I need to give you the second piece of advice."

"But you didn't answer my que..."

"Enough, please. The second piece of advice, and this will help you in succeeding in school, you must write everything down. Have any of you written down my name?"

His advice would have been helpful if he'd said the opposite. If I had written everything down in college my hand would no longer function. He points to the white board where he wrote, "Mr. Griffin" in small letters. Unfortunately, he wrote his name within the blue masking-tape square Mrs. B devoted to addressing information for the Period 5 Social Studies. This is a period 6 AVID class.

Andy, a very sweet kid, raises his hand and said,

"Mr. Griffin, we aren't supposed to write down what's in that box becau...."

"You are not listening to my advice. Remember the very first thing I said about being quiet and listening? Instead you were not talking."

"You are right, I wasn't talking, I don't get...."

"I mean you were talking. Shhh... I really like you kids."

Kam'Ryn laughs. She whispers in my ear, "No you don't you old fudgebag."

He looks over at Kam'Ryn and said, "You know, it's a really bad thing when the Sub knows your name."

What a sad thought.

He eventually stopped trying to be profound and gave them a worksheet that made them answer questions about an accomplishment they are proud of and a time they made a mistake and felt really bad about it.

These kids can be rude, disrespectful, and ridiculous. But they also don't want to be fed bullshit. They put up a front, duh, but adults have to see through that. We are taking them away from the really important things: their friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, drama, skating, dancing, smoking weed and we substitute all of that for politically correct ashes. What keeps adults from approaching conversations with students about things that make sense?


The Things I find at Work

I have two samples that accurately depict my daily life. The first sampling was a crumpled note found on the cafeteria floor. The second was given to me because I told one of my girls that I liked her poetry. Despite my own tendencies to punctuate incorrectly (which drives Amy up the wall), all of the spelling or punctuation errors belong to the original writers.

Hey. Hi. What up.
This longggg note is for youuu! heeheeheehahahahohoho :) How was your homework today yayaya? Mine was/is okayyayay :) I'm in health. We're talking about cheesecake, cup noodles, pizza, chips, OH YUM! When I give this to youu, it'd be lunch timeeee. haha. Now we're talking about sugar now. And how it's chemically made. I think you're in science; RIGHT?! Whatta stalker I ammm heeee :) fat heart filled with fat love. WE'RE TALKING ABOUT FAT; fat people, fat foods, fat sugar?! Corn Syrup? I'm so randomomom. hahahahaha. "Dicks Sporting Goods" i'm such a pervert :) lalalalala What do you want for Christmas?! i can't believe Michelle and Mike are going out :( haha, jkay :) I don't like Mike anymore. But i might change my mind when they break up. more than halfway there! Woot! Gahhh, I'm hungry. Jeez, i need to EAT! LALALALA gotta go! Wait no. nevermind! wait bye.



Open You'r Eyes
Please, open you'r eyes...
turn on you'r tv and tell me
what you see
do you see happiness
do you see beauty
do you see sunshine
Please open you'r eyes
open you'r blinds and tell me
what you see
do you see the feauture
do you see happy kids
do you see sunshine
or not or not or not or not or not or not or not
well wake up
open you'r eyes
nothing above, thats for sure!
our lives are made of our fears!


By Monday I'll be Gone

Growing up I had a premonition that I would die at 18. I think this was because the last semi known point of my existence was graduating high school. After high school I could not envision what would happen next, so I figured nothing would.

The one thing I did anticipate, if I managed to live through graduation and on through college to a point where I had no more educational hoops to jump through and had acquired my long-pined-for independence, was that I would grab life by the balls, so to speak. I would skate on my independence, travel to different countries, and live where I knew nobody. I couldn’t wait to do something on my own that was, for the first time, not a scripted track of “The Things White Middle-Class American Youths are Supposed to Do.”

And here I am. Bachelors degree. Living with Mitch. Still in Spokane.

I’ve been looking into Teaching English as a Foreign Language programs. Ideally, if you have your TEFL you can teach English in a lot of countries. Problem is, I’ve researched these programs and they seem to be either A) a little spendy and not worth the time or B) too spendy. Then if you get your certificate you have to get hired and if you get hired you have to figure out how to get a VISA. All the while, I’d be paying rent and loans and… I know this sounds like whining. Getting over seas is probably worth it – and it wouldn’t be much of an adventure if there weren’t risks and sacrifices involved.

What I’ve been wondering lately is if moving to another country is missing the point. Even though I’m not groping life like I thought I would be, I’m not bored. There are books to read, people to hang out with, mini dramas, and beautiful if brief images. And there are eggs to cook and flowers to plant and paintings and people saying things. There would be those things in any country, and whether Americans, Germans, or Costa Ricans, I’d be alternately astonished by their complexity and wishing to banish their existence.

And what if a meaningful and interesting life is more of a sitcom, with four cameras and three sets, than a Peter Jackson film? The point being to get to know those characters in my life while experiencing very little plot? But of course that could be the reasoning of someone settling for a quiet ride down monotony lane. I’m not sure yet.


Today at the Bus Stop

There was a couple, a white man and a black woman. They were older and wore assorted layers to keep out the slush. They brought toilet paper, paper towels, a crock pot and a green bag from Yokes into the bus stop, which was cubed in with glass and had metal benches that froze my butt. The man produced a pouch of tobacco and rolled himself a cigarette, and the woman's voice was low and murmuring. When he stood up she said something I couldn't hear.

"Because you can't smoke in here," he said, perfectly audible.

"I can," she said, like a come-on.

With the cigarette between he his teeth he pointed above me and said, "Read that sign. It says NO SHMOKING."

Then they stood outside together and left me with their groceries.



I’m at the Rocket Bakery procrastinating on writing my thank-you notes for the wedding presents I received in August. (I really am grateful for the sundry kitchen appliances, picture frames, and lingerie (penis slippers included), and I hope that you all keep up the habit of giving them to me in the future. I was raised better than this, so clearly the internet with its maze of blogginess and generic facebook photographs is to blame.)

There’s a sign with pull tabs on the wall saying, “Food not bombs” which makes me think that if anything can be substituted for war—bikes not bombs, make out not war, etc.—then we all should be really too busy to wield the hand of aggression, and war would seem to be the outcome of boredom. So if someone would simply give those world leaders and charismatic terrorist aficionados something to do, the world would be a safer place.

And how about those Americans? A Newsweek came in the mail intended for a Mary Carver—I’m hoping that this is not Mitch’s way of telling me that we have a polygamous relationship; I mean, at least say it with flowers. And on the cover is this burning wad of wrinkled greasy cash and the caption: “Why Americans are still Spending Money” or something like that. What would you rather have: a stack of paper, more infested with germs than any other substance we touch, or a new lap top that’s negative point five inches thick, on which you can twiddle away your time?

If American money were more interesting or looked prettier, then maybe we wouldn’t spend it as often. Take credit cards: they are the key to unlocking possession of all sorts of things—music, clothes, books, drunkenness, travel—but if you don’t use them they’re just flat pieces of plastic with magnetic strips on the back.

Maybe if, instead of the presidents, bills had pinup girls on them or clues to a great mystery, we wouldn’t trade them in for cool stuff as much.

Would a dragon sit on a cache of Washingtons and Lincolns and tarnished old nickels and little numbers from account balances? Two words: ugly. flammable. You see what happens, Mary?


Drugs and Vegetables

What if one part of a plant were an illegal substance and another part were a healthy vegetable? Like if marijuana grew from the top of carrots, or for every four bundles in a head of broccoli one was a hallucinogenic mushroom, or whenever you cut open a red pepper a stream of finely processed cocaine poured out?

I can see the legal proceedings now. The vegeugs are heavily supported by the libertarians and the decidedly non-conservatives. The latter make T-shirts portraying the illicit vegetables, and they argue that obesity is the drug Americans indulge in, and what better way to better the market on produce? The pharmaceutical companies, dressed in their suits and with large gibberish-sounding words in their heads, are already devising advertising schemes -- Trouble sleeping/feeling happy/getting it up/breathing/urinating without discomfort? Try our line of vegeugs! Hypoallergenic so they're good for packing in the kiddos' lunches too.

The people against the legalization of vegetables-attached-to-drugs are male (as, actually, are the ones for it), white, and portly. They think it's pretty fishy how everyone has taken such an interest and liking in vegetables now that they have shacked up with drugs. One points out that he doesn't eat anything green. Another says, "Vegetables are for skinny people trying to stay skinny." A giant smear campaign is launched stating that red peppers are allegedly fruit.

Lobbyists lob money onto both sides. Folks put up signs in their yards according to party; some have upstanding-looking carrots and others have homeless-looking carrots, but they're all phallic-looking carrots. (At least we agree on something.)

And we're all encouraged to vote. And 40% of the population cares A LOT. And vegetables start becoming scarce on family tables so as not to insight heated talking-matches between parents and children.

Well gosh, thank goodness that's not what our political climate really looks like.


a prayer in the smallest church on the side of the road.

Beers 2

“I want you to know that this woman gets crowns without any Novocain,” a woman came over to our table and said about Susan, an older lady we had plopped down next to. We were at the Craft Brewers Association beer tasting at Enoteca, and Susan was rapidly showing me how little I knew about beer. She talked about her travels in Europe and spoke of most micro brews with the same mild disdain that I have for Keystone Light. (It’s tough to go to Europe without coming back as something of a snob.) She asked for the tiniest amount of each sample saying that she knew what she liked immediately.

The Craft Brewers Association is the company who owns Widmer, Redhook, Goose Island, and, now, Kona. I have a bias against Widmer. Their logo makes it look like they sell trucks instead of beer. It’s a “w” with lines on it on top of uninteresting often inorganic two-dimensional scenes. Mass produced. Built Ford tough.

We started with Goose Inland Demolition Belgian Golden, which is available in the Chicago area. It was very light in color, and had more flavor than I expected. When our beer-appreciative crowd took the first sip, chirps of “Oh mmm, fruit” and “definitely coriander” broke out. It tasted mostly like beer to me. And I’m impressed with the delight that beer enthusiasts take in tasting something other than beer in beer. Dare I tell them about orange juice?

The next was Redhook Eisbock 28. 11% ABV. (We bought a bottle.) It was pumpkin orange and tasted like a fall warmer. Eisbocks are fermented at temperatures below freezing; this allows the sugars to break out and raises the alcohol content. Apparently, Eisbocks are somewhat frowned upon and can get to ABVs as high as 40%.

They brought in Domino's from next door. $10 got us six samples of beer, pizza, and a glass to take home. Awesome.

Our Virgil in our circling beer descent was a man named Jeremy. He said that he never had a New Belgium brew that he really liked. (Alec under his breath: sacrilage.) There’s problems with these Widmer people.

The third beer we had was Kona Pipeline Porter. They brew it with real Kona coffee, and Pipeline Porter tastes enough like espresso that I think we all are licensed to drink it for breakfast. Jeremy told us that the CBA had recently bought the whole of Kona brewery. While some will still be brewed on the Hawaiian Islands, much of it will be brewed in Portland. He even said that some of the Pipeline Porter sold in Hawaii will probably have been flown in from Portland.

The next three were ok: Widmer Double Alt, Redhook Big Ballard Imperial IPA, and Widmer Deadlift IPA, the best being the Imperial. Susan wasn’t really a fan. She recommended two Belgians: Bavik and Goudenbond.

It was as we were getting ready to leave when Susan’s dentist came over to us. “You never know who you’ll run into,” she said, as she gathered her crutches. “At least it wasn’t my gynecologist.”


Auto Correct

What if there were an Auto Correct for people? Since my laptop hard drive died, I’ve been borrowing an old Compaq. It has Word, most importantly, and minesweeper and Paint (and, ooh, pinball – pinball nostalgia moment: the Manitou Pancake House had an old-style pinball machine in the basement that you could play for free. The controls had that satisfying pre-Xbox feel. Plunger and flippers: all bolts and levers, not a computerized thing to it. Sometimes on Sundays my family would go there after church with the Lungs. We once saw a mouse scamper across the floor under our table. Does free pinball make up for the probable existence of mouse feces? Yes, emphatically yes.), but that’s about all it has. No internet, no Zune, and no spell check.

The lack of a spell check has made me realize how incorrect at spelling I actually am. I’ve been typing for years and Word has been dutifully auto correcting for me. It’s been taking out “l”s or capitalizing “i”s without me realizing it. I am a flawed human being; I can see that now.

So my thought is, is it possible for—-nay, how long will it be until—-computers auto correct all sorts of things about us? You post a picture of yourself on facebook and facecheck automatically eradicates that pimple by your mouth, which was caused by the hours spent talking on the phone to your long-distance boyfriend who’s voice has been automatically changed to sound more interested and caring. (You love him.)

Tasteless internet over-sharing will be censored and emodicons will be expressed in words. (That makes me feel like winking and sticking my tongue out!)

Sentiment will not be expressed unless computers deem reciprocation likely.

Cameras will automatically shed ten pounds and eliminate unsightly body hair.

Technology will govern our interactions in order to correct unnecessary muckiness like blemishes, awkwardness, evidence of solipsism, and poor social etiquette.

It will be impossible to say, “i am, like, litterally, in love with you.”


Happy Birthday

We sung happy birthday to a man turning 86, Melissu and I did. Melissu's a gal I work with; she looks like she's 22 but has a 17-year-old daughter so she must not be. She has white-blonde hair and big blue eyes. ("Came with the face," she tells me.) She likes to pinch baby's cheeks, to goof off, and to say miscellaneous swear words under her breath. I like her.

Ray told us he was 42 and asked if we believed him. I dutifully nodded my head. He smiled and softly laughed. "I'm double that," he said. And as an afterthought, "Plus two."

"So, are you gonna sing me happy birthday?" He asked.

We sung it all the way through in the lobby of the YMCA. When we finished his eyes were wet and he was blushing. He blew us each a kiss and then thanked us.

And I wouldn't want Mitch to worry (so maybe don't mention it) but: yeah, I still got it.



My dog had a tumor removed from her leg. I saw her this past week because I went home to my parents’ house (an 18-hour car trip). She’s small for a Lab-Rottweiler mix and has pretty brown eyes and floppy brown ears. Her back leg is shaved from the surgery, and she has a funny-shaped bald spot on her rear. The vet couldn’t get all the cancer, though, it’s spread too far. My parents won’t put her through chemo: too expensive, too painful, and she wouldn’t understand.

My dad, Lindsay, and I took Littles to City Park in Denver. We threw the tennis ball, and she sprinted after it. Sometimes she’d barrel role while trying to pick it up. She got down on her front quarters when I held the ball, her tail in the air. My dad told us to take it easy on her, and we stopped playing fetch before she wanted to. She held the ball in her mouth and rubbed it on Lindsay’s leg, leaving puddles of drool and dirt on the denim.

That night, when my dad and I got back from dinner and a movie, Littles couldn’t move. Her muscles shook when she tried to stand. Worried it was the last night I would see her alive, I lay on the wood floor with her, me on my side arched around her back. All of her friends have died: Sonja (Airedale), Sunny (Aussie), and Jazz and Dixie (German Shepherd-Labrador). Old dogs.

The next morning she was entirely better. Dad and I took her for a walk on the Intemann Trail. When we got to the creek she jumped down into it, biting at it with her mouth. She lay on her belly. She came out and shook water all over me; then she rolled onto her back and wagged with her whole body in the dirt and fallen aspen leaves.

Once, at the Y, I gave a tour to a man who was curious to see the inside of the building. We walked slowly. It was hard to find relevant talking points about the Y — his children were grown, he walked with cane (eliminating basketball and the climbing wall). When we breached the double doors of the pool deck, went into the air hot with chlorine, he looked at the bobbing water of the lap pool and said, “My wife would have loved this. She was a beautiful swimmer.”


Tonight is Nick's birthday and I have to make 100 cups of jello and 50 cupcakes.

Despite the implied connection of these two facts, my tasks have nothing to do with Nick's birthday, (other than it almost prevented me from buying him a beer at Teddy's bar on 65th and Roosevelt).

My cups of jello and cake are for my jr. high kids, which is another story all together. Stay tuned.

Teddy's belongs in a Coen brother's film. The wooden walls hold three televisions, pool sticks, coat hangers, and a vintage portrait of the beloved president. The spotted ceiling makes you want to throw pencils at it to see if they stick. The jute box seems to be stuck on a modest mouse and a johnny cash album. I imagine a male character opening the door, kicking the snow from his boots as he makes eye contact with the bartender whose been pouring his drinks for eighteen years. He grabs a beer, remains alone, and thinks. The scene is depressing, inviting, and humorous all at the same time.

Nick, Erin, Stephen, Jeremy, and I drank beer. We played pool. I failed miserably. But I did make a very important discovery. Apparently I've been playing pool left-handed the whole time and I had no idea.

Throughout our conversations of flying kites, med school interviews, Broadway shows, and why I was fiddling with four types of jello boxes in my hands, we paid our tabs and walked to the door.

I looked over to a table near the front window and found my character.

He was sitting in a corner by a window, pen and paper at his hand, eyes fixed on me. He was old and dirty. He smelled like a pack of cigarettes. His two front teeth were rotten and his hands were soiled. He had the most beautiful blue eyes.

"Whatcha doin?" I asked.

"I'm writing a poem. I've been writing for 25 years now." His wayward response made it clear he assumed I was drunk.

He wasn't quite sure what to make of me. I cannot blame him for assuming as much. Typically a girl like me would not approach a guy like him. I wasn't bothered by this reaction. It made sense in a way. He on the other hand, was drunk. His words flowed together gently and slothfully. To my delight his suspicion of me suddenly drowned in his whiskey or curiosity (or both) and did not keep him from continuing the conversation.

"I like this girl you see. I've had a crush on her for a long time. Her name is Crystal. I am writing a poem about her. This first half is before I kiss her, and then after I kiss her, and I will kiss her some day, I'll finish the rest here." He brushes the paper with the dirt of his hands. Four long, scribbled, and reworded stanzas consume the pre-kiss page. For some reason he already started the first stanza of the "post-kiss" section of the poem. I decided not to bring this to his attention. I was preoccupied with the shock of his response. I felt like I was talking to my jr. high kids again.

"It looks real great!" I said in my little kid voice that I use when I don't know what to say.

"You don't know that. You haven't read it."

"Oh, yes. I guess that's true." I was embarrassed. That was a very silly thing of me to say.

"I have a hard time picking women. I fall in love with the potential of the girl and who she could be, and I forget to see what is real, what is right in front of me." His eyes light up. He takes another sip of his whiskey and coke and is comforted. "I can never see what is real, you know?"

"Yes. Are you going to read the letter to her?"

"Not until I kiss her. I am going to kiss her."

I smile and wave goodbye. He had the most beautiful eyes.


Of Legal Drinking Age

I didn't have my license with me, and Mitch and I were in line at Rosauers with some groceries and an impulse bottle of wine. Mitch placed the items on the moveable-sidewalk-for-groceries and stood in front of me to pay. But I could tell upon approaching that the checker was going to be a douzie. She looked about sixty, and behind her glasses were eyes that meant business, that didn't take any shit from the slightly off-color crowd frequenting her store.

"Can I see both of your licenses?"

This was followed by the "Oh darn, left it at home" conversation that makes me feel like I'm a lying underage delinquent.

Mitch produced his. He asked our checker if she trusted me, and to my surprise she rang up the wine and bagged our things.

"I'm 23," I said. Being helpful. Demonstrating the considerable number of years I've been drinking legally.

"23, huh? If I could be 23 again... You know, I wouldn't. 33, yes. But not 23."

And any number of events, mere moments, can happen that cause lancing pain for years. There's no guarantee for future happiness, but I'm trusting my grocer. I think life's going to get better for us over the next ten years.


Job Politics

People complain about the politics at work: among teachers, in the YMCA, between Emily and her boss. I’ve decided the only way to properly complain about work politics is to insist that the politics are foul, not to bewail the fact that working includes politics. I entered the work force with an expectation for it to be something like school: set tasks and set ways to evaluate people’s performance. Of course teachers didn’t always like me, but there was a semblance of impartiality, grade-wise, throughout.

Emily isn’t great pals with her boss which has given rise to 40-hour graveyard shifts five weeks in a row. All requests to switch ignored.

The new girl at my work told me today that she quit her last job because “it was a popularity contest.”

Unless the job is one that requires a high degree of specialty or skill, and one in which a worker’s ability can be openly tested, (e.g. computer hacker, heart surgeon) there will be nothing stopping the pet favorite of the boss from getting a promotion or recognition or better shifts than someone more competent but less well-liked.

But complaining that these popularity contests exist is like complaining that there is traffic or a line at the grocery store or people living in the apartment upstairs (and banging around like crazy on a Saturday morning, I might add). Essentially that there are other people in existence and more specifically that in daily life we more often deal with people than with things or ideas.

Society is not made up of laws that shan’t be broken, mechanisms, or large inert structures. It is made up entirely of people—people behind every rule and interpreting every rule—and working with those people is largely the stuff of working at anything.

Still they suck. Rumors, caddishness, suck-up-etry, and all other manner of back-biting or falseness come in the door wages foolishly cracked open. But I’ll tell you the best strategy I’ve heard for dealing with it:

When I asked Carrie if the politics between the staff at the school where she’s student teaching were bad, she answered me, “Sure. But I don’t know much about them—I eat lunch with the bilinguals.”

Wise words, mes amis.


a cup of coffee.

"Would you like a cup of coffee?" Jamie asked. Many suburban dwellers would say that she had just addressed the most religious man in town. He sits in front of the Lovejoy Surgicenter everyday. The plaque near its door informs those who pass by that the Lovejoy center has long been recognized as " a national model, offering a level of care unmatched in scope, thoroughness, and sensitivity." In the calender year 2000, the Lovejoy Surgicenter performed nearly 50% of the 7.111 abortions in the Portland Metropolitan Area of Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties.

The convicted man is so busy sitting he doesn't have enough time to fix the sign he holds in his blistered hand. Some of the letters that spell out, "Save You're Baby" have fallen. The dirt and grim that bordered the missing letters still remain, becoming the one thing that kept the letters visible.

Startled by the young voice, the main looked at Jamie and said, "No Thanks, you can never be too careful 'bout except'n things like coffee. It might be poisonous. Don't mean to offend you o nothin'. He replied. "the name's Jack Martin." He smacked his lips and cleared his throat. "I've been sitting here for seven years now. No baby should die, that's just not just. Just not right you see? What about the father? What can he do? He has no choice. His baby just dies. He has no choice." He rocks back and forth in his rusted lawn chair. He looks at the girl for a moment and then stares at blade of grass in the cracked pavement. He was captured by what he saw as if he was watching a memory.

"I see." Jamie replied not sure whether or not to drink the coffee. It was still warm enough to sip. "I would like to ask you a question if you don't mind." Jamie shifted her weight from one leg to the other. She ran her fingers along the rim of the rejected red and green holiday cup from Starbucks. "How are you showing the love of Christ to the clinic's patients?"

Shocked and surprised he broke his concentration that was focused on the ground. He looked at her and replied, "Christ? You mean Jesus? Who said anything about loving Jesus?"


Something Human

We were discussing tomatoes at work.

Some people have strong feelings about them tomatoes, mostly negative too. Ashleigh said her cousins loved them. They lived on a farm and they’d gross her out with their tomato-eating practices. She said they’d eat them right off the plant. That they’d put them tomatoes into their mouths and bite them like you would an apple.

She showed me with her hands how the juice would flow from the corners of their mouths. It’d go down over their jaws and seep into their clothes—tomato blood, placenta, and seeds.


Dream Categories

I finished Douglas Coupland's book, Microserfs, a little while ago. It's about a group of people just out of college who begin by slaving away at Microsoft--completely entrenched in the computer world. They live so much in their brains and in the contact between fingertips and keyboard that the rest of their bodies go sheepishly neglected. They break away from Microsoft to start their own company (the fabulous allure of one point oh) and move in with the main character's parents. I came away with the overwhelming sweetness of friendship, of being brains and bodies and souls, and of taking a risk to create something new.

And anyway, Coupland helps introduce each character by giving a list of his or her seven dream Jeopardy! categories. The seven categories to which nervous contestant so-and-so sighs in relief because heshe is an expert concerning those things. So here is a partial list of the people treasured by the Westovarians:

1. Arsenal
2. Why his preferences for arbitrary things are, in fact, important
3. Hiking in Washington
4. The Internet
5. Nice shirts
6. Dance music
7. The coolness of Levin in contrast to that of Anna K.

1. 90's Nickelodeon cartoons
2. Tolkien
3. Arsenal FC
4. Golf banter
5. The Big Lebowski
6. Speed traps on I-90
7. Sufjan songs

1. Sex and the City
2. Zumba
3. How it's not working with that one guy
4. Ways to abbreviate words
5. Frowny faces
6. Snacks
7. Running

1. Lutheran theology
2. The ins and outs (and what-have-yous) of wearing Chaco sandals year round
3. Parenthetical interjections
4. Jeopardy!
5. Star Wars/Halo/Mass Effect/BSG/Armory Wars/etc. storyline (basically a Sci-Fi geek)
6. Video games
7. Biblical Languages

1. Beer
2. Cats
3. Human anatomy
4. Health food
5. Natural remedies
6. Carnivale
7. Suzanne's sing-song commentary

Please add yourself.


At Cedar and First

Sitting in the Rocket Bakery, trying to write a story about vampires, I saw a man and a little girl walking on the pavement outside. She had a little blue dress with a purple belt and blonde curly hair. He was in green pants and a “Herzog” t-shirt. It was raining steadily, more static than downpour. He picked her up and pointed south, “Look, a train.” He sat her against his chest and crossed his arms over her legs. An aluminum-sided train ran on the tracks above Cedar Street.

The girl clapped her hands against her mouth. A woman brought the man a cup of coffee, and he put the little one down to take it. They watched for a while out in the rain.



Eric, Mitch and I went to the inaugural Spokane Oktoberfest in River Front Park. Sponsored by the Washington Beer Commission, 20 beers from our wonderful state (second only to Colorado) communed for times of stein holding, yodeling, beer drinking, and, in my case, a nap on the lawn. Here are some of the highlights (and busts):

Diamond Knot Brewing—Mukilteo, WA: Vienna (ABV: 5.8%): “Vienna Style Ale. Our answer to an Oktoberfest! Reddish amber in color, the ale has a bright, crisp flavor with a malty finish,” says the program. A red beer with a bit more kick than Mac & Jack’s African Amber, it’s a cross between an angry amber and a light Spaten Optimator.

Elliott Bay Brewing—Burien, WA: Organic Washington Pumpkin Ale (ABV: 7.6%): Tastes strongly of nutmeg.

Elysian Brewing—Seattle, WA: Night Owl Our Original Pumpkin Ale (ABV: 5.9%): Boasts that they brew seven pounds of pumpkin per barrel. Eric had this one and the Elliott Bay Pumpkin, and he prefers Elysian’s. “Pumpkin, pumpkin pie!” He says.

Fremont Brewing—Seattle, WA: Mystere du Rayon (ABV: ?): A harvest ale that tasted like a cross between an amber and a cider. Maybe they just mixed some together.

Laht Neppur Brewing—Waitsburg, WA: Oatmeal Porter (ABV: 6%): The program says it has “strong coffee and chocolate flavors,” but we’ll never know because Eric knocked his over.

Iron Horse Brewery—Ellensburg, WA: Malt Bomb: a dark beer that tastes like a toasty thick milkshake.

Northern Ales—Northport, WA: Smoked North Porter (ABV: 6%): Keep an eye out for this little brewery as it’s expanding to Kettle Falls. The man wearing the Viking hat told me that they’re looking to distribute to Spokane in the next year. It took me twenty minutes to get through six ounces of the Smoked North Porter. A charming motor oil color, I’d like to take that beer camping with me. It smells like my apartment and tastes like a fire pit.

Paradise Creek Brewery—Pullman, WA: Dirty Blonde (ABV: 5.2%): Mitch refused to try any beers from Pullman. This not-spicy blonde didn’t taste like much. The sign said that the ladies liked it too... not my kind of ladies.

And now for the Best o’ the Westovs:

3rd—Elliott Bay Brewing: Hop Von Boorian (ABV: 5.5%): Don’t let the low alcohol content and the light color fool you. This Belgian-inspired IPA is a kick in the face.

2nd—Georgetown Brewing—Seattle, WA: Lucille IPA (7.2%): “Anything that tastes that good has to be named Lucille.” It’s everything you want an IPA to be, a field of flowers in a glass. Aromatic, crisp, complex. Really well done.

1st—Laht Neppur Brewing: Autumn Warmer (ABV: 8%): The highest in alcohol content, I tried it first—the love child of a pumpkin ale and an IPA. Burnt umber in color. Sweet, smooth, spicy. It’ll hold your hand and keep you warm, the best counselor for October.


wine and lamps and schools in africa.

I'm in a book club with 30 to 40 year old women who bitch and drink wine and laugh and bitch some more.

We read A Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. The novel was in the 'fad' section of Barnes and Noble. After two or so weeks of the release date it was anointed with a 20% discount sticker on the upper right hand corner because they overstocked. It's a sloppy, not all that interesting satire of what is to come with technology and iphones and the impending doom of the United States government and economy. It had moments of witty and cleverness, but over all it's drenched in badly written social drama scenes. And it's super raunchy.

The majority of our discussion was not about the book, (to my relief, it doesn't merit much discussion except that you should think about the decisions you make and that China is eventually going to kick our red, white, and blue inflated ass)

no, we talked about a lamp purchase.

Michelle and I walked into Andrea's house together. She's back into the social scene. She had a baby six weeks ago and can once again enjoy drinking wine and having sex with her husband. Apparently you have to wait six weeks after giving birth to have sex. (I'm taking notes, folks.)

"Just out of curiosity ladies, how much would you spend on two accent lamps?" Michelle brings up as we all pull out our books from our purses.

I feel a bit out of place. I am wearing Toms shoes, I have no idea what an accent lamp is, and I'm drinking free wine. I'm going to sit out for this discussion.

Andrea speaks up. "Well, what kind of accent lamps are these? Is this the only lighting you have in the room?"

"Mmhmm." Michelle snickers confidently. She's already anticipating the conversation is going in her desired direction.

"I'd spend $250 each." Jade responds.

"If this is a purchase that could make or break the feel of the room, I say $500. each."

I choke on my wine. No one notices, thankfully.

Michelle, now clearly content, decides to tell us the point of her question. "Mike and I got in a fight. Mike's mom gave us $500.00 to spend on the house and we agreed to spend it on lamps for the entry room. I paid $300 for both lamps total. He said I hurt his feelings because I spent too much money."

"Oh my! You are shitting me!" says Linda.

"No, I'm not! He made me cry because he was being so mean, and you know Mike, he is never mean. I was like, what the fuck do you want me to do?" Michelle exclaims.

"Oh okay," Andrea shouts over all the other ladies exclamatory protests. "This is NOT about the lamps. This is about something else. What could it be?"

We spend the rest of the night discussing the alternative, ever so intricate and complicated psychological explanations for why Mike's feeling were hurt over $300.00 lamps.

The next morning I met a bus driver who is trying to raise $10 million dollars for children to go to school in Africa. I am taking pictures for Real Change, a weekly newspaper that the homeless of Seattle sell on the streets. He was on page six. The reporter and I met him in west Seattle. I got there a little early. We had a quick, witty banter about schools and kids and looking for jobs.

"So what exactly are you doing?" I ask.

"I'm about to go around the country and ask every school bus driver, there are 129,000 of them, to give a one time $25 donation to the self-sustaining organization I'm creating for a school principal in Uganda. I'm scared shitless. I have one request as you take your pictures. None of my face, please. It's not about me. It's about the kids."

The man looks like a bus driver. Beer belly, a long pony tail, broken glasses, and a missing tooth. I take a few shots of his hands. The reporter comes and I prepare to leave.

As I walk out of the room he calls out to me.

"Goodbye artist."



There’s a woman named Vita who hangs out at the Y. She’s a member, 80 years old, and she spends most of her time in the lobby crocheting or falling asleep. She’s in a motorized chair—“I can’t find my cane,” she once told Melissu. “I put it on the back of my chair, and it must have fallen off. I hate this chair. I hate that they put me in this dang chair.” She talks waveringly, quietly, and a lot. When she sits over by the windows, we send someone every once in a while to check that she’s breathing.

Vita has two braids of thin gray hair, and today she showed me some pictures. She makes things for the fair. She showed me pictures of pillowcases, cushion cases, and Afghans. They were all in bright colors with patterns she designed herself. Then she showed me a picture of her two cases of ribbons. They were mostly blue, and she hung them sideways in rows and columns like a formation of airplanes.

“Are the blue ones first place and the red ones second?” I asked.

“The blue ones are the first place ribbons and the red ones are for second place.

“The first time I entered something at the fair I got a first and a second. I entered a cake and an Afghan. Guess which got the second.” She said.

“The Afghan,” I said.

“The cake! They said that it needed more spice. If it had more spice it would have gotten first. I don’t like the spice so I didn’t put as much in.

“Guess what fruit was in the cake. It was a fruitcake with only one type of fruit. Guess which fruit was in the cake.” She said.

“Apples,” I said.

I was leaning over the counter so I could hear her. She bent forward in her chair. Her face turned bright and mischievous.

“Raisins,” she said. “They call raisins a fruit.”


What Happened to Mr. Feeny?

Grab a cookie or a cup of coffee; this is a long one.

Everyday I become more baffled, humbled, angered, and inspired by the education system in the United States.

Right now I am untainted and naive in regards to the day to day life of making lessons plans, dealing with dealing or not dealing with parents, the administrative and political systems etc. With a fresh and idealist eyes, I want to explore why I want to teach.

I could rush into a great teaching program, get my master's degree, and then find myself wondering why I did this in the first place.

Yesterday over wine and beer and pizza Brea told me that her initial reasons of why she wanted to be a nurse have changed after one year of being a RN. But she still wants to be a nurse. She deeply cares about the medical field and infectious diseases. Just get her a book on tapeworm or malaria and she'll be a happy camper.

Why do I want to subject myself to the school system in the US?
What is education?
How does my desire to teach seek the truth of the gospel?

Something to consider:

The US is ranked 5th in the world for cumulative K-12 education spending per student in 2006.
That same year, the US was ranked 21st in science literacy and 25th in math literacy.

23% of new teachers in the United States come from the top third of their college classes.

47% of new teachers in the US come from the bottom third.

In countries such as Finland, Singapore, and South Korea 100% of educators come from the top third of their graduating class, first-year teaching positions are regarded the way Americans see first-year medical residencies-- the beginning of an elite career.*

Airplane small talk:

"So what do you want to do with French, teach?"
"Yes I do. I want to teach high school or middle school."
"Wow, good luck. You are brave. I would never want to do that."

I guess there is prestige in teaching in the United States. (Especially if you do Teach for America. You are doing the country a great two year voluntary service and then you can go and find yourself a real job. But for those of you who want do this as a career, you are f-ing crazy.)

The concept of education that I want to exemplify is this:

Education has little to do with how talented or intelligent a person is, but more to do about how a person wants and desires to impact the community around them.

As a teacher I hope to:
-Genuinely Love what I teach, but love my students exactly where they are more. (and to embrace the fact that they may not give a shit about what I have to say.)

-Show that I am a human being. Kids are conditioned to pay attention for 30 minutes with interspersed interruptions. Teachers are protrayed on Cartoon Network as ugly, stupid, mean, and clueless to what life is actually like. (I nannied all summer, I've watched the shows.) Our generation loved and respected Boy Meets World's Mr. Feeny. Where did he go?

-Promote and acknowledge the value of reading. And reading well.

-Provide opprountities for students to see that the books we are reading or the topics we are discussing in class can have concrete connections to their daily life. I don't want to teach trivial bullshit.

-Construct my methods as best I can to keep students from "playing school". I spent so much time in high school trying to figure out how I could manipulate the syllabus to get the grade I needed with the least amount of effort. More often than not, that process took a significant amount of effort. Interesting.

-Promote personal and social awareness. Many of the decisions and choices we make in reference to other people are based upon our previous experiences. This can be very dangerous. You cannot rely on personal history and overlook facts to assume whatever makes sense in your mind is the truth. (I now recommend reading or watching 12 Angry Men.)

-To take life seriously enough to play in it. (Hence the Forest Gump poster I want in my classroom.)

-Show that education has significant implications to one's life. By knowing, you are responsible. Jonathan Safran Foer's book Eating Animals, along with many other publications buzzing around are revealing the cruelty and dangers of factory farming in the United States. Education can suck. I love eating salmon.

Alex Nelson told me yesterday something his professor said (I am taking liberties with the phrasing):
"We are supposed to love each other. We love each other or we die. But we don't love each other. We choose not to. So we mask love with education. Instead we try to understand each other."

I hope to point towards the fact that education can open the way for love, not cripple it.

I may feel as if I'm defending Tom Robinson from Bob Ewell every year I am alive or a teacher, or however my convictions morph themselves in my life, but I'll still do it.

Because, "I aint got a original thought in my head. If it aint got the lingerin scent of divinity to it then I aint interested." (Read the Sunset Limited.)

Because at the end of the day I am accountable to Christ. That is what ultimately matters.

*Stats and other information come from Time Magazine's article, "A Call to Action for Public Schools" by Amanda Ripley. Sources also come from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; National Center for Educational Statistics.


On Being 23

I think a lot about what it means to be a 23-year-old. Growing up I always had this vague feeling that I was going to die at 18, that there would be nothing after high school. In my family, going to college was, like high school (and dying), another automatic thing you did. So I’m fascinated with the reality of surviving my teenage years and living, for the first time, when my life isn’t scripted for me.

I’ve noticed that there isn’t a lot of cultural input for our age group. I think this is because we have no money, generally. There aren’t many financial benefits making us the target audience for commercials. So there’s no pressure in what our living spaces should look like, what deodorants we should wear, how to feed our kids, etc. And those of us who are graduated or conscientious undergraduate objectors don’t have homework or class to tell us how to use our time.

Sometimes I feel happy for no other reason than my age. I mean, look at us 23-year-olds. We’re beautiful. With nice skin and taught bottoms.

It feels a little scandalous that I can function in society like this. I mean, I make enough money to live on by working part-time at the Y. And when I’m not working I spend my time buying food, doing laundry, riding my bike, drinking beer, and hanging out with friends. It seems too good to be allowed in a competitive capitalistic country. (This was going somewhere, but I’m a dogfish head 90-minute IPA in and losing my focus.)

I feel somewhere in between brushing my teeth with a bottle of Jack and a dish soap commercial, which leaves a lot of wiggle room. Which is excellent.



Today, I looked out my window to see a man picking through the garbage across the street. He frequents Riverside, walking up and down. He has a thick gray and brown beard and wears a hood over his head. I’ve seen him sitting on the benches in the tree groves on the medians.
He has a Mexican blanket. It’s brightly colored in blues, yellows and greens. There are vertical stripes around a sun pattern in the middle. He was wearing it over his shoulders like a robe. I asked him what he was looking for, and he said, “I am seeking my brothers. Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.”

I told art professor, Gordon Wilson, about what I had seen. He said he’s been interested in what we throw away. Once he had so much stuff to take to the dump that he had to borrow his friend’s truck. When he got there he stood in the bed and looked through a stack of paintings to be discarded. The oldest one was on the top, and as he went through each one he could remember when each had some promise. One canvas after another he threw like a Frisbee. They went pretty far. When he got to the end he borrowed a shovel from the man dumping trash next to him to get the rest of the debris out of the truck.
“I was considering some spiritual things,” he said “because of how I had borrowed my friend’s truck and how the man next to me had lent me his shovel and how those paintings were flying.”
He said that he saw a man laboring under a rotary clothesline, carrying it over his shoulder, as he walked through the rubble.

They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they aspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer.”


He kindly stopped for me --

I smashed a spider on my wall and left it there for years. Guts smeared onto a picture I had taped up of Lindsay holding someone’s baby. I had learned about the crosses on the roadsides into Rome, how they hung criminals there and left them.

Kris asked how old people were when they first got scared of spiders. He said that babies didn’t care. They play with mud on their arms. I answered with something I’d heard that wasn’t half as interesting.

In Annie's and my bathroom, spiders came out to die. Whenever we saw one alive, we knew that in a day or two it’d be on its back legs in a bundle. As if they wanted our company.

And when I died in the room with the tubes and white walls, the spiders held mass. They forgave me for my times of persecution, when I washed their cousins down the shower drain with hot water. They remembered me as a baby, playing with rolly-pollies on the driveway and putting ants in my hair. They folded their legs and bowed their cephalothoraxes in silence. Then the spiders started a solemn march, and they crawled up my nose.

It's odd that humans don't have exoskeletons

odd that they leave corpses instead of husks. It makes sense, of course, physiologically; at their size, humans’ legs would snap beneath the weight of their shells.

They might have come from insects. They smile without expression. Curl into wafers. Fly into bikers’ mouths.

But of course they didn’t. Insects are biologically perfect.

For every person there is an Olympic-sized pool of bugs. Invertebrates are the masters of the planet.

Except for lobsters. They don’t seem to have it so good.


Writing and Living, I guess.

I am now finally settled from the settling. I moved to Seattle. Most people ask me for an explanation, (especially because I don't have a job), and I can't give them one that would satisfy a reasonable, practical response. Sorry.

My unreasonable and impractical response is that I get to live with friends. My dear friend Erin Cooley is going to marry med school next year (she will have a life, but it could be in Seattle, Boston, the Bronx) and I have always wanted to spend a significant amount of time with her.

We eat and sleep and shower in a cave on Ravenna St. Apparently it's in a "yuppie" part of town. I have to rely on map quest to go four feet in any given direction, so I'm just going to trust that that is true.

Die Bierstube is becoming quite the hang out. (I still miss the Bigfoot) Good people and good times to be had for sure. Maybe they are hiring.

I live with another kid named Nick who I met the day I signed the lease. He likes good music, he fixes things like our water purifier, and helped me research my property law rights. I'm a fan. Again, I just trusted that Erin found a stellar third mate. (I was actually the 3rd one to jump on board, but just work with me here.)

Despite the fact that I'm unemployed I always find myself doing things. That is great. I need to be entertained. Just ask Leslie Dugas, Amy Brown or Jon Fox.

I also realized something. A challenge for myself I guess. One of my main goals was, and still is, to find the silliest things to do so I can write about them and share them with you. That will happen simply by default. I can't seem to help getting myself into some sort of trouble. That goal is great, but I think the need to seek silliness derives from some weird fear, I guess. I am afraid that if I'm not doing anything interesting, I have nothing interesting to write about. Fiction is scary to me. I would rather fiddle around with a pre-made template than rely on my own imagination. Maybe I'm not giving myself enough credit. Or maybe I am subconsciously self-aware that my writing skills remain within the delight confinements of non-fiction observation. I guess we'll see.

Or maybe I'll be riding the bus one day and come up with a kick ass wizard who has an owl, an invisible cloak, takes on the most evil character who's name can't even be spoken aloud and become richer than the queen of england.

It could happen.


Why Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a Better Movie than Inception

So Rotten Tomatoes gave Inception an 87% on the Tomatometer while it gave Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen a 20%. (But it only gave Sex and the City 2 a 16% so how accurate can it be?) I have also become the first of my facebook friends to “Like” TRF. Thanks to RT I thought of like literally like “Like”ing it.

TRF is a better movie than Inception because it better satisfies its intended audience. Transformers: RF is cinematically the most possibly realized dream of a twelve-year-old while Inception is an under-realized movie about dreaming.

When I was a kid I played by myself a lot—Legos, Littlest Pet Shop, Barbies, blocks, dolls, this castle thing that my grandma insisted belonged to my brothers. I’d lie on the floor in my room and imagine different scenes for my toys. I could do that all afternoon. TRF is Amy-as-a-kid’s kind of movie: rapid cuts from scene to scene for the ADD inclined, stunning visuals, a plot fit to the machinations of a fourteen-year-old, and maximum wish fulfillment for the kids who spend time playing on their bellies. It doesn’t fly so well with adults out of their floor-playing prime: critics who want to be surprised or moved or for whom sci-fi aesthetics carry little weight. It’s fine, they’re great people, just not the targeted audience.

Inception is more entertaining than TRF, although it lacks TRF’s aesthetic supreme awesomeness. Inception was also disappointing; it had the potential to do more than entertain. It could have pointed to something outside of itself, stuck with people made them think, reached the level of art. But it ended cheaply, with a gimmick. The movie itself was too sloppy to warrant careful observation (If Leo wanted his kids so bad, why didn’t he just have them come to France?), and the question it finally asked—the idea for the audience to incept—was a boring one. Is this world real? You can think about it for 20 minutes before deciding that there is no way to know and that it ultimately affects your life not at all.

When I was watching the previews for Inception in the theater. Eureka! this idea struck me: what I want most out of life is to be entertained. It depressed me as I went to get popcorn. But at one point—when I spent my time with small plastic animals and toy cars turned into robots—I wanted most to populate my world with characters, with ideas, with friends, and entertainment was more of the by-product than the goal.


I've noticed something unfortunate.

When I was a kid in Sunday school or regular school or at camp, people were rewarded for good behavior and punished for bad. Child rearing was pretty deterministic in its use of positive and negative reinforcement. Kids who were listening quietly would be called on first or would be picked for special things. Kids who were noisy would be glared at, ignored, sent to the hall, or given a good talking to. It set up this precedent that good things came to good, or at least well-behaved, people.

The other day at the Y, a child in the day camp lost a shoe. On his way out he asked the front desk, “Have you seen a shoe that looks like this?” pointing to his one shoe-clad foot. Later his mother came back to the Y. She was livid. Said that the Y owed her a new pair of shoes. She threatened to call the police (?). And started walking all over the building, where as a non-member she was not supposed to be. Two managers, a custodian, and two camp counselors were searching everywhere for the shoe. Everybody just wanted to appease her so she would go away and not further muck up their day.

If she were a child she would be sent to the hall. She would be taught how sometimes children lose things. It’s just what they do, and throwing a fit won’t make it any better. I’d tell her how looking for her son’s shoe is not worth five people’s time.

But because she is an adult, telling her all this would just make her angrier, make the fiasco last longer. She was given special treatment because she was behaving badly.

And that’s how things seem to work in business. If a patron complains about her food (and especially if she starts going berserk) she’s given a free meal. Companies bend rules and give out free things to appease angry people. Adults are rewarded for bad behavior, and good things come to those who are pushy.


On "Where I'm Calling From"

“Roxy takes my hand. She’s a tall, good-looking woman in a knit cap. She has on a coat, a heavy sweater, and slacks. I recall what J.P. told me about the boyfriend and the wire cutters. I don’t see any wedding ring. That’s in pieces somewhere, I guess. Her hands are broad and the fingers have these big knuckles. This is a woman who can make fists if she has to.”

I read “Where I’m Calling From” again and I realized why (or at least one of the reasons) I like it so much. It’s mystified me a bit before because there is so much darkness in it: broken marriages, alcoholism, violence, etc. I thought before that I liked it because all that stuff was in it. Real stuff. Not a fairy tale. And Raymond Carver writes it in such a matter-of-fact way that you can’t cry or get dramatic about it. It’s not for catharsis or for an inspirational ending. But I realized that the reason I like it is because the character Roxy is so awesome.

“They told Roxy she should take the kids and clear out. But Roxy said it was her problem. She got herself into it, and she’d solve it.”

She goes ahead and kisses the narrator when he asks. She kisses him for luck when it’s the first time she’s met him.

“She moves over. She takes me by the shoulders—I’m a big man—and she plants this kiss on my lips. ‘How’s that?’ she says.
‘That’s fine,’ I say.
‘Nothing to it,’ she says. She’s still holding me by the shoulders. She’s looking me right in the eyes. ‘Good luck,’ she says, and then she lets go of me.”

She’s not perfect. When J.P.’s drinking gets really bad, she gets a boyfriend. She breaks J.P.’s nose, stuff like that. But when she comes to visit J.P. at Frank Martin’s Drying Out Facility, you can tell that she loves him. Her wedding ring’s gone, her husband has the shakes, and still. “Then—she can’t wait any longer—she slips her arm around J.P. and kisses him on the cheek.” Her support extends even to the narrator, a man she doesn’t know, who we know has cheated on his wife, cares kind of about his girlfriend’s cancer (or whatever it is), who is trying to dry out like the rest of them to get things figured out. She kisses him, tells him “good luck,” and she means it.

That takes something, but I don’t know exactly what. Love. Presence of mind. Forgiveness. Empathy. Bravery. Awesomeness. Fool’s hope. I don’t know; it’s something. Remarkable at least.


Annie in August.

"They pulled out."

"What?" I was in a tea shop. I had just stuffed a cream puff in my mouth before I got the call. I tried to gather the information while wiping off the powdered sugar garnish that landed on my lips. Mark was not good at filling in the necessary blanks of his message. Normally conciseness is good, given that everyone within the conversation knows what's going on. I bet he was good at breaking up with girls. Actually, I'm pretty sure he was on the other side of that equation.

"Chase middle school, they're out. Could you still get that other job you were looking into?"

No I cannot. Alright America, if you really don't want me to help you I'll back off.

"I'll figure something out, Thank you for informing me."

"I'm really sorry."

"Well, thanks."

I've got two flesh-eating blisters on the bottom of both feet. I have to walk on my tiptoes. I used to walk on my tiptoes by choice when I was three. I had to wear a cast to correct my bad habit. I also have a popped blood vessel in my left eye that is itchy and dry and somewhat terrifying to look at.


My sister squeals. "I AM SO EXCITED!!!" "I move into my dorm room in 2 days! Elizabeth hall 218!"
"Annie, how should I pack my clothes? Should I put everything in boxes? I cannot wait to live in my little room! I wish I could bring the puppy!"


"So, Annie."
"What's up, mom?"
"Because we are remodeling my bathroom and your bathroom at the same time, we are going to have to shower at the neighbor's. It actually works out perfectly!"
"I see."
"It will be a cottage theme. Granite counter tops."
"That should look nice."


"I am officially a student!"
"Congratulations, Dad! Are you excited?"
"Oh yeah, it should be a blast. I have orientation tomorrow and I'll sign up for my classes."


I turned down a teaching assistantship in France, a Masters in Teaching program, received rejection e-mails or phone messages from 19 out of the 20 Americorps positions that I applied for. I was hired by one position and a week later the job disappeared. The one thing I am good at is fucking up. (I don't actually believe that, but it almost needs to be said.)

I went for a bike ride today. Applied to another job. Read for awhile. First the newspaper, not so good. One teacher from every school in the Portland district will find out in the next week that they don't have a job come the first day of school. Many of them have families, mortgages, and a hopeful, but not an optimistic travel fund to see Europe for the first time next summer. Six million Pakistanis who were affected by the flooding are without any humanitarian aid. People are tired of giving funds to natural disasters. Haiti, Katrina, Sri Lanka. Besides, aren't there Taliban extremists in Pakistan? Yeah, and what about that mosque they want to build near ground zero?... you get the problem. I digress...

I switched my attention to Michael Charbon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and a dictionary. He is a good writer. I wrote down my favorite words because of how they sound aloud. craggy. subsumed. sumptuous. limn. insalubrious. incongruous chrome. I never thought to pause and take note of how beautiful the English language can be. I've been stuck in French phrases and conjugations. I have so much to learn. So much to read.

A bird took a shit yesterday on my copy of Kavalier and Clay, my sundress, and my left knee.

I write this out of sheer wonder and amazement, not a cry for pity. In a strange, twisted way it's quite comical. After all, sometimes words of comfort lend greater credence to my fears of Annie in August and beyond.*

i'm surprisingly aplomb.

*= "...words of comfort lent greater credence to his fears." -Kavalier and Clay. Can't take credit for it.


Spent $800

Being a mattress salesman would be weird. Couples come into your store, er, warehouse looking for a place to sleep, have sex, or widdle away their insomnia.

Mitch and I bought a mattress. Our salesman, Mick, was in his sixties and had bad teeth and lots of hair. Mitch told him we wanted a queen and he said it looked like Mitch already had a queen, meaning me. I didn’t tell him that “Queen” is a term for a flamboyant or bitchy gay man, and that I hoped Mitch did not, in fact, have one.

I spent the rest of the shopping time lying on different beds. Trying them out on my side, on my back, “Oh! a stomach sleeper." He stood over us and talked away. He told us about how great marriage was. “My wife turned me into a good man. I mean, I was a pretty great guy before, but it’s because of her that I’m a good man.” And he plunked down next to us on one mattress to show the lack of over-all bounciness.

“Honey (that’s me apparently), make sure you try out your side of the bed.” If you’d like to know, Mitch and I don’t have sides of the bed. We’re a modern couple. But I thought, really Mick? Of course! People don’t come to a mattress store looking for a mattress. They’re looking for a side of the mattress. It’s quite convenient buying a mattress with another person. Kind of wasteful buying a bed with two sides for just one person. This must be the reason people get married.

I vow to join my side of the mattress to your side of the mattress. We will split the cost of box springs.

We bought a mattress, “Vera Wang for Serta.” I’m not sure how much designing Vera had to do for it. It’s rectangular, padded, white. Not at all what I expect from high fashion.

The most expensive mattresses had rhinestones all over them.

We wanted to pay over a year same as cash, but Wells Fargo denied our application for a card. Right there in front of Mick. (“It’s ok, honey.”) Mitch was also saying “lovely” a lot, like a younger Jerry Sitser.

It is ok, honey. Nothing really mattress.


Something I'm Trying Out

I have made Westovarian part deux on Tumblr, an up-and-coming (maybe) little blog program. We'll see how it goes.


A Honeymoon with My Parents

The only thing that sounds worse is A Honeymoon With The In-laws. Ben Stiller could star in it, and it would be full of awkwardness and frustration. It’d probably wind up not-as-funny as the movie makers intended it to be, but of course it’d make plenty of money because there are people who enjoy those kind of movies—the trying-to-be-funny-but-not kind.

Mitch and I are in that movie. He said to me, “I’m having fun. I just had different expectations. I thought it’d be more honey moon, rather it’s like a family vacation.” I’m telling you all this because I’d rather you hear it from me. In-laws sounds so much worse than My Parents, so I figure it’d be worse coming from Mitch.

The first three days we spent by ourselves, sort of. The day after the wedding we went home to see my aunt Suzie before she headed back to Indy. Then we had two days in Denver capped by dinner and a Rockies game with the Kuck family. We slept on the floor in Lindsay’s apartment. Wednesday we went back to my parents’ house. Thursday we went up to Fort Collins to my brothers’ college house (with my brothers). And now we’re hiking Maroon Bells with the whole gang and the Lungs and Rachel. Mitch and I are sharing a room (ok, it’s a two-bedroom apartment.) with the rest of my family* and Lindsay and Matt. The six of us (my family + Mitch) drove here in one car. I’m writing to you from our balcony on the fourth floor, my feet up on a woodsy ottoman, with nothing but the slopes and the sky in front of me. Jessica’s inside preparing a Mexican feast.

On our eleven-mile hike today I was thinking about expectations and insecurities. Rachel and I have talked about how getting a boyfriend eliminates some insecurities of singleness, but it also provides all new ones. Getting married works like that too. The insecurity of your boyfriend just randomly breaking up with you goes away—much harder to break up, anyway. But it’s replaced by the insecurity being perpetually resented for replacing honey moon-esque activities with hanging out with your family and family friends. There’s also the fear that my being married will make me old, boring, and tame.

I ran into plenty wedding expectations. It’s one of those things about which everybody has an opinion. Honey Moon expectations are a little different. When you tell someone (like a server or valley parking or your neighbors in the hot tub) they look at you like they’re surprised you’re not having sex in front of them. Lots of knowing winks or glances and some confusion about what we’re doing in Colorado instead of the Caribbean.

And the tough thing about all these insecurities and thwarted expectations is that they don’t mean a damn thing—in fact, they’re enriching—if my marriage with Mitch is loving and fun (both for us and for other people). But if the marriage turns very sour they become bad omens or reasons for discontent. They are retroactively significant. My future self will present these facts in whatever light it wants to. We construe and construe our pasts.

*I didn’t know about this rooming arrangement until mile ten on the hike. The pajamas I brought aren’t really family time appropriate. Thank you, Annie Dugas.


Homing Device

I stumbled upon these articles and thought I'd write a poem about it.


They had eaten her lettuce,
ravaged her petunias,
devastated her beans.

She was too kindly a person
to kill them
with pellets or salt.

So she took them to a nearby

It is gardener's lore
that snails have a homing device.

The ground-based radar
illuminates the guided missile
to find and track its target.



Having a Wedding is a lot like Turning Five

Five is around the age where birthdays were the most important. You were old enough to realize what was going on and young enough that they were the event of the year. It was your special day, and you got cake. Hey, maybe even a party dress.

I’m taking some time right now to visit the burgeoning land of Starbucks and read over an email Jill sent me. (Jill was my youth pastor in high school, presently my good friend, and the person officiating (Tweet!) the ceremony.) It’s called “Service of Christian Marriage With Options” and lists choices for traditional declarations of intent, relinquishments, vows, and exchanges of rings. In true five-year-old-birthday-party fashion, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the hats and kazoos of the reception than to the important parts.

I’ve been thinking about what you can honestly promise someone in a situation like this. Promise too little and you absolutely depress the pants off people. Promise too much and I’ll be retching on the altar (or in my seat if it’s you getting married).

Kevyn Stokes, reputable source and fellow Westovarian, told me that Whitworth professor Rob Clark said the following about marriage:

You can’t promise that you’re going to like ‘em. You can’t control that. You can only promise things that are in your control, and the only thing you can control is that you’ll be there.

“I’m not usually that impressed by him, but I was like, ‘Way to go, Rob.’” Kevyn said in reflection.

I promise I won’t make you go to the dentist’s by yourself, and I will commiserate when you get speeding tickets. I’ll be present with you whether I like it or not.

Each of the options in Jill’s email mentions love. There’s that problem of love. Annie said to me one day in a fit of epiphany, “I don’t even really know what love is.” Pop-Christian culture wants to simplify love—love is a choice—which stinks of a homosexuality rebuttal to me. Hallmark wants to make some bucks off it. Regular pop culture wants to mystify romantic love and elevate it to the status of destiny and life purpose. And biology traces it to our hormones and our sense of smell.

And I can’t help thinking getting married will feel like turning five. I’ll wake up on my birthday being five-years old, but I’ll feel a lot like I did when I was four years old. Not any different, actually. I won’t feel married (kabloomers). I won’t be any less selfish or any more loving than I am now. I won’t be any better at sharing my living space or being helpful. And I’ll still be just as pointlessly competitive. But I hope by the time I turn six years old or twenty years old, I’ll have figured out how to be five.


The Big West by Bicycle

Well she's chuggin down the track, chuggaluggin down the track. -Jalan Crossland

I went on the fourteenth anniversary ride of the Tour De Wyoming last week. They've never covered the same area twice on this tour, meaning that 13 areas were more appealing than our route. We covered southwest Wyoming, southeast Idaho, and northeast Utah. We rode 350 strong into towns as big as Kemmerer (home of the first JC Penney, the locals won't hesitate to tell you) with 2600 people and as small as Garden City, 400, and Cokeville, 500, to stay the night. They sell Pepsi products in Cokeville, incidentally.

Bike tours, as far as I know, create an interesting social atmosphere not unlike church camp for adults. Some people sleep in tents and some in the gyms of the schools we camp at. The average age was about 50. I couldn't tell most people apart. They were primarily skinny, gray-haired, and wearing helmets, sunglasses, and brightly-colored spandex. At one rest stop I fumbled my Gatorade all over some lady, and I'm not sure if I saw her again or not.

One day we had such a bad crosswind that my mom complained about snot coming out of her left nostril and hitting her right eye.

Muscularily the 370 miles were taxing, but the worst part about riding that far was the "saddle sores" a.k.a. how much that damn bike seat hurt your crotch. (I also had troubles getting my leg over the top of my bike frame. I grabbed my foot in order to help it over for a couple of days.)

One of my compatriots (to be remained annonymous in order to restore some of her privacy) had such bad saddle sores that she could only ride the first three days. The last three she rode the sag wagon. To sag: v. to ride in a car, to be compared to an old woman's breasts. In our small bike community, news like this gets around. It's difficult to find things to talk about in the dinner line. Some staples were the Tour de France, the ride just completed, the ride coming up tomorrow, and saddle sores. These lovely well-meaning strangers would ask my compatriot how her crotch was doing. One man gave her some balm for chaffing and some other balm for bruising. "Is it like an open wound?" He asked her, "because if it is you probably shouldn't use the bruise balm."

She told us later that it was probably the only time that when a stranger broatched the subject of her nether regions, he would not only not get slapped, but would be thanked profusely. She's an introvert, and I think the whole experience was a bit much.

And I actually found myself sad on that last day. No more waking up at 5 a.m. in the dark to pack up the tent and stand in breakfasts lines (these towns had no notion of the meaning of haste) to ride 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 miles in the middle of nowhere. No more looking at road kill, skunks mostly, or cruising down empty hills. No more looking up (ouch, my neck!) to see the bobbing silhouettes of my fellow cyclists somewhere down the road. No more being caked with aspalht dust or burned by the sun.

And I dream of a trailer in Bolser, Wyoming with tires on the roof, dear. And you by my side. And we can pitch horse shoes and stray cats on Sunday. Yeah, we can have hot wings and bourbon for breakfast. Ah, we can watch Flinstones and draw unemployment. Yes, I dream of Bosler when I close my eyes.


Wish Me Luck

I’m leaving today for a week-long bike trip across Wyoming. I’m afraid the only thing I’ll be thinking this next week is that my butt hurts. Pedal, butt hurts, pedal, butt hurts. The whole thing sounded like a lot more fun a couple months ago when the plan was to be in GREAT SHAPE.

On the way to Fort Collins yesterday (where I’m calling from), Mom and Terry told stories from previous cycling trips. In Iowa, they had to shower in the state fair sheep barn. There were no sheep in it at the time. Terry said it was a huge building, bigger than a gymnasium, and had black trash bags hung across the middle to separate the men from the women. You walked in and there was this crowd of naked women with intense bike tan lines. There were PVC pipes hanging down with little holes in them providing the water. And then a woman with a ghost-buster pack came through spraying for mosquitoes. “It looked like Auschwitz,” Terry said.

They also talked about tornado-grade storms, Vaseline use, and getting lost. They told me that they’d put down the tent each morning if my cousin, Becky, and I ran to get in the coffee truck line each morning.

At least there’s coffee.