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