I do love Christmas, and I'm always glad to spend it at mom and dad's house, but there's no denying the sweetness of returning to the left coast when the holiday is through.

Because, see, there are only so many heavy, multi-course meals I can eat (the hours between them liberally interspersed with cookies) before I swear I will bust out of my clothes (in the worst possible way). It's nice to have a different route for my runs, but running in cold weather is not something I'm meant to do long-term. And though I love being around my big, crazy family, I do miss my own house, and regular phone chats with the boy (without having to drag the phone to some far corner of the house in search of privacy), and being able to sit and read uninterrupted for hours on end if I want.

So tonight I came back from SFO, went out in the rain to Golden Produce, and returned home with the makings of a dinner that did not feature cheese or butter as its central tenet. I ate in front of the computer. I puttered around more or less aimlessly. I might soon take a bath. While I do miss the fam, and while the past week has left me pleasantly full in every respect, it's lovely to once again be back in the sphere of my life here. It feels deliciously like home.


Seeing the light

I won't claim to be addicted to electicity, but I will admit to finding it terribly convenient. It was something of a disappointment, then, to find myself at 6.30 last night suddenly in the quiet and dark of a blackout. My holiday party, scheduled to start around 8, seemed more and more doomed as 7 arrived, then 7.30, with no sign of electrical relief.

But thanks to the score of candles I'd gathered earlier (intending to use them even under normal functioning on PG&E's part) and my gas stove and the fact that I was anal enough to do a lot of advance prep, it still seemed feasible to have a party. So I did.

And although it seemed for a while that Monique and I would have a lot of food and alcohol to consume by ourselves, people did trickle in. Then they flowed in, and the house was warm without a heater, and the candles gave us all the light we really needed, and we ate and drank and missed only the lights on my little Christmas tree and, until conversation would've drowned it out anyway, some music. Everything else seemed just as it should be.

About half an hour ago, the power snapped back on, as abrubtly as it had gone off last night, and I'm glad: I can do laundry, and homework, and can stop worrying about setting myself on fire while trying to read the paper by candlelight.

But despite the initial frustration it caused, I'm almost happy the city was powerless last night. Sometimes it's helpful--and, dare I say, enlightening--to sit with your friends, some candles, and some mulled wine, and, for a while, just let go. What else can you do?


The quest of the year

It seemed simple, really: I wanted to find some plain, normal sized, red-and-white striped, peppermint flavored candy canes. No chocolate mint, no cherry, no jumbo, no mini, no exotic, no Mrs. Fields gourmet. Plain. Damn. Candy canes.

Walgreens had everything but: foot-long, 1-inch-thick? Check. Starburst flavored? Check. Boxes of 100 mini canes? Check. Plain old freakin' candy canes? No way.

Safeway was also no use, nor was Trader Joe's or Bed Bath & Beyond (though they seem to stock every other holiday candy ever created). Finally, tucked away in the corner of Target--out beyond where you have to walk past the security guard and risk setting off the alarm if you take your cart with you--there they sat: box after box of lovely, simple, unassuming candy canes.

The madness of my quest for what seems like it should be a ubiquitous Christmas confection (I mean, seriously: it's not like I was trying to hunt down Peeps or wax lips or anything) was matched only by the ludicrousness of my search for Sara's alarm clock.

My sister-in-law wants a regular (i.e., non-travel) alarm clock that has a 5-minute snooze function. On its face, this seemed like an easy wish to fulfill. But its face clearly lied, as I looked at--and I am not exaggerating--well over 35 alarm clocks trying to find one that didn't have a 9-minute snooze. (Who decided that 9 minutes was the perfect amount of time to delay an alarm once it goes off? And why has the entire electronics industry, with very few dissenters, bought into this insanity?)

I was sure Amazon would pull through, but they really didn't. The huge number of merchants within the site means you're unlikely to get standard info from one product to the next. One alarm clock is listed with exhaustive technical details and a link to the PDF of the user's manual. The next won't admit to anything more than being an alarm clock and sporting black casing. I looked for about 40 minutes last night before I finally gave up.

Finally, as with the candy canes, Target ended my search, though not before I dug out the manual from every alarm clock on the shelf to find out how long the clock's snooze lasted. (Note to manufacturers: Why not print that info on the packaging and save harried shoppers like me a few minutes of frustration?)

So Sara will get whatever model it was I ended up finding (it immediately went into a box of gifts to be shipped home, and I can only remember that it wasn't Timex and it wasn't Sony).

Maybe, for good measure, I should tuck in a candy cane before I wrap it.


Just bleh

I will agree with Gavin Newsom on one thing: as he said in a Times article on Sunday, only in San Francisco could someone who's pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-same sex marriage, and pro-legalized medical marijuana be considered right-wing.

Of course, it's not Newsom's stance on those issues that makes him seem like a relative Republican. It's his exceedingly slick, pro-business, anti-homeless, Willie Brown, Jr., Jr. attitude that makes me squirm.

The same goes for Kamala Harris. It's a mark of pride that San Francisco has the state's first African-American DA, but that progressiveness is all but eradicated by Harris' creepily perfect politician's demeanor (already!). Listening to her evade or obfuscate on every last question when she was a guest on Forum last week was maddening. I can't imagine it'll get better.

We are, of course, nowhere near as screwed on the city level as we are on the state level (impressive: Schwarzenegger breaks his "won't touch education" campaign promise within a month of taking office). San Francisco will continue to pull between the latter-day yuppies and the latter-day hippies, just as it has for the past several years. And we're still as far left as it's possible to be in the US.

But we had the chance to get beyond the cronyism and false compassion of the Brown administration, and we didn't take it. Not terribly surprising, to be sure, but grumblingly disappointing nonetheless.



I suppose it was unrealistic to think that going early to MoMA on Sunday would assure me a quick and crowd-free entry to the Chagall show. My hopes for anything of the sort were shattered when I crossed Mission and saw the lines splaying out from the museum.

After a time-killing trip to the museum store, and a short wait in the members' line, I did manage to make my way inside--and then into another line that snaked slowly to the fifth floor. Finally, some force propelled me into the exhibit.

It was not Nice.

That is, it was nothing like the Musee Chagall in Nice, which J and I sauntered into last summer, after dining among the Turks in our hotel's restaurant and wandering the streets for bad postcards and some much-needed eyedrops. In Nice, at least on a day like ours, you can see Chagall's huge murals, and several of his smaller works, with crowds so miniscule they can't really be called crowds. You can do as we did and take copious photos (sans flash, but the museum is so bright you don't need it), edging close enough to the paintings to see the finest detail on the smallest grinning cow. And then you can pop outside for a meander through the grounds, after which you can drive a few hours before stopping in some random seaside village to swim in the Mediterranean.

Which is not at all what you can do if you see Chagall's stuff at MoMA. There you'll do battle with a throng at least the size of the population of Andorra, with some of Luxemborg thrown in for good measure. You'll find yourself stuck in front of one work for a good 8 minutes, not necessarily because you love it, but rather because you are literally hemmed in by everyone around you. You will admire the works as best you can through the gaps between people in front of you. But most of all, you will wish you were in Nice.

I left the museum yesterday (the Diane Arbus show, though all but crowd-free, would have to wait for another day; I needed to regain my strength) glad I'd gone, but wishing that the experience hadn't raised my blood pressure so. I walked home through Yerba Buena Gardens, then down an unpleasantly sun-baked stretch of Market, wanting so much the lightness and glee I felt after the Musee Chagall.

There was a glimmer of it, but just barely. And there was no Mediterranean in sight.


Craigslist, Mon Amour

Yet again, craigslist has done me right. Not only did it help me find my apartment, and the garage that keeps my car safe from maurading window-smashers, but it's gone a long way in helping me clear out my excess stuff.

It's amazing: post an ad (granted, it must be an ad for something reasonable people might actually want), wait an hour of so, and bask in the glow of replies from interested parties. Via craigslist, I've offloaded a futon, tv stand, desk, cd shelf, bike, non-functioning 9-year-old computer, and DSL router. The best things about said offloading are its quick and painless nature, and the fact that it requires of me only that I stick around my house until people come to fetch their desired goods.

But as if craigslist's supremacy as a bulletin board writ large were not enough, the site is also a most excellent source of entertainment. There are few better ways to waste half an hour than by reading the ads others post. To wit, these selections from the "goods wanted" section:

I'm looking for a male budgie (red or blue) for a lonely female budgie


DOES * ANYBODY * HAVE * ANY * TIN * CANS??? I really need a tin can or 2 for my litchen. I usually keep mjy sugar and flour in them, but mine broke. Please email meif you have one I could have or buy for low cost.


This isn't even to mention the post requesting a $200,000 loan ("serious inquiries only"), or the one penned by a man who appeared to be asking for a fridge in order to store either his recently deceased sister or his now-orphaned niece (though Isaac read the ad, likely from someone for whom English is a second language, as a request for a fridge because the author's sister had died, leaving behind a child to care for). It's all fascinating.

To craigslist, then, I tip my hat. San Francisco is better for having the site as a resource.


(Nearly) Everything Must Go

What made me snap? What brought on this sudden inability to deal with the mass of stuff in my life? I can't quite say, but I do know that whatever's hit me has hit me hard.

I need them gone--the books I've read already and won't read again, the ones whose covers I haven't cracked (and won't anytime soon), the cds whose coats of dust prove they've gone long unheard, the trinkets I can never figure out what to do with, the clothes I just don't wear, the bike I've not ridden in years, the PowerBook I can no longer get to power on.

I need my basement clear, my shelves spartan, my desk clean for once. Moreover, I think, I need fretting about stuff--storing it, using it (or not), getting rid of it--to stop being such a useful procrastination tool. Better that it just goes.

But there are some things I just can't give up, like the book of essays about home Paula sent me when I'd first moved to SF and found myself in the midst of a crisis over what to call home, or the Cranks recipe book Rachel gave me as inspiration for us to move to England and open a veggie cafe. I can't let go my very first cd (drivin' 'n' cryin's Mystery Road), or the ones that got me through high school (all the old REM, the Replacements, even--yes, I admit it--a bunch of U2). And anything that I'd truly miss if it disappeared from my life stays put.

The rest of it, though, is on its way out by any means necessary--Half.com, craigslist, tag sale, what have you. When the clutter's finally gone, maybe I'll be able to glimpse what I've been missing.


Get away

Though it's been only a month since my last trip, it seems now like ages. I'm getting itchy with the need to light out and see more than the Peninsula as it passes by CalTrain's windows.

So first up is Calgary, where the boy and I will do a bit of exploring (though I can't imagine that'll be wildly exciting for him, as he's seen it all before), go for a hike, head out to the university for the Weakerthans show. My priorities (other than the obvious, and the actual purpose of the trip in the first place) are discovering at least one vegetarian-friendly restaurant, drinking some Canadian wine, traipsing through the mountains, and restocking my supply of chocolate.

Then comes Salt Lake City--and, you know, despite everyone's ribbing, I'm quite excited for it. Sure, it'll take some extra doing to score myself a Cosmo anywhere outside of a restaurant, and I'll have to hold my tongue in the Temple Square vicinity, but damn, it just looks gorgeous, and it'll all be totally new. Besides, we'll be staying at the Hotel Monaco, which seems to be the city's hot spot (making it worth the hours spent on a hotel search), and is miles away (figuratively) from the preponderance of chain hotels in the area.

So this is the benefit of insane hours spent working and commuting: even two small weekend trips seem impossibly exciting and adventurous. I have a renewed appreciation for the power of the getaway.


The March

Every time I watch It's a Wonderful Life, the final scene finds me spilling tears. I know like the back of my hand what happens, what's said, and I also know that Capra's intentionally pulling on my heart strings with all his might. But none of that matters, because something in that finale--'Auld Lang Syne,' the bells, the laundry basket full of money--will forever make me goofily weepy.

The same is true, though for far different reasons, of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech, given at the March for Jobs and Freedom 40 years ago this Thursday.

NPR has a great series of pieces about the March on Morning Edition this week, and this morning I actually found myself happy to be in my car making the trek down 280, because it meant I had the chance to listen to Juan Williams' entire piece. And I fully admit it: even before the inevitable clip from King's speech, I was in tears. I knew what was coming.

And it's weird: I cried this morning, like I always cry, not only because of the unquestionable power of King's words, and the cadences of his voice, but also because I so much wish I'd been there to hear him speak in person. I cried because the severe liberal in me (which is to say, most of me) always wishes I'd been born early enough to have the chance to be part of the movement, rather than becomining a student of it many years after the fact. I cried because my studies have taught me that what came after the March was, for far too long, equal parts liberation and desperation. And I cried, perhaps most of all, because I knew, as people at the March that day couldn't, that King would not live another two years.

Unless I'm watching It's a Wonderful Life alone, I always try to hide my tears and my sniffling, as it's a little embarrassing to still cry, after all these viewings, at something so contrived. But for King, for the March, for the movement, I will unabashedly cry in public. To me, there's no shame there; there's only uplift, and sadness, and despite everything, a bullheaded sense of hope.


I have been to the mountain (view)

It was said last week (I'm intentionally using the passive voice here) that I've not yet tried commuting down the Peninsula multiple days each week, so I can't possibly know whether I like it or not.

But alas, I have, and I know: I do not like it. Not in a house, not with a mouse, &c.

It was one thing when Otis was my companion, and 7.20 or so most mornings would find us hurtling down 17th Street, Peet's in hand (and contributing, no doubt, to the speed of said hurtling), yelling 'Mooooooooove! For fuck's sake, just gooooooooooo!' at any car unlucky enough to come between us and the CalTrain station. It was one thing when we'd meet up with Wilder in the second-to-last car, then chatter with her for a while before we all settled down into our respective reading materials. It was one thing when, on the days we did drive, we'd be able to thumb our noses at the poor saps stuck in the normal lanes on 101 as we sped past in the carpool lane (at least as far as San Carlos, where it mystifyingly ends).

But even then, the commute still sucked. I can't imagine it'll be any better now.

Wallace's departure--the sort of bittersweet icing on the unpalatable cake--has set my mind reeling. More and more, I can't stop thinking that worsening commute or no, it's time to leave. Inertia kept me where I was, work-wise, for so long, at least until my job improved enough that I actually came to like it. But I'm not really willing to sit tight for many months (like I did last time) on the off chance that things will get better. I have a sinking feeling we're beyond that point now.

Besides, isn't there so much more out there? I don't mean jobs in the tech sector (as we all know they're rarer than an 80-degree August day in San Francisco), but rather more of everything: more cities, more companies, more experiences that have zip to do with work, more options and opportunities, provided you know where and how to look.

Wall's move is in some ways a big gamble (what will his co-workers be like? what is Dell culture like? is Austin as liveable as it seems?), but in others it will immediately pay off: he'll no longer have a two-hour commute each day, will be able to afford a larger house, will be more likely to be able to adopt a child, as he and Connie have wanted to do for a while now. It seems to me (from an admittedly removed perspective) that those sure things alone are enough to make the other crap shoots worth it. He's confident, at least, that things won't be any worse than they have been.

I once read a transcribed goodbye note somewhere that said simply, 'I'm leaving because I just can't stay.' Suddenly, irreversably, I'm starting to understand what that feels like.


Cross-country in silver

My friend Jeff and his wife Koren are currently somewhere in Texas (Austin last I knew, though that was a few days ago), halfway or so through their cross-country journey via Airstream.

I am nothing if not exceedingly jealous.

Koren sends dispatches from the road, and Jeff writes and records songs. Their travelogues are full of tales of 100+ degree days, cocktails on their front 'lawn' (read: the piece of Astroturf they lay down in front of their trailer), meals with the people they meet in the trailer parks where they've stopped (including a man Koren swears up and down was Santa Claus), and visits to local cultural sites, including such attractions as the International Space Hall of Fame and the Toy Train Depot. I've been sitting in my hermetically sealed office, reading these stories, and bubbling with envy.

There are, of course, the things I'm not exactly envious of, foremost among them the realities of cooking, sleeping, and otherwise living in a 22-foot-long trailer (Airstream though it may be). Jeff has recorded a song called "Black Tank", which Koren explains thus:

'For those of you who don’t know, the trailer has a fresh tank (fresh water), gray tank (dirty sink water), and black tank (self-explanatory).'

(Keep emptying the black tank, indeed.)

But still, portable waste water, small space, and soaring heat aside, I want to be out there, too.



There's no way I can complain about this without sounding somehow spoiled, ungrateful, stubborn, or some combination thereof, but fuck it: complain I must.

Elissa informs me yesterday--in the gentlest, most roundabout, most heavily explanation-laden way possible--that The Powers That Be feel I need to be down on campus more often in order to take a leadership role, start heading up the UX initiative on projects, and blah blah blah. I stop listening as soon as she says 'Four days a week,' because the specter of watching three hours of my day four days a week disappear to commuting sends me reeling. Twelve hours a week gone and wasted in a blink.

When people ask about my job, I invariably mention that I'm lucky--impossibly lucky (and that's truer now than I knew)--to be able to work mainly in the city, as fighting traffic or train schedules or other cranky commuters more than one day a week always brought out the worst in me. But I guess now I should prepare to live with that Worst Me, to try to pretend that I value the chance to scramble after some sort of promised career advancement more than I value not having to commute 90 miles each day.

Your money or your life, as they say. It's a choice I'd hoped not to have to make.

Double word score

Truth be told, I never beat Josh at Scrabble, much as I'd like to rewrite history and say I did. Despite whatever nine-letter words I might've pulled from the letters I drew and those already on the board, he'd always whip out some brilliant and/or obscure tactical move that would leave me in the dust.

But the winning wasn't so much the point (obviously, or I would've given up after the first try). The point was being in the warm and comfortably messy rooms of 2186 Fell Street with some combination of port, insta-bake chocolate chip cookies, and bad TV while the Scrabble competition happened. The point was also more port and more cookies when I realized the downward slide I was on as Josh plunked down three tiles, one of which was either a Z or an X, to create some Greek word on a double word score square.

If I looked, I'm sure I could find another willing Scrabble opponent in San Francisco now that Josh has disappeared to the other coast, but somehow I just don't think it'd be the same.



In junior high, after seeing an interview with Katharine Hepburn on TV, and for reasons unknown, Alicia and I took up the odd habit of trying to imitate her voice. Why we found this so hilarious and so fascinating I can't remember, though I do know that we were spectacularly bad at it, our main tactic being speaking as if we had mouthfuls of pebbles or severe throat ailments.

To seventh graders, that may have been what Hepburn sounded like (at least, an older Hepburn), but of course we didn't have the half of it.

If it's ever been possible to make the case that 96 was too young an age to die, I think one can make the case for KH. She has not, of course, been her Philadelphia Story (or Bringing Up Baby, or Adam's Rib) self for half a century, but that was her at her most iconic, and thus her as she sticks in my mind. Regardless of her age, she always had what seemed to me like impossible grace and perfectly blue-blooded New England charm.

Caryn James writes in the New York Times:

'In typical Katharine Hepburn style, she faced the camera and, at the age of 85, tacitly acknowledged how close she had to be to the end. [...] "I have no fear of death," she said. "Must be wonderful, like a long sleep. But let's face it: it's how you live that really counts."'

She lived admirably, enviably, forcefully. I'm sorry to see her go.

[Josh: demain, c'est a toi.]


Remembering Pop

Last Friday, something about the landscape east of Charlottetown reminded me so acutely of Cape Cod that seemingly out of nowhere, thoughts of Poppa flooded my head.

There were memories of camping (occasionally at an actual wooded campsite, but more often than not, it seemed, either in the yard of Twin Chimneys or the overflow lot at Nickerson Park). Memories of Pop shuttling us around Brewster, Orleans, Falmouth, to and from Monument Beach. And most oddly heart-rending of all, memories simply of sitting in Gommy's kitchen at dusk and watching Poppa walk up from the berry fields for dinner.

I wanted so much to cry, but didn't, somehow couldn't. All I could do, it seemed, was just watch out the window as the land rushed past us and slowly, almost imperceptibly, turned into the city again.



There probably isn't an adequate way of getting across how and why seeing a single strand of hair melded to the bar of soap in my shower this afternoon made my heart leap, just as there's likely no way of conveying the bliss/loss combo I felt while holding my sheets to my nose (like the oversize bunch of flowers they so clearly are not) and breathing deeply before tossing them into the washer.

Whatever I might think of the power of language, and the extent of my normal ability to harness it, the truth is that sometimes I just come up blank. Sometimes I just trip across moments that defy words; there's too much behind them, too much in them, possibly even too much ahead of them to whittle down into the code of English. So I do what I can with them, and entrust them to the part of my brain that relies only on image, on scent, on sensation, and hope those moments--and everything they stand for--just stay put for a while.


The Big D

Somewhat surprisingly, I've been given the green light to attend the STC conference in Dallas later this month. So I've registered, booked a plane ticket, found what seems to be a nice hotel (which looks for all the world like a home decor shop in the Castro), and realized with something of a start that Nashville this isn't.

That is, Nashville with Eric and Erfert this isn't. Dallas with Eric and Erfert this isn't. Dallas with a few hundred technical communicators, sure, but no Eric and Erfert.

It's not a secret that our side excursions last year were a huge part of what made the conference so great. The sessions on XML and idea mapping and embedded assistance and the like were all well and good, but they were nothing next to strolling through downtown Lynchburg, closed and shuttered at 5 p.m., after our sample-less tour at Jack Daniels. They were nothing next to that still wordlessly blissful evening at the Bluebird. They were nothing next to our long, drink-filled, expense-accounted meals.

It seems odd to be nostalgic for a conference, but of course it's not so much the conference I wish I could relive (though I'll soon have the chance)--it's the time, the city, the company. It's the knowledge that at the end of the final session of the day, there's a long line of cocktails and decompression with my friends waiting. It's the ability to pass an entire evening with nary a technical communications-related word uttered. It's the reassurance of not, for at least a while, having to meet 'n' greet.

The Big D will be an adventure in its own right--I'll get to see the renovated Fort Worth museum, and can (and should) go see my aunt and uncle--but it won't be Nashville. For some reason, I can't help feeling a weird bit of sadness about that.


Poetry month

The good people at the Knopf Poetry Center have been e-mailing me a poem each day, in honor of the form's month to shine (April). They've all been interesting at least and striking at best, but so far only this one has truly stuck to my ribs and caused that knowing little ache.

By Heart

The songs come at us first; and then the rhymed
Verses like speech that half-sings; then the tunes
Of summer evening--the train whistle's sigh
Westering, fading, as I lay in bed,
Sunset still creeping past the lowered shade,
The gossip of swallows, the faint, radioed
Reed section of a dance band through an open
Window down at the far end of the street;
The Good Humor man's bells who tolled for me.
And then the strings of digits that we learn
To keep like bunched keys ready to unlock
All the boxes we get assigned to us
By the uncaring sheriffs of life itself.

We play by ear, but learn the words by heart
(Visions we have by head); yet even when
The sight of the remembered page has dimmed
The jingles that we gleaned from it remain
Lodged with us, useful, sometimes, for the work
Of getting a grip on certain fragile things.
We are ourselves from birth committed to
Memory, to broad access to a past
Framing and filling any presentness
Of self that we could really call our own.
We grasp the world by ear, by heart, by head,
And keep it in a soft continuingness
That we first learned to get by soul, or something.

--John Hollander, from Picture Window


Let there be light

Around 5.30 this afternoon, dusk now a good 90 minutes off, I walked down Duboce to Valencia to see the progress of the Central Freeway demolition. And it's amazing: where less than a week ago there was an unending slab of hulking concrete casting shadows below, now there's nothing but empty space and sunlight.

The sketchy underpass that used to prevent me from walking the final stretch of Valencia past dark is gone, gigantic jackhammers stabbing away at the pylons bit by bit. I walked to Elgin Park and watched through a gate as concrete turned to rubble, then to dust. I asked the policeman standing sentinel at the scene when the section of the freeway that crosses Market will come down; he shrugged and said, 'Not sure, but sometime within the next four days.' That means Octavia can't be far behind.

It's true that the closing and demolition of the Fell Street off ramp hasn't been without its resultant headaches. It took me 20 minutes to travel about a mile up 9th Street last Tuesday, clogged with hundreds of other westbound travelers as it was. And we haven't even begun to see how the construction of the Octavia Boulevard will wreak havoc on parking in the neighborhood. But seeing that empty expanse of sky today--nothing but blue, headed almost imperceptibly toward gold--made me slightly giddy with anticipation of the rest of the demolition. I'd gotten so grudgingly used to the darkness that I didn't entirely realize until today how excited I am for the light.


All the flowers in the morning through the fog

My friend Mike teaches high school English over in the East Bay. He forwarded me a message from one of his colleagues, who teaches a course called English Language Development (ELD) for students still learning to speak the language. She wrote

'I couldn't resist sending these out to you. They are examples of some of the many beautiful things my ELD 2 students wrote in response to an essay prompt: "Is it better to die young or old?" Enjoy.'

And perhaps it's hormonal imbalance, or the lingering frustration following my car break-in this morning, or this whole war mess, but I couldn't read these without getting a bit teary. They seem so much greater than the sum of their grammatically odd parts.

"I don't want to die old. My dream is to be a policeman and have a big family with 12 kids at least. When am old, I want to go to dances, movies, shopping for cars, go to the park with my babies and hear them call me papi." - Gabriel C.

"It is best to die between fifty or sixty years old. When you retire, you can come back to your country where you were born. You can wake up at six o'clock in the morning and go to the garden near your house and look at all the flowers in the morning through the fog. If you don't want to do that, you can play Chinese chess, and drink tea with any friends you know in the garden."- Cuong N.

"One day I saw my grandma died and I didn't like to see that, she just said adios, and that's it, she left. I miss her but I remember when I was talking to her the last time, I loved her." - Cesar L.

"You know the reason I really want to die young? at my age: 14. Because I like to make a wish with my life to my personal god because I like to change the people of all their bad attitude. This is my wish. To create good and beauty to sacrifice myself so people make peace and are good." - Rinna G.

"The people in Yemen, they are not afraid of death. All the men in my country are strong. My grandfather died when he was 120." - Hussin A.

"When I marry, my husband and me go to the gym each night to the dance." - Yessenia G.

"I want to die old so that when my daughter, son, and me husband from school or company come back home, I will say: "Are you come back?" They will say: "Yes, I'm come back!"- Joey C.


Day Two

The helicopters are still chopping over San Francisco this morning. I don't know whether they stopped overnight or whether I lost track of them when I fell asleep. I drifted off to them last night and woke up to them this morning, a rather disconcerting alarm clock. They're there to watch the protestors downtown, I know, but there's still something vaguely unsettling about the idea that the city must be kept under surveillance.

All of the war rhetoric being issued from Washington makes my head spin, but none moreso than the claim that the U.S. is invading Iraq in order to ensure America's security. People believe that, I know, but it seems to me utterly untrue: since when do we claim that Hussein is a threat to us? Since when is the issue not his despotic and destructive rule (and destruction) of his own people? I'm sure it's better PR to tack the 'defending America' excuse onto this military action, but I find it utterly insulting, both to the Iraqi people and to Americans, who the Bush Administration assumes can't be counted on to be intelligent enough to refute that claim.

Bush made a speech yesterday afternoon in which he gave an update on the bombing in Iraq (though of course not in such a direct manner), then rattled off this bizarre laundry list of domestic affairs his Administration is supposedly attending to: we're still gonna take care of Medicare, and I know there are lots of people in America who need jobs, and lots of kids who can't read, and so on.

But who does he think he's fooling? What intelligent American can truly believe Bush cares a whit about domestic policy when the country is dumping billions halfway around the world while the FDA threatens to fine companies who help people get cheaper prescription drugs from Canada? While unemployment rates continue to rise, and our deficit continues to bloom? While schools and non-profits and social service agencies still scramble to cover basic needs?

I'd almost rather hear the Administration come straight out and admit that its priorities lie solely in matters of defense, and that the American people are largely on their own as far as domestic affairs go (except, of course, for corporations, but that's another rant altogether). Then at least we'd hear something truthful, rather than a condescending and insulting mess of spin.


Utterly unlike the snow

First Sight

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasureable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

--Philip Larkin


Point of Disgust

A few weeks back, someone on the Low list asked whether the lyrics to Point of Disgust posted on the site were accurate:

Point of Disgust
once, i was lost
to the point of disgust
i had in my sight
lack of vision
lack of light
i fell hard
i fell fast
mercy me
it'll never last

then, in the dust
all the things
we discussed
were thrown to the wind
so at last
we begin
'cuz we fall hard
we fall fast
mercy me
it'll never last

He was asking, he said, because for all the world it sounds like Mimi's singing, in the first verse, not 'fell' but 'held,' which changes the meaning. Someone replied that 'fell' it was, but agreed with the other guy's hearing.

I do, too. The words seem to roll under her tongue as she sings, muddying (perhaps intentionally) both the pronunciation and the import. And while I like the verse with 'fell,' I like it even more with 'held'.

I have, and I have, and I have.


Back in December, in the house on Sanchez, part of Abby's ceiling fell in. It happened suddenly--during a particularly windy rainstorm, as I recall--and was clearly only due to structural problems with the house. So we got in touch with the landlord and told him what was up (or no longer up, as it were); about three and a half weeks later, after he ambled by to take a look, after he jokingly told Dee Dee that he was glad he had insurance, and after he offhandedly mentioned that he wouldn't sleep there if he were Abby (after which she didn't, for about a week), he brought in contractors to fix the increasingly gaping hole.

They fixed it, sure, but they also ran up $50 in long distance calls to El Salvador on Abby's phone.

So it's no small relief to have a new landlord who's as close to the opposite pole as can be. When I called to report that my heaters (and what a luxury to actually have heat!) didn't seem to be working, he dispatched Jacques the handyman to have a look. Jacques came and fixed not only the heaters, but also the garbage disposal, the half-hooked shower curtain, and burned-out bulbs in the kitchen and bathroom. He tried to clean the paint left by the former handyman on the bathroom window, but reported that it would take a lot of malodorous chemicals, so he'd just replace the window instead. He mentioned this morning that, within the next few weeks, he'll be installing track lighting in the kitchen, a new shower head, and perhaps a new overhead light fixture in the living room. He walks through the house and finds things to fix--things that might be small annoyances but certainly cause no great headaches--and rails in his thick accent against the man who did the work before him. I am speechlessly pleased.

Add these improvements to the fact that I no longer wake up in the morning and have to time my visit to the bathroom to beat my housemates, no longer come home to find dishes multiplied in the kitchen sink, no longer have to step around (or clean up) anyone else's mess, and no longer have to fight for space in the fridge (indeed, I have relative miles and miles of my own now), and what you get is an unmeasurably happier me. It's true that I'm paying for the pleasure, but to cop a line from MasterCard, the bliss of living alone really is priceless.


What I'm Trying to Say

On the train en route to the airport Sunday night, as we're slipping out of the Portland city limits, Val says offhandedly that we should create a 'zine about our travels, noting that whenever she, Monique, and I go anywhere, our days seem to be focused on walking and eating. It's funny: I've just been chewing on the same 'zine idea, likely because of our trip to Reading Frenzy earlier in the day. It seems like something worth considering further.

But then, once we're in the air, I start reading Dream Whip (#12), this brilliant chunk of paper and text written by some guy in Texas (I think his name is Jeremy). He writes (literally, as in hand writes) about his travels around the US, focusing on the prairie states, and his words manage to be both uplifting and unspeakably sad at the same time. And I realize that he's captured the heart of being on the road, of being in an unfamiliar city, of both wanting to keep going and wanting to return home.

An excerpt, this one called Borealis:

'We stay up late watching the Northern Lights. I say they're just city lights reflecting off the clouds, and she points out that there aren't any cities out here, near the Badlands of North Dakota. The lights are dim and blue, something between smoke and starlight along the horizon. It's like some chasm out there, the place where summer goes in September, all those sunny days and citronella candle nights being incinerated on the horizon. In the morning, I crawl out of my tent while she sleeps in the tent next to mine. It's still summer this morning, so I put on my shorts; the sweet dregs of summer, sad seconds and thirds, hand-me-down days from June and July that are well-worn now, faded and fraying. I take a walk along the ridge line. That girl doesn't love me. And even if she did, I still couldn't stop. I'd keep moving as fast as I could, which isn't nearly fast enough. I'd go as fast as the sunlight if I could. And when I finally made it home for a visit, it'd be 10,000 years later, because that's what happens when you go that fast. It'd be 10,000 years later, and there wouldn't be anyone waiting for me, because who could wait that long?'

I read that and think, sure, we could write about our hundreds of mini-adventures, our moments of frustration and being lost, of stumbling upon things we hadn't expected, of knowing when we've reached the point at which we're ready to go home. But could we get to what all of those things are like when you strip away the surface layers, when you finally understand what they really mean?

I think Jeremy's gotten there long before us.


With a Chance to Make It Good Somehow

In his opening essay in Songbook, Nick Hornby explains his tendency not to associate songs with a specific time or place thus:

'[I]f you love a song, love it enough for it to accompany you throughout the different stages of your life, then any specific memory is rubbed away by use. If I'd heard "Thunder Road" in some girl's bedroom in 1975, decided that it was okay, and had never seen the girl or listened to the song much again, then hearing it now would probably bring back the smell of her underarm deoderant.'

To a certain degree, I can see his point: there are many, many songs that don't particularly mean much to me that can instantly bring me back to a specific moment. Pat Benetar's 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot' reminds me of lip-synching to the 45 of same in Tammy Kennison's bedroom, using cans of hairspray as microphones; anything by Blondie makes me think of sitting in Greg's room with our first record player, listening to Best of Blondie on repeat; 'When Doves Cry' will be forever associated with the warm summer night, windows open, when I heard the song for the first time on RI-104.

But there are just as many--if not more--songs that both serve as mile-markers in my life and have come along with me for the ride, growing and changing and turning right along with me. 'Thunder Road' (Hornby's most listened-to song) is foremost among them.

I can't remember the very first time I heard it--Mom and Dad had given me the Springsteen live box set for Christmas the year it came out (1985?), so I must've heard TR sometime that winter, at least--and it's entirely possible that I didn't love it at first. But I know that it soon became the sort of song I could listen to ad nauseum without the nausea, and I have an incredibly sharp memory of playing it over and over again on the portable tape deck in Gommy and Poppa's travel trailer, moored in the yard at Twin Chimneys, the following summer.

I can't recall who was there with me (likely Heather, and possibly Greg), but I know I spent the better part of an hour listening, rewinding, listening, rewinding, and all the while aching as only a girl in her early teens can. I ached for someone to want me only; I ached to be summoned from a porch to a waiting car that would drive me somewhere, anywhere; I ached for the day when I might have both a group of boys I'd sent away and a graduation gown to lie in rags at their feet.

I still think of that night (muggy, so many crickets, a nightgown feeling like entirely too much clothing), that trailer, those aches every time I hear the song. But now I also think of all the associations that have come since: the sadnesses somehow soothed by those harmonica strains and Springsteen's growling, soaring voice; the miles driven with the song on my stereo (still only cassette); the confusing but shakingly pleasant realization two years ago that I'd met a man who could not only quote TR right back to me, but also had his own interpretations of it.

And having put several years and a good deal of experience between the girl in her grandparents' backyard and my current self, I've changed the way I hear the song. It's no longer just a plea to escape ('it's a town full of losers/and we're pulling out of here to win'); it's also a reminder, sometimes wistful, of what we had and gave up, often for good ('they scream your name at night in the street/your graduation gown lies, in rags, at their feet/and in the lonely cool before dawn/from your room, you hear their engines roar on/but when you get to the porch they're gone/on the wind').

It suggests that there's value in romanticism ('well show a little faith/there's magic in the night'), but also sets limits on that value('you can hide 'neath your covers and study your pain/make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain/waste your summer praying in vain/for a savior to rise from these streets').

But more than anything, I think, TR still resonates with me (quite possibly now more than ever) because of the balance it strikes between resignation and hope (true, in fact, of much of Springsteen's work). There's so much uncertainty, so much imperfection, so much that could be so wrong: 'Don't turn me home again/I just can't face myself alone'; 'So you're scared and you're thinking that/maybe we ain't that young anymore'; ''All the redemption I can offer, girl,/is beneath this dirty hood'.

But throughout the song all of that is slowly balanced, and then ultimately overshadowed (if only by the smallest of margins) by all that might (and perhaps can) just be right:

'...with a chance to make it good somehow
hey, what else can we do now?
Except roll down the window and
let the wind blow back your hair.
Well, the night's busting open
these two lanes will take us anywhere.
We got one last chance to make it real,
to trade in these wings on some wheels.
Climb in back.
Heaven's waiting down on the tracks.'

While I can't be sure I've similarly got the location of heaven pinpointed, and I don't know whether it's waiting, I do think there's a chance to make it good somehow--be it what it may.

The ride's not free (is it ever?), but the door is open. What's waiting inside (and beyond) still seems promising.



After Emmett Till was murdered in rural Mississippi in the summer of 1955, his mother Mamie had his mutilated and decomposing body shipped back to Chicago, where she insisted on an open casket funeral, so 'the world [could] see what they did to [her] boy.'

Emmett's killers were acquitted by a jury of their white male peers, and the two men later went on to sell their confession to Look magazine. Mamie lobbied extensively for a federal trial, but her requests were denied. Despite the lack of justice in the case, though, Emmett Till's murder is widely regarded as one of the watershed moments in the civil rights movement.

For the rest of her life, Mamie Till spoke out about her son's murder. In an interview she gave last summer, six months before she died, she noted that despite the sickening nature of the crime against her only child, 'I have not spent one minute hating.' Anyone wanting to understand the central tenet of nonviolent protest need look no farther than those words.


Hedwig and Heaven

On the thought-provoking entertainment tip, the last two things I've seen--Hedwig and the Angry Inch (in play form) and Far From Heaven--keep tugging at my brain. Each has a lot to say, I think, about the various shades of intolerance of which humans are capable. For all of her railing against her own repression, it's not until the end of the story that Hedwig understands she needs to let Klaus be himself; and while Kathy's best friend Eleanor in Far From Heaven offers up a seemingly sympathetic and supportive facade when Kathy admits that Frank has come out, she does an abrubt about face when her friend confesses her feelings for her black gardener.

Both also speak to the ultimate futility of trying to force yourself to be something you're not (or trying to hide what you really are), and to the idea that there's something to be said for working through the painful, messy, achy parts of life to get at what lies beyond. Neither work has an ending that's markedly happy, but the endings *are* hopeful, and unmistakeably forward-looking. Therein, I think, lies the promise.


Movin' Out (?)

The prospect of moving--albeit only a few doors down, literally--has induced in me what I can only describe as the perfect combination of elation and terror. Do I bite the bullet more than I already have (with a hold deposit) by actually relocating myself to the beautiful hardwood floored, multi-roomed, sweetly charming house with a few flaws (an old stove is fabulous in the historical sense, but would it drive me insane in the day-to-day? And will the equally historical outlets be able to handle the demands of a modern electricity consumer? And, really, the rent is more than I was hoping and planning to pay), or do I let this chance slip from my fingers and wait for something cheaper to come along? Which holds the bigger chance of regret?

Am I rushing things, or am I rather moving at a quick clip and not dragging my heels?

Where do assertive and foolhardy intersect, and where does one overtake the other?


Plus ca change...

I was all set to write about inertia and entropy and how chaos, when channelled just so, can be supremely useful. But then I found myself standing in front of the office's first aid cabinet for a good five minutes, puzzling over the intricate differences between the various generic drugs offered therein (Pain-Aid? SinuTabs? Un-Aspirin?), and I realized I just don't have the mental wherewithal today to pen anything remotely thoughtful.

For now, then, I'll just note that my decision to strike out on my own housing-wise has come at the same time as Monique's plans to jettison the Rookie (in a kind and caring way, of course) and Val's announcement that she'll be moving to Japan in the fall. Something (quite possibly the turn of the year) has spurred us to action now, and while this all feels more or less like chaos now, we hope (and trust) that we'll eventually find ourselves thankful for the heat and light said chaos generates.



At the start of 2002, I copied this from somewhere (Sinister?), because it just seemed really wise:

'Things have been better this year than ever, but I shan't bore people with all my "and then in May I did this ace thing, oh, and June was pretty good too....". Just that for a while I was in the wilderness and I finally feel like I've got an atlas to my life now. Or maybe just a wee map scrawled on the back of a beer mat, but that's enough for now.'

I'm not sure I can claim to have an atlas of my life now (or perhaps I do have one, but it's several years old, and still shows Yugoslavia and the USSR as whole countries), but I do know that in many respects, last year I stumbled through a sort of wilderness from which I've only recently emerged. And everything I had to do to get out of those woods--learning to find my way without clear trails, forcing myself to accept and deal with setbacks, coming to understand what's worth carrying and what isn't when my load gets too heavy--has proved useful.

There are any number of cliches I could add here--words about how much I've grown over the past 12 months, about the epiphanies I've had, about how the memories of the year have been etched so deeply in my mind's core I can't imagine them eroding--but none of them quite seem to do the trick. For now, then, just this: all told, 2002 was the most spectacular (and the most difficult) year I've had in recent memory. And I think he of the terrible dreadlocks and unacceptable facial hair was right: there is indeed reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.