12.30.2011

Paper Folders

Creativity is not so much more than problem solving. - Cousin Becky


Part of the same family -- my aunt Susie is a wonderful quilter, my cousin Becky is a professional potter, my mom makes costumes and sets and other large-scale decorations. There is a lot of artistic or at least craft talent on my mom's side of the family. But I want to talk about my cousin Aaron and my uncle Jim in particular.

Uncle Jim has been folding Origami for a long time. When my family would go to Indiana for Christmas he would teach us, as kids, how to fold stars and boxes, and he'd make us rings out of dollar bills. When Aaron was old enough and got interested, Jim's interest also picked up. They joined a folding group -- IRON Folders (Indiana Regional Origami Network of Folders), and they occasionally go to conventions or to meet with the authors of origami books.

I wanted to get them to talk more about their hobby, since to me it seems sort of obscure. (I was not one of the cousins to pick up a profound interest or talent in it.) And Jim talked about how he didn't consider himself creative or artistic -- he is an engineer by trade. He just likes to fold.

He talked about a guy, Robert Lang, who was a physicist and well-known folder, who NASA contacted. They needed him to find a way to fold a large lens into a rocket so they could send it into space.

He talked about when my cousin Angie (Aaron's mom) was in the hospital. "For sanitary reasons, we weren't allowed to bring in any real flowers or fruit for decoration. But we could bring in paper," he said. Jim knows dozens of ways to fold flowers.

"I guess that's when paper folding became more important to me."





12.24.2011

Albums of 2011

First, I have some off-genre, for me, albums that I like and wanted to mention. Note: albums listed: band - album - good song to start with/my favorite song depending.

Alabama Shakes - Alabama Shakes - Hold On ... This band reminds me of one you might see, unexpectedly, in some out-of-the way small town bar and, to your shock, realize that you really like them. My favorite lyrics, Hold On, "Bless my heart, bless my soul. Didn't think I'd make it to 22 years old."

The Roots - undun - The OtherSide ... this is a hip hop group. Talented lyricists, great sound. I think I'll do a lot of listening to them on into 2012.

Trombone Shorty - For True - For True ... Jazz musician from New Orleans. His sound really pops and drives. It's very catchy for a jazz album.

And now for the count down. (Where I'm from no one has pinkies.)

8) Adele - 21 – Someone Like You … Diva. I hope everyone has heard this woman’s pipes by now. I think it’s important to mention that she doesn’t over sing her songs. She makes them big, she’s stunning, and she’s not ridiculous – no Super Bowl national anthem singer (but she’s a Brit, so I guess she wouldn’t be). One of my favorite things about her is how awful her speaking voice sounds. Terrible accent. A cackle for a laugh. And a singing voice to bring the house down.

7) Grouplove - Never Trust a Happy Song – Love Will Save Your Soul … This is a great pop record. Accessible, upbeat, youthful with a touch of rebellion. The Peter Pan of the music world.

6) Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues – Helplessness Blues … This band is part of the big switch that has happened for me since 2008. I wasn’t in love with their first album, couldn’t really get into it. On the other hand, Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago is one of my all-time favorites. This year, I’m into this album. Bon Iver’s … meh. I think the difference is that Fleet Foxes has brought a little heat, a little speed, and more cohesion to this album. And they’ve really figured out their harmony and their sound. Mitch and I got to see them at the Chicago theater, which was a highlight.

5) Big Deal - Lights Out – With the World at My Feet … The more I listen to this album, the more I like it. Musically, it’s really growing on me. I wrote a whole big thing on it, see here. It’s a very sexy album. Actually, when I was reading a review on it, I learned a new word: prurience – inordinately interested in matters of sex; lascivious. David Foster Wallace would be so proud.

4) Bright Eyes - The People’s Key – Shell Games … Bright Eyes is back. This album is great, comprehensive. Optimistic. Here’s a guy going from “death obsessed like a teenager. Sold my tortured youth pissing vinegar. I’m still angry with no reason to be” in Shell Games to “One for the breadlines. One for the billionaires. […] One for me. One for you” in the last song. And the wonky guy, whose voice runs through the whole thing talking about aliens and lizard people, comes on at the end saying “love, compassion, art, mercy.”

3) tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l – Bizness … This is a very strong third place. If it weren’t for my felt loyalty to the first and second, this one would rise to the top. Singer Merrill Garbus is a force: in music, confidence, feeling. Her songs are rhythmic and powerful, wrought with tension. I’ve heard her songs described as political, but it’s more of a personal politics. A white girl from Oakland trying to deal with what’s going on in her head and her surroundings – insecurities, incongruities, and stuff most of us don’t like to think or talk about. My favorite lyrics are in the song Killa, “I’m new kind of woman. I’m a new kind of woman. I’m a don’t take shit from you kind of woman.”

2) The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar – Cradle … This band goes big like the album name suggests. The first time I heard them, I knew they were good in a way that doesn’t wear out with the number of listens I give them. I’m confident in their staying power. The album boasts a full complex wall of sound, the kind I can get lost in. I’ve noticed that when I put their songs on a mixed CD, people tend to shut down a little. They’re not, maybe, for the faint of heart.

1) King Creosote and Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine – First Watch … This album is number one for me based on the strength of the first song. One of my favorite things is taking a nap or sitting in a room by myself and being able to hear the activity of people nearby – cooking, talking, washing dishes. That’s what this song sounds like, the voices of people you might love. The sounds of having them near you without actually having to interact with anyone. And then a slow and breathtaking piano melody plays on top of those sounds. The first couple of times I heard it, I felt like I could cry. It struck me as so beautiful. The rest of the brief album (only seven songs) is good too. Merry Christmas, everyone. I wish I could hear you close to me.

12.20.2011

Lights Out

I was planning on doing a “Best Albums of 2011” list, and I still might, but there’s an album that I’ve been hung up on recently for reasons that have little to do with whether it’s “best” or not. So, hang with me, I’ll write through this one and then maybe I can get to the other incredible stuff that has come out in 2011.

It’s an indie guy/girl duo from the UK that, this year, came out with their first record; it's called “Lights Out.” The band’s name is Big Deal. They have a pretty and sleepy sound composed of their two voices, an electric, and an acoustic guitar. The first song of theirs I heard (“Chair”) was on NPR. Alice Costelloe sings, “You don’t trust me to sit on your bed, put me on a chair in the corner instead. You don’t trust me. […] Only want me for my lungs, only want me for the songs I write about you about how I like you.” The male half of the duo, Kacey Underwood, is Costelloe’s guitar teacher and a bit older than her. That fact and the implied possibility that she is singing about (while singing with) him colors my whole listening and interpretation of the album.

These aren’t really love songs, and they aren’t raunchy sex songs, but they are somewhere in between. And they seem to come from the perspective of a young woman on the verge of independence who has fallen for an older man. In the song “With the World at My Feet” she sings, “With the world at my feet, and the stars in my reach. But you won’t be with me. You won’t be with me.” And in “Talk,” “It’s okay, I’m just a kid. It’s okay. I’ll get over it.” It’s that voice and perspective that has hooked me on this thing. It has shocked me a little bit how well these songs have resonated with me, recalling emotions and frustrations from late high school/ early college. I feel like they capture part of my experience that I’ve never heard voiced before.

I talked to a friend, showed her the album, and she confirmed my feelings – And first, I should say, we’re talking about that chunk of years when hormones are going, bodies are pretty much grown, but we are still teens mid adolescence. She said that she remembers feeling an impossible barrier between her and being taken seriously as an adult and partner. I think part of this came from her social and relational inexperience compared to the people who were attractive, older men. (And I don’t mean senior gentleman or anything like that. I’m talking about guys two to six years older, which, at the time, was a big deal.) The guys our same age, with the same experience, often looked about like they did in middle school and just had no shot against the dreamy elusive relative juniors and seniors. Costelloe in “Cool Like Kurt” sings, “Take me to your bed. Don’t take me home. I want to be old. I want to be older.” Which impresses me in its honesty and really hits me because I recognize that lack of tact, and really, of intention. She wants this guy, but she may not even like him. Again in “Talk,” “All I want to do is talk, but seeing you fucks me up.” He doesn’t sound like great company, anyway.

But that’s why I like this album. They get the tension right: the conflict isn’t so much over unrequited love. There was never much love in the first place; it’s a collision of hormones, power, and the struggle to be taken seriously – which is more difficult for women and adolescents.

There’s a charming nostalgia to “Homework,” “Can’t do my homework. Can’t concentrate. It’s ruining my grades. I can’t think straight.” (My friend: Oh, it definitely affected my grades.) And creepy carnal undertones in “Swoon,” “Always hungry, I’ve waited so long to feel your touch. […] Do my bones show enough for your love?” This album bends around feelings of passion, inadequacy, helplessness, and newness so completely that I remembered emotions I hadn’t thought of in years. I felt rueful (again) for having them in the first place and also grateful that somebody had captured them in such a lovely gritty simple medium.

And while I’ve seen relationships work and flourish that have started from these beginnings, most end. “You don’t have to say it’s done. I know. I know.” And she gets over it.

12.11.2011

Bothered

I'm reading Catcher in the Rye. (I'm about midway through.) And I think my gauge for what really has a lot of weight is screwy right now. I mean I think most people would go by Maslow's hierarchy, roughly, in weighing which things are most important. A situation in which someone's in need of food or safety is heavier than one where someone's bored, for example.

But what's getting me this time through reading this book is how nobody will have a drink and talk with Holden. He asks a couple cab drivers, some ladies in a bar, a kid who he's helped tighten her roller skate. Nobody says yes. That's bothering me. That feels like a big deal. He's kicked out of school, he gets beat up a couple of times, he manages to hire a prostitute, but it's irking me more that he really has this one simple request that he can get nothing for.

I was watching Sex and the City last night, season four, on my laptop, and I decided that what happened in that episode was the saddest thing that happened in the entire series. Or at least the saddest line.

Charlotte and Trey are married and live in a gorgeous expensive Park Avenue apartment. They are in the first stages of a divorce. House and Garden Magazine has come to do a feature on their apartment, and Charlotte is thrilled. She says that when she was a little girl she used to put on her mother's pearls and look through H&G magazine.

For a while it looks like Trey won't even show up for the picture, that's how bad things between them have gotten, but at the last minute he does. They take the picture, and Carrie's (as narrator) voice-over says that little girls in their mother's pearls will be watching this magazine thinking Trey and Charlotte are the perfect couple. The camera pans in on their faces, and they smile.

I'm telling you, to me, this is worse than Carrie being left at the alter (spoiler alert?) or Samantha getting breast cancer.

I blame Holden for his catching kids from falling off that crazy cliff all day long.

12.09.2011

Language Inflation

I'm trying to keep it under control.

I try to avoid exclamation marks out of fear that once I start, it will be hard to stop. I'm sure you've seen people in the throws of exclamation mark abuse. They send you texts with four of them regarding coffee and three emoticons (even if you barely know them). I feel deadpan using periods with these people.

I too want to seem excited and nice. I want my text and email recipients to like me. (Please, like me!) But if I use these things when I'm just being friendly, what am I supposed to do when I'm excited? I don't want to get into double- and triple-mark territory, I just don't. It's the gateway drug to writing in all caps, using smiley faces with five mouths, and using expressive punctuation to the point it completely overwhelms the message.

I'm fitting this all under language inflation:

When I write emails at work, I feel compelled to end them with "Thanks,". Even if they haven't done squat for me and I'm not in the least bit grateful. So how am I supposed to differentiate between that and when I am thankful?

Thank you so much!!!!!!!!!

Really thanks.

I sing your praises and laud you above all other.

Maybe you find this boring. It is a language thing after all, and that isn't known for getting libidos working. But what about the age-old conundrum of knowing when/if to say "I love you?" The hesitancy to is, in part, because of language inflation. I don't want to say that unless I mean it. Because if I say things that don't mean much, I lose the power to express myself to others. And it will take wheelbarrows full of kind words to buy a loaf of bread.

12.08.2011

Occupy Something

For most of my life, it was only in gas prices that I could see the effects of government policy or economics. It's incredible how that has changed.

I have a job because of the stimulus package: I work with research grants, and a portion of the package went towards research. More money up for grabs meant more grant applications which meant they needed more people to edit these grants. Which ultimately meant that I got a job after four-months unemployment. Of course, my job runs out sometime next year because that money has about run out.

I read about unemployment, underemployment, and enormous student-loan debt. I've already been unemployed and underemployed, gone the better part of a year without health insurance. My college-educated friends feel lucky holding jobs as baristas and receptionists. My grandparents don't understand why post-grads are moving back in with their parents.

I have friends who lost their house in the housing market crash.

And I read about the Occupy protesters, and I wonder if they have the same experience as me in that politics and economics all of a sudden undeniably applies to their lives -- that strain of finding out I am not insulated -- or if what I'm feeling is just a by-product of growing up.

What I do know is that being struck by relevant economics is fascinating and stressful. I'm lucky enough to still be at a point where I feel optimistic, like I could still maybe follow those dreams they told me to follow when I was in middle school.

For now, it reminds me of being in DC for the 2008 presidential inauguration. After the ceremony, I made it to a bar with a friend. On the news we saw the mall filled with two million people. I remember thinking, "That's here. This is us."

12.07.2011

The New Meaning of Feminism

My work offers free counseling, one of the counselors was explaining to me the approach that they like to take. “We use feminist theory in our counseling,” she said. “We work a lot with empowerment and believe that while a lot of harm and damage comes because of relationships, it’s also in relationships where people can find healing.”

I’m on board for the relationship stuff, but this is the second time since I’ve been in Chicago that I’ve brushed shoulders with bona fide feminists, heard them talk about empowerment, and been completely lost.

It’s not that I’ve never heard the word “empower” before, and I know it means roughly “to give power to”. But what that looks like in the context of counseling or the context of society is lost on me.

On the other hand, I’m realizing that feminism refers to a very particular set of beliefs and theories, many of which are not tied to sex or gender. Coming from Whitworth, where the average student says, “Feminists are… people who are angry,” this is a bit of a shock.

I’ve considered myself a feminist, but I really am just a female who thinks things and talks about them. Which, I guess, is not the same thing.

I have to go read some books or something.

12.06.2011

a stolen computer and a cavity.

Please forgive my silence. My computer was stolen about a week ago and I have not seen it since.

I took home a laptop for work today. My main purpose was to use it to finish my grad-school application but I decided to put it to better use and write a little something here.

I work in a non-profit organization for teenagers. That much must be abundantly clear due to the subject matter of most of my posts.

I had a training a few weeks ago. The trainer/coach smiled alot. She represented a well known organization that works with non-profits in the educational field to improve their success.


She spoke uselessness.

aka- she used phrases that don't mean anything. For example, she looked at me and my co-workers and said, "you are giving the tools these children need to pursue their dreams and shine among others." smile smile smile.

...

I was so grateful I had a cavity filling a half an hour before her motivating speech. Half of my face was numb and without the ability to show expression. The lack of enthusiasm may have disappointed her, but it allowed me to facially express exactly what I was thinking.

She told us that we needed to give the children more leadership in what they learn. They must make the decisions. They must tell us what they want to know. smile smile.

But... what if they are looking at us and asking us what they need to know? Are we supposed to shrug and say, "well, I've been instructed to listen to you."

The trainer's reasoning behind giving students more leadership in their education was due to the drastic decline in American academics/success compared to India, China, etc. (India has more children in the Talented And Gifted program than America has children.) The trainer was adamant that Americans must raise their standards and become strong competitors with other nations.

When I studied in France I took a test. I received a 13/20. A French student congratulated me and told me I received a good score.

That experience in the French education system leads me to this question: what if our education system/model breeds erroneous entitlement rather than humility and an understanding that we don't know it all? Teenagers don't know what they need to know or could know, nor do educators have the ability to quantify knowledge in neatly compacted percentages. We inflate A's like we do our national ego and utopic expressions.

Other nations with increasing economic value expect children to speak when asked to respond, respect the actions and intentions of their elders, and study study study. Their job is not to lead, but to learn.

I am a mere observer, but it seems as if Americans need to decide if they want to focus on their children's ability to feel important or if they want them to be future competitors in the world's economy.

They way it's structured now they can't have both.

Cookies and Tongs

Here is something that John Guthridge emailed me:

"There is a tray of cookies in the coffee shop with tongs for picking them up off the tray. A little girl goes up to the tray, picks up the tongs, puts her finger on each cookie while deciding which one to take, then grabs one with her hand, lifts it up a little, picks it up with the tongs, hands it to herself and eats it.

I don't think she understood the purpose of the tongs."

12.03.2011

Tilted Kilt


Mitch and I ate at the Tilted Kilt the other day. We realized after entering that it was the pub version of Hooters. All the servers and hosts were female and wore boots,a short plaid skirt, a push-up bra thing, and a ... blouse? a white half-shirt that was open in the front and tied around the rib cage. (We're talking bare stomachs, which I thought was unkind. I'm thinking the outfits weren't designed by a woman.)

And what surprised me about this whole experience -- I have never been to a Hooters or a strip club or anything like that -- was how cheesy it all was. I had thought it would be scandalizing. Like all these lewd women would be the moral equivalent of pustules, or even have physical pustules. On their face.

Or, you know, there's the whole genre of stories where a woman has to sell her body for the sake of her starving children or because it's snowing. The scantily-clad establishment being the symbol for everything that is wrong and tragic in the world.

And instead I thought, "Come on, really?" First, the push-up bras. Everybody gets a bang out of breasts being lifted. It's like boobs are trucks and the whole world lives east of Union Blvd.

I thought I would be saddened or outraged or something, but instead I found it kind of silly. I mean, pubs do fairly well with short bearded men in T-shirts tending bar. I don't quite understand TK's business strategy. The place was mostly empty. There was another couple at a table behind us. The man was watching TV and the woman would frequently look at the ceiling. There was a very fat man sitting at the bar by himself yelling at the football game and heckling the bar tender. Otherwise it was quiet.

Tilted Kilt is pretty close to the adult version of Chucky Cheeses: not the classiest of establishments, pizza's lousy but you can drink beer, and not strictly something to worry about. A little sub par, but whatever.

11.27.2011

First Bottle

Mitch and I were lucky enough to get time with John and Christa over the Thanksgiving holiday. They, of course, gnashed their teeth and flailed their arms for several days, as any sane person would in their situation. Not only did we subject them to our extended families in Indianapolis and several mountain-tons of food, we took advantage of their cheap labor for the bottling stage in our recent home-brewing antics.







Cheers to John and Christa.

11.22.2011

Malt, Water, Yeast


Back when I visited Colorado in August, I had mentioned to my parents my plan of homebrewing when I got back to Illinois. To my surprise, my dad said, "I have stuff to do that."

Apparently his father had bought him some brewing equipment once my dad got out of the army and moved to Colorado (sometime in the 80s). This figures, since Pappy had a peculiar personal mission to get members of my family to spend money on relative vices. My first year in college he sent me a check with a blue post-it note that said, "A, buy some beer and cigs. - Pappy." I still have that note.

The best I can tell is that Pappy picked up this quirk in order to annoy my father. I was surprised dad had kept this brewing present. (He had refused other gifts, Casino stocks, in the past.)

"Sure," said Dad, "I brewed a couple of times, but then I didn't have enough room to store it in the refrigerator." Which makes no sense from what I know of brewing.

Standard brewing equipment:
- one or two glass carboys (big glass jugs used to house chemicals... and beer)
- two thin plastic hoses, one long one short
- funnel
- big pot
- malt
- some other stuff, none of which needs to be stored in the refrigerator

When we got home my dad ascended the pull-down ladder to the crawl space above the garage. He came back down with a plastic contraption shaped like a small barrel on its side with the bottom half sunk in a block of cement. The top half was a transparent piece held on to the bottom by plastic sliders. There was a spigot on one end and a hole in the top. On the side, it said, "Beer Maker."

I brought it back to Illinois with me, but I'm still unsure of what to do with it.

Mitch and I got brewing supplies from the local, Two Brothers, brewery (and filled up the growler while we were at it).

A bit over eight days ago -- yeeks, time for bottling soon -- we started our first batch of home brew. I intend this first batch to act like a control group for our further brewing endeavors. We used half dark and half amber malt, tap water, and dry package yeast. From there I'll change one variable, maybe use bottled water or better yeast, and then change that variable back in order to change another, type of malt, maybe mix in some corn sugar, etc. Hopefully it won't seem too long until we get to advance to the steps of adding in hops and other ingredients.

But I want to have patience, learn as much as I can, so that Mitch and I can make world-class beer someday. And ya'll can come drink it en masse when we get our plans for a yearly party / annual faux-wedding celebration / pig roast (or something) off the ground.

All in the works, folks.

11.19.2011

Light Bulb Riddle

Here's another riddle. I heard it on Car Talk a couple of weeks ago, and I include it because the answer is elegant in the way that math problems sometimes are.

There is a long hallway, and down it, light bulbs hang from the ceiling. Many many light bulbs, the exact number doesn't matter, say 20,000 just for instance. These lights are all off. Then someone goes down the hall and pulls the chain on each bulb. The next person walks down and pulls every other chain starting with the second one. The next person pulls every third chain (the first chain he pulls is the third one). Then every fourth, fifth, etc.

The last person pulls every twenty thousandth bulb's chain. After all this happens, how can one predict which light bulbs will be left on?

11.12.2011

179,000 Miles

My friend Greg spent his summer fixing up this old old convertible. Hours of garage time, oil blackening everything, ranks and files of little bolts, carburetors, dip sticks, lynch pins, rolling on the floor, spent working towards the day when he could take that ole girl, sleek red and topless, out for a spin. It was his sister’s birthday, he told me, and he decided to let her tag along for the car’s maiden voyage.

Everything was fine until they got up to 40 miles per hour. Then the hood started smoking, they smelled something funny. Greg pulled to the side of the road, and they got out as the car burst into flames.

They watched the car burn a big black rectangle into the pavement. Greg, bachelors in philosophy, studier of dead languages, said that it was a lesson for him about the temporary nature of material things and the dangers of holding them too dearly.

With this in mind, I approached the mechanic’s prediction that my car had only three more years to live. It’s just a thing, I thought philosophically.

Three years? I remember when my parents brought it home from the used car lot when I was in high school.

“Well, I wasn’t planning on buying a car,” said my dad, walking into the kitchen as he dropped his keys on the counter. What? Surely not.

I, like most other spoiled middle-American teenagers, wanted – needed – a car so badly. I was 17 after all, what was the hold up?

In the dim cold garage, smelling faintly of rust, garbage, and dog food, sat a gray ’99 luxury-version Camry in its ubiquitous underwhelming glory.

“The car is not yours,” my dad reminded me. “But I will let you drive it.”

That car was good to me. I drove it back and forth several times from home to college, 1,000 miles each way. Mitch and I took a road trip out to New York the summer before we got married and another one last spring break from Spokane to North Hollywood. We camped in the red woods and, in the morning, when we got on the 101, the ocean burst into view on our right for miles.

It was one of those things where its flaws and idiosyncrasies made me feel special because I knew what they were and how to maneuver them. For example, the spring on the gas tank flap was broken, and it was comforting to me to think that if the Camry got stolen, the thieves would only make it so far. When they ran out of gas and went to fill up, they wouldn’t know about the small metal rod I kept in my door pocket for wedging under the gas tank lever so I could go around and pry open the flap with my fingernails.

Or they would wreck themselves on an unsuspecting speed bump. My car’s suspension system has always been lousy. My mom says driving the Camry is like driving around in a hole. It rides super low, you can’t see over anybody, and the protocol for clearing a speed bump is to get all the passengers out, surmount it carefully, and then let everybody back in on the other side.

The other thing is that once you role the driver’s-side window down, it’s tough to get it back up again. So I just avoid that in general.

Cosmetic things went wrong, but I didn’t see why the Camry wouldn’t run forever. Mitch did not take this view.

For a long time I couldn’t figure him out. Every time he got in the car he was hearing a noise he didn’t like or he thought the pedals were sticking or he’d forget and roll the driver’s-side window down. He kept saying, “We need to get stuff fixed. The Camry’s in bad shape.” And he’d get me to buy it by saying, “I want to keep this car running for a long time.”

Finally, after he insisted we get the belts replaced, and, while they were at it, got the water pump replaced and the damn brand-new water pump, which replaced the old not-broken water pump – started leaking, I confronted him.

“Do you want this car to die?” I said nastily. “It’s like you are putting a negativity curse on it. The car was fine until you came along.”

“Of course I don’t want the car to die,” he said. “I want to get it fixed. I want it to last for a very long time.”

Well, I wasn’t buying it anymore. No, I saw right through him and his distrustful, anti-Toyotal tendencies. Prejudice – that’s what he was. Why else would he refuse to see that this was a beautifully running machine with an extensive service record and a long life ahead of it? I had never seen such automobile-directed malice in anyone before.

It took me a while to realize that I was expecting Mitch to have the same attitude as my childhood friend Lee, who until he died a little over a year ago, was my go-to guy for any car-related problems. His parents owned a Subaru and Toyota specific junk yard, and he regularly owned vehicles he made Frankenstein-style out of the cars that people dropped off. He helped me fix my battery, change my oil, I even called him to pick me up once, out of reflex, when I had run out of gas. Lee was one of those people whose extreme confidence irritated me in all circumstances except where my car was concerned. He believed that he could fix anything. All I had to do was bring him a problem and he would take it without hesitancy, without question.

I had become so used to this approach, to Lee’s attitude, that I took what Mitch said as an affront. I realized this as Mitch and I drove the Camry to the nearby Firestone to fix that broken pump.

We had fought in the driveway before leaving. Mitch’s dad had gotten home from work and was eager to help us out by driving to Firestone as well. He assured me that it was no problem, I could stay home, run on the treadmill, watch Star Trek, while they got this taken care of. But I was furious at myself for being such a negligent Camry parent. Things were going to change around here. I wasn’t going to let Lee and his memory down.

And then I cracked. I couldn’t give up on these seats where I had spilled coffee and crumbs. Stickers that my mom had progressively pulled off her coffee cups and stuck to the dashboard were still there years later. I thought about Lee wrenching the dead battery out from under the hood and helping me replace it with a new one, about him, Mitch, and me trying frantically to figure out how to disable the after-market alarm system. The car insisting, “Honk honk ho-nk honk! Honk honk ho-nk honk!”

I felt I had decided too late to take an active interest in this car’s life. And now it was having its parts pulled out for the second time in a year, one system after another needing to be replaced, and I no longer had my friend to help me fix it.

We pulled in to the Firestone parking lot and approached the man behind the service desk. Mitch’s dad was still wearing his suit and tie looking the quintessential business man, man of power with pieces to move. The three of us crowded the desk. I couldn’t keep tears out of my eyes and had to keep excusing myself to the drinking fountain or to browse through pamphlets on snow tires.

I’m sure this was a confusing amount of hoopla for three people to be making over a leaky water pump.

“Do you see a lot of Toyotas, Toyota Camrys?” I asked the Firestone guy, my voice cracking. He started to look concerned for me. “I’ve got a great guy, 30 years of experience, coming back from vacation tomorrow. He’s seen everything. I can put him on your car first thing in the morning if you’d like.”

“Thank you, that would be great if you could do that,” Mitch said solemnly.

We left him the key, and Mitch’s dad took us to Chipotle for dinner. I wept in the burrito line. We came home, I cried in my room.

I finally made myself feel better by imagining a call the next morning saying, “We’re finished with the Camry. It’s going to take a little time to recover, but it’s resting right now, and it’s going to be fine.”

11.10.2011

You are alarming, Sir!"

This is an e-mail from my Dad:


"You are alarming, Sir!"

That is what the TSA agent said to me this morning at 5 am in PDX. "You are alarming, Sir!". After my incredulous look back at her, I took my belt off put it in the little tray, went thru the machine, collected my stuff from the scanner, and i thought that i had blown a wonderful opportunity for some pun, joke, or wisecrack that would have made her laugh (and everyone around me). I almost went back to talk to her after to try something, but after i got all my stuff collected I thought better of it. In anycase, what a quote eh? "You are alarming, Sir!"

Made me think of the turnstyle incident in DC. (inside joke for the Dugas family)

I present at 1:30 tomorrow Texas time. Prayer is wonderful.

Love to all - going beddy bye now.

11.04.2011

Magnificent

The walk from the train station to my office was the prettiest one I’ve experienced yet. The low sun was sliding its light between the buildings making otherwise white faces red. As I crossed on metal bridges over the river, dozens of seagulls hovered overhead and pigeons pecked multicolored on the sidewalk. And the day was new enough for me to forget that these flying things are considered dirty and to remember them as birds.

I got hot under my jacket from so much walking. And the wind from over the lake kicked coolly down east-bound streets. Ball-blazing sun came up behind Navy Pier, silhouetting the Ferris Wheel and making the greens look really green as they thrashed about.

This unsettles me. All the time, all over the place, I see things that are unresolvably beautiful. And at the same time, I walk up the fancy part of Michigan Avenue called the “Magnificent Mile” with the expensive stores and restaurants. A person-sized light up sign, like the kind you see in malls, says “Happiness comes with a handle” showing grape-bunches of shopping bags. And I walk up that street early enough to see these men, primarily Latinos, taking to the sidewalks with power washers and leaf blowers.

Visitors say of Chicago: the city looks so clean.

11.01.2011

Happy Halloween

Cannabis sat sideways to the direction of travel. She wore a nose ring and blue eye shadow, and she didn’t act like she could be excited or playful about anything. Someone would say, “I like your costume,” and she’d barely respond – a meager smile, a slight tilt of her head. She pulled a log wrapped in a bath towel out of her bag, confusing everyone.

Tobias Funke was down on the street. Lines of power rangers, Wizard of Oz characters, girls in short dresses atop truly massive heels, cats, witches, jungle maidens, gods of thunder issued out of packed bars and into the people-filled street. A group in a crosswalk chanted “Roof – ee – O!" A cop put tickets on the windshields of every car parked on his side of the street.

In one bar that had tiles with ornate veins that spread spider-web fashion across the ceiling a cactus pressed his face up against the window. He stepped back and shook his arms around trying to dislodge fake cobwebs. Music played, if you aren’t drinking shots get the fuck out the club. He was with a tumbleweed girl with sticks in her hair.

Jesus made his way from bar to bar. The pope consecrated some rum. The Count in a cape and large canines picketed: #occupy Sesame Street. The cop was getting curb stomped by a pack of bananas. And Peter was wearing nothing at all.

A woman told some girls wearing normal clothes, “I love your costumes.”

Cannabis said, “I’m bringing it for my friend, the log lady” by way of explanation, and notes on parked cars up one side of the street read: Happy Halloween.

10.14.2011

Groundskeeper

A while back, my dad supported something he was telling me by relating what happened in a Star Trek episode. (Mom has said that when she was dating dad, he used to talk to her for hours about Star Trek over the phone. She's a little surprised she married him after that. My mom does not watch TV.) I remember the sun coming in behind him through the sliding glass door. Dad sitting at our beat-up wood table, his eyes a little bit wider and more intense, like they get when he has something to tell you, which is... maybe more often than not.

Yesterday, I saw the episode he was referencing for the first time. Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Ensign Wesley Crusher are shipwrecked on an inhospitable moon, and they are dying of thirst, Picard especially so because he's been hit in the head by some rocks. As he's gasping breaths which may be his last, he gives Wesley some advice about the ensign's soon-coming entrance into Star Fleet Academy.

Picard: Make sure you get in touch which Mr. Boombi. He's been there, oh, forever. I gained a great deal of wisdom from him when I was in the Academy. He helped me tremendously.

Wesley: I will, sir. (Captain, you're not going to die!) What subject does he teach?

Picard: He's the groundskeeper.

(And out of a British Picard-admiring woman's mind Hagrid was born.)

I got a little choked up over this scene. What with the provoked memories of my father and his love of Star Trek and of watching recordings of early episodes on VHS tapes and of the unlikely circumstances surrounding my birth, how could I not get emotional? But even aside from that, something in the wise groundskeeper archetype appeals to me.

It might be the comfort and excitement in believing that a person's station in life is not indicative of his character. That the locations of good and interesting people are unknown and unguessed.

It's also a welcome counterpoint to the emphasis on Networking that I've experienced since graduating college. I think everyone seeks personal gain and rewards in friendships--in the case of the big N, career advancement--but I like that sometimes the most rewarding friendships can be the ones who offer no material advantage. My starship captain tells me so.

10.12.2011

Take Me Home

There's an odd buzz to how people speak around here. A slight Chicagoland whine, a pinch in their noses.

I had a dream that I was eating dinner with Katrina at a restaurant in Illinois. Compared to the people around us I admired the nice roundness of her voice (round but not overly round, not like Minnesotan rocks-plopping-into-water round) as she raised fork after fork of stuck pineapple and steak.

10.11.2011

Dollar Bills

I have this unimplemented idea (wouldn't be the only one) about using dollar bills. I want to take twenty bucks worth of one-dollar bills and distribute them one at a time whenever asked. I would like to see what would happen. Maybe nothing.

Each time someone asked me for money (for food, for fare, the church offering basket, tip jars) I'd give them one dollar. Easy experiment, I just need to do it. I'd be testing limited-but-ready generosity to see if it made any difference in my life.

I have an extension for this experiment as well. I got a load of Roald Dahl books from the library because Mitch loves them so much, and the only one I read growing up was Magic Finger. I read Matilda first. (An aside: when the movie came out I was not allowed to watch it because my parents didn't want me getting any ideas. I might have glued my dad's hat to his head or something.) In it, I found not one but two crisply pressed dollar bills!

My idea is to take an additional twenty dollars worth of Washingtons and put one a piece into the children's books that I think are the best. This, of course, to encourage kids to read. A dollar is a lot to a seven-year-old.

One into Matilda, into Island of the Blue Dolphins, into Venus Among the Fishes, into Maniac Magee, into Holes, into Hatchet, into The Light Princess, into Bridge to Terabithia, into The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and into A Wrinkle in Time.

10.09.2011

This American Life




I am somewhat annoyed with myself that I've re-discovered This American Life. I should be listening to the news in French, (considering the rapidly approaching Language Proficiently Test I have to take and the reality that my french skills resemble a rusty, dilapidated attic). Instead, I find myself late to work because I am sitting in my car hoping to finish a story.

I am aware that NPR and This American Life are popular amongst people our age. (I assume I'm talking to a twentysomething crowd.) It is a cure for boredom for many post-undergraduate souls. Young minds fresh from school now realize they must "quit their pretentious things and punch the clock" can finally have their curiosity and need for learning appeased.

My mom used to listen to the show on her old, black radio while she cooked dinner. I would drag my 20 pound backpack to the kitchen table after school and unload my books and binders and folders and textbooks. As I studied Chemistry and my mom made curry, Ira Glass would fill the room with one of his stories. My mom and I talked the other day about how much she cooked when we were kids. I remarked on how awful I was at Chemistry. I blame, (and thank) Ira for both of those results.

I am going to recommend some stories for you to check out. Because I don't want to ruin the story for you, I'll list a potential mood/thought you may have with an episode that compliments your current state. It's like a wine and cheese pairing for the brain.

You are in a whimsical mood with a short attention span


You want to meet Javert's reincarnation.


You feel like watching a soap opera but don't out of principle.

You got drunk last night and may or may not have done something stupid.

You feel guilty for not recycling and giving a dollar to the homeless man you always see.

You feel like reading a book but you aren't sure what to read.

You find yourself interested in what history textbooks should (but won't) say about this time in your life.

You want to laugh at a dead baby joke. (a mild one)

You are discouraged and don't want to be encouraged.


You want to listen to Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues" and would enjoy a slapstick commentary on politicians.


You are driving from portland to seattle and you want to laugh and cry in the same story. (This is a fairly subjective feeling, but work with me here.)



I hope this satisfies you for now. Thank you Arcade Fire and Eric Eddy for the idea behind one of my sentences. I'll be listening for more. Let me know of any you enjoy.

10.05.2011

Cheapskate

I talked to Lindsay on Skype yesterday. She reminded me of an ideal we subscribed to starting around middle school; we decided that in college and out in our twenties we would live on Ramen noodles, tuna sandwiches, and other dollar-a-day type fair.

It's a romantic ideal, in my mind, and Mitch and I need all the help we can get paying off those student loans. Drip coffee black or with half and half, eggs, cheese, milk, bread. No cigarettes. Cheap (well, cheaper) beer. Taking sack lunches or granola bars into the city. Gin and tonics from home in water bottles on the train. Going to the park for fun. Cheap to free. Thrift stores.

The idea being able to beat the system -- does anybody else think in teenage language like that? because I haven't been able to get away from it -- denying advertisements and consumerism and all that demands more time to more work to make more pay to buy the things it says make a life. Houses. Clothes. Cars. Bigger and better.

The strategy is to take the other side, the spending less money instead of making more, and being happy doing it. Some kind of modern asceticism for no religious reason. Showing that we can have freedom (again with the language that I should be too old or too educated for. I should be jaded against words like "freedom" but they exist in an encampment in my brain. Turreted and sending flaming arrows against any attempt to remove them.) from material baggage and unnecessary spending. So that when the time comes, we can get up and leave: to travel, to quit, to move. (Lindsay and Mat moved all their possessions inside a compact Toyota.)

Stubborn. Something to prove.

10.04.2011

contraception.

I put the van into park. The rain drizzled. Two girls bust open the van doors.

"I hate this fucking club!"

that was the first thing Amber said as she jumped into the van.

Mandy responded, "you owe me cup-o-noodles Annie, this is all your fault!"

Earlier that day I handed them a plastic bag filled with a few dollar bills and twelve quarters. I wrote a note and stuck it with the loose change. The note read, "Bus Fare Money for Health Clinic."

Amber and Mandy took the wrong bus. They asked a friend at school which bus to take. The friend said the 245. They should have taken the 271. It was now 5:00pm. Amber and Mandy first got onto the bus at 2:30. They wasted the entire afternoon on the bus. They missed their appointment and didn't get free birth control.

By the time I put pressure on the gas petal it was very clear that every unfortunate event from the moment their feet left school grounds was my fault.

I conveyed my apologies and asked for the change back.

Mandy playfully responded, "You don't deserve to get the money back. You owe us big time."

A dear fried once told me that the main problem with the education system has little to do with the techniques or strategies of the educators. The fact is many students don't care. Their apathy is the problem. The students are the problem. The way in which they think or act is extremely misconstrued, yet we try to 'meet them where they are at' and 'acknowledge all of their feelings as truth.'

I turned on the radio and drove them home.

10.03.2011

The Job Search

In the city, there was a group of pigeons sleeping behind a wrought-iron fence on Clinton Street.

The odd thing was that it was 8:30 in the morning, the sun well up, and plenty of people were walking past on the sidewalk. And I usually see pigeons pecking around somewhat individually, not being communal or affectionate.

They were sleeping in! Heads tucked backwards into purple and grey feathers. Their breasts two straining lumps of bone.

I had a job interview on the seventh floor of a building overlooking Lake Michigan. I took heels in my purse to change into after the walk from the subway. I felt impressed by how thin the line between nothing and everything is.

9.29.2011

Octet

Pop Quiz #1

A woman waited in a subway terminal. She hadn't talked to anyone that day beyond a job interview and a curt exchange between herself and a barista.

A second woman approached her. She was missing teeth and she pulled up her pant leg to show multiple layers of jeans. She showed where her waistband was cinched with a rubber band. "I must weigh one hundred pounds," she said.

She said she needed to get to a shelter downtown (the downtown towers a splotch on the horizon); she said she didn't have enough for train fare so she was going to walk.

The first gave her two dollars. The woman asked, "Oh, will it hurt your family?" (a ridiculous question). Then she asked if the woman had any food -- anything, even gum. Nothing, not gum. She said she was so hungry she would eat a person -- she said she wouldn't normally eat a person. She wheedled until the first woman produced breath mints, warning her that they were strong.

She helped her open the tin, it had a weird catch on it, and the second woman suggested they both have one. They grabbed adjacent white wafers between thumb and forefinger.

The woman wheezed, "this is terrible!" She meant it, but she was laughing. "You must give these to people you are trying to get rid of." She said they tasted like Vick's vapo rub.

Then the first woman pulled out a five. The other refused it. "You sure?" "No!" And took it. She walked down to the street saying she was going to buy a hot dog -- two hot dogs. The first woman could taste, across the roof of her mouth, the remnant of the woman's smoky acrid smell.

Q. What if the second woman is lying?

9.28.2011

I was having a hard time breathing, which is not super uncommon when one gains 6,000 ft in elevation, but my particular anaerobia was caused more by anxiety. Driving through the Colorado Rockies with my mom and our friend Terry, I was in yelling distance of the time when I was going to have to get on my bike and ride between 60 and 100 miles each day over mountain passes and through arid wastes.

One time, I cried on my bicycle for 20 out of 78 miles as I rode with my mom around Copper Triangle, triple bypass of climbs, because my butt hurt so bad, it was taking so long, and the wind was in my face. I was about to get a week of that shit.

Mom had to have a root canal two days before our bike trip. Terry and I tried to remind her to take her pain medicine every few hours so the effects wouldn't wear off. A few times she forgot to take her pills, and when pressed she admitted that she had a second heartbeat in her mouth.

The truly terrifying thing about going with Mom and Terry is not their sky-high athleticism -- at 24 years old and having spent considerable time training (I did my homework), I hold my own in the muscles/cardiovascular department -- it's that these women don't fucking quit. Riding with them meant that I couldn't suddenly get a head case and hitch a ride on the sag wagon; it meant that regardless of how much time it took us, regardless how many hours of sitting on cruelly hard and narrow ass-apparati and breathing in scents of roadkill, we were going to ride into camp on our little bicycles.

One of the passes we rode over was where, almost exactly a year ago, I had helped spread the ashes of a friend of mine that died. I thought about him as we climbed 13 miles of dirt road to the summit (average speed: 4 mph). I have dreams off-and-on that he is alive, and nobody's even that impressed because the whole death thing was just a misunderstanding, but in the most recent one, the image of him talking to me was overlaid by my memory of his ashes floating down the small creek where he used to camp.

Up there the sun warms you like a campfire. The side of me not sun-blasted is cold from the sparse air and chill wind, while sunny side is just about dying of heat. A bit like how Mercury feels, I'd guess.

Getting to the top of that pass, I made sure to dodge holes and tried to stay clear of accordion-style divots or places where there was too much loose dirt. I plugged in my tunes and measured my pedal strokes to Gorrilaz and Fleet Foxes. I talked to Mom, stayed behind her, and fought not to think about how long it was taking me.

And it will sound simplistic -- if you have better advice, more complex, instructive, or hopeful, follow that instead -- but all that's for it, I think, is to keep your head down and just keep pedaling. At this point, I don't know what else to do.

No Wind

While a woman chatted incoherently to her friend, I looked out the window where the foundations of once-leveled buildings just sat there. Their cracked and tilted surfaces were covered in large puddles, and two gulls made perfect circles in one of them.

9.23.2011

one where I tell you what to do

I'm gripping my pencil too tight, like I'm afraid the little fucker's going to get away. My drawing teacher wants us to pick the line we want and make it, no sketching allowed. She's got a tricycle for us up front with some croquet mallets and balls for extra complication. And I'm making indents on my drawing pad, digging my B pencil into its guts, trying to make the right line.

She keeps telling the class, "Draw what you see not what you know." She explains it this way:

if you give a small child a can to draw, he will draw something like this:

He starts with the body of the can, the rectangle, and then he knows that the can has a circular top and bottom. He can't see those circles from his vantage point, but he knows they are there. Drawing shapes and their relationships as they actually appear is what makes a drawing look realistic and three dimensional. But it's difficult because our brains ignore much of what we see so that we don't get overloaded. For the sake of efficiency we know can as two circles and a rectangle.


A step further. What we know, often times, is something we've never seen. We think in some generalities, symbols, stereotypes even if we've never encountered a particular to match. For example, this is how most people would draw a house:

I've never seen a two-story structure with a huge door, one window, and an isosceles triangle for a roof. But I know this as "house" because it is my symbol for house.

People are very good at picking out small differences in faces. As a painter, getting an expression right is beyond my skill -- this portrait turned out to be of a mild half-wit who's just sat in a puddle, okay -- because every stinking millimeter of line can change it in a profound way. But the viewer sees it instantly, we are very attuned to those details.

And still, I submit that we have a hard time seeing people. I want to talk about the way women see other women, especially. (There's a Picasso painting at the Chicago Art Institute in which the nude woman's breasts, crotch and ass are all visible while she reclines on the sofa. It seemed telling. The way men see women is terrifying and I try not to think about it.)

The symbol for beauty's most important aspect is large eyes accented by larger eyelashes. As important is that the eyes are hedged in on all sides by a dark solid line. The nose doesn't draw any attention to itself; it's best, actually, if only nostrils are present. This is the image by which I will judge every woman and myself.

The first time I think I really saw a person was one of the times I was looking through my book of National Geographic portraits. The photos were lovely in themselves because of color and form and did not depend upon the beauty of the people in them. When I came to a black-and-white picture of a woman, dark skin, heavy and topless (saggy boobs), decorated in a costume of dead silver fish. She had hold of a little boy's hand and she was scowling like nothing I had ever seen. She didn't look anything like my symbol of beauty, and yet I looked at her for a long time. She was interesting. It looked like she had a story and life and emotion.

I decided she was thrilling to look at -- and that, I figured, made her beautiful -- once I actually saw her instead of making quick notes about how closely she matched the women on the magazine racks.

And I'm wondering, folks, if you even know what you look like. Or if billions of dollars are spent, expectations for the future arranged, and standards set for friends and boyfriends based on how closely you can get your face to look like my silly drawing. Go look in the mirror and try to tell what it is that lets your friends know you from strangers. See genetics and your parents and your acne scars. And the real shape of your eyes and the lines by your mouth and maybe a booger that you should take care of.

Draw what you see, not what you know.

9.21.2011

a letter to Leonard Oakland

Bonjour, Leonard!

I work at the Boys and Girls Club of Bellevue. I help run a drop-out prevention program for high school students. I overheard one of my students say, "I hate this damn book."

I ignored her. I am used to students complaining. I have developed a lovely skill of ignoring complaints. She continued, "this book is about some byronic hero or some shit. This is crap."

I immediately thought of Lermontov's "Hero of Our Time". I asked her what book she was reading. She confirmed my suspicion.

I helped her with her homework. She continued to describe the book as crap until the moment she walked away from me.

I remembered you saying that you didn't like Anna Karenina the first time you read it. You said as you became older the novel changed. As time went on you developed a profound respect for the story.

I knew one day that would make sense.

Today it did. I loved "A Hero of Our Time". It was one of the most challenging and rewarding novels I read in college. But for my student, (who really doesn't give a shit) it was nothing.

I'm glad you introduced the idea to me that the meaning of books change with age/time. I didn't take offense to her response. I just smiled and told her to try reading it again in a few years. She is a bright, stubborn kid.

I am well. I eat popcorn (without butter) every night before bed. I hope to attend Seattle Pacific's Masters in Teaching program next fall. I am still dating Jon Fox.Thank you for being a great professor.

I hope you are well.

a (avec une accent grave) plus tard,
Annie Dugas

River City Extension

I got turned onto the band River City Extension by NPR's podcast All Songs Considered. Bob talks to Jay Sweet, the guy who lines up the bands for the Newport Folk Festival. Jay was at SXSW and came upon a really crowded venue. The gathered, 300 or so, were belting the words to all the songs this band (River City Extension)was playing. Jay had never heard of them before.

When time was up for their set, the fans would not physically let River City leave the stage. The stage manager is pointing to his watch, mouthing some words, and shrugging -- you guys have to get off of there. Another band coming up. So the drummer rips -- does not unscrew, rips -- the snare off the set, and they play down the stairway and out into the street. Everybody leaves with them.

That's my kind of crew. I imagine their average fan to be a late-twenties ruddy guy with a reddish beard, holding a lager, and wearing a green t-shirt. They sing their tunes with the enthusiasm of Mumford and Sons and with the anthemic quality of Five Iron Frenzy.

I've listened to their newest album, "The Unmistakable Man," and I liked the song "South for the Winter" first. The beginning part of the song is so much softer than the rest that I couldn't hear it through my car's speakers as I was driving down to Denver. By myself, night time, windows open. Then it builds all of a sudden to a very loud exclamation, "Sometimes all I want is a job and a God and a wife!" Amen, brother.

The album has a lot of that, musing, melancholy lyrics to upbeat, sometimes thrashing, music. And I've been attracted to songs like South for the Winter for a little while: songs like Best Coasts's "Boyfriend" and Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me." Bethany Cosentino sings, "The other girl is not like me; she's prettier and skinnier. She has a college degree. I dropped out when I was 17." Or in the song "Goodbye", "I lost my job, I miss my mom, I wish my cat could talk."

Remarkably similar in content to "Boyfriend" is Swift's song, but where we can enjoy Cosentino's ironic jabs (she knows she's making a poor case for being this guy's girlfriend), I'm like, "Taylor, honey" (and put my arm around her and pull her to the side) when Swift sings, "She wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts [...] She wears high-heels, I wear sneakers" in this pristine voice of sincerity. Sweety, you are wasting your ardor. He won't even notice you unless you change everything about yourself and become a sex kitten. Better to throw on some sweats and become an angry blogger.

But I like the song anyway because (here comes my point (which is an aside to my greater point, which is that I like River City Extension)) in our culture of flipp'n Facebook everybody takes great care to manage their image, they smile in all their pictures with all their friends in all their travels (if they're going one route) or they're all made up and their breasts have their own profiles and they soften their photos's edges (if they're going another), but they are all screaming I am so happy! And desirable! And my life is so fun! Successful! The PICTURE of SUCCESS!

And here are some artists who have the guts to sing about wanting what we all want and feeling what I'm guessing we all feel sometimes, but we aren't suppose to show it because that would be poor image management.

Unmistakable Man is beer-fused and ranting. Some songs about God: "Another death upon a mountain top / Our lives are nothing but some real shit luck / Remember when we used to give a fuck? / Well I don’t think the Lord understands." and "I wonder if I still own a Bible / If my fingerprints still sit on that page / The one about love, and why it’s so patient / And why I have lost it with age."

And lovers: "I am naked in the dark / with my eyelids shining like flashlights / in the midst of / our dirty playtime / and for the meantime / we are echos of spring time." I play that over and over. Listen to it, it makes you want to cheer.

A review I read puts the album's major themes as, "a lamentation for deceased friends, a realization of the need to treasure loved ones, and a recognition of the futility of a life lived without faith." This one is up my alley -- rip me off that snare drum!

9.13.2011

Raw Materials



Mitch and I were in the process of missing the eleven p.m. train. It was a Saturday, and he had told me specifically that morning that he did not want "to be in the city forever." The "L" was simply not going to get to the Metra station in time, and there was nothing we could do about it.

I had The New Yorker out on my lap, reading, in an attempt to make the best of things. In it there was an article about a Dutch engineer/sculptor who makes huge mobile "beach animals" out of PVC pipe and zip ties. Ultimately, he wants them to be able to, powered by wind, shovel sand from the ocean shallows up onto the beach dunes. Holland is very low-lying and it seems in danger of massive flooding if the water rises just slightly. For now the Strandbeests just trot around.

I keep thinking about something Theo Jansen, their sculptor and creator, said:

"The walking Strandbeest is a body snatcher. It charms people and then uses them so they can't do anything else but follow, and I am the worst victim, you could say. All the time I think about them. Always I have a new plan, but then it is corrected by the requirements of the tubes. They dictate to me what to do. At the end of my working day, I am almost always depressed. Mine is not a straight path like an engineer's, it's not A to B. I make a very curly road just by the restrictions of goals and materials. A real engineer would probably solve the problem differently, maybe make an aluminum robot with motor and electric sensors and all that. But the solutions of engineers are often much alike, because human brains are much alike. Everything we think can in principle be thought by someone else. The real ideas, as evolution shows, come about by chance. Reality is very creative. Maybe that is why the Stranbeests appear to be alive, and charm us. The Strandbeests themselves have let me make them."


I'm not a fan of motivational posters. Slogans, "Attitude is everything," "Everything happens for a reason," etc, strike me as willful delusions undertaken to make the world more friendly and coherent. That said, I also do not prefer to be absolutely fatalistic or to admit only bleak beliefs(which, at least, do not smell of sentimentality) into my personal canon because I do not want to be depressed and petrified in earnest -- I only want to seem that way cause it's edgy.

Jansen's quote, therefore, has worked itself into a nice little corner in my brain. What he's saying makes sense to me, and I had not thought about it before. He talks about the relationship between him and his surroundings, the raw materials that he has to work with. For him, it is his subject's limitations that enable him to make something fresh and astounding. Whimsical, even. A leap in creativity and innovation precisely because he does not have materials that are exactly suitable to his needs.

Extended, he could be talking for me. I have a supportive family, wonderful friends, degrees in English and Physics, and some talent and a love for art, but little direction and less experience. In true form, I could say that I've been stupid and naive or that I've been lied to about the nature of reality or that the world is cruel and there's not a place for me in it. (Don't let those edgy people convince you that there's not sentimentality in being pessimistic.) Or I could see those as my raw materials and be thankful that they insure me a life that looks different than the standard career launch and race to acquire things of escalating price. It says to me that creativity thrives when possibilities are obstructed.

I just hope that this damn beest will let me make it.



*Top photo by Lena Herzog

bear's teeth.

Well, hello blog. It has been some time. My life has been consumed with hunting for apartments, scouring for cheap furniture, and trying to convince my parents that this will be the year i will figure out what i am going to do with my life. I found a great coffee table at Goodwill for $3.99. I painted it lavender yesterday at Jon Fox's apartment. Yesterday was a wonderfully unremarkable day.

The fun things:

-I listen to NPR everyday during my 45 minute commute to work. Between the bland stories of republican and democrat politicians fighting over who can create more jobs one can catch lovely stories. For example, this lady in Juno, Alaska found her dog's alive, but petrified body clamped between the teeth of a grizzly bear. Without giving much thought to the predicament, she punched the bear in the face. The bear was so stunned; it let her dog go in peace.

-Jon and I read excerpts from Demetri Martin's book, This is a Book. http://www.amazon.com/This-Book-Demetri-Martin/dp/0446539708
read it. it will make you laugh.

-I am taking my kids to the Sounder's game on Saturday.

-I eat popcorn every night before bed.

-I've been watching a BBC television series, The Hour. It is about the BBC and conspiracy and treason and censorship. It is great.

The bad things:

-I have to fill out rebates and make dentist appointments. I've never been good about paying attention to detail.

-Some of the students I work with could not identify nor define the "war on terror." Shit, only about half of them knew what happened on 9/11. They clapped when Bin Laden died though.

-The east coast is flooding.

The interesting things:

-The last day of summer camp one of my students climbed a tree and pooped off a branch in front of a group of kids.

-I have a higher degree than my boss. He is paid twice as much as me.


I'm sorry to disappoint you. None of this is particularly interesting or thought provoking. I hope to write more soon. sigh.

Sometimes I wish I could punch all of my bad things in the face and get my dog back... if you know what I mean.

9.11.2011

Where am I?

An all-women panel, the Chicago comedy big wigs -- Second City main stage, instructors, performers, stage directors representing the four major comedy theaters in a comedy-heavy town -- told their seminar-ees, "Only you can give away your power." "You are never the victim; it is on you." "You do not have to make yourself suffer." "All you have to do is have as much fun as possible."

A trip on the "L" red line later, north, me leaning against the clear plastic partition, feet spread wide and braced against the tire-treaded metal trying not to lurch into the other passengers or onto the flimsy train doors, Julie Kimball-Bryant and I got to her Bryn Mawr apartment and to Mikey and Mitch.

Dinner conversation after some free wine tasting at a local... (What would you call that? It sold liquor, but it was not a liquor store per se. They sell liquor in gas stations and grocery stores here. A corner store? Yes. Buy yourself some beer, wine, whiskey and snapples.) corner store was about the relation of college to subsequent employment. Three of the four of us were and are unemployed.

Here's the thing: Whitworth, an excellent liberal art college with highly-qualified personable professors, an education that we four would not take back or undo for some other education, is ever-rising in cost and is generally producing graduates that do not have specified skills required for jobs. My education of mind and heart is not currently making me any money.

The cost of undergraduate education is rising while the value of its degrees (relative to the competitive edge it gives over other job applicants) is falling. The economy is slumped compared to when our parents made their start in life-after-ed. And the baby boomers are going into retirement, expecting returns on their social security and specials at Denny's. My dad to me (all the time): you know who's going to have to pay for all this government spending? Points finger at me.

And it was most definitely my fault that I majored in the obscure combination of English and Physics. I was lead by the belief in education for its own sake, enlightenment, the betterment of personhood. I was against the philistine notion of studying something to make me wealthy or comfortable later; I insisted on taking the courses that I found the most interesting. My parents always told me that I could do whatever I put my mind to.

And I can see where those comedy women's advice would be useful. Believing that nothing really bad or out of one's control can happen would make you a more daring person. Its practicality maybe justifies it, but I still wonder whether the statement is true. (Does anybody care about the fucking truth anymore?) If there is no excuse for feeling like a victim and no lemons that simply won't do as lemonade.

A reason they sent young men to reclaim the beaches at Normandy in World War II was the fact that the men, because they were young, did not believe they could die. So the beach was captured -- points for the belief in personal immortality -- but the young men did die and it was awful, and shouldn't it matter if a belief, regardless of the results it gets, is based in reality or not?

Mostly I feel stuck between the admonishments of educators, parents, and professionals in the meat of their lives, careers, successes and my empty email inbox and voice mail after dozens of sent resumes and job applications. It's not what I expected, and I feel lost in it.

9.05.2011

Adama's Question


Commander Adama and his ship are going into retirement. The fleet, it seems, doesn't need them anymore, the new technology and the younger officers have made these two obsolete. And Adama is old -- he's known as "old laser face" due to a long life of acne scarring -- and the ship is a barely-space-worthy bucket. Besides, the colonies are experiencing a time of peace. The cylons haven't tried to wipe out humanity in 40 years. At his ship's decommissioning, Adama begins his to-be-expected speech before abandoning his note cards to ask, "Is humanity worth saving?" He's not demanding it; he comes across as world-weary and tired, and he's wondering if perhaps the cylons have good reason for trying to kill us off.

As the show progresses, Adama's speech from that first episode kind of hangs in the background. Well-fleshed out characters commit acts of cowardice, choose to protect themselves at the expense of others, breach loyalties, become alcoholics, despair, and perform executions (with only 45,000 people left in existence), and, though culpable, I don't want to condemn them because I can't see myself doing better in their shoes.

For a sci-fi show, it's pretty Earth-bound (pun non intended). The ships are very industrial looking, their walls the color of soot; the sounds of boots on steel, pistol shots and lockers closing make up the sound effects; the camera moves around at eye level showing faces and conversations rather than the wide panning of space.

Oh, I'm talking about Battlestar Galactica, by the way, a concept with a bag of TV-series attempts with mixed results. The Riverside West crew watched the 2004-09 one in its entirety. I'm continuing the watching-sci-fi-shows-on-Netflix tradition by going through Star Trek: The Next Generation in my unemployed free time.

Star Trek is much more airy. Their guns shoot orange lasers. Large windows are a part of every room and show the Windows screensaver. People dissolve into light in one place to reappear in another.

Despite these differences, the pilot episodes confront the same question.

The very powerful and ornery being, Q, challenges the newly-minted Enterprise. He stops them mid sub-space voyage and says that due to humanity's history he can no longer let them exist. In this and subsequent episodes, Captain Picard and other crew members prove their good natures to Q. Picard insists that though humans have a sordid past, they have changed for the better.

Humanity's evolution to a peaceful morally-viable race is a condition of the Next Generation series. They explore vast areas with no move to conquer or control. They work and live without prejudice among lifeforms and cultures very different from their own. Their power does not corrupt them. Humanity is worth saving because humanity has become worthy.

I found a remarkable tie-in between Star Trek and Galactica a couple of episodes ago (season 2, episode 9). Lieutenant Commander Data, an android, refuses to undergo dismantling (research, in hopes of being able to duplicate Data) by a unqualified scientist. Starfleet will not allow him to refuse because he is a machine. This is taken to court.

Whoopi Goldberg, as Ginan, warns the captain (who is Data's advocate) of a whole race of Datas in subjugation to humanity if the court rules Data as Federation property. In court, the JAG officer even calls Data a toaster -- a slur against Cylons in BSG.

Cylons were created by humans and given artificial intelligence; they evolved into a mechanized race and rebelled. (Slavery, it seems, doesn't go over well with robots either.) One of the central conflicts in BSG is whether or not Cylons should have the same rights as humans. Certain models of cylons look and move exactly like people; they build relationships, are self aware and have emotions. Data, while short on emotions, also looks like a person and he is a distinct character to the viewer. No one watching episode 9 of season 2 is saying, "Yeah, he's just some fancy box of bolts."

And while BSG takes 75 episodes to work it out, Star Trek takes care of it in one. The court grants Data's right to choose, and in doing so, protects the rights of sentient lifeforms everywhere. (Q smiles upon them.) While the folks in BSG struggle to get people to stop rioting.

And in the end of Battlestar, the narrative strand the writers emphasize is the "humans v robots" one. They seem to be cautioning viewers against the mistreatment of automatons in the hopes of preventing a future cylon war. They abandoned their themes of justice and human identity to briefly touch on the possibility that increases in technology are not always good.

I'm borderline obsessed with the way these shows treat the justification of humanity. Star Trek acknowledges that we, in the twenty first century, were pretty bad, but it can get away with imposing only vague judgment upon us because in the twenty fourth century, the answer to Adama's question is an easy yes.

And BSG lets the question slide.

Maybe Q is in the wrong televisional universe.

8.31.2011

Snake Stories

The first day of my bike tour, I heard about a woman on the tour, cute, short auburn hair, wore dresses, from Georgia, who had got bitten on the foot by a copperhead the week before.

She limped a little, and I'd see her at rest stops with one shoe off to relieve the pressure from her still-swollen foot. And each day, inevitably, she'd pass me in a long line of efficient cyclists, and she'd chirp a "good morning."

The relative fame of the copperhead bite started a tide of snake stories around the campsites.

My favorite was told by a sun-burnt man with a southern drawl and provinces of white skin around his eyes. He and his wife had moved to South Dakota from Virginia. Being in the military, they moved a lot.

Driving, one day, Mr. South Dakota pointed out a water moccasin as they passed it on the road. His wife didn't believe that that was what it was, so he pulled the truck around to take her back and show her. He pulled to the side of the dirt road, and before he could get out of the driver's seat, his wife (I imagine wearing a floral print dress with a sash tied round the middle) had run over to the snake to pick it up.

The water moccasin latched onto her thumb, and by the time South Dakota got to her she was howling and whipping the snake around. Floral print going everywhere. SD had to kill the snake to get it off her.

(And that's my favorite part of the story, the fact that this woman exists, who's first reaction to prove her husband wrong, is to go pick up a poisonous snake.)

He wrapped the carcass (snake) in an old towel in the truck and got himself and his wife in the cab to drive to the hospital.

There was a hospital close-by, but he wanted to take her to the military one half an hour away. Her hand was swelling already. "She could have lost her thumb," he chose this time to tell us.

They make it to the hospital; she doesn't lose her thumb. The attendant at the desk is wary to let them in saying, "How do you know it was a water moccasin?"

South Dakota unfurls the towel, and the dead snake rolls onto the man's desk, serrated head gaping up at him. SD shows us with both hands how the man shoved himself backwards up against the wall. They got prompt service after that.


Once, years ago at the dog-run park in Colorado Springs, my brothers were playing in the creek while my dad threw the ball for Littles. I was sitting on the bank and saw opposite me a black and white snake (so thick I couldn't have gotten my hand around it) belly-crawling (as you might imagine) in the weeds next to where my brothers were playing. My mom saw it too. As it made its descent towards her babies she yelled, "Oh my Gawd! Tom, you should take a picture."

8.26.2011

The Foibles of my Youth

Here's something else I've been thinking about: (while reading blogs like Kyle's and Mitch's and talking to folks like Lindsay)

A lot of my friends and I are in a post Christian-upbringing tension. The kind of rearing where only certain media was allowed, church participation was necessary and embraced, and lifestyle rules were maintained. Think Brio Magazine, the Newsboys and purity rings.

We find out, later on, that whole gardens of delight have been hidden from us: incredible varieties of music, books and beer and liberalism that by no means excludes Christianity. We have to deal with the obscurity and the enthusiastic uncoolness of our childhoods and early (or in my case, total) adolescence.

I mean enthusiastic: for the fifth grade talent show at my school, a friend and I performed a song by the Newsboys. It said "God" in it and we sang and danced and wore leotards. My parents were very proud.

Lindsay and I started a Christian music club. We bought CDs together -- Jars of Clay, DC Talk -- and then traded them back and forth like divorced parents do with children. One of our club activities was painting Veggie Tales characters on the inside of the Lung's shed by candlelight.

And on into high school (the club disbanded, unfortunately), the only secular-label CD I got my hands on was Californication. That was from Lindsay in the start of her "rebellious phase." (Quote from her recently: "If you're going to break some of the rules, why not break all of them?" I love her.)

An aside: Lindsay always has these unexpected opinions and traits. In the midst of her high-school ditching, boozing, puppy buying, outdoor peeing antics she had this great affinity for Precious Moments figurines. Even in my abject obedience, I never applied the word "precious" without biting sarcasm.

I asked John if he ever wished he could go back to high school knowing what he knows now. I could have used an angry girl band shredding their hearts out. Sleater-Kinney would've been a God send. Carrie Brownstein, I needed you. John just gave me a blank look. He will like what he likes and never apologize for it.*

This is sort of my apology. Sorry, self. Sorry, world.

An unexpected thing: walking around the pond in City Park in Denver, goose poop everywhere, Lindsay told me about how she's thankful for the way she was raised. She believes it saved her a lot of heartbreak and painful life choices.

And I tend to agree with her.

*Maybe this blog post confuses everyone. I could be the only person with a Christian-culture-recovery complex.

8.25.2011

Some Like It Luke Warm

My Amtrack ride from Denver to Chicago was running in the range of ten hours behind schedule. There was a man in the seat behind me, a little ragged looking, old Globe Trotters jacket, faded hat, who I'd been overhearing on the phone.

"I'm going to fucking miss my connection. I have to go all the way to Chicago, and take a train, but those are full, or a bus, but those are booked."

He spoke in a low voice. Controlled but wavering slightly.

I thought to myself, "I hope he doesn't have a firearm."

He said, "I haven't killed anybody yet, but I'm close."

Then, "They're going to give us dinner, but guess what they're feeding us?" Disgusted, "Chicken."

As I got up to go to the bathroom I heard him say, "You don't have much longer."

When I read that now, I realize it doesn't sound that scary. But I was stuck on a train! And a bullet could have easily ripped through the plastic-cloth components of the seat back and pierced my heart.

We were just idling on the tracks. The chicken-hating man could have cornered me in the joint between the dirty window, with white smears of children's hand and face prints (probably tongue prints), and the geometrically patterned cushions. Or stood me up with the gun barrel to my head shouting---Get those freight trains to move their asses or the girl dies!

(Not a bad plan, actually.)

He was right about the dinner. It was a decent meal of mashed potatoes, broth and a croissant. I met a guy who had just finished hiking the 500-mile trail from Denver to Durango. He does a new long-distance hiking trip every summer.

I moved to the observation lounge with a beer and my book, feeling pretty good. An older man, whom I had heard heckling the attendant because he wanted dessert (Just a little square of cake...), sat down next to me.

He was on the phone: We're twelve hours late...unbelievable...and don't even ask me about dinner...yes, terrible...no cake.

He hung up and turned to me, "58 years...that was the most affable....conversation we've ever had."

Then he put his camera to the window to take a picture of the silhouette, the sun setting red and purple behind an Iowan farm house. He couldn't figure out how to turn the flash off. Flash. Flash -- obscuring his picture.

A woman behind us said, "Oh, lightning!"