Sunday, December 31, 2006

Everywhere & Nowhere

For days now, I've been trying to come up with a good post. My mind is conspiring against me. It has always had a mind of its own. The problem is that it has contrived to be everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. It has been consuming novels and nonfiction like it hasn't eaten in weeks. It is quite happy watching movies even television. It is just having a difficult time settling down enough to produce anything of its own. It's like a food processor on high speed. The thoughts are in the well, but by the the time the Mindomatic 3000 is done with them, they are an unrecognizable, formless purée.

That is not to say that I haven't been trying. I have about six half-written posts on topics as diverse as Klezmer music and plumbing just waiting to see the light of day. They simply are not ready to be finished. I suppose my mind isn't either. 2006 still has so many loose ends that it is still scrambling to tie up (like who shot J.R., will Nancy Drew be successful in solving The Mistletoe Mystery, and what ever happened to the familiar yellow covers of my youth? This new Nancy Drew is missing something. But I digress...)

When I look back at New Year's Eve last year, things felt pretty different. I remember C. sending me a lovely note about all of the wonderful, new things 2006 would bring. Indeed, it has been a year of change. When I read that note, I never dreamt he would be gone before the year was half over. I never dreamt that I would find myself being completely honest on the "Are you satisfied with your current position?" portion of my self-review or that I would stand up to my boss and tell her that my job has evolved into something that I didn't sign on for and that if it didn't change, I would be seeking other employment. I did not dare hope that her response would be "Don't quit on me yet. Let me see what I can do", yet that is exactly what it was.

Looking back,I know that my life was not perfect, even before the baffling events of early summer. It's just that I had someone, something, somewhere to channel my hopes and that made me happy. That makes the more than imperfect far more bearable. When there is abundance in one area, it makes a person less inclined to notice the drought ridden plains onto which it has overflowed. It also makes the world come crashing down far harder when one's objet d'esperance disappears.

While I don't regret them, because they brought me much happiness, the truth is that I've spent a lot of the past four years waiting. In doing so, I put off dealing with certain areas of my life, because it seemed that if I waited long enough, they might drift into obsolescence. As it turns out, they were there waiting for me all along. So, now on the precipice of 2007, I don't know where I am going.

If one looks at life as a cabaret, it is exciting. From cradle to tomb isn't that long a stay and the possibilities are endless. There are so many directions in which 2007 could go. Too many directions. But I am no Sally Bowles. I cannot ignore the ill winds of the future, even winds of far inferior ill to Fascism and Nazism. I take things seriously; sometimes too seriously. Sometimes my mind creates ill winds, even when the air is sweet and fragrant.

Maybe that is my goal for the coming year - to not worry so much about what will happen, but rather to enjoy what is happening and not be so afraid to just say what I and go for it. Life is short. I still miss C. I'm sure I will for a long time to come. I have no desire for new romantic entanglements. That is okay, but it is also no reason to miss out on the other parts of living. Tomorrow there will be time for resolutions and plans, but for today I think I'll go for a walk in the sleeping rose gardens on the hill, wrapped in the warm, as yet shapeless hope of better things to come in 2007.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!



Powellhurst abuzz with activity - baking, gift wrapping and plumbing crises (more about that later!), so there is little time for rumation and writing. So, instead, here is some favorite Christmas poetry:

Nothing will ease the pain to come
Though now she sits in ecstasy
And lets it have its way with her.
The angel's shadow in the room
Is lightly lifted as if he
Had never terrified her there.

The furniture again returns
To its old simple state. She can
Take comfort from the things she knows
Though in her heart new loving burns
Something she never gave to man
Or god before, and this god grows

Most like a man. She wonders how
To pray at all, what thanks to give
And whom to give them to. "Alone
To all men's eyes I now must go"
She thinks, "And by myself must live
With a strange child that is my own."

So from her ecstasy she moves
And turns to human things at last
(Announcing angels set aside).
It is a human child she loves
Though a god stirs beneath her breast
And great salvations grip her side.

- Elizabeth Jennings

Ground lapis for the sky, and scrolls of gold,
Before which the shepherds kneel, gazing aloft
At visiting angels clothed in egg-yolk gowns,
Celestial tinctures smuggled from the East,
From sunlit Eden, the palmed and plotted banks
Of sun-tanned Aden. Brought home in fragile grails,
Planted in England, rising at Eastertide,
Their petals cup stamens of topaz dust,
The powdery stuff of cooks and cosmeticians
But to the camels-hair tip of the finest brush
Of Brother Anselm, it is the light of dawn,
Gilding the hems, the sleeves, the fluted pleats
Of the antiphonal archangelic choirs
Singing their melismatic pax in terram.
The child lies cribbed below, in bestial dark,
Pale as the tiny tips of crocuses
That will find their way to the light through drifts of snow.

- Anthony Hecht

Put out the lights now!
Look at the Tree, the rough tree dazzled
In oriole plumes of flame,
Tinselled with twinkling frost fire, tasselled
With stars and moons - the same
That yesterday his in the spinney and had no fame
Till we put out the lights now.

Hard are the nights now:
The fields at moonrise turn to agate,
Shadows are cold as jet;
In dyke and furrow, in copse and faggot
The frost's tooth is set;
And stars are the sparks whirled out by the north wind's fret
On the flinty nights now.

So feast your eyes now
On mimic star and moon-cold bauble:
Worlds may wither unseen,
But the Christmas Tree is a tree of fable,
A phoenix in evergreen,
And the world cannot change or chill what its mysteries mean
To your hearts and eyes now.

The vision dies now
Candle by candle: the tree that embraced it
Returns to its own kind
To be earthed again and weather as best it
May the frost and the wind
Children, it too had its hour - you will not mind
If it lives or dies now

- Cecil Day-Lewis

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Found it!

After weeks of dreading the holidays, I found today at approximately 2:52 p.m. that the ice around my cold, cold, grinchy, Christmas shunning heart has begun to crack. Actually, it's slowly been melting for about a week now. I think it must've started the day I went to the craft store and spotted two teenaged girls manning (girling? womaning?) the Salvation Army bucket, singing Angels We Have Heard on High at the top of their strong, young lungs. What they lacked in pitch, they more than made up in sheer joy and enthusiasm. They were so obviously having fun that it was impossible to pass them without feeling uplifted.

While I have philosophical differences with some of the Salvation Army's beliefs, thinking about these girls in the days since, it strikes me that they are what the holiday is really about - friendship, laughter, community, joy, generosity and human capacity to do good. Call me a hippie if you want, but it's about love, all about love, and I think I can say that this close to Christmas without anyone playing the hippie card!

So, what has conspired to persuade me that I am more Christmas-friendly than I thought? A few things that I will present in listy format, because I am feeling uninspired to write much (especially after having already lost this post to the Internets once before):

1. International Human Rights Day/ Amnesty International's Global Write-A-Thon
After spending a day reading various cases regarding prisoners of conscience who have been locked up and tortured for things as innocuous as being Buddhist or having a political opinion, it's difficult to feel that I (or anyone I know) has it too bad. We all have our problems, but we also many things for which to be happy, and Christmas is one of them!

2. The Liedertafel Harmonie Christmas Concert
When I was a kid, I used to attend the German Saturday School every weekend. At Christmas we students would attend the German Society's annual concert and sing a song. This year the children sang Schneeflöckchen Weißröckchen, which I remember singing at the concert when I was their age. Hearing them (as well as the adult choir) singing all the Weihnachtslieder (Christmas songs) I grew up with took me back. My favorite parts were a song called Wenn ich ein Glöckchen wär' (the soloist had a clear, captivating voice, which made me forget the announcer's mistranslation of the song's title which is not "When I was a Bell", an ode to transmogrification, but rather a wistful rumination, "If I were a Bell"). There was also a sweet melodied Austrian song that I suspect was a Ländler. Blame it on too many Sound of Music viewings, but Ländlers always manage to charm me. The sum effect of the concert was a nice, warm feeling that makes me think we at the Powellhurst Compound need to incorporate more German traditions back into our holidays.

3. Children's Christmas Play
The beauty of excited children performing a play is that it is difficult not to be affected by their enthusiasm. Sure, there were a few dazed looking sheep and a couple of hyperactive little boys who threatened to derail the proceedings, but for sheer joy, a small child thinking about Christmas is difficult to outjubilate (I almost wrote "difficult to beat", but somehow "beat" and "small child" don't seem they should ever in close proximity!)

4. The Fröhliche Weihnacht überall CD

Browsing on iTunes the other night, I came across this innovative cd. It takes traditional German Christmas song and arranges them in various international styles. My two favorites are settings of Ihr Kinderlein Kommet (aka Oh Come Little Children in its English incarnation) and Lasst uns froh und munter sein (which I don't think exists in an English version, but is still worthwhile, in no small part for the amusement of hearing a deep, dark, almost growly toned Ivan Rebroff singing a carefree "tralalala"). Both are traditional, but arranged in the style of Greek and Russian folk songs respectively. The cd. which also features Brazilian, Indian, and Native American arrangements is a delightful mix of famliar and unfamiliar. I only wish that everyone could be familiar with the songs in their original format, so they could see just how cool the arrangements are!

And so begins my holiday spirit. May it continue to grow!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Not Ready!

Thanksgiving has passed and December is upon us. Despite the fact there are those stores that jumped the gun and have had Christmas decorations up since the day after Halloween (I'm looking at you, Target!), it is only now that the Holidays (with a capital H) have officially started. Maybe I've been numbed by all the early Christmas decor and music, but I am finding it difficult to get in the spirit. Try as I might, it seems to evade me. It feels like any time of year, but with the added aspect of tinsel, increased traffic, and impatient people scouting crowded parking lots for a place to leave their cars as they prowl our city's malls and shopping centers in search of fabulous buys.

Not being a big mall shopper to begin with, I especially try to avoid them this time of year. It is, however, sometimes unavoidable. Yesterday, having finally decided to break down and buy a pair of jeans (I'm not a big wearer of garments of the non-skirted variety), I found myself at the store my friends and I affectionately call Fat Ass Alley. When I got up to the counter to make my purchase, the somewhat frazzled clerk actually thanked me for being nice to her, even though I had done nothing special. Apparently she was understaffed, having had a hard day and appreciative that I did not get angry at having to wait in line. Because I was (for the moment, anyway) the last person, we got to talking about the perversity of people behaving so badly as they shop for a holiday that, when stripped of all its consumerism, is about commemorating the birth of a teacher who taught a philosophy of goodness and kindness.

She proceeded to tell me a story about her grandmother, who had gone shopping this past Black Friday at a store that was supposed to have some great sales on toys. The old woman spotted the last teddy bear in a bin. As she was making her way to the register with it, some mother actually grabbed it right out of her hands and ran. I am no Bible scholar, so maybe I will be shame faced when someone points out to me that she just was reenacting some lost gospel that tells the story of how the Wise Men led the shepherds to a Walmart, where they all brained each other for the last Cabbage Patch Kid, but if you ask me, it all seems a lamentable counterpoint to the purported reason for the season (and far moreso I might add than the debate of "Happy Holidays" vs. "Merry Christmas", which has always struck me as...well...just plain dumb).

But it's not even just that, somehow even the non Christmas Incorporated fueled aspects of the holidays are just not jelling for me this year. I've watched The Sound of Music (in sing-a-long form, no less! It is a form I can highly recommend!) and part of It's a Wonderful Life (as is my tradition, I've never actually seen the full movie...if I saw it now, I think I might feel less special). I've listened to Christmas music, which while it has for some good car singing, has not as of yet filled me with an irrepressible sense of holiday joie de vivre. I've also started shopping, making gifts, and even gathering materials for Amnesty International's Holiday Card Action thinking that maybe doing something nice for someone else would put me in the spirit, but haven't been able to get much further than going through the motions. Perhaps it's just a residual of the past week's malaise, but my inner Christmas elf is just an empty shell, a charade. A charade, I tell you! (Note: If you're going to read this speak U.S. English, I really do insist that you pronounce "charade" in your head in the 40's film star manner of "sh&-'rAd" and not "sh&-'räd" as the former is far more dramatic. If there's one thing hollow Christmas elves insist upon, it is drama).

But back to holiday malaise. After googling "holiday blues", I am convinced that I don't have it, at least not according to the definition provided by the University of Maryland Medical Center, which also offers a link to tips for managing holiday depression, but doesnt't really address the blahs. Further googling ellicited additional psychology oriented websites, an article that informed me that it would not be atypical for me to feel "less 'holly and jolly' and more 'strained and stressful'", but I am feeling none of the above. I'm just not feeling it. The best site I found contained a list of the Top Ten Holiday Blues Records. While interesting, it unfortunately did not really address the problem at hand.

The problem at hand is that I really don't want to feel numbed to the good sides of the holidays. I don't want my deepest feeling about the Christmas to be apathy or that it is a real pain in the ass to have to go shopping. So, I will just have to keep trying to force jollity and hope it turns into the real thing. Perhaps I will get down the box with the Christmas decorations this afternoon. Or maybe I'll just write some Christmas cards and think about how fortunate I am to have the friends and family of choice that I do. There, see! Just writing that last bit makes me feel slightly less apathetic already. Maybe there is still hope!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Reason #256 why PDX is a good place to live!

Originally uploaded by Martina.
Today the city council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution urging the cessation of combat operations in Iraq. Although the victory is largely symbolic, it is heartening to know that I live in a community that is unwilling to turn a blind eye to the costs (both in money AND human life) of this war.

As of November 2006, Portland taxpayers have spent some $419 million dollars funding a war that has killed what some estimate some 600,000 Iraqis and killed and wounded thousands of our own troops. While I know that the resolution does not mean the end of the war, it's nice to think that I live in a community that values the funding of education, health care and humanitarian assistance over waging a war of vague official purpose (fighting terror? spreading freedom? oil? money?) and vast human cost.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rambling Post-Thanksgiving Post

How is it that vacations always manage to pass so quickly? How does life pass so quickly? When I left work last Friday, it felt like I had an eternity to putter around, read, go on outings, and do all those things I don't normally make the time to do. Yet, in what feels like almost no time, here it is Sunday night. Work looms and I dread going back.

My lack of enthusiasm is not aided by the fact that, for over a week now, I've been fighting off a sort of mild sneezy, headachey, stomach ailmentish thing that has yet to morph into a full blown flu, but refuses to just go away. I hate this not feeling truly sick, but just a little under the weather. For a day or two, it feels like it's getting better, then it comes back again. Thankfully, has not really hampered my vacation time activities beyond giving me an excuse to not feel bad about sleeping in until ten. Also, it did at least have the decency to give the impression to have left in time for Thanksgiving (before coming back a day later).

Malaise aside, it's been a pretty good week. It has featured a good mix of sleeping in, visiting with friends, eating too much, spending some welcome time alone (a rarity for me), pre-black Friday Christmas shopping (you won't likely see me in a mall between now and Christmas), and doing a lot of reading (4 or 5 books since last Friday). I also managed to make my first ever collage (who knew it was so fun?), but did not get around to my sworn promise to myself (a promise that I like to think of it as Operation Peacock) to finally redecorate my boring brown paneled bedroom a cheery shades of blue and green or to rearrange it (though perhaps I will rally later tonight and accomplish at least something on that front). And, as you can see, vacation has not diminished my great fondness for the parenthetical aside. God bless whoever invented parenthesis!

Asides aside, it really has been nice to have some free time. It is refreshing to get away from work, even if it did follow me into vacation with a voice mail message from my boss. I'm not quite sure which part of "I am on vacation" is so difficult to understand, but elected to just leave until I go back on Monday. It was not really important. If it had been, my stupid sense of guilt probably would have induced me to address the issue. Thankfully, my stupid sense of guilt had its ass kicked by my irrepressible sense of "Whee! I'm on vacation" about ten minutes after leaving work last Friday.

As far as work goes, I am trying to stick it out one more month until the reorg is over. There is a possibility that things may organize themselves more positively for me in the form of a new job working more closely with schools and I am also due a bonus check in January. After that, though, decisions will need to be made!

I am still contemplating the possibility of going back to school (MS in psychology? teaching/esl certificate?). I really don't know. What I do know, however, is that there is no good reason why I cannot contemplate that from a better, less draining job that doesn't put 221.8 miles (that is multiple trips to the beach, in case you were wondering!) on my car each week. That might have been okay when I enjoyed my job (Yes, there was actually a time when I enjoyed working there! It seems so long ago...), but somehow it doesn't seem so worth it these days.

I've already updated my resume. Perhaps I will make a follow up appointment with the person who led the career workshop I took a few weeks ago. It really frustrates me sometimes, this confusion about what it is that I want to do. It should be easy, shouldn't it? I am me. I should know better than anyone what it is that I want, shouldn't I?

Monday, November 20, 2006


When I was in my 20's, one of my favorite books of poetry was Pablo Neruda's Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. One of the things I loved most about it was that the poetry remained beautiful in spite of the fact that I could only read it in translation. So often, translations are stilted and clumsy, never capturing the feel of the original. While I still have not learned to read Portuguese, I do still appreciate the translation.

Oddly enough, despite my infatuation with the book, it never occurred to me at the time to learn anything about its translator. Then, a few weeks ago, I ran into a poem by W.S. Merwin in a program. The poem was called "To Waiting". It somehow neatly managed to insert itself into the middle of thoughts I'd already been harboring, so I saved it, tucking it into my purse for later googling of its author on some rainy afternoon.

And what did I find? I found that I really like Merwin's poetry. Furthermore, not only is he a Pulitzer prize winning poet and translator, but he was responsible for a translation that has given me hours of enjoyment, inspiration and material for reflection. I wrote one of my first poems after reading a Merwin translation of Neruda. It is, in the grand tradition of all my poetry, not very good, but still liberating to write. I can write a poem, then go back to my prose and think "well, perhaps poetry is not my forte, but this other stuff, it's not so bad".

Of course, not everything one writes is going to be good. It's somehow comforting to hear that, even from someone with Merwin's skills. In an interview with Artful Dodge he said:

I think that the sitting down and trying to write is terribly important, the regularity with which one works. If you do try to write regularly, you will notice that the results are irregular. There are times when you just can't stop writing. Everything contributes to it. I suspect that everything is contributing to it all the time but there are long periods when it seems very hard to put words together that are at all satisfactory, that are doing what you want them to do. These things come in waves or cycles.

It's good advice, and while waiting for a new cycle to begin, one can always read his poetry.

"To Waiting" by W.S. Merwin
You spend so much of your time
expecting to become
someone else
always someone
who will be different
someone to whom a moment
whatever moment it may be
at last has come
and who has been
met and transformed
into no longer being you
and so has forgotten you

meanwhile in your life
you hardly notice
the world around you
lights changing
sirens dying along the buildings
your eyes intent
on a sight you do not yet see
not yet there
as long as you
are only yourself

with whom as you
recall you were
never happy
to be left alone for long

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gnomic Philosophizing

Driving to work this morning, I saw a man who, except for the fact that someone had already colored him in an uninspired palette of browns and greys, reminded me of the gnomes in my favorite coloring book when I was a child. He wore a fluffy white beard, dull brown overalls, mud caked boots, and a droopy charcoal colored stocking cap.

Personally, I would have colored him much more brightly. His chosen tones made him look depressed. While this man was probably dressed as he was, because he was on his way to work, his coloring book alter-ego clearly looked like someone who would fit right into a world of enchanted forests filled with red-topped, polka-dotted mushrooms. Of course, I'm sure the man is probably not grey in all aspects of his life.

As I drove along, I thought about the faces we all present to the world. Being a confirmed introvert (and a relatively guarded one at that!), I often think that my outside face must be very different from the "real" Martina who lives on the inside. I have a pretty rich inner life. The outside one? Well, that is a more difficult question.

From in here, the outside one looks a lot more fragmented to me than the inside. Different people and situations know different parts of me. My older friends (the ones who've gotten to see more, but probably not all of the fragments) know how easy it is to get me laughing so hard that the spot behind my ears actually starts to hurt. They also know and (for the most part) gracefully put up with my indignation concerning politics, Walmart, Nike, sweatshops and pretty much anything else that presents an affront to my sense of fairness.

In school, I think people saw me as smart, but shy. I remember a professor when I first started grad school calling me to his office after class one day, trying to prod me to speak more in class, because he could see in my eyes that there was "a lot going on in there". My boss who knows a Martina who has a strong work ethic, is good at explaining things, and is very patient except for where ill thought out projects and half-assed effort are concerned, was recently shocked to learn that I could play the violin. The patient part might come as a surprise to close friends who know the secret of my inner musician, but also know me as very impatient when it comes to procuring things that I want. Friends at work know a Martina who focuses very hard on work, but is also colorful. Even now, C. knows things about me that even my oldest friends and family will probably never know - vulnerable things, secrets, hopes. Before he left, he got to know (as he put it in his charming Franco-Germanic way) "the back yards". But I still have some secrets. As of yet, no one knows just how loudly I can belt "Mein lieber Herr" in the car on my way to work. That secret is just too potent to release into the wild.

Yet I don't think that I am alone in this fragmention, and that is not just counting the percentage of the population suffering from multiple personality disorder either! We all know people who, for example, show one face at work, but are very different at home. Accountants, who deep in their souls are really dancers; apparent homebodies, who want nothing more than to travel the world. I suppose the irony of it all is that deep down, I don't think we want to be fragmented. A lot which face we show is just a natural extension of comfort level, situation, appropriateness. It is side effect of living in society that we end up compartmentalizing in large part as a self-protective mechanism. Yet, at the same time, I think it is also human nature for us to want other people to somehow see that we're not just grey gnomes, but that we have a whole rainbow of colors.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Feeling Bookish or Lamb: The Gopel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal

It has been some time since I've talked books here. While I am always in the middle of reading something or other, my inner literary critic has been keeping a relatively low profile of late. Since I'm looking for something to write and am at a loss for a topic that won't take me more thought and preparation, now seems as good a time to share a book recommendation from the summer.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

I've been a fan of Christopher Moore's since a friend loaned me of one of his novels (it was either Practical Demon Keeping or Island of the Sequined Love Nun) a number of years ago. I hadn't read anything of Moore's since reading Fluke when it first came out, but stumbled across a copy of Lamb one day while browsing at Borders. The novel chronicles the early life of Jesus, following him and his friend Biff as they travel through the ancient East, studying and experiencing religious philosophies such as Buddhism and Hinduism before returning to his homeland to be crucified.

In telling this story, Moore adopts Voltaire's maxim that "God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh". The tone is decidedly irreverent in parts, poking fun at many of our ideas of Jesus, the recording of Biblical stories, and spirituality in general. Thanks to this (some of my favorite parts are the scenes between Jesus' smartass friend, Biff and soap opera addicted angel, Raziel, who has resurrected him and is holding him hostage in a hotel room until he has completed penning his gospel), I spent a good part of July reading the book and laughing out loud at its abundance of funny passages. How many books actually make you laugh out loud? Think about it. I can't think of all that many. I know we're often told a volume is laugh out loud funny, but so few of them actually deliver on that claim. It is not only that, though, that makes the novel appealing. It is so obvious that Moore put a lot of research into writing his novel as he paints a very real, vibrant and lively pictures of the scenes in which the story unfolds.

I know there are probably many people who might be offended by Lamb(and probably not only Christians), but it bears mentioning that beneath the irreverent tone, there is a real respect for the teachings of Jesus the philosopher. As Christopher Moore put it in an interview "What I gained in researching the life and times of Jesus was an increased respect for his courage as well as his compassion. When you learn about the world of first-century Israel, the acts of Jesus and the things he said are, within his own time, incredibly radical, revolutionary, and dangerous."

Moore himself is clearly aware of the danger of his subject matter, for not only does he end the book with an afterword, clarifying his intent, but he begins the book with an author's blessing that I found utterly delightful, so much so that I can think of no better ending to this post than to share it:

If you have come to these pages for laughter,
may you find it.
If you are here to be offended, may your ire rise
and your blood boil.
If you seek an adventure, may this story sing you
away to blissful escape.
If you need to test or confirm your beliefs, may
you reach comfortable conclusions.
All books reveal perfection, by what they are or
what they are not.
May you find that which you seek, in these pages
or outside them.
May you find perfection, and know it
by name.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Christmas Comes Early!

After what feels like years of rain, we woke up this morning to a sunny, new day. Clouds seem to be lifting all over this week. Election night was exciting. Baxter and I stayed up late, glued to the t.v., watching election returns, even though we knew the issue of Virginia would not be resolved that night. I was never deeply worried about the results in my home county. We're a sensible bunch. If it were up to us, George Bush would not be president two times over. The national race, however, had me more filled with nail-biting concern, but after deep consideration of the results, I would like to say two things: WOO and HOO!

Even Baxter is excited. For the first time in his young life, the balance of power has shifted. It has been of great concern to him throughout his puppyhood that Republicans held control of not only the Executive, but also Legislative branch of government. But now, not only have Democrats taken control of the House, but they seem poised to take the Senate as well. It's looking good, since Webb is ahead and it sounds as though Allen is not going to demand a recount. I suppose his press conference at 3 p.m. est will reveal all.

Nancy Pelosi, speaker and Harry Reid, majority leader - that has to be the stuff of Republican nightmare. Being an occasional sufferer myself, I am generally not in the habit of wishing nightmares on anyone, but I am thrilled at the results. Add that for the first time in history this country has a female Speaker of the House, and it is a good week indeed. Maybe this country is slowly waking up. Maybe...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Melancholy Monday

Dr. Wayne Dyer tells me that while I might not be able to control what goes on outside, I can control what goes on inside. I like Dr. Dyer, but his pronouncement rings more true when you're not already savoring a bad attitude. Apparently I am out of control. On the heels of my "Fight Back Fun Martina" post, I found myself in a dreadful mood yesterday.

Already dwelling on an off-hand, probably not ill intentioned comment that was made to me on Sunday (wishy-washy indeed!), I managed to bump my bad knee, thereby re-bruising a spot that had almost healed, and also found that my Nano output for the weekend had been lost. Lost! By noon, I had noticed that the last leaf will soon fall from the once golden poplars outside my window and the rain was coming down even harder. From there, it was a lament about the impending holidays and my small family of two having no other family, and, God, what will happen when it inevitably dwindles to an even smaller family of one? There was nothing I wanted to do more than go home and curl up into a ball and cry.

Of course, that was not an option either, because Monday is the night I go to class. By 5 o'clock, I had pretty much talked myself into going despite my reservations about doing anything not involving the fetal position and copious tears. I told myself that it wasn't fair to be part of a group that involves discussion and sharing, then only show up at my convenience. That was before my normally thirty minute drive home took me over an hour. At that point, beaten by darkness, rain and my own mood, I just gave up.

I ate dinner, took a hot bath (this was much to Loki's delight as he loves to sit next to the tub to have warm water trickled onto his fur), talked to Jen for a bit, and went to bed. There was no crying, just trying to remember that it was just a bad day; that I really don't have it that bad. On some level, I even knew that I was creating my own bad mood, by letting a few little inconveniences snowball into something big.

Dr. Dyer is right. We do create much of our own inner landscape in the way we react to the outside. Understanding that is one thing. Using it is quite another. So, melancholy Monday behind me, I move to begin a new day, a day that is looking much more hopeful.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Fight Back Fun Martina - The List

It has been a treacherous night tonight, driving home from hearing New York Times columnist Frank Rich give a talk as part of the Portland Arts & Lectures. The rain and the flooding on I-84 have forced me to finally accept that the summer months are indeed over, and that the Oregon long, wet, grey season has begun.

While the season has its pluses (rainy days of tea and reading, rainy day movies, rainy day projects, rainy day naps in front of the fire), it is also a season when it is easy to become depressed. Coupling this reality of living in the Northwest with the thoughts I've been having about embracing pleasure in life instead of waiting for a some day that never comes, I have devised the November/December Fight Back, Fun Martina! list, a to-do list of enjoyable things to accomplish before the end of 2006.

1. Learn a new song on the violin
2. Learn a new song on the guitar
3. Make Weihnachtstollen
4. Finish a sewing project
5. Write every day for at least an hour
6. Make ginger pear preserves (other flavor would be ok too, I'm not inflexible!)
7. Get a facial
8. Go to the gym (I'm not aiming too high here, even once would be a start)
9. Credit $15 to iTunes and use it for new music
10. Write a poem
11. Bake cookies
12. Take a trip to the beach
13. Visit EMP
14. Go out for coffee (no take-out!) with a good book or a friend
15. Visit Saturday market
16. Make a Christmas present
17. Paint my bedroom
18. Finish the hall
19. Add 5 pictures to the picture wall
20. Find out how much it costs to rehair a bow
20a. If not too expensive, have aforementioned bow rehaired
21. Read a children's book
22. Go to a play
23. Make a collage
24. Go to Lush and buy a treat
25. Mail something to a friend
26. Call a friend I haven't talked to in a while
27. Eat chinese takout directly from the box while watching a good movie and wearing pajamas
28. Make a music mix
29. Spend an afternoon downtown
30. Take a night time drive
31. Attend a lecture
32. Attend a concert
33. Take a picture-taking outing
34. Re-establish my dormat relationship with the Multnomah County Library <--Done AND the mean librarian wasn't even there, so I got to talk to a very nice one!
35. Go for a walk in the rain
36. Learn the mystery of gravy making
37. Have my hair cut and colored
38. Write a thank you note
39. Make a mix of my favorite Christmas songs
40. Buy a new raincoat, so I can go walking in the rain <-- Added bonus: Coat was 25% off AND I had a 40% off coupon that could be used with sale items

Note 1: Awesome collage in photo, courtesy of Jen
Note 2: Purple = complete

Saturday, November 04, 2006


In the class I’ve been taking, we’ve been talking a lot about the Christian concept of grace. If I’m going to be honest, I never devoted much thought to the idea until the discussion arose. Grace is one of those words that I’ve never really gotten before. I understand physical grace. I even (kind of) understand (but don’t necessarily agree with the specifics of) the grace of character that Schiller talks about in Über Anmut und Würde, but for me the religious concept of grace never had really resonated much.

Grace is one of those uncomfortable words like testify, sanctify, righteous, and witness that belong to the ubiquitous they. Those words belong to overzealous youth group members, the right wing and born again, surgically preserved old ladies with giant slug lips, teased out pinkish-blue wigs, makeup so thick it can only be chipped off via chisel, and massive spider lashes. The old ladies, especially, possess not only the ability to cry on cue, but also the fortitude to stand by their men, when they are implicated in the embezzlement of church funds. They are not words that belong to me. And yet…

Something in the discussion made me think of my grandmother. When I think of grace, I think of Oma. Born in during the last year of World War I, she lived through Nazism, the rise of Communist East Germany, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. My sweet gray-eyed grandmother saw some atrocious things in her life, but she never lost her connection to or desire to help others. She was the kind of person who, after the war was over, dragged in every hungry refugee and hobo, making sure they were fed. When people asked her why, she said “I have a brother who was lost in the war. If he’s making his way home, I hope someone’s feeding him too.” So, Oma had a sandwich for everyone, even if that meant there was none left for her.

One of my favorite stories about her involves the time after the war when she, Opa, my mom and my aunt were shared a cramped, one bedroom apartment with an elderly man, who had no family left. In those days, so many people were displaced that it was not uncommon to find strangers sharing a home, a garden hut, a room. As time went by, Oma noticed whenever she cooked that part of the food would disappear as soon as she turned her back. Even though he tried not to take enough to arouse suspicion, it soon became obvious that the old man was pilfering from the soup pot.

Did Oma indignantly step into her rage cage and chastise the old man? Did she just pretend not to notice, but keep a more protective eye on the family meals? She did neither! One day when the old man came in, she casually said to him “Hey! I’ve been thinking. You’re all alone, and I have to cook for Erich and the girls anyway. Why cook for yourself when I already have to do it? Why don’t you just eat with us from now on?” That, my friends, is grace.


Prayer Flags
Originally uploaded by Martina.
The other day at work, a coworker burst into tears announcing that her best friend's son had been killed in Baghdad. He was only 26. And so he joins the tens of thousands of Iraq war dead. And to what end?

Are we freer? Safer? More loved? Have we yet won hearts and minds? Or are we just bloody handed and more feared? More reviled?

I think about this young man's poor family, about all the others like him, and about all the possibilities life holds at 26. How many doctors, scientist, teachers, musicians has the world lost? Would one of them found a cure for cancer? Brokered peace? Won a Nobel prize? How many of them have left children with only a picture in place of a parent?

It makes me angry. It makes me sick. It makes me THINK. It fills me with guilt that I am alive and have the unmitigated gall to bemoan my lot. How can I complain when I live in a quiet, peaceful neighbrohood with a roof over my head and enough food on my plate?

I am alive, filled with warm blood and possibility. A few days ago, he was too. So, what am I waiting for? What are you waiting for?

Le Dormeur du Val

C'est un trou de verdure, où chante une rivière,
Accrochant follement aux herbes des haillons
D'argent; où le soleil, de la montagne fière,
Luit: c'est un petit val qui mousse de rayons.
Un soldat jeune, bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu,
Dort ; il est étendu dans l'herbe, sous la nue,
Pâle dans son lit vert où la lumière pleut.
Les pieds dans les glaïeuls, il dort. Souriant comme
Sourirait un enfant malade, il fait un somme:
Nature, berce-le chaudement : il a froid.
Les parfums ne font pas frissonner sa narine.
Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine
Tranquille. Il a deux trous rouges au côté droit.

- Rimbaud

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Nano Wondering

It is again close to that time of year, and I am considering whether I want to participate in NaNoWriMo. I have attempted to twice before. The first time I wrote a grand total of a few thousand words. The next time I came up with a viable outline and plot for a gothic mystery and a few chapters (much of which needs to be cleaned up or even just plain tossed out). My intention has always been to finish both projects.

That is really the problem. My intention and lack of discipline are at odds. I've talked about it before that I have difficulty actually finishing writing projects, even when I am loving them. This is in part due to the lack of any pressure. In grad school, almost all of my projects were finished under pressure of deadline. I did my research, I started writing, but it really wasn't until there was some duress that I would really hit my stride. I wrote the talk that would later become the basis for my Master's thesis in a night. Necessity forced the relinquishing worry that the end product might not be good enough, because lack of time inspires willingness to take risks. Writing that takes risks without being self-conscious is somehow better.

This is all my verbose way of proclaiming that I work well under pressure. Without it, I succumb too easily to "I can always finish tomorrow" syndrome. In that regard, the idea of writing a novel in 30 days (knowing it will require major cutting and revision, but trying not to care) is a good concept for me. On the other hand, it conflicts with my greatest fear as a writer, which is that I may just be awful.

Despite having been told plenty of times that I write well, this insecurity kicks the ass of memory and experience every time. On my worst days, my head wonders if I am not kidding myself about needing to write. Other days it thinks, "Well, the writing is technically okay, but the ideas suck like an industrial grade hoover. Who would want to read them?" On yet other days, when I'm feeling particularly inspired, and have reached that giddy, adrenaline filled zone where I find myself more conduit than creator, I know it's something I need to pursue. At those times, ideas come faster than I can record them, and I am able to tell my inner critic to zip it. These moments also coincides with the time when I begin to amuse myself with the cleverness of my own jokes or find myself feeling admiration for my own turns of phrase.

As an aside, that very last bit above was difficult to admit, because it makes me feel a dissertation away from a vainglorious professor from my college German Department who insisted upon quoting himself in his lectures. He also wore sweaters jauntily tied around his shoulders and was fond of regaling anyone he could corner with the story of how he had once made the deconstructionist linguistic joke to Jacques Derrida at a cocktail party that his name sounded like the German articles "der, die, das", but that really is another story for another day.) Back to writing!

Having given it a lot of thought, I've come to the conclusion that my subconscious reluctance to finishing things is that with an unfinished creation, one always has the out that it still needs work. One doesn't have to face up to the possibility that it might just be bad. I suppose that's why keeping this blog is relatively comfortable for me - I don't put enough effort into it to worry much that people will think it's bad. My whole concept has been that it doesn't matter, because it's mostly just off the top of my head. It has been good for me. If people can read my unedited words without feeling driven to mock or send hate mail, then perhaps there is hope for those other words too.

So, will I participate in NaNo this year? After writing this, I think I will at least try. I may twist the rules of the project to fit my own needs (i.e. finishing a preliminary draft something I've already started rather than embarking on yet another new project), but I think that participating in some way will be good for me. So, in the process of writing this, I have gone from considering to being fairly sure that I actually will participate. Last week another small group participant in a class I am taking, made the comment that "the truth is always at the end of a pen". I suppose he was right...

Saturday, October 14, 2006

An Autumn Day

This past Sunday afternoon, inspired by the harvest festival we visited on Saturday, my mom and I took a family field trip to Sauvie Island to visit the pumpkin patch and purchase some local produce. While the island is lovely year round, autumn is my favorite time there. The fields are sprinkled with pumpkins. Though the sunflowers are still blooming, the trees are beginning to look crisp and crackly, painted golden shades of amber, rust and orange. This time of year the farms are always crowded with people who have descended onto the island to buy pumpkins, visit the corn maze (a maze of maize), and embark on tractor pulled hay rides.

But that is mostly just near Sauvie Island Farms and the bigger pumpkin patches. If you venture deeper onto the island, the crowds thin and there is plenty of opportunity to visit nurseries, the beach, and smaller farms without the cramped, claustrophobic feeling. Our route did take us past Sauvie Island Farms, but upon seeing the crowded parking lot, we took one look at each other and agreed to go back later.

So, instead, we headed off to my favorite spot on the island, Blue Heron Herbary. The thing that I love about Blue Heron is everything! Seriously, there is much to love there. They have doves, a rabbit, frogs, two gorgeous pesticide free gardens (an Elizabethan knot garden and a witch's garden with little stakes with signs imparting herbal lore), the owner is delightful, and they sell just about every kind of herb one could want. So, I ask, what is there not to love? Before you respond, know that I am fully prepared to drive to wherever you are and beat you with a bundle of fragrant spanish lavender, if you say "nothing".

After the herbary, we drove around to the big farm on the other side of the island. The name escapes me (Kroeger? I may just be making that up), but it's the one not far west of the bridge back to the real world. At the farm that may or may not be Kroeger we bought eggplant and pumpkins - two orange, one white. I realize now that we need more and that Cinderella pumpkins may be need to be part of my not too distant future. On the way out, we noticed that they had a roaster set up and were selling roasted corn brushed with melted butter for $2 a cob. It was the best sweet corn I've had in a long while, so we went back into the barn. We bought eight ears to take home, so I am officially in sweet corn heaven.

Corn heaven makes me lament that I was never crowned corn queen during my years on the prairie, but I suppose that may have been hampered by my having never having actually attended either of the big area corn festivals (broom and sweet). So, I guess I'll have to settle for declaring myself HRH Sweet Corn Queen Martina of Powellhurst and Greater Lents. Don't worry. My rule will be a benevolent one until it is overthrown by a hostile rival monarchy from Montavilla or maybe even Sullivan's Gulch. They will likely eschew corn in favor of something more regional like smoked salmon or perhaps hazelnuts. You will know that you cannot trust them due to their infernal but unwavering insistence on referring to them as filberts instead of hazelnuts as God intended. Unfortunately, by the time you figure it out, it will be too late.

But I don't want to dwell on bleak foreshadowing of the future. I really just want to say that Sauvie Island is lovely. If you live in the area and haven't made a trip out there recently, perhaps you should. That's all I'm saying.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Whose eye is on the sparrows?

They are gone now. The boys were restless. Yesterday, after watching the two of them wildly fly around the bathroom, we decided it was time to open the window and allow them to live the outdoor sparrow life to which they were born. Sure they had the run of the bathroom. Their cage was never locked. We tried to bring the outdoors in by providing leafy branches for them to sit in and an opportunity to forage for a variety of foods, but it's not the same.

I had anticipated that they would take off immediately, emerging from the window to meet the outside world in glorious flight. That is not exactly how it happened. Frankly, they seemed suspicious of the outdoors once the screen that separated it from them was removed from the window. For a couple of hours, the two of them loitered in the bathroom, looking suspiciously at the opening out of their world. At first, they just skulked about on top of their cage. After a time, they ventured closer to the sink, then over to the window sill.

The next time I went to check on them, Nelson was gone. He always was the braver one. Jimbo took a little longer to go. Upon hearing a chirpy commotion in the bathroom, I went in to check on him and found only an empty cage. I like to think that the commotion was Nelson coming back to lure his brother out.

Whatever happend, it is strange to go into the bathroom now that they're gone. I know I said that I was looking forward to having it back, but it turns out that was not entirely true. It seems empty without them. Their cage still hangs from the wall, filled with half-eaten fruit and seeds. It's like an avian ghost town or a modern day Pompeii littered with seed husks instead of ash.

We've left the window open just in case they can't hack it on the outside (or just want to come home to visit). I know it was the right thing to set them free, but I almost hope that they will decide to make use of it.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


According to my Victorian Grimoire, irises are the flower of hope and messages. This has been a week of comings from the blue lifting hopes I thought had been quelled. I'm not sure what to think. I hold my breath. I don't want to talk about these things for fear that it will jinx them, yet I feel like I will burst if I don't. So, have struck a compromise by adopting a write now, post later policy. This allows for the best of both worlds - Talk, yes! Kein ayin hara, no!

I love that expression, kein ayin hara. It appeals to the deep-seated superstition I harbor about sharing good fortune before its certain. That makes for bad mojo this laying of all cards on the table. I like to think that I am a reasonable, rational person (or at least that I have the capacity to be so), but deep down I have this completely irrational fear that if I talk too much about something good, the universe will take it away from me. No one likes a braggart. Being happy too soon only invites heartbreak. Things just seem to go better when kept to myself.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Boys

One July morning as I was leaving for work, I noticed the babies in the birdhouse on the front porch were chirping awfully loudly. As one stuck its bald head out of the opening, I thought "How cute" and obliviously drove off to work. Hours later, two small house sparrows had fallen out of the nest and onto the hard concrete. One survived, the other did not. Luckily, my mom was home to put the living bird back into his nest and lovingly dispose of the other's earthly remains.

As the day wore on, it became clear that their zeal was due to hunger. The quartet, now whittled down to a trio, chirped and gaped, crying out for food. For hours, my mother watched from the picture window inside to see if their mother would come back. She never did. At some point, it became clear that she wasn't going to. That is when the feeding began.

I came home from work that night to find my mother perched atop a step ladder, forceps in one hand and a bowl of soggy mush in the other. Not long after that, the bird house was removed from the wall and the roof removed for easier access. The transition to a tissue filled basket in an old fish tank cum incubator did not take long, and the move into intensive care aka the bathroom was really inevitable after that.

Being considered pests, house sparrows are one of few wild species that are not protected in the U.S. Because they are a non-native species, groups like the Audobon Society don't have any interest in rehabilitating them, but we do. They are living things and one can't just let them starve to death on the front porch when they've been abandoned. At least if you live in my house you can't.

The first days were challenging. The boys, Nelson, Jimbo and Johnny as we took to calling them, were not fully fledged and still needed to be fed often. Then there was the question of what to feed them. After much research, a consultation with our vet, and a trip to the pet store, the answer turned out to be a mash of ingredients like catfood (I know, go figure!), hard boiled egg, applesauce, avian vitamins and water interspersed with occasional bread soaked in water to make sure they were taking in enough liquids. This mixture had to be pushed down their gullets about every 45 minutes in the beginning.

With time the boys began to fledge and feedings increased to every hour, every two hours, etc. Along the way Johnny (he was weak and not of this world) was lost. I think the fall from the nest was probably too much for his little head. He survived for a few days, but never really recovered. The other two, however, began to thrive and develop personalities.

Nelson, the bigger of the two, is the extrovert and adventurer. He does everything first - eating on his own, flying. He is active and curious about everything, including people. I worry about him. I'm not sure he's cut out for the great out doors. We try to discourage him, but he's fond of landing on hands and heads, biting at fingernails, pecking at freckles. Jimbo is smaller, shyer, more wild. He has enough fear to do better in the wild.

I think about the prospect of letting them go. They are wild animals, not designed to be caged up in a house. Yet, through the hourly feedings, the discovery that they love watermelon, the encouraging them to fly, they have become family. I am attached. As they sleep in their new favorite place (the light fixture above the sink), I wonder about them and worry what will happen them.

Soon we will have to make some tough decisions - whether to let them go, when to let them go, where to let them go. Still, I wouldn't trade the experience of watching them go from helpless, barely fledged chicks to independant, curious young birds. It makes me realize how miraculous life really is - even the smallest life.


Back in the early days of summer, I had a dream about a bird - a dead bird. Its lifeless, feathery body lay on the back deck inside the lattice where the cats sit. Concerned the cats would get it, I moved the body just outside of lattice wide enough for a cat's paw to reach through, covered all but the feet with a napkin, then sat down to read. In that weird way of dream logic, it just made sense.

As I was reading, I caught the fluttering movement of a white napkin out of the corner of my eye, wings quivering. The bird got up, walked to the end of the deck, took a look back at me (or maybe it didn't look back after all) and flew away. It's been so long that I dont remember. I only know that he was gone.

Months later, just after the end of summer, I am thinking about people who have left. Friends, loves, one in particular. Do they ever think of me? Does he ever think of me? Or, like birds, do the just soar away?

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Yesterday as I was sitting in my car enjoying a steak and mushroom ciabatta lunch on the run before popping into Michael's to get my hands on some Halloween gold in the form of holographic, bat-shaped twinkle lights, I turned on the radio as I am sometimes wont to do. The first thing I heard was the voice of Ed Schultz proclaiming that everyone should "arm up".

Being the sort of manly man's manly man who loves sports and hunts, Schultz does sometimes pepper his show with talk of hunting. As a result, I've always assumed gun control (at the very least where hunting is concerned) is probably not his mission in life. Nonethless, the phrase "everyone arm up" did cause me to put down my (by the way delicious) sandwich in wonderment.

As it turns out, Schultz was not advocating the we all gear up for some kind of terroist/El Rapto/the end is nigh nightmare, but rather preparing to do a phone interview a city council member, Steve Jett from Greenleaf, Idaho. Apparently the town is considering a city gun ordinance recommending that every head of household own a firearm and ammunition and received the proper training to use it. The ordinance would contain exemptions for those with physical and mental disabilities, those prohibited by law, and those who just plain don't want a gun.

I will be the first to admit that I am not a big supporter of our "right to bear arms", but is this really something we need to codify? Assuming I understood Mr. Jett correctly, when the exemptions are factored in, the ordinance basically says, "If you want a gun and are not legally prohibited from having one, you should have one." Can't people do that already? Doesn't that render the ordinance superfluous?

It seems to me to be more about making some kind of point than it is about actually changing anything. But what is the point then? That we're a violent society that values fear based tactics (aka "I'm armed, so don't mess with me") over any other form of mediation or perhaps even teaching our children values that don't encompass assuming that shooting someone equals satisfactory conflict resolution. Apparently I'm not just crazy, because even though the city councilman claims great local support for the ordinance, he did admit that the local pastor has not exactly been supportive. Well, good on him, I say! When I hear these sorts of stories, I think it's no wonder that everyone thinks we're a bunch of gun toting bullies.

P.s. An interesting and not unrelated sidenote: The town of Greenleaf was apparently founded by Quakers in 1903, which somehow adds a layer of irony to the town being the center of the whether everyone should be armed question.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Latch on to the Affirmative

Despite the professional lamentation, I had a pretty good week off once any job related parts were over. Sure, it's had its ups and downs. Sad Hooter's Clown winning the spot in Not Supernova, "Go where the money is!" and gimpy, bruised knee, this fist shake is for you! Over all, though, it's been really good AND I am listening to Kelly Hogan sing Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive as I type, which always puts me in a good mood. This can only be viewed as a plus, considering the thought of returning to work tomorrow makes me want to cry. So, here is a vacation week retrospective that recognizes the ups and downs of The Wheel that seems to pop up concstantly these days, but ultimately latches on to the affirmative:

Friday: Vacation starts 6 p.m. and I have a date with my hair crush
Highlight: Purple and blonde hair
Lowlight: Having to wait 45 minutes for my hair appointment
Highlight: 45 minutes is enough time for Red Beans & Rice at Popeye's AND I now have purple hair with which to freak out the squares!

Saturday: Trip to the Beach with Jen & MQ
Highlight: The beach!
Lowlight: Cutlets are expensive, even at the outlet mall
Highlight: Money saved on cutlets purchases 3 new t-shirts and badly needed sleepwear

Sunday: Welcome DirectTV!
Highlight: I now have German t.v. AND great hopes that having a satellite dish will invite interstellar hazy cosmic jive proclaiming that all the children should boogie thereby ending the quandry of what to do with my life!
Lowlight: First show on German t.v. featured a shoeless, hobbit-like little man in Lederhosen singing Heimatsmusik
Highlight: Hobbit-like little men singing Heimatsmusik are fun to mock AND the satellite dish is slightly cheaper than cable

Monday: Interview Day
Highlight: Whee! An interview!
Lowlight: The interview & "Go where the money is!"
Highlight: Lunch downtown with friend and music writer extraordinaire Sonya & starting the class I'm taking

Tuesday: Volunteer Opportunities
Highlight: Going to an orientation on becoming a ZooGuide
Lowlight: Zoo volunteers were all wearing dorky red camp shirts
Highlight: Volunteering at the zoo sounds fun AND it looks like there is a red t-shirt alternative, which will make me feel much more comfortable and photogenic

Wednesday: A Day of Rest
Highlight: Sleeping in and having some time with the house all to myself
Lowlight: Tripping over a dog bone on the carpet and injuring my knee when I grab on to a chair with wheels for balance (no one said I was smart), then wondering if it had anything to do with my position in the discussion Jen & I were having about blasphemy and what God can handle
Highlight: I don't think God works that way

Thursday: More beach!
Highlight: Almost EVERYTHING, especially the ice cream. Oh how I love you, chocolate chip mint!
Lowlight: Seafood lunch was a bit overpriced /my knee did not find the walk to the lighthouse at Cape Meares to be as good an idea as my brain did / hearing a weird guy in the ice cream line claim that the Tillamook Cheese Factory is the most visited tourist attraction in Oregon, a distinction I had always believed went to the lovely and far more deserving Multnomah Falls. (A Google search for "Oregon & most visited" ellicits findings on most visited natural site, most visited paid attraction, etc., so I'm thinking maybe the factory is the most visited cheese selling attraction in the state.) I'm sorry (ok, you caught me, I'm not really), but the whole idea of sticking assembly line workers behind a window like a human zoo exhibit and calling it a tourist attraction has always struck me as bizarre. If they'd been Oompa Loompas, I would have sworn I was watching a scene from Charlie and the Cheese Factory.
Highlight: Good lighthouse pictures, lunch was very fresh and good, & I had an excuse to spend the evening with eating pizza and being waited on while watching My Own Private Idaho.

Friday: Escape the doldrums!
Highlight: Sleeping in & eating leftover pizza for breakfast
Lowlight: Knee still gimpy/feeling depressed
Highlight: Milkshakes with Jen, then going to a "house cooling" potluck that was rife with good food and engaging company

Saturday: Joyful noise v.s. Doldrums
Highlight: 5 hour choir rehearsal
Lowlight: Doldrums not completely escaped
Highlight: Mood is better and knee feeling rested and slightly less gimpy after a day spent mostly sitting around singing

Sunday: What happens with Sunday remains to be seen. With the end of vacation looming, I am determined to make the best of this last day. I am not sure yet how, but I know it will all work out in the end.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Surf Spinning

Originally uploaded by Martina.
When I was a girl, I used to go on trips to Gleneden Beach to visit my friend. The food at her house was terrible. Her mother would buy meat off the clearance rack in the butcher's section, then bring it home and freeze it for later use. After a couple of bouts of being sent home early with mysterious stomach ailments, I quickly learned to adapt. When necessary, I temporarily converted from "omnitarian" to staunch vegetarian. I became a champion of us kids taking trips to town, so we could eat out or I could at least discretely stock up on non-tainted snacks to sustain me, since I wasn't really eating dinner. I couldn't tell her mom I didn't like the food (or that I didn't want food poisoning), so to save her feelings, I let her think I was just one of those kids who don't eat much. It was probably the only time in my life that someone thought I was anything but a hearty eater.

Despite the gastronomic challenges, I lived for these visits, because they were an adventure. My mom would take me downtown to the Greyhound bus depot and deposit me on the coastal express and my friend and her mom would pick me up at the bowling alley/bus depot in Lincoln City. Once we got to their place, I'd throw down my overnight bag, and H. and I would head to the beach.

We would spend hours splashing around in the surf, playing the sorts of childhood games that are delightfully fun and recklessly dangerous at the same time. One of our favorites was to march out into the not too deep water, then sit down cross-legged in the sand, waiting for the tide to come in, so the undertow could spin us around while we laughed and laughed. Never once considering that the same undertow could easily sweep us out to sea, we found this activity to be the height of good times. If my mother had only known, I think she might have killed me herself (or at least have reacted in the same way she did when she found me and two other friends repeatedly jumping off the top of their small barn and into a huge pile of hay. That was not a good day for base jumping.)

That's the thing about being a kid, though. They're fearless. They know what is fun, they know what they want, and they just DO IT. Where is it along the way that we lose that certainty?

I ask, because on Monday I went to what was almost the weirdest job interview I have ever had. The weirdest job interview I've ever had was the time I was invited for to interview for a position because the interviewer had calculated my age based on my high school graduation dates on the application and wanted to check me out, because he felt there might be a date prospect in a young woman, who had an MA and spoke a few languages. Apparently, I passed the test, because he invited me for dinner. I declined.

Anyway, back to Monday. Monday I headed downtown to interview with an agency for a position as Executive Assistant at an international import company. The encounter started with me being asked to take some tests that involved typing and alphabetizing things on a computer screen while an odd little bleach blonde, with leathery skin tanned to the color of a crisply burnt sienna paced back and forth outside the window. Good news! All those student loans paid off! The results are in, and there's no doubt that I know my alphabet! Woo hoo!

The test did tip me off that the interview might not be the success for which I had hoped. Ever curious, I decided to stick it out. I was already downtown and would have had to wait around for my lunch date anyway, so I headed off to meet with the owner of the agency. Instead of an interview, what I got was a counseling session and discussion about whether there were any Director level positions I could apply for at my current company. At some point in the exchange (and I use the term "exchange" loosely, since I really wasn't allowed to do much talking), I found myself tuning out and just nodding politely as the recruiter spewed platitudes like "go where the money is", "look at the people in the positions you want and dress like them", or "find out who to suck up to". I don't know if she thought I was younger than I am (people sometimes do), but she seemed to position herself in the role of seasoned professional offering a youth life advice. In her own way, I think she thought she was being helpful. The meeting ended with the her telling me to think about it, then assuring that she would put me in for some jobs if that's what I "really wanted" and me questioning what the hell it is that I was doing in the first place.

And here I sit, still wondering and wishing for the days when it was all as clear as "spinning in the sand is fun". I know I'm never going to be some great corporate success story. Before anyone thinks that is self-esteem talking, let me make clear that I know I could be, if I set my mind to it. The thing is that I don't know that I care. I don't care "where the money is" and I don't suck up. Whatever it might be, I make myself good at my job. As a result, even in my current position, which is almost sub-terranean on the corporate totem pole, a lot of the VP's and SVP's know me and have even encouraged me to aspire to greater things within our organization. It is not like I'm a professional loser. It is more that I haven't (at least professionally speaking) found that thing that stirs my heart and gives me a passion for what I do.

The things that do stir my heart are the ones where I find most of my insecurity. Despite the interest I have in things like writing, singing, taking pictures, most of the time I feel like a creative wannabe, a dilettante.

The thing is that when I look around, there are a LOT of people just like me. I meet them every day - friends, acquaintances from church, at work, at volunteer orientations, etc.). They're not always the people you would expect them to be either. Sometimes it's the people who look most successful who have the biggest holes in their souls.

What does this all ultimately mean? I don't know, I'm still thinking about it and trying to fill my time with the things that are meaningful to me and that do make me laugh. I have one theory that says that with the right attidue and some self-discipline my non-demanding job could be turned into the kind of day job that leaves me time to write, sing, and create things. On the other hand, it seems like there should be more to my professional life than being micromanaged into oblivion by a high strung boss who has no trust for her employees. Somewhere, somehow, I need to find a balance. I don't want to drown, but I do still want the exhilarating feeling of spinning in the undertow and laughing just a little.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Adventures in Vacationland

After far too long without using any vacation time, I finally have a week off. Considering that the Wheel of Disgust is currently at a high point in its rotation as pertains to certain aspects of my work, it is a good time for some distance from my place of employment. What better way to distance oneself than a trip to the beach? There's nothing like the vastness of the ocean. Somehow it always helps me to put things into perspective.

So, Saturday morning Jen, MQ and I ignored the nay-sayers and prophesiers of rain and doom and took off for a day of beachy fun in the greater Lincoln City area. While Lincoln City itself is not the prettiest town on the Oregon Coast, it has a number of things to recommend it:

1) Devil's Lake. Despite one of my fellow travellers deeming lakes "creepy", I want to stay at the little hotel there sometime for a writing weekend. There's just something appealing about me and my laptop in a little room with a window overlooking the lake.

2) Outlet Stores with salty air, sea mist, an Old Navy (hooray $5 t-shirts!), and a cutlet emporium (sorry, Maidenform, we may meet again, but I STILL think I can do better than $29.95)

3) A great Thai restaurant. Who'd have thought it? Plus, it had free food (though that may have had more to do with MQ paying for my lunch than it being an actual restaurant policy).

4) Siletz Bay (though we didn't stop there this time). I love going there and watching the sea lions lounge on the sand across the water on Salishan spit.

5) Proximity to Gleneden Beach, which is a quiet little town that holds a lot of youthful memories for me. It is also home to The Crystal Wizard, which is a lovely little store as long as no one is playing with that infernal singing bowl, which is supposed to align one's chakras or something, but really just makes me want to me align someone's eyeball with an ice pick. I don't know what it is about the sound that irritates me so much, but its tone makes me seriously want to rethink my commitment to non-violence.

Eye gouging aside, it turned out to be a lovely day, and I am happy to report that the Crystal Wizard remained peaceful and no arrests were made, which always makes for a good first day of vacation!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it is better to listen to what it has to say.

- Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho first came into my life ten years ago when I met a man whose name I don't remember. I remember that he was short. I remember that he was a sound mixer. I remember that he thought a lot of himself and the celebrity names he liked to drop. I remember that our first date was also our last. All in all, it would not have been a memorable encounter at all had this pretentious, little man not recommended a wonderful book to me - Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist.

Despite the dubious character of the recommender, the book turned out to be a great recommendation. I like to think that this just supports the old adage that the right things come to us at the right time no matter what their mode of travel. Over time The Alchemist has become one of my favorite stories in no small part due to the deceptive simplicity of Coelho's language and narrative style. Considering that the novel has sold millions of copies worldwide and been translated into 56 languages, I am apparently not the only one who admires Mr. Coelho's craft. Also, he has a fascinating life story, which is well worth the trip to read his biography on his website or for the jucier details his Wikipedia entry, even if you don't choose to read his novel. For these reasons, The Alchemist seemed like a natural choice when it came to selecting a first volume for my reading group this summer.

We are a diverse group that includes a grad student, a social worker, a retired teacher, a former Methodist minister, and a couple of corporate types. Some of us are straight. Some of us are gay. Some are American, some German, and some Filipino. We come from different backgrounds, but share that we are all open minded and wanting to learn from each other. That makes for fertile ground for captivating discussions.

What made our discussion of The Alchemist so interesting was the the lessons the book held for each of us were so diverse. What for me was a story about the nature of dreams and their pursuit was for others a statement about love or The Universe. Of course, it is all those things and more.

This is, in my mind, one of the hallmarks of a great novel. A well crafted novel has layers and delves into its themes deeply enough that one can read it again and again and keep coming away with something different each time. I read a wide variety of books - some more serious than others. The ones I keep turning back to are the ones that grow with me.

For me, The Alchemist has always been one of those books. It is one of those works that I turn to at those times when the Wheel of Fortune is spinning out of control and I can't seem to find my way back to the relative safety of its hub. At those moments, The Alchemist's message that the universe will conspire to help us, if we just follow the our has never failed me as a dependable source of comfort.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Wedding Dresses

Today I went to Miss M.'s wedding. If I'm going to be honest, there are a number of reasons why I wasn't exactly grooving on the prospect of going. Nonetheless, ever one to view everything as a learning experience I went. Here is what I learned:

1. The Church of the Nazarene is not the church for me.

2. The phrase "fear of God" does not belong in a wedding ceremony. (The same goes for "wrath of God", "ire of God", "the terrible vengeance of the Lord shall rain down upon you" as well as the words "fry", "fritter" and "abomination unto the Lord".)

3. A woman can have a "more of me to love" body type and still look beautiful and radiant in her wedding gown. (What is it about happiness that makes people so attractive?)

4. Anyone singing a solo at a wedding needs to be able to carry a tune. I'm all for nepotism, but I'm unbending on this.

5. The walking down the aisle music should not be plodding, and organ should be avoided at all costs.

6. If you're going to have a maid of honor, find one who will not bail out on planning the bridal shower at the last minute due to creative differences (or not "having faith" in the impending marriage).

6a. I am not as nice as the former Miss M. She still invited said maid to the wedding and even used her daughter as flower girl. I would not have invited her or at least seated her at the table with the "backstabbing bitch", "nemesis" and "leper" place cards at the reception. (Though perhaps it giving nemeses and backstabbing bitches the opportunity to talk is not the wisest course of self-protective action. It would be fun to pay the leper to bump into them and watch them contract leprosy, though. Okay, it wouldn't really. With my penchant for self-imposed guilt, I would end up living out my days in misery, because of what I had wrought. Besides, being an instrument of leprosy, even if an indirect one, isn't exactly nice.)

7. If you're going to wear a low cut dress, look into cutlets. If the girls are going to be on display, they might as well be served up on display.

8. Weddings are a good excuse to buy or make a new dress.

9. I really should make more dresses, because the one I made (ok, I cut it out, my mom did the actual sewing) turned out wonderfully! It fit perfectly and was made of happy fabric with jaunty red, yellow, pink, and orange tulips on a white background.

10. It's good to have friends who give you free happy fabric with jaunty red, yellow, pink, and orange tulips on a white background, because if you can find a pattern and zipper on sale, the whole dress only costs $6.

11. If you're attending a wedding out in the greater Nowhere metropolitan area, Big Burger in Mollala is a good place to stop for lunch on the way home. It's no Big Jim's, but will do in a pinch.

12. It would be nice if the vivid wedding dream I had a few months ago were precognitive. I'm not holding my breath, though. My John Wesley Harding and the Magic Bus dream was vivid too and it did not come true, not even the part about the monkey butler.

13. Watching Miss M become Mrs. M made me realize that if my master plan to become a spinster surrounded by 15 cats doesn't pan out, I need to have another plan in place. Some of the points above are a good start.

Misty Water Colored Memories

Last night I dreamt of you, o Saturn, first new car of my youth. I was wanting to go somewhere and realized my Toyota was out of gas, so I decided to take you instead. It made me wake up thinking of all the places we've been to appease your Wanderlust...

We've driven to work on snowy days (thank you for not breaking down!)

How Furby shook his bon bon as Supergrover and Jen cheered him on as we crossed the plains, passing long church spires and talking wires on the Westward journey.

And who could forget the cheap, secret parking at Mt. Rushmore or the Mitchell Corn Palace, unrecognized 8th Wonder of the World? Not I...

Your new people may give you running from hornets, but I gave you the World (or at least the Great West of slightly East of the Missippi).

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Thing is not the Memory

Sometime in the summer of 1993, my father and I made a trip to the Saturn dealership across the river and bought my first adult car that was to be all my own. It was to be an early graduation present for my Master's Degree. Dad was worried that he might be retired by the time I got my MA and was sure he would be by the time I got my Phd.

In the grand tradition of my father's "nothing in life comes free, you have to learn responsibility", the arrangement was that we would each pay for half of the car with me sending him money each month to help cover the payments. In the end, I only ended up paying on the car for a year, because my father suffered a massive stroke the following August, and insurance paid of the rest. Paralyzed on one side of his body, his plan to retire in a few years was hastened, because he didn't have the physical capacity to return to work.

Instead, he worked at physical therapy, hoping for the day when he would be strong enough to go back to his job (or volunteer as a driver for others who had suffered strokes and incapacitating injuries). But that was not to be. After a few months of slow improvement, his recovery stopped progressing. While he could hobble very short distances with the help of a leg brace and quad cane, the furthest his upper body progressed was to regain the useless ability of being able to shrug his left shoulder, while the rest of his arm dangled limply beside him. He held on for a little over a year, but his spirit never recovered.

Then he was gone, and I was left with a memory for a father. A memory and car. Dad was a big car lover, so somehow it seems fitting that the last big thing we did together before his was buying a vehicle. Even though I haven't driven it in ages, somehow the car sitting there in the driveway always felt like a little piece of him was still here. This is in some ways silly, because he was not one to hold onto a car until it was run into the ground. He was always trading up. Still, the association with him was the one thing that held me back from selling it when I bought my current car a couple years ago after the Saturn broke down one time too many.

Since then, the Saturn has been sitting in the driveway, collecting dust and holding memories of trips through California, Washington, Idaho, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and even Canada. It has gotten lost in Compton, sputtered up mountains and broken down in five states, visiting such American landmarks as covered bridges, the Corn Palace, Carhenge, Mt. Rushmore, Sky City, Disneyland, the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas, the House on the Rock, and the Space Needle along the way. It was the birthplace of the mythology of Shoema, Goddess of Footwear and shopping lists for blue sun glasses, bunny ears, Ricky Martin CDs, and cold medicine. I've laughed, cried, and rescued a kitten from the shoulder of I-5 in that car. In short, it holds the memories of my 20's and early 30's and of all the fun my father would have wished for his daughter (and perhaps some fun he might not have envisioned).

So, why did it come as such a surprise to me this past weekend that I was so sad to sell it? I hadn't realized that I would be. It didn't really hit me until I was cleaning out the remains of my personal effects (obviously very important stuff, considering that it sat in the car for over two years without me missing it). Suddenly, I felt like I wanted to cry. I considered calling the deal off, then decided against it. I really can use the money.

In the end, I am okay with my decision. The thing is not the memory. Besides, the car gave me a new memory the day I sold it. Unbeknownst to me, there was a hornets nest in the passenger side door. Yes, that's right, a hornet's nest that I did not notice early in the day while I was cleaning the car out. No one noticed it, until the two guys buying the car decided to take it for a spin around the block. I will never forget the sight of my car backing out of the driveway, only to have the door fly open and a grown man jump out, waving his arms around and screaming like startled Ned Flanders. My dad would have laughed to see that. I know I did. (Don't worry, no one got hurt.) More importantly, however, they still took the car and I now have my memories AND money in my pocket for something fun. My dad would have wanted me to have fun.