Monday, December 31, 2007

small town news

For Christmas, my aunt (my mom's sis) sent me, along with a card, copies of columns from the local newspaper of the small Texas town where my family lived in the early-mid 1980s. The clippings were sent to her back then by either my mom or dad. It's amazing what was published.Thought you might enjoy a small sampling. I've abbreviated names...don't know why. At least it eases my conscience, anyway.

From "Willow Springs" by Mattie C.
Mrs. Wade lives between us and Flood Greene's lake. She walks 3 miles a day and Wednesday it was kinda cold. Started out with a sweater on. Just before she got to where school lane runs into Clark's Ferry Road, she pulled her sweater off and laid it down beside the road with a stick on it, planned to get it on her way back home. But when she got back where she left it, the sweater was gone. Anyone who passed that way and thought they found a sweater, well they didn't. It belongs to Mrs. Wade. That's her walking sweater.

...Mattie D. called me tonight....asked if I remembered the old cistern that we got water out of to drink. Drew it out with a bucket and rope. One day dropped the bucket and rope in the cistern. Her brother Arvel S., climbed up on the cistern with a stick with a nail through the bottom to fish out the bucket. Well, he slipped, dropped the stick, it slid off and the nail stuck in his sister's eye, Mattie D. Stuck in her eye near her nose. After quite a lot of time found her mom, took Mattie to the doctor. Didn't lose her eye, just made her eye weak.
From "News of Interest" by A. Kennemer
We've lost so many friends since I wrote last. It makes me feel "blue". May C. has left us. She was dead in bed we were told. She has been with her son Joe Bob and wife Mary, many months, and Joe Bob has been sick also. The lord had to be with Mary or she couldn't have made it.
From "Pauline's News" by Pauline R.
[Mother] was much better off then than she is now. If they think they can come every other week and see about her business and check out her house and things, I would say they have another think. . . .I never took anything from mother. I can't do it and they can't either. Her doctors were there in Greenville and down there they will have to run all sorts of tests to see what is wrong with her. That knot on her neck is about 8 inches long and as much as two inches wide and stands out every bit of an inch. Another small on e has started under her chin by the big one, but no, she wouldn't go to her doctor while she was here. . . .Someone tell me just what can be done with a mother that you can't do anything with or change her mind. We have done all we can. We can't even think of one other thing to even try to do or to suggest to her--it has all been done.

We sure had a bad wind storm Tuesday night, or maybe early Wednesday morning. We didn't get but 1/2 inch of rain, but all together this week we got 2-1/2 inches. Not bad. There was also some frost in low places, but I didn't get out to see about any ice. Frost is ice, but I mean any on the water.
This last one is insanely long. Lots of info on who visited who, who's sick, who was in church, and what the weather has been like. The columns are an interesting bit of history of the time, but I can't imagine how some of this news reporting could not have come back to bite these women in the butt!

Friday, December 28, 2007

three out of four readers

...suggest trying a new venture. Sadly, that new venture did not materialize.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

born on this day

Sir Isaac Newton
Clara Barton
Cab Calloway
Annie Lennox

Several interesting people. I've no beef with the holiday. A good man is celebrated, but he wasn't actually born today. I'm just saying.

He'd probably say, "happy birthday!"


taking the piss out of me

While I was getting a kick out of my mom's melange (sometimes I wonder where these words come from) of birthday gifts, it turns out she was trying, quite literally, to take the piss out of me. I spoke to her on the phone for a bit and got the scoop on the G.O.U.T.

I've had some troubles with a joint on my right hand, and she believes it might be gout which is caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood. I'm not sure that the diagnosis is correct or that this supplement will do the trick, but that was the intent.

Ok, so it's still a little funny. At least now I know the reasoning.

Monday, December 17, 2007

what's cooler than being cool?

ice cold!

Say what you will about hip hop, much of it is true. But this shit is booty-shake-a-rific. No need to ponder heady and serious lyrics. Just close your eyes and get ridiculously stupid. And shake it like a Polaroid picture. Check out Linus' mad moves!

Lend me some sugar. I am you neighbor.

[I saw this first posted elsewhere and cannot for the life of me find it again. Forgive me, blog gods.]

Friday, December 14, 2007

impasse, crossroads, quandry...

Whatever you want to call it, I, um, have a friend who's smack dab in the middle of one. On behalf of this dear soul, I beseech your advice by way of a poll.

Hey, that rhymes. I like limes.

"No more rhymes now, I mean it."
"Anybody want a peanut?"

For the sake of my friend's future and (in)sanity, please find the poll in my side bar and vote, dagnabbit, VOTE!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

one last birthday post

This actually has less to do with my birthday and more with my parents.

I received my birthday package from my mom in the mail today. Couldn't help but be amused by the contrast between hers and my dad's package that I received (before my birthday, I believe).

From Pa:
- Four sheets of recipes that I'd asked for, compiled from memory. Each page with a colorful border, peppered with Slovak words, pronunciations, and translations. Without a doubt carefully thought out and worded.
The recipes:
  • Sour Mushroom Soup - a tradition at Christmas. One of my absolute favorites that Granny, my Slovakian great grandmother, used to make.
  • Caraway Soup - also one Granny made, but I don't remember it as well
  • Down-Home Chicken Dumpling Soup - sans the chicken's feet Granny used to throw in (no joke)
  • Egg Dumpling Batter and Potato Dumpling Batter (for Halushki)
- One 8 oz. (227 g) jar of Tone's Restaurant Black Pepper, touted as "the best brand on the market."
- One 1 lb (453 g) jar of Farmer Brother's Whole Caraway Seed
- One heartwarming birthday card professing faith in my abilities, and a short letter explaining the enclosures and several possible uses for the bounty of caraway.

From Ma:
- One bottle of Nutrapathic G.O.U.T. (Greater Overall Urinary Tract) dietary supplements. No explanation. Not requested. Just submitted for my intake. I don't have any problems with my urinary tract that I'm aware of.
- One winter hat—no doubt a stellar find from a local thrift store...unless ma has started shopping at J. Crew.
- One EARTH Theraputics Pedi-Care Kit, gooming essentials
- One heartwarming card wishing me happiness, restating the adage "when one door closes, another opens," and promising three (intentionally) forthcoming bags of organic popcorn.

Do you see why I love them so? Take half of him and half of her, mash them together—as disparate as they are—and you get little old me: fastidious and random.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

moon-faced and fertile

...according to this site, that describes female Monday babies—which I also am. Male Monday babies are "usually thick haired and a bit more vain about it." Much to infer from that (yeah, I don't know either).

Regardless, happy belated birthday, Nacho man! In deference to your seniority of eleven months and twenty-nine [?] days, I will oblige you your meme.

And so, I give you the Birthday List with the rules here regurgitated:
1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. In the search box, type your birth month and day but not the year.
3. List three events that happened on your birthday.
4. List two important birthdays and one death.
5. One holiday or observance (if any).

Three Events:
1911 - Many cities in the U.S. Midwest broke their record highs and lows on the same day as a strong cold front rolls through. (see The 11/11/11 cold wave).
1918 - World War I ends: Germany signs an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car outside of Compiègne in France. The war officially stops at 11:00 (The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month).
1992 - The Church of England votes to allow women to become priests.

Two Births, One Death:
1922 - Kurt Vonnegut, American novelist (d. 2007) [Maybe I should read something by him...]
1974 - Leonardo DiCaprio, American actor [OK, so not a terribly important person, but we were born on the same day and year. I liked him in What's Eating Gilbert Grape: "I could go at any time."]
1993 - Erskine Hawkins, American trumpet player and big band leader (b. 1914) [Try a sampling.]
Honorable mention: 1938 - Typhoid Mary, carrier of the typhoid disease (b. 1869). [Died of pneumonia.]

South Korea - Pepero Day

I tag Ms. Liz. Write, dagnabbit, write! [If you don't, I may have to post a photo of you in a union suit in downtown Denver. Don't think I won't!]

speak of the devil

I am ashamed.

It's no wonder that the many good people of my country go unnoticed.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

i speak for the trees

Have you heard the saying, "can't see the forest for the trees"? Well, forget about it for a minute. I'd like you to take a closer look at those trees. I'd like to make an argument in favor of occasional myopia.

To those who may revel in the idea of the downfall or a comeuppance for the US, I'm well aware that my government has done its share of evil. Even so, sometimes the big picture is a thin wash. Sometimes the angels are in the details.

Let's zoom in. Here's one focal point. See that lady with the improvised, green bucket drum and the drumsticks?

That's my mom. That's Washington, D.C. in the background. She took a break from picketing alongside the highway in her hometown to take a loooong bus trip out for this march. She also walked with others in the local 4th of July parade, protesting the war and was received by both hoots and heckling from the crowd. She has since moved from a blue state to a red state, into a small and very modest home—the first she's ever independently owned in her life. No doubt she'll be speaking her mind in her new neighborhood, too, but you'll not see that speck of blue on the map.

Or maybe cast your mind's eye on my pops who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War (Yes, I know. Another one we shouldn't have taken on.), and then spent many years advocating for veterans whose bodies and minds were ravaged by war and who were then left to pick up the pieces on their own. He researched their medical conditions and symptoms, and presented their cases in hopes of securing compensation and benefits from the government. Now my dad is getting older, has many health issues, and receives substandard medical attention from the local VA Medical Center.

Or my oldest, closest, and most lovely girlfriend. She joined the Army Reserve pre-conflict to get money for education, ended up in our current foolhardy war for over a year, and came back with a cocktail of service-related health issues—some ever present and others that drop in from time to time just to remind her that they're still in residence. For a living, she works with families in crisis, helping parents with developmental delays find ways to improve parenting skills so that they can keep their children. Needless to say, it's a job that regularly puts her heart through a wringer. She worries about her husband getting laid off from his job, and about her toddler, a little piece of her heart now out walking around in the world.

I understand that the bad rap comes from truth. This informs my weltanschauung. I'm guilty of dogging my country, too, but it is a country, after all, populated with many good people. Maybe you could root for them? Some of us are trying to do right.

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

All this aside, much love to my Canadian peeps. Peace out.

The Golden Compass

Though my grandmother would look at me with concern and say an extra prayer for me (I'm sure I'm a fixture on the prayer list) for saying this (I'm also sure it will come up...and I will still say it because it's true): I loved this movie. I loved the books, and of course they outshine, but even so, I loved this movie.

Of course Ian McKellen
Of course Sam Elliott (with Kathy Bates, of course)
Of course Nicole Kidman
Eva Green? Perfect.
Dakota Blue Richards? Perfect.
Ben Walker? Perfect.
Jim Carter and Tom Courtenay? Perfect and perfect.
Daniel Craig? Meh.

Such strong characters and so well played. The initial scenes with Iorek and Lyra put a lump in my throat, and it just got better and better. Three syllable words kept popping in my head like triumphant and majestic. I typically have a very low tolerance for computer generated images, but even these didn't distract.

Phooey to all the nay sayers. Phooey, I say. I can't wait for the next one. How could there not be a next one?

I'm not certain how the movie will be received by those who haven't read the book. Hopefully, they will give it a try regardless. I initially chose to read The Golden Compass for a class assignment. I was a skeptical reader of fantasy/scifi, and had a tough time at the start, but about a quarter of the way into it, I was hooked through to the end of the trilogy. The audio book by Random House-Listening Library is phenomenal for anyone, and if you're not a big reader, it's a great way to go. Pullman reads along with a full cast:

I'm totally geeking out on this. Check out my kick ass dæmon:

Friday, November 30, 2007

thirty. Minnesota.

Home again, home again. Jiggety-jig.

During my 30th year, I held three different jobs. The first was actually my first, honest-to-goodness job as madame librarian, Erin. It was at a small town library, was part time with no benefits, and was not terribly stimulating. No one sang to me. No singing, no synchronized dancing and stamping of books, and no men in high-waisted pants with surprisingly shapely hips, walking with their noses in books.

My next job was full time as a librarian in a state correctional facility ("prison") that housed about a thousand men at the second to the highest security level. The most curious part about this job was not the men, referred to as "offenders", but the environment. Movement was very controlled. Lots of writing passes to move from point A to B. It felt very much like middle school in that respect. I went through extensive training at the beginning on how to interact with the offenders. The overall atmosphere was very guarded and surficial. Any casual conversations I had with offenders never went beyond reading, television shows, or music interests. Who knows, maybe that was too much by some standards.

I always feel odd saying this, but with few exceptions, the offenders were good guys. I restricted my opinion of them to what my first hand experience was with them in the library. In the end I left because the commute was madness (an hour each direction...and that was after I moved closer), the hours sucked (noon to 9pm), and, yes, it was very isolating. Most other program or education staff went home at 3 or 4, and I was left to either not talk or talk guardedly with offenders, or, on a rare occasion, chat with a guard. One guard would call to chat while he was driving around the building perimeter, bored out of his mind. I never met him in person, and still have no idea what he looked like. I was also at my heaviest during this time since I too often relied on Burger King for lunch and the vending machine for supper.

Job number three was part time as librarian at a county corrections facility ("jail") for adult men and women, referred to as "residents". [The semantics of this business are both puzzling and hilarious.] My office was elsewhere, and I came to the jail once a week with another library employee to visit the different buildings. Movement of the residents was a lot more free flowing, so I was a little stunned at first. After the prison, this place was a total shocker. The visits were organized chaos. We worked madly each week to take and fill requests. I loved it, and was totally wiped out at the end of the day. I still guarded what I said about anything personal, but it was much more laid back. The residents really appreciated what we did and told us all the time.

One of the most rewarding parts of this job was the weekly book discussion group. It was frustrating a lot of the time, but when we hit on something good in a book it made it worthwhile. My absolute favorite, though, was in April when we discussed poetry. I compiled a ton of random verse from a wide range of authors—poets and songwriters—but didn't give out the author's names until the last day. The men told me which ones they read and what their reaction was. One guy chose to discuss this poem. He read it out loud, pausing to say that the guy that wrote it needed to quit smoking the pipe. I had to chuckle. I said, "You don't know it was written by a man," but he was adamant, claiming that a woman wouldn't spend her time on stuff like that.

The most noteworthy of all memories happened on my 30th birthday. The best man (who had caught my eye six years prior had stuck it out with me through all my meanderings and several chafing rough patches) proposed, and I said yes. Turns out long distance relationships do sometimes pan out.

And three years later, I'm 33 and freshly hitched.


Now for some house cleaning...

**Loose end #1**:

The author is Robert Herrick.

Upon Julia's Clothes

Whenas in silks my Julia goes
Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free;
O how that glittering taketh me!
Upon Julia's Clothes

Whenas in silks my Julia goes
Then, then methinks
How sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes

Next when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free
Oh how that glittering taketh me
[Not too damn bad, if I do say so myself.]

**Loose end #2**:

I did it + 3!

My brain (methinks) is experiencing liquefaction.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

not quite a metal flunkie

"Listen to this. Who is this? Can you guess who this is?"

A heavy metal song plays on the radio. Guitar wailing, screaming. Notes flying like an electric shiver up the spine. The insistent questioning means that I should know who it is. Crap. I don't. I listen hard, hoping I'll have a metal epiphany.

"Ummm. Metallica. Metallica?"

"No, just listen—right there! Do you hear that?"

Ahh. A characteristic effect. Whose, I do not know. I say so.

"It's Pantera. Do you hear that sound? That's Dimebag Darrell. That's his signature."

He's not put off, but I'm kicking myself. I should have guessed Pantera—though being able to guess one correctly out of the two most frequently noted bands by the fan in question would hardly lend any more to my credibility as a metal aficionado.

I do not have an ear for this. I wish I did, but I don't. Still, I try. Not to love it, but to better understand it.

What is the appeal? He explains how passionate it is. The feeling is aggression, but it's genuine. Pure. It shouldn't matter what kind of music is—those who do it can feel the passion that they put into it.

This I get. Just as sometimes you need to wallow in self pity, sometimes anger and aggression are what you need to feel, confront, and get out of your system.

There's more to it than this, of course. Guitarists like Darrell Abbott and vocalists like Phil Anselmo and lyricists (and vocalists) like Maynard James Keenan are masters at what they do. I'm not going to like everything I hear, and it won't be my life's quest to stock my closet with black, skull-laden t-shirts, but as long as there's a willing guide, I'm game. I don't know that I would have otherwise given a second (or first) thought to Tool, A Perfect Circle, or System of a Down.

So, I'm not a hard core fan of heavy metal music, but I don't need to be to in order to respect the musicianship and the unfiltered emotion that goes into it. And, yes, it also helps to love the guy who loves the music.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

careful, people!

Now, this is not an attack on a holy text. This is a criticism of an interpretation of this text.

I paid $1 for this at a library book sale. Only after did I realize that someone had torn pages out of it. No matter. I bought it because the bad writing was hilarious, and plenty of good examples of that remained.

Here's one:

The contents list says that this is condensed from Matthew 13:1-3a; Mark 4:1-2; Luke 8:4. I did a comparison and, true enough, taken together, these verses are about people crowding around Jesus who then gets on a boat to tell his parable. What would seem more interesting and valuable would be to hear one of the wonderful stories.

In this case, the story that follows these verses is "The Parable of the Sower" (from my copy), which says, in essence, that the success of a seed depends on the quality of the soil. You could go many directions with that. I know that this 400+ page (!!) book is intended for toddlers, but they could absorb much more complexity than what is illustrated here. Never underestimate the power of their noggins.

But, I guess this depends what the goal is. Is it to show what a popular guy and a great storyteller the man was or is it to relay his stories and provide an opportunity to discuss them?
12/17/07, ETA:
It must be said that the sections following this chapter actually do tell some parables, albeit in as high a quality of prose as this introduction.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

twenty-seven. Wisconsin.

[Fast forward: left Maine for Minnesota where I completed a year as a AmeriCorps volunteer, delivering on the promise. Worked in an elementary school to see if I would like teaching, and saw that I probably wouldn't. Went to South Korea for a month to work at an English language camp. Got accepted then enrolled at a university to become a master in library and information studies. A master, I say.]

Yes, so I finally figured out that maybe I should give librarianship a try. I started my first semester in the fall of 2001. Three classes stick out in my mind as the most valuable and interesting: a class on globalization (referred to here), a class on evaluating children's literature, and a class on geographic representations of information in communications and information studies (i.e. the fun and foibles of maps).

Two brief memories related to the events of 9/11:

One, my initial response as I watched the news reports was: "What did we do now?" (Of course, nothing can justify such an attack, but at the same time I'm not blind to the fact that the U.S. has done far more than its share of dirty deeds.)

Two, during an evening class, a loud siren went off outside. The class must have looked petrified because the professor calmly reassured us that it was only a siren to warn boats to come in off the lake after sundown. The threat was minimal, but the fear was real and instantaneous...and a drop in the bucket compared to the fear people live in every day all over the world.

Technically, I turned 27 exactly two months after 9/11, but, not surprisingly, the events of that day loomed large and colored my education in the two years that followed. It was quite an interesting time to be learning about implications of globalization, information access, and freedom of information.

I cannot believe that this was all six years ago.

Monday, November 26, 2007

a place to sing

Can't think of a damn thing to say, but Shawn Colvin's "Trouble" is chugging, rumbling, thumping through my brain:
I go to the trouble and I like it
That's where I'll be
Trouble is just like love, if it's half the way
It's all I can see
And it's just what you need
This, in turn, tips me toward Jennifer Nettles' "Drag Me Down". (Yes, I'm a fan.) She, knowingly or not, borrows a line from Shawn Colvin's song, but takes it in a different direction:
No you don't have to drag me down
I am drawn to the bottom end
No you don't have to drag me down
After all I descend
They seem to me to be two perspectives on or possibly two phases in a shitty situation. The first acknowledges the funk, rolls round in it, and takes responsibility for it. The second also takes responsibility, but at the same time is sort of an "I may be going down in flames, but at least I'm trying, and, by the way, fuck off for your part in my demise" kind of reaction. I like to sing along to the latter. Loudly.

Ok, so maybe I did come up with something to say.
And if you've never listened to either of these women, well, snap to it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Or: "how I spent my Sunday afternoon"

Behold the bounty: cinnamon pinwheels, cappuccino love bites, pretzels in almond bark, pretzel turtles, half and half peanut butter chocolate thingies, and cranberry almond drop cookies. These are not the official names.

Our hostess also baked ahead of time a loaf of holiday bread for each of us (seen on the chair) and some savory peppery nutty cheesy disks (not pictured). Again, not the official names—especially that last one. I'm actually laughing aloud as I read that one.

For the second year now, I've been included in a small holiday baking gathering—there are three of us. I'm reasonably certain that this will be my last. I don't believe that my partners will shed any tears, either. A surrogate was even delicately mentioned (to my relief) in conversation toward the end.

I say this with no ill will. These are good, polite, and genial women. I'm just not cut out for the high stress world of holiday baking. I'm inexperienced, need far too much direction, and clearly do not grasp the importance of timing and not choosing sweets that require chilling after preparation. Oh, yeah, and I have nut allergies, so there's some amount of mutual guilt hanging in the air—theirs for choosing a recipe with nuts and mine for being the root of another's guilt. (I actually don't mind the nuts. Makes it all the more easy to avoid overindulgence.)

I was seriously tense and on edge the whole time. I had a glass of wine when I got home just to unwind and recuperate.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

twenty-four. Colorado. Maine.

I started as an English major, switched to Biology, then transferred schools to study Natural Resources Management and Latin American Studies. I was sincerely interested in all of these, but after five and a half years, I finally wrapped up the B.S.

So, what did I want to be when I grew up? Still didn't know.

Through about 99% of my college career I worked on campus in the library. The last library where I worked closed for a time due to flood damage. To help me maintain some income, I was very graciously given the job of working at an information booth to assist new students on campus. For as short a time as I spent doing that, I loved it.

Ahem. Did you hear that, me from nine years ago? Sought out and worked jobs at libraries. Loved work that involved helping people find information.

Despite what may seem to be whopper clues, my next venture was
in Maine as a VISTA volunteer. The organization I worked with was a lemon. What was intended to be an organization led by a council of volunteers with input from members of surrounding communities was instead one little man doing what he wanted with input from himself with results to no one's benefit. I was there about 2-3 months.

Highlights from 24:

I went to a friend's wedding in MN and the best man caught my eye. We'd graduated high school together, but had never really talked much. We started writing to each other, using pen and paper for the most part. (Crazy, I know.) An extremely funny, intelligent, and, yes, nice looking man, but long distance relationships never last...and I still had miles to go.

I worked with two wonderful women at the library in Colorado, Sensible Karin and Spit-fire Bettyboth were between 30 and 40 years or so older than me. They were complete opposites, but got along so well and were a blast to work with. Part of an exchange I still recall between them:
Karin: Well, curiosity killed the cat, you know.
Betty: Huh. Satisfaction brought him back.

Karin, Betty, and I went for a day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. Karin was determined to get me there at least once before I left the state. It was absolutely breathtaking, and I couldn't have asked for better company.

That short stint in Maine? Happened during the most beautiful time of the year: late summer and early fall. Long enough to be invited to a cabin by a coworker for a lazy Labor Day: floating blissfully on a lake, later a lobster feed at her trailer (relatives were lobster fishermen), then a live performance by her heavy metal, teenage sons. Kick ass. Also, long enough to see the landscape turn neon as the leaves changed. I got out before any crazy ice storms. I was also flat broke from the move, but hey. The price of taking a chance.

Friday, November 23, 2007

a blogger's conscience

I write and revise. I post.
Then I revise. I revise revisions. I tweak and tinker. I develop, refine, and reconstruct. Nothing you'll find here is off limits to my freakish editing compulsion. I just can't leave something alone if I notice it's not quite right for one reason or another, and this medium is, well, enabling.

Under typical circumstances, I do most of this before posting, leaving only minor touch-ups for post post. This post-a-day deadline is really putting the screws to me, though. I get down to the wire and have to post something skeletal and unsatisfactory. There's an awful lot of revamping going on after the fact.

I don't have many readers and certainly no one who checks in frequently enough to notice, but I do still wonder if I get away with it. And that's how I've realized I view my edits. I feel like I'm cheating or something.

Does anyone else feel this way? Am I reneging on a sacred blogger's compact hidden somewhere in the agreements I clicked through to create this thing? Is there some statute of limitations that dictates the point after which no editing is allowed?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

thank you / gracias / merci

I have no time to post and little or no access later today. Just want to say thank you to any and all who read and comment. Not to overload with cheese, but this blogging business has been one of the most rewarding things I've taken on in a long time and it wouldn't account for much if no one came by. So...


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

twenty-one. Colorado. Belize.

And so began the erinera of Birkenstocks, hairy legs, and patchouli. After I'd completed my sophomore year in Georgia, I transferred to a university in Colorado and shortly after went to Belize for a few months to study its "natural and cultural history" with a small band of students. We covered nearly the whole country—plus a short trek into Guatemala to visit Tikal—by van and slept in tents. Not surprisingly, this is the most memorable period of my twenty first year. A selection from the many high points:

Kindness and a Rastafarian prophet in Caye Caulker. The photo on the left is of my friend, Jess, and I on the top of the I&I bar on Caye Caulker with two kind fellas we met from Mexico. The second was taken a little later that evening. Much laughter. Just looking at that second photo makes my cheeks hurt.

One of the guys who sailed the boat we traveled around on during our time on Caye Caulker said his name was Marcus Garvey. I didn't know any better than to believe him. I wonder how many of the others did and how many laughed their asses off at how gullible I was.

Dancing the punta in Dangriga. We were at a bar/restaurant and where a live band was playing. I got into one of those transcendental, deep down in the music grooves. All that was there was that rhythm. A whole lotta booty shakin'. My thighs and gluteus were singing the next day.

Bare chests and a cougar in Mountain Pine Ridge. Suzi, Nate, and I—efficient students that we were—finished up early with the DBH measurements for our alloted section of pines and went for a walk. It was the strangest sensation to go from working in a moist, green broadleaf forest the day before to working amongst shushing pines and walking a dusty red clay dirt road the next. It was hot and Nate was shirtless. Why shouldn't Suzi whip off her shirt as well? Me? Not quite so free-spirited. It was all very surreal.

Another day during our stay here, Jess and I took off early toward the fire tower to see the sunrise and hopefully spot a tapir—our two professors had been out and seen one earlier that week. No such luck. Instead we were blessed by a cougar that come sauntering out of the forest to our right and onto the road ahead of us. It stopped, stared straight at us for a few beats—probably a few hundred since my heart was racing—then went back the way it came. Amazing and utterly petrifying. We continued on to the tower and I always wonder how closely we were being watched as we passed. (not my photo, by the way, it came from here.)

There's more. Much more. I could write for days on this. Instead, I'll leave you with two more photos.
Me. Tree.

Little mobile home in the forest.
[Note the very prickly tree right in front of the door.]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

you're invited

I'm throwing a Pity Party and, well, actually you've already been roped in so let's commence with the commiseration. Your responses don't necessarily need to be genuine—though I don't see how could you not agree that I suffer. Regardless, I wouldn't know. I'm really not aware of any unhappiness or discomfort you're feeling right now because I'm completely wrapped up in poor me, me, me. Let me tell you about how this person undermines me. And then there's that other person who totally annoys me by toot toot tooting that horn while playing the martyr. Then these other people are so obnoxious because I couldn't get a response from them to save my life. Sure, they're busy and don't have time. Even that much information would be helpful. I mean, it's not like I'm some irrational ogre! If there's a news flash about the department I'm supposed to be managing, I'm not the first or second or even third to know. Everyone else is told and eventually I find out...if I ask. Contact me directly? Whoever heard of such an idea? Got an issue? Someone else is told to to tell me so any effective problem solving can be completely evaded and we can all sit and fume about a situation that's been dreamed up. I work sooo hard to do well on something that's been asked of me and then BOOM! get the cease and desist because I'm creating work for others or they can't deal with that now or they just don't care any more. No one cares about what we're doing or what we need or whatever little drama we're living. Overworked? Join the club! And then come the bright and innovative and synergistic ideas. No matter that they have no clue how it translates to day to day reality, this is the new project with much cachet so I must hop to it!

Squashed! Disrespected! Disregarded! Marginalized! Wah! Wah! Waaaaah!

What's that you say? Couldn't hear a word of that? Just a prolonged, high-pitched cry?
Not enjoying yourself? Neither am I. The bitter hors d'œuvres are giving you indigestion? Y'know...I'm feeling a little nauseous, too.

Has any good come of this? No.
Have I made any progress? Nope.
Solved any problems? Nuh-uh.

Ok. Party's over. Time to get up off the floor where I've been flailing. Time to rein it in and hop down from the high horse I've been riding. Time to put my energy into something that results in something more than a pity party hangover.

Monday, November 19, 2007

shuffling my zen


I do not own a pod of any variety because the proprietary .m4p is buggin', because they cost more, and because I can't use them listen to ebooks from the library. Yes, I know that sounds crotchety. Love me or leave me.

I own a Creative Zen, so I've shuffled that. Here you go, the first ten at random*:
1. Ride a White Swan (T. Rex)
Lyrics are very odd, but you don't listen to this stuff for insight. Unless you're high. Or a Druid. Or both.

2. Regulate (Warren G feat. Nate Dogg)
Infectious groove and so smoooooth. He is a beautiful, beautiful man. And Nate Dogg? A voice like buttah.

3. Baby's Got Sauce (G. Love & Special Sauce)
I love that he just owns up to being whooped. This one's so so fun to sing along to.
A kiss for some of this / a smile and it's done.

4. Best of What's Around (Dave Matthews Band)
Optimism. I spent some time traveling, tenting, and studying with a group in Belize. Someone posted the lyrics to this in the outhouse near one of our encampments. It did make the experience a little more bearable.

5. Been Caught Stealing (Jane's Addiction)
A song to bounce to. Manic. The video used to crack me up.

6. If It Isn't Love (New Edition)
They were so sweet and talented (if you can manage to not let the present day Bobby Brown taint the image). I have a soft spot for well choreographed singing groups...if they predate the New Kids.

7. Notion (Barbara Kessler)
I plucked this from the CD Women's Work that I found at the library. An ambling song. Why complicate things right now? This is what I can do.
I'll give you an inkling / Spare you a notion / Nothing more. / You get what you pay for.

8. Roll 'Em Pete (Big Joe Turner / Pete Johnson)
Pure, unadulterated boogie.
Well, you're so beautiful, you've got to die someday
Well, you're so beautiful, you've got to die someday
All I want's a little loving, just before you pass away

9. Pleasure Principle (Janet Jackson)
Control was one kick-ass album.

10. Baker Baker (Tori Amos)
Bare bones beautiful.

If I came across two songs from the same album, I skipped the second. [I also skipped a shuffled in chapter on Uranus (no kidding) from The Planets by Dava Sobel. Still haven't finished listening to that!] Songs were glommed from two (the only) music folders I created—one titled "Jenn & Co" (mostly mellow, chick songs) and the other "Up Beat". Odds were in favor of the latter.

All in all, quite a lovely snap shot. This was just the post I needed—a fly on the wall would have seen and heard my research: some mad dance moves and wicked off-key singing. Thank you, Haiku.

+ + + + + + + +
If you are so moved to take on this meme, consider this a passing of the torch. Go forth and shuffle, gentle readers. If not, never mind.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

eighteen. Minnesota.

Senior year: the beginning of the end of my extended stay in Minnesota. Plans were in the works for the first of many self-instigated moves. I'd had my fill of potential, and needed kinesis. My reasoning sequence went something like this: Must get away from small town and small minds. The south was good. I must go south.
"College in Georgia, you say?"
[in hushed voice] "Do you know there are black people there?"
"Yes. Yes, I do."
That settled it.

While the class voted me "typical" and "best hairstyle" (I'd traded the spire-o-hair for a bounty of permed curls), I received the most important vote of confidence from my English teacher, Mr. Johnson. At the end of the year he returned my final paper (on Oscar Romero) to me with a short letter. I will be forever grateful for his words:
I don't make it a practice to give gratuitous praise, but in your case I want to make it clear that you have one of the best minds I have encountered in twenty-six years. . . .I hope that your intelligence and your sensitivity will bring you happiness and success.
He wasn't lying. He didn't give gratuitous praise. He hardly acknowledged me if we passed in the hallway. His comments in tight red script on my papers were concise, direct, and constructive—complimentary when needed, but equally critical when needed. It shouldn't be implied that he was uptight and reserved. In front of class he could be quite saucy. More importantly, though, he loved literature and loved writing and his enthusiasm was contagious. He made the dead live again. It was from him in his class that I first heard "Upon Julia's Clothes" recited from memory. Quite influential. Made me want to steal books.

And that letter from him did more for me than good grades and a diploma.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Company of Strangers

[for the yanks: Strangers in Good Company]

I first saw this film when it came out in video. I've lost count of how many times I've watched it since. It's the perfect blend of beautiful characters, beautiful scenery, and beautiful music.

It isn't actors portraying grumpy or cute or otherwise stereotypical older women. The situation is staged (8 women—7 older and one younger—are stranded when their bus breaks down), but their stories and and personalities are their own and are as varied as any you'd find in any group of any age. All of the women have endearing moments. Some more than others.

My favorite is Cissy Meddings. There she sits in the photo, leaning on the rock. There are a couple of shots in the movie of Cissy alone, looking off, paying attention to her surroundings. She gathers water from the lake and then stands to watch the birds swooping and skimming just above the water's surface. During a downpour she stands on the porch, looking out over the field. Her arm raises slightly and you wonder what may have moved through her thoughts at that moment. What was she following or gesturing toward?

The current cover photo shows Cissy holding on to Winnie's arm as they walk. I prefer to think of the opening shot in the film. Cissy leads the group. She walks independently and with purpose out of the fog. Despite challenges and losses she's experienced, there is such an uncomplicated joy about her and a resolve not to dwell on hardships, but to move forward and make the best of things. She is not helpless. When she speaks of recovering from a stroke she recalls lying in bed, counting window panes, and then suddenly deciding, "This won't do. I've got to get up." And she did.

This passage from In the Company of Strangers, written by fellow cast member, Mary Meigs, brought tears to my eyes. (Who am I kidding? I cried.):
At the wrap party that celebrated the end of filming, we were mesmerized by the vision of Cissy, dancing alone like a honeybee dancing directions, in the din and glare of flashing lights. She was wearing pink sneakers, white socks, a white cotton dress and a pink cardigan. The other dancers had left plenty of space around the circle where she shuffled her feet and spun slowly around in time to the beat. Her face, turned up, wore an expression of heavenly bliss. She held out her arms, elbows bent, fists clenched, moving to the beat, her pink sneakers shuffled and turned. She would be there till morning, it seemed, dancing her joy, while the others, a third her age, staggered exhausted off the dance floor.
I want to be a Cissy when I grow older, dancing my joy.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Not much to say today. Sorry to be a lame-o, but I'm tired.

Just spent a loooooong night waiting for a short bus.

Ok, ok. Here's a short poem from memory. I'll have to look up the who and when and maybe explain the why another day. And check to see if I got it right:

Upon Julia's Clothes

Whenas in silks my Julia goes
Then, then methinks
How sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes

Next when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free
Oh how that glittering taketh me

Can any of you guess correctly? No cheating.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

fifteen. Minnesota.

Freshwoman. Oh, the time and hairspray that were expended to get my bangs to stand up just so.

I ran with a wild bunch, though by today's standards we were probably pretty tame. I led a double life, really. At school, I was studious. On weekends, I either went to parties (either house or a keg in the woods/field) to drink and smoke with friends or slept over at a friend's house where we'd smoke, maybe drink, and stay up all night acting like idiots.

I used to smoke. I used to drink. I used to smoke, drink, and dance the hootchie-coo.

A major revelation for me happened during my government class. We each took a personal opinion quiz and I discovered that I was a closeted liberal. Quite a shock after all of the conservative cheer leading (Reagan/Bush '84!) that had gone on in my home. It's quite something to realize you have a mind and opinions of your own.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

post script

I meant to add this to this post, but didn't. From the chapter titled "Native Genius" in Ecology of a Cracker Childhood:
Daddy's was an amazing triad of traits—frugality, creativity, and mechanical ingenuity—so that as I grew, our estate grew. Junk bred junk.

I know now my father's occupation has an actual title; he is a bricoleur, a term given by French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss to folk recyclers, people of creativity, vision and skill who use castaways for purposes other than those originally intended, sometimes for art. Theirs is a native genius—as Joe Graham explains in his paper about milusos, meaning thousand uses, of Mexico—that goes beyond simply making do with what one has. Native geniuses are "able to take the materials and technology at hand and solve complex problems."
I like this idea. It appeals to my practical sensibilities. We're already producing enough new crap in the world. We need more new spins on what we already have.

post script of post script:
What do you believe in? Luck? Tao? Kismet? Karma? Blessings? Good ooga booga? Prayer? Positive thinking?

Whatever it is, send some positive stuff to me tomorrow. I'd appreciate it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

loving scare

I spent a couple of hours tonight assisting with a program that enabled parents to digitally record themselves reading a book. The recordings will each be burned to a CD that their preschool child can listen to during the day as one of their chosen independent classroom activities.

Easily 95% of the parents were Spanish speakers and knew little or no English. It was emphasized to them (in their own language) that the closeness and connection that the child feels with their parent as he or she hears the story was hugely important in developing a positive attitude and love for reading. In addition to the story, parents were encouraged to include personal messages as well as little songs or rhymes. It was really a wonderful thing to see and hear. A couple of the parents actually cried when they were done because they were just so happy to be able to do this for their child. This was one of those glimmers that makes the yuck parts of my job fade to the background.

When all the parents had gone home, I was told about one of the moms who, after reading a book said, "Oh, I have to make up a song. I always make up a little song for him." She thought and thought and then sweetly sang a little song that went something like this:
Go to sleep / Go to sleep / Or the big cat will come and get you.

A little shocking at first, maybe, but I totally got it.

When my mom used to come in to say goodnight to us she always had some little ditty or rhyme that she'd sing or say. It might be a really lovely old hymn, like "In the Garden," which I remember fondly. But more often than not, she'd pull something completely unconventional from her noggin. And for all of the goodnight trips she made for four kids, who could blame her for wanting to make things a little interesting? We loved it—though we each had differing tastes and tolerances.

My older brother, my mom informed me, would beg her to stop if she sang "Loving You Has Made Me Bananas" à la Mrs. Elva Miller, but it flat out cracked me up.
Oh, your red scarf matches your eyes,
You closed your cover before striking,
Father had the shipfitter blues,
Loving you has made me bananas.
This was another odd song [for full effect "chaw" must be growled and tobacco pronounced "tabacca"] frequently performed:
Hooka tooka my soda cracker
Does your momma chaw tobacco?
If yer momma chaws tobacco sing
Hooka tooka my soda cracker
She also used to recite a portion of Little Orphant Annie, too, that scared the bejeezus out of me, but I never asked her not to recite it:
Wunst they wuz a little [girl] wouldn't say [her] prayers,--
An' when [she] went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
[Her] Mammy heerd [her] holler, an' [her] Daddy heerd [her] bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, [she] wuzn't there at all!
Beats the hell out of "The Wheels on the Bus Go 'Round and 'Round". No matter what the ditty was, I always felt safe and loved.

Monday, November 12, 2007

twelve. Minnesota.

Ah, middle school. I was very fortunate to fly under the radar during these years. Didn't get kicked off of any lunch tables. Didn't get challenged to a rumble at the Busy Bee laundromat by a girl who'd sharpened her fingernails to points. (Both of these were realities for others.) I did have someone put tape in my hair, but I think it was 'cause he liked me. Dumb ass.

But I did tempt fate. I won the spelling bee. Brace yourself for the suspenseful play by play:

That's right. Champion speller. Big reader. Winner of gargantuan dictionary (which I still have, thank you very much). Why no one kicked my ass is a mystery. I did get gentle ribbing from my friends who christened me the Spelling Bee Queer (back when it just meant odd), a name that name actually stuck for a while. I didn't advance any further in the competition. "Savvy" did me in at the regionals. The next year I entered, but threw the match (threw the bee?). At least that's what I tell myself.

The funny thing about this is that until very recently I had remembered that Izzy had won and I was the runner up. I was actually surprised when I found this article. Suppressing my inner dork, I guess.

Oh, yeah, and my parents divorced sometime around my twelfth year. Not a happy incident, but also not terribly devastating. Theirs was not a match made in heaven. I may have even been relieved.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Yep. Thirty-three years ago today, at 11:17 p.m., I greeted the scene—the third (I just blew your mind) of four children. And you're all thanking your lucky stars.

For your pleasure, I decided that for the remainder of the month, I will mark every third year of this occasion (on the date corresponding with the year of my life) with a tidbit of whatever I can recall from that year in my life. Ok, so this is not so much for your pleasure (though it pleases me if it pleases you), as it is for me think about where I've been and how I got to where I am. It will also give me something to write about for seven of the remaining nineteen days.

Because I'm launching this brainchild on the eleventh day, my birth date, I've got to get you up to speed, quick-like.

birth. Minnesota.
Don't recall a thing, though I have to say that my expression seems one of amused disbelief. I'm pretty sure ma told me that she had doubts about whether the nurses had accidentally swapped me with another baby because I looked like a little Eskimo.

three. Minnesota.
My very first memories are from this time. Some good: climbing everything. I loved to climb. We had these weird windows that had slates of glass that cranked open like blinds. Climbed up those. Climbed up to the top of a pine tree to rescue a stupid cat that then ran back up the damn tree. Some bad: mom and dad fighting. In a rage, Dad obliterated mom's tomato plant. Envision red splatted on the wall. Not good. Some portentous: (Actually, the last one could fall in this category, too.) An early testimony from my mother as to my stubbornness and demand for respect:
I remember distinctly an incident in the kitchen where you had pulled out all of the canned goods for the umteenth time and I lost my patience - you absolutely refused to help me put the cans back in the cupboard until I asked you nicely; scolding did not work, in fact scolding just made you dig in your heels and refuse to cooperate in any way. That was at age 3.
I remember this. I closed my eyes when she caught me. Thought that if I couldn't see her, she couldn't see me. No such luck.

six. Minnesota.
Self portrait with caption that reads, "Erin in her school uniform." Started kindergarten at a small, private Baptist school. I was painfully, debilitatingly shy. Embarrassing confession: the teacher took the class for a bathroom trip. I didn't want to go with them, but I had to pee so I found another receptacle: the container for little plastic toys for the classroom's sandbox.

nine. Texas.
Nothing in particular sticks out in my mind about this year. By this time, third grade, I had gone to four different elementary schools, but we'd been at this location since the middle of my second grade year. The start of the school year always brought anxiety. Loved school. Loved school supplies. Reuniting with or meeting new people scared the bejeezus out of me.

Stay tuned for twelve.

magic number

Three is a magic number,
Yes it is, it's a magic number.
Somewhere in the ancient, mystic trinity
You get three as a magic number.

The past and the present and the future.
Faith and Hope and Charity,
The heart and the brain and the body
Give you three as a magic number.


A man and a woman had a little baby,
Yes, they did.


On Armistice Day
The Philharmonic will play
But the songs that we sing
Will be sad
Shufflin' brown tunes
Hanging around

No long drawn blown out excuses
Were made
When I needed a friend she was there
Just like an easy chair

Armistice Day
Armistice Day
That's all I really wanted to say
"That song mainly meant, let's have a truce. I chose the title 'Armistice Day' because it's not even called 'Armistice Day' anymore. . . . I didn't really mean it to be specifically about the war. I just meant that I'm worn out from all this fighting, from all the abuse that people are giving each other and creating for each other." - Paul Simon

[in The Rolling Stone Interviews]

Saturday, November 10, 2007

she ain't heavy

I'm sick of the weight given to weight. Tired of the social psychosis. I don't even know where I'm going with this really, so I'm just going to spew. If you are grounded in who you are, what the fuck does it matter? I wish that it didn't matter. I wish that all it took was a steely resolve, but it's hard to escape this crap without a dent. I was overweight. I never really let that define who I was, but that disconnect between how I viewed myself and how others viewed me and treated me was so unsettling. It was maddening to question my own value because of comments from idiots because I knew better. Juggling the two perceptions is exhausting.

Then I lost weight. I was glad I lost weight, but not because I thought, "Excellent. Now the world will see that I'm worthwhile." Sure, I was happy with the change in my appearance, but this was only one of the pros. I physically felt better. My heartbeat didn't skip around. My knees didn't hurt. I wasn't so tired all the time.

Nothing about the change in my appearance changed the way many comments made me feel. Telling me repeatedly how thin I am still amounts to dwelling on my outward appearance—the least important part of who I am. For good measure, add in asinine comments about "cheating" with what I might be eating or questions about what I am or am not allowed to eat.

And then there's this insane camaraderie that some feel with me. I was at a club with a friend of a friend and she commented to me about a woman on the dance floor who she felt was overweight. "I just want to go up to her and tell her, 'It's ok,'" she said. There was no indication that the girl needed consoling. She was dancing. She was enjoying herself.

A friend of mine is going through the tug of war with her self image and how others view her. She's gotten comments and is very unhappy with how she looks, but at the same time she confesses, "But I don't feel fat." She knows better. And she's right. She is not fat. She is absolutely phenomenal.

It just makes me want to scream.

The best reaction I've gotten from people about my weight loss is disbelief. Those people never saw my weight. They saw me.

Friday, November 9, 2007

go to the dump*

A recent commentary on Marketplace by Mary Annette Pember made me think of that book I'd mentioned a short while back, The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900 by David Edgerton, and the one by Janisse Ray I mentioned just two shakes ago.

The first because of the differing views of technology. The current and predominant "innovation-centric" view that's heavily weighted toward *NEW*NEW*NEW* vs. a "use-centered" view that takes into account which technologies have had staying power and how and why they've stayed around. The first view would show that most developing countries sorely lack in technological prowess or contribution. The latter would recognize resourcefulness—the ability to take what we'd consider and outdated or out-of-fashion technology and maintain it and keep it relevant.

The second because Janisse Ray's father and his customers exemplified this ingenious ability.

All three recognize the value in technologies or items that get used again and again because they fill a need and do it well. They give due credit to the ingenuity of local populations that make these and other technologies work because there is no other accessible option.

Interesting that there's a movement that's striving for the same thing.

One person's trash is another's treasure. One person's choice is another's necessity.

[*This was a card game I played growing up and later learned that most other people call it "Go Fish":
"Do you have an Ace?"
"No. Go to the dump."]

Thursday, November 8, 2007

i'm not a witch! i'm not a witch!

I'm a neo-pagan. Totally different.
Well, at least according to this I'd qualify. I tried to deny it, but after three tries and 100% each time...? With each pass, I did become more compatible with Unitarian Universalists and New Agers, but less with Mahayana Buddhists. Here's the top 5 of the final rundown:
  1. Neo-Pagan (100%)
  2. Unitarian Universalism (99%)
  3. New Age (94%)
  4. Liberal Quakers (90%)
  5. Mahayana Buddhism (78%)
The logic's not nearly as well reasoned as Sir Bedevere's, but worth contemplating nonetheless.

Neo-paganism seems to be a catch-all, and I can jive with that. I looked over the info on it, though, and I don't really relate with much else. I'm not in for ceremony...especially those that take place in circular formations and involve hand holding. I'm sure there's more to it than that, but that's enough for me to self-disqualify.

I think I have Alice Walker to blame for my pagan leanings. I've sampled different faiths, but nothing ever rang more true to me than Shug Avery's explanation of God:
God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don't know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord. Feeling like shit.
. . .
It ain't something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything. . . . Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you've found It.
. . .
Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance, make faces and give flower bouquets, trying to be loved. You ever notice that the trees do everything to git attention we do, except walk?
To quote Celie, "Amen." If I needed a stand-in for the Bible, The Color Purple would be it.

Note the animism vein. Even so. I just don't wish to associate with things magickal. [The "k". Is it really necessary? All it conjures for me is obnoxious spellings like "kwik".]

Now for some levity (e.g. very small rocks):

[Thank you, Hillbilly, Please, for helping me uncover my pagan inclinations.]

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

as if a photo was needed

Jeffrey Pippen, "Longleaf Pine Savannah at the Green Swamp, NC - 29 May 2003"

In a longleaf forest, miles of trees forever fade into a brilliant salmon sunset and reappear the next dawn as a battalion marching out of fog. The tip of each needle carries a single drop of silver. The trees are so well spaced that their limbs seldom touch and sunlight streams between and within them.
I'm just over half-way through rereading Janisse Ray's Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, about her childhood and the astonishing loss of longleaf pine forest in the southeast of the U.S.
This was not a loss I knew as a child. Longleaf was a word I never heard. But it is a loss that as an adult shadows every step I take. I am daily aghast at how much we have taken, since it does not belong to us, and how much as a people we have suffered in consequence.

Not long ago I dreamed of actually cradling a place, as if something so amorphous and vague as a region, existing mostly in imagination and idea, suddenly took form. I held its shrunken relief in my arms, a baby smelted from a plastic topography map, and when I gazed down into its face, as my father had gazed into mine, I saw the pine flatwoods of my homeland.
She is an amazing writer.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

dysfunction junction

The point at which feverish quest for prestige and upward mobility meets dwindling or otherwise anemic experiential knowledge. Commonly associated with a dissonant delusion of omniscience.

That one I made up. This one I did not.
1 : standing or estimation in the eyes of people : weight or credit in general opinion 2 : commanding position in people's minds
French, from Middle French, conjuror's trick, illusion, from Latin praestigiae, plural, conjuror's tricks, from praestringere to graze, blunt, constrict, from prae- + stringere to bind tight...
I love words. I could kiss that etymology.

Monday, November 5, 2007

spaghetti with mary and gene

I've explained previously the heart and effort that my grandparents put into these fund raiser dinners. Never ceases to amaze. I decided I had to photo-document it.

This time it was hoppin', and so, as a consequence, were my grandparents. Someone (not them) had the brilliant idea of having a silent auction during the dinner. People wanted to get their bids in under the wire, and results were announced at the end, so the crowd never thinned and my grandmother never sat down to eat. 4 hours. She's a lean mean hostess machine.

There she is in white shirt and black pants, her young protégé walking behind. I was introduced to the mentee shortly after I arrived. Grandma was very happy to report that they've been getting more, younger volunteers. They even had two people vying for the plate scraping job. Unheard of.

My great aunt and uncle came this time, too. Very different personalities between sisters, but both endearing. When asked by a member of the congregation if we enjoyed the dinner, I provided the polite, "Yes, thank you." Marge said, "Well, it's not how I make spaghetti at home, but... Couldn't you put some spices in there?" I had to stifle a guffaw. Mary prays for souls; Marge provides comic relief.

Despite the hullabaloo and much to my grandma's chagrin, many of the silent auction items were left without a bid. The kitchen closed at 3 pm sharp, and so commenced the tear down. Within an hour of my arrival, it was as if nary a meatball had been served. There's Grandpa Gene: white head and black sweater vest.
In one of several trips to the car with my grandma and Marge to load the centerpieces (which my grandparents supplied once again), my great uncle commented to an on-looker, "Jeez, you don't think they're related, do ya?", and so prompted the last photo shot by him at my request. Yes, very related. Couldn't be prouder. (See? The boogie monster's not so scary.)

My grandparents do this—and many, many other things—for the church out of duty and devotion, not in hopes of heavenly reward. So, on their behalf, I hope that when they've passed to the great beyond someone else waits on them hand and foot. I'd be honored to do it...if I'm not caught and booted out, that is.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

from "Return"

by Carolyn Forché
Your problem is not your life as it is
in America, not that your hands, as you
tell me, are tied to do something. It is
that you were born to an island of greed
and grace where you have this sense
of yourself as apart from others. It is
not your right to feel powerless. Better
people than you were powerless.
You have not returned to your country,
but to a life you never left.
in The Country Between Us.

The full poem is long and striking. The whole collection will knock you off your feet.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

straight jazz became hot

Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli and the Quintette du Hot Club de France:

I love that grin.

go ahead. dance a jig.

You won't be surprised at my praise for most anything Paul Simon. Most assuredly you won't be surprised that I love the instrumental "Hobo's Blues," a small but potent dose of bliss. I cannot sit still when it's playing. I found this version to share, and while it does fall short of greatness (she knows it too, note the closing interjection), it's a valiant effort, and it'll still make you boogie. Don't hold back—no one's looking.

I took a closer look at the credits for "Hobo's Blues," from the first solo album* released in the U.S., and spotted the name Stéphane Grappelli (see him smile when he plays). Those of you in the know will be saddened to know—I am saddened to know—that I had not heard of this man before. Believe me, I'm hot on the trail of correcting this mammoth oversight.

[*Thank you to Liz. I first heard this album when you purchased it for your parents.]

Friday, November 2, 2007

all overdone

Found by way of this post, an excellent commentary on just where paranoia lands us:
If you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel, you shouldn't be surprised when you get amateur security.

...[S]top urging people to report their fears. People have always come forward to tell the police when they see something genuinely suspicious, and should continue to do so. But encouraging people to raise an alarm every time they're spooked only squanders our security resources and makes no one safer.
I agree, his examples are "attack[s] on the unique, the unorthodox, the unexpected," and when you're hypersensitive to lurking evil-doers, just about anything will qualify. At the same time, I have to wonder about another motive. Despite the exasperating mantra, "better to fight them here than here," it appears people are chomping at the bit to fight "them" here and are willing to fabricate "them" so they can do just that. Or maybe folks just want to see a good taserin'. Compensating for insecurity, real or imagined, personal or political.


And with that, I leave you, once more, with Paul:
Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland
But I think it's all overdone
Exaggerating this and exaggerating that
They don't have no fun

I don't believe what I read in the papers
They're just out to capture my dime
I ain't worrying
And I ain't scurrying
I'm having a good time

. . .

Maybe I'm laughing my way to disaster
Maybe my race has been run
Maybe I'm blind
To the fate of mankind
But what can be done?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

hello and goodbye

I saw my uncle in a dream just before I woke last Saturday. It was one of those dreams where I wake up with a taut lump in my throat—on the verge of tears, but not able to cry. He appeared out of the blue and out of context, and I was really happy to see him—could feel it in my heart. I gave him a hug. He looked content.

I saw him two months ago for the first time in years. A small contingent of my ma's side of the family converged with uncanny timing at a borrowed cabin up north. None of us knew exactly where we were going or when we should arrive. We followed different meandering paths—in state, out of state, north, south, east and west—yet more than half of us ended up at the same point within minutes of each other. That's about how the weekend went, too. Things just fell into place. It was impromptu, easy, and light, full of conversation and belly-aching laughter.

My uncle arrived a little later. His health was not good and he hadn't been sleeping well so he'd delayed a bit, hoping to get a little more rest before making the drive. He was low-key, chatted some and played cards with his granddaughters. When it was time for us to go, I hugged him and said hello and goodbye. We hadn't spoken much, but I was glad he was there. Gatherings like this are few and far between.

About six weeks later, I was attending his funeral. At first, I wasn't sure if I should even be there. I felt incidental. I remembered him fondly, but as a subtle presence. When he and my aunt divorced the familial tie was stretched thin went on. Maybe I felt a little guilty for that, and that I didn't really deserve to be there.

But I went, and I got to say hello and goodbye one more time. Old photos and stories introduced me to a man I'd never known, and revived memories of kindnesses that I had known. I learned what he meant to my cousins. How often does "My dad is a great dad because..." come up as a topic of discussion before something like this happens? He was a considerate and caring father. He wasn't ostentatious. He gained respect and obedience quietly. No one wanted to disappoint him.

After the service, we converged again, this time from one direction, following one path to the long-held family home. My cousins' children climbed the apple tree, polished and claimed stashes of apples as their own. Adults plucked and shined memories from the home and yard, some to share and some not. Remember playing Capture the Flag? Remember when your brother peed off the top of the haystack? Those woods...remember how we stayed gone for hours out there, just exploring and playing? Remember lip syncing to Roger Whittaker ("..and the first time that we said hello, began our last goodbye.")?

My family moved many times when I was growing up. On more than one occasion, my aunt and uncle opened their home to us as a port in the storm or an extended pit stop between ventures. As I wandered the house, I realized that I was also saying goodbye to their home, my last accessible hold of memories. It was the last place from my childhood that was still available to me. I could walk from room to room and point...I didn't have to close my eyes and imagine. My aunt sat over there in the living room to knit and crochet. I sat in that tub, playing until my fingers wrinkled with kitchen utensils—measuring cups, Tupperware containers, a funnel, an egg beater—as bath toys. We put on performances there, at the top of that stairwell, for our parents who lined the steps. We hid in these cavernous closets and cubbies during games of hide-and-seek. The house seemed so small now. I could hardly believe all of the memories it cradled.

Such a day of loss, but I hadn't felt so at peace in a long time. When I dreamed of my uncle, he asked, "Are you going to use...?" That was it, but I knew what he was asking. I knew that I needed to write this, remember this. Again and again, I come back to this concept of seeing the invisible and welcoming the unexpected. It is a true challenge for me and goes against nearly every learned inclination. But when it happens, when all else falls away and I have a bit of clarity? It's stunningly sweet and mollifying.