What, no boi? (From the Digg profile edit page.)


Even the Grinch Had a Heart, Haters

Try as I might, I still utterly fail to understand why any Californian--let alone 52% of the people with whom I share a state--could have voted for the bigotry, hatred, and small-mindedness that was Prop 8. This past week's ridiculousness (Ken Starr--WTF??) just makes it worse. And Rick Warren? I can't even go there.

Yes, I live in the skewed world that is San Francisco, and yes, I have the benefit of having many gay friends, some of whom are among the most important people in my life. So of course I get alternately weepy, grumpy, indignant, pissed off, and a combination of all four when I hear the hate and lies that are spewed by those who oppose marriage equality.

But the stupidly hopeful part of me has to believe that there people out there who maybe voted for Prop 8 because their religious community told them to (Mormons, I'm looking at you) or because they were pressured into it by someone else in their life or because they temporarily lost their good sense and believed the stupidity about same-sex marriage opening up the floodgates to polygamy (Mormons, I'm looking at you) and incest and men trying to marry young boys--that these people, these otherwise good people (many of whom voted for Obama, as we know) might actually be able to look at the photos of the Courage Campaign's Please Don't Divorce Us project and feel their hearts soften a bit.

Because surely these otherwise good people know that there's enough hatred in the world, and enough bigotry (Mormons--and Latinos, and African-Americans--I'm looking at you), enough lying, enough instability, enough of all of it without having to write it into the state's Constitution.

Surely these otherwise good people, many of whom would never even think of adopting the kids many same-sex couples adopt, and most of whom can chatter on about the importance of a whole, stable family, find it ludicrous and illogical to think of denying gays and lesbians the right to marry, and thus to provide their families with all of the wholeness and stability they possibly can.

(As an aside, I've never understood the right-wing Christian argument that marriage is primarily for the purpose of reproduction, as that would make illegitimate any heterosexual pairing that did not produce a child. Because, what? You're a good, upstanding, god-loving Christian who happens to be infertile and suddenly your marriage is a sham? Tell me, Christians, how that works.)

(Aside Part 2: Florida, what's your damage? A statewide ban on adoptions by gays? How short-sighted and biased can you be? Also, are there, like, thousands of opposite-sex couples lining up just waiting to adopt these children? Oh. No. There are not. Which means that apparently you think foster care is a much better option than stable, life-long adoption. At least Miami thinks you're wrong.)

So, OK, Prop 8 supporters, just do this for me: for a moment, set aside whatever you might think about gays and lesbians, or whatever ill will you might have toward them because you think they're not like you. Set aside whatever you might've heard in church, or on the news, or in the pro-8 campaign ads that claimed that your kindergartner would be forced to learn all about the ins and outs of homosexuality if marriage equality remained California law. Set aside any hate you might feel (especially if you're a Christian, given that "love thy neighbor as thyself" thing).

Is all of that off in a corner somewhere for a few minutes? Good. Now go look at these photos of same-sex couples, their families, their friends, and their neighbors, and see if you don't get at least a little teary-eyed.

Because here's the thing: in those photos, there's nothing but love. Maybe it doesn't look like the love you know and are used to, but I think you can agree that it's love nonetheless--so much love that it might make your heart as achy as it makes mine. So much that maybe, after you've spent some time looking closely at those photos (especially the wedding shots), you'll feel something in yourself start to soften. So much that maybe you'll understand where people like me are coming from--people who wonder, sadly or angrily or just plain incomprehendingly, what anyone thinks could possibly be gained by making hate and intolerance the law of the land.


It's a Generally Good Life, but Damn That Perpetually Loose Finial

From Wendell Jamieson's "Wonderful? Sorry, George, It's a Pitiful, Dreadful Life":
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.
Yup. And when we're back in Connecticut next week, my sister-and-law and I will watch it (on VHS, natch), lovingly mock it, and let it make us sniffly.


Election Day 2008

I know the one thing we did right
Was the day we started to fight.
Keep your eyes on the prize--
Hold on, hold on.


Hate Is a Very Strong Word

But it doesn't quite cover what I felt when I was pulled out of sleep at 3 a.m. this morning by the idiots in the building diagonally behind my house playing Rock Band.

In those first hideous moments of consciousness, when I was trying to suss out what the hell was going on, I assumed they were just (ha--just) playing music really loudly, with no consciousness of or care for the insane hour. But then the song, with its annoying bass line, repeated over and over and over.

I assumed someone in the motley crew would gaze at a clock at some point and think, Hey, it's 3 o'clock on a Monday morning, and the few shreds of decency to which we cling suggest that perhaps we could, say, not have every single window and door in our flat open while we amplify our video game. But no.

Also incorrect was my assumption that, when I went out into our backyard and called up--politely, I might add--to a boy hanging out one of the windows and chatting on his phone, he would respond. No.

So I called the police. They may have shown up, as the din died down for a while somewhere around 4.20. But then, miraculously, I looked at my clock and managed to surmise that it was 4.49, and sound was flowing anew. Redial. Loopy plea to the police dispatcher to do something, anything, to make it stop, as I was losing my mind. She sweetly promised she'd send someone out.

At 5.30, it got quiet, and I tried to calm my racing heart by thinking about Gandhi (what would he do if the Raj blared Rock Band at him mid-sleep, hmmmm?) and Rachmaninoff's Vespers and an eye for an eye leaving the whole world blind. Sooner or later I fell asleep, half contemplating blaring "Morning Edition" out in the yard when I woke up to officially face the day.

Last night I did the responsible thing. But tonight, crapwad neighbors, if I so much hear one thump of bass leaking out your windows, I will not be above scrawling a polite request to keep it down onto an egg and tossing it your way.


Three hours ten minutes

Things I could have done tonight:
  • Taken care of the ironing I've been putting off for weeks (literally--weeks),
  • Worked my way beyond the first week of September New Yorker-wise,
  • Tackled some laundry,
  • Cracked (er, crinkled?) the cover of yesterday's Times,
  • Dealt with the various piles lurking on/near my desk,
  • Posted some photos to Flickr, and
  • Written a blog post more substantial than a flimsy bulleted list.
What I did instead:
  • Watched Gandhi.
Despite the occasionally bad (and, in a few instances, bad) swarthy pancake makeup and old-person hair (did Nehru really have a slightly botched blond dye job when he became PM?), it was 190 minutes well spent.


Notes from St. Louis

Officially, it's the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

That spiffy new fall-weight jacket I bought myself yesterday? It didn't come with me to St. Louis, as a peek at weather.com last night revealed a forecast of 80-plus-degree days here through the weekend. I stepped out of the airport this afternoon and found the meteorologists to be spot-on: it was damn hot. That sunny, shimmery, smackdown kind of hot that may be sort of specific to the midwest. (Note: please do not take my word on this. Consult an actual midwesterner for a more accurate assessment.)

Carol picked me up and we drove downtown so we could visit the arch--excuse me, the JNEM--before heading west to St. Charles for our conference. In the park that surrounds the arch, the trees were fully leafed and blazingly green, the grass was perfect, there were ducks happily (presumably) paddling about in the ponds, and it seemed for all the world like mid-summer. I don't need to tell you that this pleased me.

Q. Who visits the arch at 3 p.m. on a Thursday in late September?
  • Random clutches of foreign men (French? Israeli? Russian? Really could not tell), all of whom take photos of everything, including but not limited to the signs detailing what it costs to take the arch tram, the inside of the tram cars, and the educational video presented while you wait to be whisked to the top of the arch.
  • Senior citizen tour groups, who may or may not be required by their tour operators to wear, in addition to yellow name badges, cowboy or Amish hats and suspenders.
  • Floridians
  • Professional Organizers
On I-70 between St. Louis and St. Charles--a stretch of what I believe is roughly 15 miles--I saw at least three megachurches. One was sort of run-of-the-mill. One bore a sign that said, "Jesus Completely Saves." (Thank you, Jesus, for not doing a half-assed job.) One was very literally the size of a Wal-Mart. In fact, it looked as if it could have taken over a defunct Wal-Mart.

Christ almighty are we not in San Francisco anymore.



"If, in this [2008 Presidential] campaign, illusion triumphs over what we must believe is reality, we will fail as a nation. There is, after all, a point of no return. If McCain wins, history is here big time, scythe, sackcloth and all four horsemen."--Robert Stone, quoted in the New York Times Book Review, Sunday, September 14, 2008


My Take on Election Coverage

It's that time again: time for me to become exquisitely adept at steering clear, as much as possible, of any and all coverage of the US Presidential election. I cheerfully skip all of the articles in the Times in any way related to the election, the candidates, or the issues. As I do whenever there's a soundbite from our current Fearless Leader, I turn the volume on the radio down all the way and whistle for a few moments whenever NPR starts to veer election-ward. And I don't own a TV, so luckily it's wildly easy for me to completely avoid the hellhole that is TV news.

This came today in an e-mail from Dana:
wilska, i've been trying to follow your media diet but it
isn't working. i'm completely obsessed with the train wreck
that is mccain/palin and the half of our electorate that
seems to want them in the driver's seat. ack. any advice?
I replied,

Love, I approach the news like this:

If I read/listen to/watch this [where "this" roughly equals anything at all having to do with the election], will it in any way make me happier? Will it change my mind? Will it make me see things from a different perspective?

To date, 100% of the time, the answers to those questions have been resounding NOs. I figure that if, heaven forbid, Americans prove by and large to be a group of people who are at best misguided, at worst serious fuckwads, there will be ample opportunity for tearing of hair, worrying about the fate of the country, and scoping out cabins on the Canadian prairie. This may be the last chance I have to believe that there's more good than bad left in this nation, and I'm too stubborn and greedy to give that up.
That's sort of sad but also painfully true. Unless you're a liberal in this country, or a liberal elsewhere who cares deeply about the outcome of this election, it's hard to understand how awful it is to be staring down the gun of the possibility of four more years of Republican rule, especially in the wake of the multi-faceted disaster the past eight years have been. If 2004 was an unbelievably heartbreaking letdown (which it was), multiply that hurt, anger, frustration, and sadness by ten thousand and you have a fair sense of why we're so worried.

And there's nothing we can do with that worry, really. I mean, sure, we all can (and should) do things like call prospective voters and drive people to the polls on election day and donate to the Obama campaign, but beyond that, our hands are tied. It's that feeling of powerlessness, that aching fear that once again we might watch things go horribly, ridiculously wrong, and might realize anew how far the US has skewed to a right that doesn't care for logic or justice, that I can't yet handle.

So I keep myself in the dark. Let the polls heave up and down. Let the lies and hypocrisy flow. Let the pundits pontificate. I want nothing to do with it.

On November 5, I'll start paying attention again, because by then I'll know whether to believe that there is indeed a chance to turn things around here, to claw ourselves out of the hole we've been in, or whether to sigh and give up.


Americans Officially No Longer World's Most Obnoxious Tourists

"They scream, they sing, they fall down, they take their clothes off, they cross-dress, they vomit."
--Konstantinos Lagoudakis, mayor of Malia, Greece, quoted in "Some Britons Too Unruly For Resorts In Europe," by Sarah Lyall, New York Times, Sunday, August 24, 2008


You Have No Idea How Much I Love You

Kate at 2 months old

OK, seriously: this niece of mine makes my heart want to explode.


Mending Wall

There's an arm draped over my hip. The room is dark, quiet, the Olympics in the living room finally turned off, the offensively loudly ticking clock in the kitchen shorn of its batteries for the night. We talk about TV chefs, books, something else I'm not really concentrating on. I wonder if I would sleep better at home.

And then it snaps into my head: Something there is that doesn't love a wall.

These lines come to me half-bidden sometimes. I'll be standing in my kitchen in mid-afternoon, watching the light seep through the window, and there it is: the end of Richard Hugo's "Degrees of Grey in Philipsburg." Plath's "fountains": anywhere, anytime, always aided by moodiness. Ditto Millay.

But "Mending Wall"? That's a fairly unusual one. I'm not expecting it.

I open my eyes to the blank wall in front of me. I'm still talking, or (half-) listening, but now I'm wondering about Robert Frost. This is the only line of the poem I really know. What random file drawer of memory did I pull it from?

The arm is a limited time offer (though it stays for longer than expected). The warmth, the chatter, the prelude: all of it is limited, asterisked, carefully delineated. That's the agreement, the understanding. That's--oh--the wall.

Got it.

A lifetime ago, back in the first year of G., I held out for a long time on falling for him (or admitting that I had), explaining that, for a panoply of reasons, I felt the need to be the Hoover Dam. But late in the year I caved, and, with a shrug, could only say that the Hoover Dam had sprung a leak. (Within a few months, it had all but completely crumbled and floated away.)

I've never been good with walls--my own or others'.

So it was that last night I found myself staring at a blank expanse of a literal one, an expanse I've fixed my eyes on before, feeling something kick around in my chest as I thought, This can only tide me over for so long. Because these current flashes of delight notwithstanding, all of this feels like an odd, murky combination of scattershot and heavy on the rules and regs.

And what I carry with me all the time, patiently waiting and hoping to find it again, is the sense memory of an early morning last fall, of opening my eyes from sleep to see a boy walking toward me, of understanding, for a little while, what it is to be utterly without walls.

'...Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.'


Annual Summer Weather Complaint, 2008 Version

Last Saturday, having hit MoMA with Sean, I went to 42nd Street to catch a train to Brooklyn, where I was scheduled to meet up with Rachel, David, and Joseph. I can't possibly be the first person to compare the 42nd Street Subway station in mid-summer with the center ring of hell, but regardless, it's a comparison worth repeating. It was so hot and so unbelievably humid down there that my skin instantly glossed over with a layer of sweat and condensed humanity, all of which evaporated into a layer of grossness when I got on the air-conditioned train.

But hear me now, people: I would be back there in a second, back to that damp and steamy subterranean hole (and might even put up for long stretches with the fellow who was "playing"--with what I can charitably describe as a modicum of talent--some upturned plastic buckets), if I could be, because here in San Francisco it's 56 degrees and gray.

For two weeks I got to wear sartorial items many of you might take for granted, but which are anathema here in the City by the Bay: shorts, tank tops, flip flops, light, breezy, summery skirts. I got my toenails painted and actually got to see them all day long. I developed a dorky but deep arm tan. I went running in the morning and came back pouring sweat, which somehow managed to seem more satisfying than straight-up disgusting (though it was that, too). I went outside in the evening without a sweater, long pants, and a jacket.

To all of that: so long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, adieu. I'm back in San Francisco, and it's August.


I'm Tired of China

So, look. The earthquake that did so much damage to China earlier this year was unquestionably a disaster, and I have unmitigated sympathy for the people whose lives were affected by it. I also hope that coverage of the relief effort does not get wholly subsumed by coverage of the Olympics, though I realize the chances of that are slim.

[Sorry, an aside: how is it that "fat chance" and "chances are slim" can mean the same thing? Curious.]

But here's the thing: earthquake notwithstanding, I'm so insanely tired of hearing about China. Really, I am--and have been for a while now. I'm tired of hearing about the Chinese government's human rights abuses du jour, tired of hearing about the (shockingly!) unsustainable breakneck development of dour, huge, soulless Chinese cities, tired of hearing about the latest health issues stemming from whatever toxins Chinese factories are using in their manufacturing processes. I'm just so totally and completely done with China.

Which means, of course, that I should be climbing into a cave for the next few weeks, stuffing my ears with cotton, and sewing my eyes shut. Or just, you know, muttering discontentedly sotto voce until this whole Olympics hoo-haa passes and, I hope, we choose another country to focus 85% of our collective attention on. (How about Bulgaria?)


Sweet Baby

Witness my adorable, darling, well-behaved little niece, Kate. She is a sweet light in my world.


We Are So Much What We've Come from: Part 1

I come east and, for a while, my world rockets backwards.

Last Thursday we go to see Ian's jazz trio play at the local winery. (Not a typo--there are indeed wineries in Connecticut, and the one in question is actually quite good.) Ian is quite possibly the sweetest, kindest, happiest person I've ever had the luck to know. We were good friends in high school, and although I've seen him only sporadically in the ensuing years, every time I do, it's as if no time at all has passed. Years and miles collapse, and I'm as close to him as I ever was. We laugh, call each other E-N and M-A, say over and over, "It's so weird," referring to a Black Point night several worlds back, the full details of which have long since fallen away.

But this much about that night we remember: for a while we go along with someone's vaguely ridiculous idea and find ourselves in Old Black Point, on a road we don't know, probably searching in vain for whoever we were meant to meet out there, for whatever it is we were meant to do. We likely never meet who we're supposed to or get where we might've been going. Instead, the rest of the group goes ahead and Ian and I start talking--about my ill-advised tangles with Dave, probably, about the darkness of the road we're on, about the unfamiliarity of wherever it is we are. We deem it all weird. Our conversation is by turns profound and heartfelt, light and goofy. It's so weird, we keep saying. So weird.

There was something about that night, our walk, that discussion, those few inky hours--something that, as pat as this will sound, yanked Ian and I together in a way we hadn't been for the rest of the summer. I went home at the end of that long evening feeling like I knew him better than I ever had, and he me, despite our long years of friendship. So weird.

We were so far from that night last Thursday, and yet, as we hugged and talked after he finished his set, as he told me about his daughter and asked me about my business, as we kept up a stream of It's so weird! and It's so good to see you, it felt like there was so little separating then and now, as if, at any moment, Jeff or Jason or Chris might call to us from down the road--What's taking you guys?--and we would quicken our pace to reach them, agreeing with their claim that the night had been a wash rather than letting on--because how could we explain?--that it hadn't. Weirdly, it hadn't.


The Week That Was

Last Saturday night, Jacob holds his gin and tonic out for me to take a sip and I wrinkle my nose. "Eiww, no thanks!" I say--ok, yell--over the insane din that has enveloped Luna Park. "I'm not a gin girl." My attentions go instead to the Technicolor fruitiness of whatever I've just ordered, and the boy gives up (temporarily) on attempting to share his drink.

Then comes Sunday. [It occurs to me here that this post is about to read like a chronicle of a soused week. So be it.] Boss and I meet up at the Big Four for some belated birthday cocktails and patrician-watching. On my way to the bar, I'd been thinking about what to order; at the Big Four, the Manhattan is my standard, but for some reason I felt on Sunday like going father afield.

So when we sit down at the bar and there in my eyeline is a bottle of Hendrick's gin, I don't hesitate, asking the bartender for a Hendrick's gimlet. I'm wary--too many sips of undrinkable G&Ts have made me gin-phobic--but, upon sip #1, am delighted to discover what may be the best drink ever. Several more of same follow. (Thanks, Boss, for picking up that tab.)

Equally delightful was waking up on Monday morning without the slightest bit of a hangover. Praise be to the clear alcohol! I praised it again on Tuesday, when Erfert, Boss, and I went to Bourbon and Branch and I once again went the gimlet route (with a brief detour through a bourbon-based drink; when in Rome, etc.).

People, I have seen the light! I will probably continue to brook no gin that isn't Hendrick's or otherwise foofy (e.g., cucumber-infused), but give me the good stuff and a masterful bartender and I'm totally Gin Girl 3000. I'm sure there's a lesson here for all of us; I leave it to you to figure out what that might be.

Katie, my editor, e-mailed me on Tuesday evening to let me know that the proof of my book was ready for review. She directed me to the PDF and offered to overnight a hard copy; I took her up on that offer because, as otherwise perfect as my little MacBook is, it does not have a screen that lends itself to easy review of landscape format PDFs.

The proof went out on Wednesday and was due to reach me on Thursday, which it did, though indirectly. I came home from my client meeting that afternoon to find a FedEx box addressed to me on the sidewalk in front of my steps, roughly torn open and emptied of its contents. I was approximately 75 different kinds of baffled when I picked up the box: had the FedEx guy left it on the steps? Had someone taken it from under the front gate? Would not any normal thief, upon discovering the contents of such a box, immediately jettison them? And if so, why couldn't I find a chunk of pages anywhere in the vicinity of my house?

It was while stumbling around, box in hand, that I noticed someone sitting on my neighbor Jody's steps, chatting with another guy who stood on the sidewalk in front of him. I walked toward them and felt my heart threaten to jump clear out of my chest when I saw, on the step next to the sitter--a semi-homeless guy I've seen around the neighborhood, and have previously caught stealing my Sunday paper--the folded-over, rubber-banded pages of my proof.

This will sound pat, but as my brain wrapped around what was happening, my entire body tensed up in what was the largest, strongest, most utterly overwhelming burst of anger I can ever recall feeling. I screamed so long and so loud that, by the time I got back to my house (proof in hand), I was utterly spent. That level of anger? Scary, scary stuff.

Fast forward several hours. My doorbell rang. I opened the door cautiously, and there on the steps was Sandy, a neighbor from down the street. He told me the thief was his brother, Gary, who had severe mental issues. He apologized profusely. I said I knew he couldn't be his brother's keeper, told him in detail what had happened, listened as he told me about how he and Gary's doctor try to monitor him as closely as they can, listened as he vowed to me that he would direct Gary to stay away from the neighborhood.

It was probably the stress of the afternoon and the stress of working under a tight deadline to finish the review and any number of other flavors of stress, but as Sandy and I talked, it was all I could do not to dissolve into tears. Because, yes, it was maddening beyond words to have had my proof stolen, and creepy in the extreme to think that Gary is disturbed and adept enough to pull things from under our gate. In the end, though, I got my proof back, and all I could really focus on as Sandy apologized again and again was what it might be like to bear the responsibility for a family member gone wrong, to know that there's so very little you can do.

That, by a mile, is the harder row to hoe.

The eyelashes. I had forgotten, or maybe hadn't noticed before. The hazel eyes, those I remembered, but those long, stunning, dark eyelashes--those were new.

So a temporary goodbye, defenses, and nice try, though we both knew we were sort of doomed from the start, and that (for today, at least) was sort of the point. Blame the eyelashes, the eyes, the impish grin, the tap of a finger on my bottom lip, our matching pearline shirt buttons, the completed Saturday Times crossword (we missed just one square), a dozen other things that feel like not-unpleasant little kicks to the gut.

But don't make yourself too scarce; there will all too likely be work for you in the weeks ahead, given what This is and isn't and might and might not be. Next time, though, we'll try to be better prepared, you and I. Remember the eyelashes.


Baby Kate

Katherine Rosalie

I'm an auntie! Baby Kate arrived on Monday night, two days before she was scheduled to be evicted from her mama's womb.

Though I won't get to meet her until I go back east in July, I can already tell that she's adorable and delightful and will make her aunt swell with pride for years to come.


The Corner, The Turning

It's a little early for all this.
Everything's still very bare--
nevertheless, something's different today from yesterday.

--Louise Gluck, from "March"

It was while gazing at another ceiling, with mid-morning light poking in through another window, hearing another set of lungs quietly at work, waiting for another pair of eyes to open, that I thought, Right. This isn't it. That room, those hours, those lungs and eyes added up to something that used to be familiar (a warm Boston apartment, March 2001; a Seattle room near the train tracks, sometime before that; a gray July morning on Geary, not so very long ago)--a sighing blend of acceptance, understanding, and resignation that takes as its unofficial soundtrack Elliot Smith's "Oh Well, Okay" and, if in title and melody only, Cat Power's "Maybe Not."

I've felt this before, and this isn't it.

What struck me this time around, though, was what came next.

Which was this: But still, I'm somewhere else today. I wasn't thinking physically or literally, though indeed I was somewhere else (in a Valley that wasn't mine); rather, I felt like I'd come to a corner and had turned it. Suddenly it felt like I could exhale completely, for the first time in months, and that I didn't have to force myself to loosen my grip on what I'd been holding: it loosened on its own (well, ok, with a bit of a hazel-eyed nudge). Something in me went soft and slack, and for a while I closed my eyes and fell back asleep.

The morning wore on. The light changed. Our breathing changed. A while later, in front of my house, I said goodbye to those other eyes and came inside. Everything seemed familiar. Everything seemed just a shade different.


Dog Poop Police

Dear San Francisco City Government,
Please take a cue from New York and hire people to ticket the legions of lazy, irresponsible, uncaring dog owners who refuse to pick up after their pets.

Because, really, for such a beautiful city, we have streets smeared in way too much dog waste, and that sucks.



I Had Planned to Buy Riunite

On Sunday, in celebration of her birthday, Dana had a BBQ fiesta, the unofficial theme of which was "foodstuffs from 1975" (the year of her birth). The festivities got underway in the early afternoon, but Josh and I had to teach a class until 5, so I planned to head over as soon as we were done.

Driving to Joshy's seemed like a good idea that morning. I'd brought my coffee maker to his house the previous day and didn't feel like schlepping it to Dana's on foot or by Muni on Sunday evening, nor did I feel like going out of the way to bring the thing home before heading into the Mission. I also figured that driving would get me to D's more speedily than taking the bus, and had the grand idea to stop at Safeway en route to pick up a bottle of Riunite (on ice, natch) so that I might be thematically proper.

I parked the car on 8th Street at Natoma around 9, putting my toolkit in the trunk and triple-checking all of the locks before I walked away from it for the next eight hours. It was Sunday. The daylight was broad. There was nothing visible in my luxurious 1993 Toyota Corolla save for a bag of plastic bags (destined for the recycling bin at Safeway), an empty printer cartridge (on its way to Office Depot), a packing tape dispenser, my garage door opener, my mileage log, and the piece of plastic that fits into my cassette deck (yes) and allows me to play my iPod through my stereo.

Evidently, this bounty was temptation enough for the denizens of 8th Street. Around 5, as Josh and I left his house and walked toward my car, we saw one of our students heading toward us. "Did you get our messages?" she asked. We said we hadn't, and she replied that she and another student had called both of us from around the corner as they came upon my car (bearing magnetic signs on the doors with my business name, which is how they knew it was mine) and noted the glittering pile of glass on the sidewalk next to it.

Adios, driver's side window. Hello, giant mess. Loot scored by whatever crackhead or tweaker or just plain asshole broke into and ransacked my car: garage door opener, mileage log, tape dispenser, bag of bags, empty ink cartridge. No doubt you're having a field day with those highly valuable things.

In the end--after driving to the carwash to vacuum up as much glass as possible, after calling Glass Pro to arrange an appointment the following day, after sitting in front of my garage for a while and waiting in vain for one of the other car owners who parks there to come or go--I did make it to Dana's. In fact, she and Brad were good enough to let me park my window-less car in their garage that night. I was late in arriving--even later than anticipated--but things were still swinging when I got there, and there was still plenty of Champagne Jell-o mold to enjoy.

But I'm sorry I showed up empty-handed. D, your next bottle of "wine product with natural flavors" is on me.


Headline of the Day

Thanks, New York Times, for this info we didn't know we needed:

Bacteria Thrive in Inner Elbow; No Harm Done


Please Don't

A few things Stadia Suites, Santa Fe, DF would like you to know:

Rules and Regulations

4th Clause. It is strictly forbidden to:
A) Make annoying noises, start a fight, introduce musicians, pets, and in general, cause disturbances that make other guests feel uncomfortable.
B) The use of Suites for gambling or any other illegal action that may disturb the public order or break the law.
C) The use of electrical outlets and appliances for a different purpose than the one originally intended for.
D) To damage the furniture, ornaments, or any other Stadia Suites' properties by giving it improper use.
E) Carry out any act that may damage the other guests, the property and employees or that goes against the social rules and good behavior.
F) Any act that can cause damage to the hotel, to the rest of the guests or affect the commonwealth.

[I'm happy to report that, as of night #2, I'm still on the right side of these rules and regs: no pets or musicians introduced, no electrical tomfoolery, no improper use of ornaments, and no damaging other guests. Two more nights to go.]


John Cougar Mellencamp, I Beg to Differ

Hold onto 16 as long as you can
Changes come around real soon
Make us women and men.

In the midst of the heat this afternoon, Jenn and I sat in my living room talking about the downsides of self-employment and minor workaholism. We'd come to no solid conclusions (to contract out or no? Will s-e taxes kill us both? Is it ever totally possible to separate the personal and professional realms?) when Jenn looked out the window and asked, "Well, what's happening here?"

On the stoop of the house across the way (i.e., the house that's born more than its fair share of vexations and bad luck) we saw what appeared to be a young couple, a boy and a girl who seemed to be around 15. They sat close, both facing ahead with their feet on the sidewalk, and the girl appeared to be crying. Though we couldn't hear what they said (not even when, channeling my always lovely but sometimes nosy grandmother, I opened my front door), we surmised from what we could see of their faces and body language that we were witnessing a breakup.

Jenn and I kept chatting, and the probably-a-breakup continued, with more tears from the girl and a relatively straight but clearly sad face on the boy. When J left around 6.20 and I opened the gate to walk her out, the pair looked up at us briefly before turning back to their grief.

That grief continued until well past 8, with varying degrees of drama (including, at one point, the girl on her knees on the sidewalk in front of the fellow, in a posture I can only describe as beseeching and somewhat Shakespearean). I didn't see them leave.

There is, I think, a particular flavor of heartbreak and sadness and disappointment that you can feel only in your teens. It's so sharp and new and often unexpected that it's hard to know what to do with, and the first few times you feel it you're sure--up and down sure--that it will never go away.

It does go away, of course, and after enough times through the cycle of elation and crashing and emptiness and utter overflowing goodness you come to understand that none of it lasts forever. But no one can tell you that and have you believe it; you have to go through the wringer a few times on your own. For many of us--for me, at least--much of that wringer-going happens somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 19.

And it's for that reason that, as Jenn and I tried to spy this afternoon, I said, "15: an age I'm happy I never have to be again." It was a great place to be for a little while, that land of teendom, but I was happy to move out of it, and happy not to have to go back.

And so, sweet weepy teens, at least one of whom appeared to have your heart broken this evening, I would tell you that things will mend in time, that your first love is almost never your last, that someday soon-ish all of this will fade, but you might not believe that telling. So instead I'll say that despite whatever sweetness your high school years may bring, and regardless of what John Cougar Mellencamp might claim, there's a lot to be said for letting go of 16 as soon as it's gone.



Last night, as Josh and I were moderating a panel discussion on burnout at the NAPO chapter meeting, what started as a flutter of fatigue somewhere in my chest rapidly, and scarily, became the sensation that I would fall on my ass (or my face, depending how I stood) if I did not get out of the room and sit down immediately. I whispered to Josh, I need to go, and slipped out of the room as unobtrusively as one can slip out of a room one happens to be at the very front of, with all eyes in her direction.

In the hall, I found a chair near an unused conference room and sat down with my head back, my pulse racing and a thin veneer of sweat on my face. I eventually got up and made my way to the bathroom, where I sat for a while before splashing some water on my face and slipping back into the room via a side door. There I stood, propped against the doorframe, until the panel was over.

The irony was not lost on me: while moderating a discussion on how to avoid burnout, I managed to spiral down into my own little pool of exhaustion-induced messiness. (You turned a totally different color, Josh said to me later. That was freaky.) Even despite what was more or less an Actual Day Off last Sunday, I still feel like I've been working non-stop for months. That has seemed like a necessity, but it's a pace I can't sustain, and the thought that I might wind up as some sort of overwork poster child is an unpleasant one. I will not become a Lifetime movie, so help me god. My body will see to that, evidently, even if my mind disagrees.


In Defense of Organizers and Civil Debate

Al Gore was the guest on Tuesday's Fresh Air. He'd been invited on the show to discuss his book The Assault on Reason, which, from what I gathered from Terry Gross' description, is about how Americans' increasing unwillingness (and inability?) to engage in reasoned, thoughtful, civic debate, preferring instead the combative and dismissive Fox News/CNN/Bush Administration model, is ultimately leaving us less informed and less capable of sustaining a healthy democracy.

It was fascinating to hear Gore speak, both for what he had to say and for the way he said it: if ever there's been an aural definition of "reasoned, measured tones," this was it. He spoke calmly and unflappably, with pauses between his words and rarely even a hint of a raised voice. It was as if he were, solely by his tone, defying the yellers and the absolutists to take issue with his message.

Tuesday also happened to be the day that Merlin Mann, whom I respect and admire quite a lot, posted to 43 Folders about the NSGCD and its resources for the chronically disorganized. In describing the NSGCD (short--if barely--for the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization), he referred to it as "primarily a trade group for 'professional organizers'". That's true enough to a certain extent, but I wondered why Merlin had put professional organizers in quotes. So I posted a comment and asked.

Then he posted a reply, and I posted a reply to his reply, and I asked some of my colleagues to read the whole kit and caboodle, and some of them left comments, too. It was all--from my perspective, at least--very Al Gore-ish: no yelling, no flaming, lots of general calmness and well-reasoned attempts to argue varying viewpoints.

But it's interesting: in the wake of the first point/counterpoint Merlin and I had, the message I most wanted to get across was not so much that professional organizers are worthy of a level of respect that quote marks deny, but that his apparent view of what we do--put crap in boxes, go to the Container Store, and try to make things look pretty without doing anything at all to address the underlying issues of overconsumption and unexamined keeping--is way, way off the mark. I said as much in my second comment, as did several people who commented after me, POs and clients alike. Yet what a few of the commenters who didn't identify themselves as either being organizers or working with organizers seemed to latch onto was that initial sense of being taken aback by the quotes.

Let's channel Al Gore, people, and move beyond the punctuation to read the rest of the discussion. It's about having your profession sort of maligned through an inaccurate and incomplete description, and about trying to explain why you take issue with those inaccuracies and incompletes. But beyond a point, there's only so much you can do or say to ask people to read (or hear) and absorb your words. Is it inevitable that, no matter how logical, calm, or well-reasoned the other side's argument might be, we'll always revert to our own bunkers, determined that we're right (or at least not wrong)? Do we ever really have the capacity to bring someone around?

I wish I could convince Merlin Mann that the work I do is no more fluffy, inconsequential, or unimportant than the work he does, and that although professional organizer might be a funny-sounding title, it's a serious profession. I hope he takes me up on my offer to help give him a clearer sense of what POs actually do, and how, in many ways, it's not a far cry from what he does.

But all of that is beyond my control: he's the only one who can choose what he thinks and does. Ditto for the people who can read all the smart, insightful, thoughtful things written in that comments stream and only take away that a bunch of POs have their label makers and binder clips in a snit over nothing more than the use of a bit of punctuation. In this, as in any discussion or debate, all I (or anyone) can ever do is put my words out there in a calm, balanced, and (I somewhat hate this term, but, alas) constructive way and hope that they fall on at least a few appreciative and open pairs of eyes and ears.



By Louise Gluck

The light stays longer in the sky, but it's a cold light,
it brings no relief from winter.

My neighbor stares out the window,
talking to her dog. He's sniffing the garden,
trying to reach a decision about the dead flowers.

It's a little early for all this.
Everything's still very bare--
nevertheless, something's different today from yesterday.

We can see the mountain: the peak's glittering where the ice catches the light.
But on the sides the snow's melted, exposing bare rock.

My neighbor's calling the dog, making her unconvincing doglike sounds.
The dog's polite; he raises his head when she calls,
but he doesn't move. So she goes on calling,
her failed bark slowly deteriorating into a human voice.

All her life she dreamed of living by the sea
but fate didn't put her there.
It laughed at her dreams;
it locked her up in the hills, where no one escapes.

The sun beats down on the earth, the earth flourishes.
And every winter, it's as though the rock underneath the earth rises
higher and higher and the earth becomes rock, cold and rejecting.

She says hope killed her parents, it killed her grandparents.
It rose up each spring with the wheat
and died between the heat of summer and the raw cold.
In the end, they told her to live near the sea,
as though that would make a difference.

By late spring she'll be garrulous, but now she's down to two words,
never and only, to express this sense that life's cheated her.

Never the cries of the gulls, only, in summer, the crickets, cicadas.
Only the smell of the field, when all she wanted
was the smell of the sea, of disappearance.

The sky above the fields has turned a sort of grayish pink
as the sun sinks. The clouds are silk yarn, magenta and crimson.

And everywhere the earth is rustling, not lying still.
And the dog senses this stirring; his ears twitch.

He walks back and forth, vaguely remembering
from other years this elation. The season of discoveries
is beginning. Always the same discoveries, but to the dog
intoxicating and new, not duplicitous.

I tell my neighbor we'll be like this
when we lose our memories. I ask her if she's ever seen the sea
and she says, once, in a movie.
It was a sad story, nothing worked out at all.

The lovers part. The sea hammers the shore, the mark each wave leaves
wiped out by the wave that follows.
Never accumulation, never one wave trying to build on another,
never the promise of shelter--

The sea doesn't change as the earth changes;
it doesn't lie.
You ask the sea, what can you promise me
and it speaks the truth; it says erasure.

Finally the dog goes in.
We watch the crescent moon,
very faint at first, then clearer and clearer
as the night grows dark.
Soon it will be the sky of early spring, stretching above the stubborn ferns and violets.

Nothing can be forced to live.
The earth is like a drug now, like a voice from far away,
a lover or master. In the end, you do what the voice tells you.
It says forget, you forget.
It says begin again, you begin again.


Important Clarification

Serving Suggestion

OK, this is a terrible photo, but it was the best I was willing to do for the sake of a snarky blog post, so bear with me.

The product pictured above is a bag of cinnamon crunch granola made specifically for people with food allergies, which, I'm happy to say, don't affect me but, I'm less happy to say, do affect my friend Connie, the original purchaser of this breakfast treat. It turns out that this free-of-everything-else (wheat, nuts, soy, flavor) granola contains flax seeds, which Connie can't do, so she offered the bag to me.

And here's what I find delightful and maddening in equal measures. The image on the front of the package is of a very simple, totally unadorned bowl of granola--no fruit on top, no milk peeking out from under the granola clumps, nothing. It's very literally a bowl of granola. In the background there's an orange gerbera daisy and a few sticks of cinnamon. And down in the bottom left corner, below the big green "Allergen Free" emblem, are the words "Serving Suggestion."

Now, OK, I've complained here before about ridiculous food labels (notably the can of 100% cashews that bore a "Contains cashews" notice), and I'm sure there are all sorts of ridiculous American litigious reasons behind this, but seriously. Are there people who really expect that, upon opening this bag, they will discover not only granola pellets but also the bowl, flower, and decorative spice sticks pictured on the package? Must they be encouraged to go ahead with their planned consumption of this cereal even if their breakfast table does not identically resemble the one shown here? Do they truly need the reassurance that this is a suggestion--only a suggestion!--and not the required serving method and layout?

I understand the whole "Serving Suggestion" disclaimer on food packages that show their contents all tarted up in some sort of foodie version of the boudoir photo, with parts that glisten and garnishes so ripe and fresh they threaten to explode, but seriously, this whole granola photo could not be more straightforward unless it showed the cereal in a heap on a table with the open, empty bag lurking in the background. And even then, perhaps the manufacturer would have to clarify that the table itself was not included.

Are we as a nation really this dumb?


Desperate Times &c

Having finally given in last night and e-filed the tax return for which I owe the United States Treasury my weight in gold, I did the only thing I could think to do to keep my mind from wandering toward thoughts of, "Right, then, how am I actually going to pay that sum?" I did the only thing that, at that moment, could bring succor, could provide temporary protection from the (figurative) wolves of the IRS at my (figurative) door.

I went to iTunes and downloaded some Air Supply.

And now, though I'm still somewhat mystified as to where I might procure all of the funds the taxing authorities are asking of me, at least the soundtrack to this mystification includes "Making Love Out of Nothing at All." Better yet, I discovered that I still have a credit on iTunes from the gift card I got from Greg and Sara for Christmas, so I didn't even have to pay anything. That's 99 cents I can hand directly over to the Feds.


Who writes this stuff?

From the Netflix envelope for Hotel Rwanda:
Amid the holocaust of internecine tribal fighting in Rwanda that sees the wanton and savage butchering of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, one ordinary man (Don Cheadle) musters the courage to save more than 1,000 helpless refugees by sheltering them in the hotel he manages. Djimon Honsou, Nick Nolte, and Joaquin Phoenix co-star in this powerful film (sort of an African version of Schindler's List) directed by Terry George.
I know "the holocaust of internecine tribal fighting" is a fairly accurate description of the Rwanda disaster, but really, who thought such a highfalutin' and contorted turn of phrase would bring people swarming to see this film? Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't internecine mean "within a group"? And wasn't the fighting between the Tutsis and the Hutus actually between groups?

And then, on the other end of the descriptive spectrum, there's "sort of an African version of Schindler's List." Perhaps they should've added, "Just substitute Don Cheadle for Liam Neeson and a hotel for a metalworking factory." All very oddly reductive.

Still, my hopes are high that the movie itself will rise significantly above the quality of the envelope copy.


Random nattering

Sometimes I forget the simple, ridiculous joys of IM:

missquickly [Dana]: want anything from le big apple?
me: hmmm...
nothing springs to mind
missquickly: some real estate perhaps?
sorry, projecting
me: nah, I'll take my real estate in a snow-less clime
too wimpy
missquickly: ahh
been living here too long [nose wink]
me: the blood has thinned
missquickly: the skin too
me: indeed
missquickly: it's going to be so cold over there, even now!
it's supposed to snow in boston tomorrow
me: yikes
I don't miss it
missquickly: i romanticize it
but i'm glad not to slog through slush for 5 months
me: perhaps you're hearing the call of the Alaskan wilderness
missquickly: nice
me: no, wait, that's Eddie Vedder
they sound so similar
missquickly: the tender moose meat and fine accomodations
are you in mill valley this weekend, or was that last weekend?
me: that was last weekend
missquickly: how was that?
me: not bad
the hotel was nice but unexciting
missquickly: like mill valley
me: and I'd never before realized just how crazy small town MV really is
it's like 1955
missquickly: which could be kind of awesome
me: except for the bands of disaffected Mill Valley youth
missquickly: MV skin heads?
me: such as it were--sort of poor little rich kids
mini Chris McCandlesses in the making
missquickly: oh no
they break the fourth wall
me: they'll, like, hike up into Mt. Tam with only a few Twix bars and some Vitamin Water for all of the summer
missquickly: ha!
and live in an abandoned refrigerator they find at the top
me: [grin]
missquickly: actually i think they sell hot dogs on top of mt tam
me: well, surely at least a few of these kids are vegan
missquickly: are twix vegan?
me: though there may be Tofu Pups
probably not
missquickly: mmmm
me: I love peanut butter twix
just for the record
missquickly: good to know
more than kinder eggs?
me: I enjoy Kinder Eggs for the toys, but the chocolate doesn't thrill me
I find myself unable to comprehend white chocolate
I mean, what's the point?
missquickly: true
i think it's not technically chocolate
it's... white
me: quote chocolate unquote
missquickly: indeed


On Vassar, San Francisco, and film

From Following Sean

Several months back, my dear friend Ryan called from New York to tell me that he'd seen our names on the big screen, in the credits for Ralph Arlyck's film Following Sean. Ralph is a documentary filmmaker based in Poughkeepsie, New York--based, in fact, directly across the street from Vassar College, where Ry and I went to school. We were both active in the Film department there and made a few short pieces together (including Hershey: A Chocumentary and Postcards, both of which I'll digitize one of these days and post to YouTube, though the former piece is irreverent and silly enough to potentially piss off the Hershey powers that be; luckily, Ryan's a lawyer--but I digress). We both also held internships with Ralph at some point.

So I finally got around to renting Following Sean, which I found fascinating, not only because of the people who are the heart of the film, but also because it glides back and forth between San Francisco and Poughkeepsie. Now Ralph is on Haight Street; now he's shooting from his front door at home, with a view across Raymond Avenue to Chicago Hall, where his wife Elisabeth teaches (and, in fact, was my professor for a few French film classes). Now the sun is shining in the eternal springtime of Northern California; now snow is starting to fall in the Hudson Valley. It was exhilarating and poignant and curious to watch the film bounce between those two worlds, both of which I know so well.

And it was, of course, a delight to see my name on screen, though the film came out years after I'd graduated, moved out west, and given up the dream of attempting to subsist on the income of an independent filmmaker in the expensive world that was dot-com-era San Francisco, and though I now have only sketchy memories of working with Ralph. But my name there, the names of fellow film students, Steve Leiber's credit as Executive Producer (I also interned with Steve and his wife DeDe at the kick-ass Upstate Films in Rhinebeck)--all of it was a pleasant little trip back to those days when my life was so much celluloid. They seem such a long time gone.

(On a side note, the other movie I watched this week was The Squid and the Whale, which I'd forgotten was directed by Noah Baumbach, another Vassar alum. So it's been a sort of mini, unintentional VC Film Fest here in my house.)



With all due respect to those who enjoyed it, and to those (perhaps it's just the singular he) who "really really really liked it," allow me to opine: Into the Wild sort of sucked.

I'm speaking here, of course, of the movie. I really liked the book, and in fact have just re-read it in an attempt to reassure myself that I was right in remembering that it was engrossing, balanced, and well written. (It was, and is, despite Jon Krakauer's slight overuse of the word "morass," which I can forgive.)

So good was the book, in fact, that I had high hopes for the film. And I tried--really tried!--to like it, despite the fact that Dana channeled my thoughts when she said, less than two minutes in, "Oh, no. Terrible, terrible title sequence." I tried to overlook that weird, puffy-lettered abomination. I tried to comprehend--and then, failing that, to not actively hate--the illogical split screens used throughout the movie. I tried to make my peace with the dueling voice-overs. I tried to resist fidgeting during every scene that went on just a bit too long (which is to say pretty much every scene). I even tried not to cringe when Emile Hirsch looked directly into the camera time and again, despite the fact that he was meant to be utterly alone.

I tried and tried, but to no avail. Dana and I were a chorus as we watched: "Oh, no." "No, no, no." "Yes, Sean Penn, we see your directorial hand here." "What? Why???" "Not again. No."

Here's the thing: Krakauer's book is unabashedly personal. He makes direct connections between his own foolish wilderness exploits as a young man and Chris McCandless'. He equally points out McCandless' shortcomings and errors and defends the guy from those who excoriated him after his death. And he writes in a seamless combination of first and third person. You always know Krakauer is there, but he's almost never the book's center of attention.

All of this means that, by the end of the book, you're left slightly annoyed by the foolish things Chris McCandless did but nonetheless holding at least a few shards of empathy for him. And you ache for his family.

Not so for Sean Penn's McCandless. The movie is so overblown and showboaty and drawn out that, by the end, you (if you are me) just want the poor boy out of his misery, as much because he's hanging on to such a wretchedly awful existence as because you just want the damn movie to end. The rest of the McCandless family? You might feel a pang for Chris' beloved and abandoned sister, but his parents seem like such one-dimensional, materialistic beasts that Chris' willful disappearance from their lives seems almost understandable.

And did I mention the title sequence?

A good director writes his or her signature all over a film but never, ever points out that signature. It--and all of the techniques and stylistic twists and directorial decisions that go with it--is what gives the movie its flavor and feel, but all of that is lost as soon as the director calls attention to what he's doing. This is why I hate Jean-Luc Godard: to me, his films are a succession of "hey, look what I did!" "Hey, did you see that clever trick I just pulled?!" "Missed those last 16 jump cuts? Here's another!" Putting all of these stylistic flourishes in the forefront flattens the characters and steamrolls the story.

So it was with Into the Wild. There are characters there, and an interesting story. When Penn chills out enough to let those two elements come together quietly--as when Hal Holbrook's character bids Chris/Alex goodbye--you can catch a glimmer of what the movie might have been (and what the book is). But then along comes a slo-mo sequence followed by a split screen montage accompanied by some overly florid narration followed by hell knows what, and you forget what you're actually supposed to be focusing on.

I wish Penn had stepped back a bit and trusted that he could've relied on the cinematography and acting (which, despite a few wooden or mushy moments, was pretty good) and the essentials of McCandless' (and Krakauer's) story to carry the film. It would've been, I think, much richer and more touching than the Hollywood-heavy thing we got instead.


Be My Guide, Be My Pilot

I'm such a word nerd that one of the first things I do when life issues a kick to the gut (or the heart, or the head, or even the shins) is set myself on a mission to find succor in writing. There are my own scribbles, of course, which anyone valiant enough to still be reading this blog has had the grace and patience to put up with, but what really interests me is what others have to say.

It's perhaps a slightly odd instinct, this--seeking comfort for your own aches in someone else's words--but often it feels like one of the most important things I can do to keep myself afloat. My own attempts to find the words to explain things to myself are mightily abetted by reading the words others have used to try to work their own stuff out.

So I've been doing a relatively huge amount of reading. Some of it doesn't really count as far as succor goes, such as The Smartest Guys in the Room, which I'd started back in early February and finally finished a few weeks back, or anything whatsoever in the Times or the New Yorker. But much of what I've been reading I've chosen precisely in the hope that it has something wise and comforting to impart.

There are the reliable standards: that Amy Bloom essay, Richard Hugo's "Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg," a few select passages from Sylvia Plath's journals (pre-Hughes, natch). These I love as much because they're smart and striking as because I've held them close before and know they have the power to soothe.

There are also a few standards that I don't have much patience for this time around. I recently took my Collected Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay off the shelf and turned to poems I'd long ago starred and underlined and notated, but they didn't do it for me. Millay is a brilliant poet, and one of my favorites, but she's short on the uplift, and as I read I found myself thinking, Christ, Edna, cheer up a bit. For Hugo's final lines--"and the girl who serves your food/ is slender and her red hair lights the wall"--Millay counters, "Making my way, I pause, and feel, and hark/Till I become accustomed to the dark."

Thanks, Edna, but no more darkness.

What's been my most steadfast companion for the past week or so, though, has been Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. I'm sort of amazed that this hasn't yet been an Oprah's Book Club Selection, because it's truly primed for such. But that's not a bad thing in this reviewer's opinion. The book is smart, funny, profound, insightful, and as much of a life raft as anything else in my world at this particular moment.

I've been reading a bit of Eat, Pray, Love each night before bed, and sometimes a few pages in the morning, so it sits on my bedside table with a pen and a small heap of half-crumpled tissues. The pen I use to make notes in the margin, to underline passages I want to go back to, to highlight sentences that make me cry in recognition or understanding or hope. And thus the tissues: absorbers of these few nightly tears. It's become a mini ritual.

What's so striking for me about Gilbert's book is not so much the parallels I see in our lives (very few) or any resonant desire I feel to follow the path she does (very little). Instead, I think it's that she presents nothing as "I just..." There's no "I just needed to tell myself..." or "All I had to do was..." or "It was as simple as...." She has revelations and breakthroughs and breakdowns and all of that, but none of it is one-part or easy--and, really, how much of this stuff ever is? I rail against anything I read or hear that suggests that there are straightforward or unencumbered or quick or easy ways to disentangle ourselves from whatever's most vexing in life. I don't buy it. That stuff is messy and hard and complicated and fraught, and it makes little sense to me to try to pretend otherwise.

Gilbert doesn't pretend. And for me, that makes her experiences all the more valuable, all the more trustworthy. That's so much why I read others: to try to mine something from what they've been through, from where they end up, from what they deal with along the way. That requires feeling some sort of connection, though, even if I can't draw direct parallels between the writers' lives and my own. I have to believe that as similar or dis- as our experiences may be, taking that verbal journey through someone else's will, ultimately, contribute something meaningful to mine. Eat, Pray, Love makes me believe that.

I'm coming to the end of it, and am more than a bit tempted to turn right around and start it again. Because, although in words different from my own and about a life that's not mine, it says, in large part, what I want to say to myself but can't yet. And that's a rare thing, I think, like that line in Neko Case's "Guided by Wire": "Someone singing my life back to me." Elizabeth Gilbert is writing her own life back to herself, unspooling a great long length of rope to pull herself from her worst moments in an ocean of misery back to stable land. My straits weren't nearly as dire or as treacherous as hers, but still. There's immense comfort in being able to put a hand on that rope for a while.


I {Heart} Justification Spam

Over the past few months, I've noticed a fascinating new breed of spam. From what I can see of the message contents in Gmail's preview line (which is, blessedly, not a lot), all of these messages are for Viagra knock-offs of some sort. It's the subject lines that fascinate me, though.

Consider today's collection:
  • I wanted to see what all the fuss is about
  • I wanted to get a promotion
  • It was an initiation rite to a club or organization
  • I wanted to breakup another's relationship
  • I wanted to get rid of aggression
  • I wanted to gain access to that person's friend
  • I was under the influence of drugs
  • I was drunk
  • [And my favorite:] I wanted to see what it was like to have sex while stoned (e.g., on marijuana or some other drug) [Important clarification. Thanks for that.]
It's Justification Spam! Surely you've received an e-mail offer for sexual performance-enhancing products and considered using them if only you had a passable reason (or excuse) to. Well, look no more! There are so very many. So very, very many.



I hadn't anticipated the boredom.

Sadness I expected. Loneliness? Yup. Longing? Check. Those I knew would be coming. But what's been most striking in the past week is how bland my days have become.

For years, many spent in long-distance relationships, I was used to being on my own much of the time. Aside from work, social outings, and time with friends, I was alone. I ate dinner alone, watched movies alone at home, went to sleep alone, woke up alone. It was such habit for such a long stretch that I stopped minding, even if I didn't entirely stop noticing.

Starting last summer, though, I got used to having someone else in my life every day, reliably and without fail. Even the boring stuff (like cooking dinner) was more interesting when I didn't have to do it solo. And the fun stuff, of course, was off the damn charts.

So now that's the yawning hole. I can't possibly fill my days and evenings enough to avoid the fact that I'm back to being a one, where for such a pleasant stretch there I was a two. And though this is straight out of some terrible Lifetime movie, I've been laughing so much less lately, not because my outlook has turned maudlin, but because the person who made me laugh every day is gone.

That things would go from Technicolor to slightly faded and tattered pastels. That I'd so acutely feel the shift away from having someone to turn to at the end of the day. That listlessness would move in and make itself at home. Somehow, all of these things I didn't know to expect.


That Kind of Thing

You've seen the image before--in a movie, in a photo, in an ad. Someone's sitting on the edge of the bed, his hands on his knees, his gaze cast forward in a way that's possibly blank, possibly vaguely worried, quite possibly full of mourning. The upshot is always "There's this difficult and unpleasant thing facing me (a funeral, a courtroom in which I lose everything I now have and know and love, a truth I couldn't imagine) that I wish I didn't have to deal with, but I'm a functioning adult with the desire to remain such. So I must confront it. I must wade through it. I must believe that sooner or later I'll emerge from the other side."

On Sunday morning, I actually found myself sitting on the edge of my bed with my hands on my knees, only half conscious that I was adopting that posture. A few hours later, I sat in my car in the Inner Sunset, in much the same position, trying to steel myself for what was ahead. And when I came back to the car a bit over an hour later, with what felt like every bit of my face swollen with crying, I sat still for a few moments and thought, All I have to do now is get through this and go on.

In an essay that appeared in O Magazine a few years back (a piece I've quoted here before because it's trenchant and heartbreaking and flat-out, whatever you might think of O), Amy Bloom writes, "What I hadn't understood, until recently, is that sometimes love is not enough. And that is the worst news-from-the-universe I have heard for some time. ... Love takes us further than we thought we could go, but it does not take us past the limits of our nature. And that is a hard thing to know."

On Sunday afternoon, I heard a truth that crumpled my heart but, at the same time, set something inside me to calmness. It was a hard thing to hear, but nevertheless I felt a tinge of gratitude to hear it. And for sure it's a hard (and painful) thing to know, but even I would rather a hard truth than a soft lie. Sometimes love is not enough.

So I return again and again now to that edge-of-the-bed image: each of us, for a while, sits there feeling too heavy to stand, knowing that what awaits us is a horrendous goodbye, a run-in with heartbreak, an encounter with the understanding that we're no longer what we once were, or we no longer have what we once did, and once loved so much.

But sooner or later we do stand. We stand and (to quote Marge Piercy) hold hard, and let go, and go on. Because there's no other worthwhile choice


I can't even think of a fitting title

Yes, pops, just plain loony

So I had this serious and heartfelt and vaguely profound post bubbling around in my head all day, and I came home all set to actually put it in words and get it up here. But I reached my front door to find a package from my Dad, inside which was the little fellow on the right in the photo above, along with a card: "Because sometimes life is just plain loony!! Love, Dad." This sent me into a spate of half-laughing, half-sobbing, in a way I don't think I could replicate if I tried, because it's all just so unbelievably...something.

Here's the thing: after the breakup with G. in 2004, Erfert brought me a bottle of booze and a stuffed ptarmigan from Wild Republic's line of Audubon birds ("with real bird calls!") which, when squeezed, sounds a ridiculous but delightful ptarmigan call. The ptarmigan was soon joined by others (a loon, a chickadee, a bluejay, a thrush), all of whom perched on the back of my sofa.

Though I can't remember exactly when or how, last summer Erik took a liking to the loon (that's him on the left above), and eventually he became our steadfast companion, coming with us to Vancouver and perching with us when we watched movies and calling out his loony call through all of it.

One afternoon, one of us squeezed the loon and, rather than his standard "whooOOOOoooOOOooo," he let out what sounded like an angry squawk from some other bird altogether. A while later, he added to his repertoire a sweet songbird-like chirping. And he'd switch between these calls and his normal one seemingly at random. (I swear I'm not making this up; there's video-recorded proof.)

Over the last few months, the loon started to lose his voice, his calls (all three) growing increasingly metallic and warbled. By a couple of weeks ago, he was all but silent. Squeeze him now and you get the aural equivalent of seeing someone who's always been robust and healthy withered away to skin and bones.

During our weepy pow-wow yesterday, Erik told me that he'd watched the short video of the loon he'd taken back in late summer and said he heard a radical difference between what the loon sounded like then and what he'd become. I choked back a heave/sob thing and said, "Loved to muteness."

So when I came home today and unwrapped another loon, this one with a call that's loud and strong and clear, it felt like there were a billion messages coming down from the universe, but I couldn't understand any of them.

My Dad sent me a stuffed loon to help soothe my broken heart. This loon is sort of small and runty compared to the original loon, but he calls out clearly. The original loon--our loon, the loon so beloved by the boy I love(d)--is bigger and fuller but now can only warble weakly.

It all means so much. It all means so little.


The "Jeopardy!" Effect

In the summer of 2003, my sister-in-law Sara was selected to be on "Jeopardy!" Sara's mom and Aunt Sandra and my brother and I all went to LA for the taping of the show and a mini-vacation.

She came in second, beaten by a guy with lightning-fast reflexes and an all-too-thorough knowledge of the arcane and the trivial, and although we all told her repeatedly how proud we were that she'd even made it onto the show, she was understandably disappointed.

The next day, Greg and I dropped Sara, Diane, and Sandra off at the Getty and headed to the Bel Air to soak in the ambience (and the booze) of the hotel bar. After a drink, I asked how Sara was doing, and Greg replied that she was truly sad, though he couldn't quite understand why. Just placing on the show was a major accomplishment, he said, and she knew we were all oozing with pride. Plus, though she didn't get the first-place prize money, she did still walk away with much more than she'd come with.

I don't remember the exact arc of the conversation (as the waiter came around with another pair of drinks), but I do remember I told him that I could understand Sara's sadness. It's like this, I said, taking out a pen to draw on a napkin. Our everyday lives are here [line toward the bottom of the napkin], and every once in a while something happens that catapults us up to another level [line in the middle of the napkin]. From that level, we can see greater things [top of the napkin] than we ever had a view of down below--and, even better, not only can we see them, we also start to believe that they're actually reachable.

And that's where Sara had been for so many months prior: on that second level, with the potential for so many amazing things so clearly in view. Not only that, but even everyday life looked a bit better from where she was.

But then she didn't win, and all of the sudden that higher level shrunk away. Sure, she was still in a better, more interesting spot than she'd been when she started, but now she had to sit with the disappointment of having lost what she so truly believed she had a chance at reaching.

I've been thinking a lot about that conversation over the past few days, and I think I understand a bit why this breakup feels so innards-destroying, so heart-shredding: because after a long time hanging out at that workaday level, last summer found me perched happily on the level above. And while it was great to be able to fathom even better things ahead and above, the truth is that I was just so unbelievably happy to be where I was. I got so used to that happiness, so used to the delight of being able to face each day with a sense of calmness, a sense that things, after being wrong for so long, were now right and sweet and good.

Now, though, not only has the upper tier utterly disappeared from view and stretched way beyond my grasp, I've been punted out of level 2 as well. I had so hoped--and so come to expect--not to be back down here again anytime soon.


Hold On, Hold On

A story on "All Things Considered" this afternoon sets me to tears. It's about a family in Michigan whose son/brother was a service member serving in Iraq who'd adopted two dogs there, a Labrador mother and her pup. When this fellow died (in his sleep, on Christmas Day), his family decided to bring the dogs back to Michigan.

Toward the end of the interview, his sister tells Melissa Block that the process of bringing the dogs to the US involved the help of many (politicians, other service members, and so on), and reminded her how many good people there are in the world. Hearing that makes my heart catch and my eyes flood all over again.

Today could be so much worse, I remind myself. I'm baffled and profoundly, wrenchingly hurt and shocked. I've lost something huge, something I never even began to think was remotely at risk, something I'll miss in ways I can't yet begin to comprehend. But as ever, I'm reminded of the good people who stay in my life even after someone I adore so much leaves, and who gather around me so I can only fall so far.


Walking San Francisco

Because I evidently feel there's not quite enough happening in my life (you know, what with running a business, teaching classes, writing a book, planning the year's travel, and generally attempting to function as a responsible adult), I've decided to undertake a new project: by the end of 2008, I intend to walk every street in San Francisco.

This project is partly an attempt to get to know my city in more detail, partly an attempt to exercise on a very regular basis without necessarily feeling like I am, and partly an attempt to indulge my completist tendencies. I'm excited about it on all of those fronts.

I'll be blogging about the experience over on Walking San Francisco, complete with photos, notes on interesting experiences along the way, and perhaps a random fact or two from time to time. Come visit, won't you? (And if you're in or near SF, come along for the walk--or part of it, at least.)


Weakerthans Set List, 3 Months Late

Erik and I went to see the Weakerthans when they played at Slim's here...on October 3. So, fine, this set list is a bit late, but still.

Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call
Civil Twilight
Over Retired Explorer
Reconstruction Site
[unable to read my scratchings on this one]
Night Windows
Relative Surplus Value
Sun in an Empty Room
Left and Leaving
Tournament of Hearts
The Reasons
Time's Arrow
History of the Defeated
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
One Great City!
Confessions of a Futon-Revolutionist
Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure
[a cover of something that included the line, "If being scared was a crime, we'd hang side by side."]
Exiles Among You

There were a few more songs, perhaps; we left partway through "Exiles," which was part of the encore, because I gave up hope that they'd play "Watermark" or "My Favourite Chords," and because we both had to go home and do work, oldsters that we are.

It was a fun show, though, and a completely different experience from seeing them at the University of Calgary back in 2003.


Lights Gone Dark

By early January, I'm generally ready to see the trappings of Christmas gone, especially if they've been kicking around since sometime in mid-November. What's always a disappointment, though, is the concomitant disappearance of Christmas lights and the resultant plunge back into early and unmitigated darkness.

Don't get me wrong: I don't want to see displays of lit-up reindeer or flashing Santas for more than a few days after the New Year. (In fact, I'm not sure I ever want to see such displays, but that's another matter.) What would be nice, though, is if the lights strung through trees outdoors or hanging from eaves could stick around until, say, mid-March, when there starts to be visible hope that daylight will once again last beyond 4.30.

As it is, all of those lights tend to disappear sometime around Twelfth Night, leaving us with what feels like an endless stretch of inky night to contend with.