Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holidays

2007 has been a lovely year - so much happier than 2006. As I sit typing, flanked by Lily on my left and Baxter on my right, I feel pretty content. The past week or so has been hectic, but only because life is filled with more friends (of both the furry and non-furry variety!), a more challenging job and a holiday to enjoy the fruits of both and more festivities to come. Today is a day of rest. Today life is good. Today I have time to share some odds and ends from the past few days.



Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve did not go at all as planned. Originally, the plan was to go to Bridgeport for the candlelight service. Despite my conflicted feelings about churches in general, this service remains my favorite of the year, because of the moment where the lights go down and we all light our candles to sing Dona Nobis Pacem (which reminds me that the Lumiere String Quartet's version is lovely, peaceful and well worth the .99 cent download from iTunes). In that moment, despite all of the things that are wrong with the world, I always feel that maybe there really is hope that one day it will be set aright.

But this year, it just wasn't in the cards. The early stages of dinner preparation were interrupted when my mom spotted a homeless man wandering the street with a shopping cart, searching for cans. It didn't take long for us to decide to give him the mountain of them we've been saving to take back to the store, so I went out to call him back. When he saw the little recycling bin we had, he was happy. When he saw that I had a whole trash can full to give him, he almost cried. He kept thanking me for giving him his Christmas present and blowing me kisses.

Honestly, it made me feel completely inadequate and somehow ashamed that I couldn't do more for him. He actually hugged me. To be worshipped for a few tin cans when I have a regular, warm place to sleep and he doesn't was embarassing. We talked for a while and I learned that he did (at least for now) have someplace to sleep. He has a sister in the area and she is letting him stay with her. Judging by her location, I don't think she had much either, but it made me feel better that he had somewhere to go. He left smiling, happy and blowing me kisses.

Dinner was late, but whatever - the traditional holiday nachos and creme de menthe cupcakes could wait. I know it sounds crazy, huh? If there's one time when it seems l ike you should do something special, it seems like holidays should be it. And we were planning to have an extravagent Christmas Eve dinner, but decided at the grocery store that our Christmas gift to ourselves would be not having to cook. (Besides, the cupcakes were already made, and they were DELICIOUS.) So, we dined on a buffet of organic corn chips blanketed in black beans, shredded beef, tomato, cheese, and avocado. But I am not ashamed. It tasted so good that I'm sure Mary and Joseph would have dined thusly, had there only been a microwave in the stable.

Then, just as we were about to leave, an elderly friend of my mom's called, so we didn't make it out the door on time. But, you know what? Even if I didn't get to sing by candlelight, I got my "Dona Nobis Pacem" just by being able to do a kindness for someone else and being able to enjoy a relaxed dinner with my family (aka my mom), whom I kinda love, even if she did renege on her promise to make up for making us late by being such a long-winded yappy yapperson on the phone by singing with me later.

Christmas
We actually had SNOW on Christmas day! If anyone had told me it was coming, I would have laughed. It seemed way too warm, but for a few lovely moments while I was wrapping presents, I could hear the beginnings of Vivaldi's Winter falling from the sky. I always hear the Four Seasons in my head when it starts to snow. This may be an omen that I need to learn to play it (and find an incredibly forgiving and non-mocking orchestra to accompany me!).

Presents wrapped, we headed a couple of miles East to spend Christmas with our friends, Jenny and Jesus and their family. That's right people. I had Christmas dinner with Jesus. The thing I LOVE about their gatherings is that they are so huge. I come from a small family unit, so when she tells me "oh, it's not many people - just family" it cracks me all the way up. "Just family" for her is upwards of 30 people. It was really crowded in her aunt's small home, but it was also a blast. We had ham, turkey with mole (so good!), and a ton of other foods. There was singing, playing with the kids (so many kids - you couldn't spit without hitting a baby - not that I would. I come down as firmly against spitting at babies!), conversation, and a LOT of noise (albeit unequivocally joyful).

All in all a great evening and a great Christmas! I hope yours was that way too! Even if I do have some misgivings about religion, one thing I do know is that the point of all of this life stuff is those moments of goodness, kindness and joy.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Carol






Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O, weary, weary is the world,
But here is all aright.)
The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O, stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)
The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart
His hair was like a fire.
(O, weary, weary is the world
But here the world's desire.)
The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.
- G K Chesterton

Happy Christmas Eve!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Most Roads Lead Home

It all started one day last week when my department at work knocked off early for it annual Christmas luncheon. We usually make it a very late lunch (around 3 or so) and then just go home when we're done. This year we went to Claim Jumper, which is near Bridgeport Village but far away from my usual stomping grounds.

For the first time in a few years, we didn't have to treat ourselves to lunch, because we were given a budget (rock on, new CEO - Mission Employee Satisfaction under way!) AND I got to have their delicious Grilled Cobb Sandwich, which I love because it features a palate pleasing triumverate of avocado, blue cheese and garlic. It is also great, because there is always a 1/2 a sandwich to spare for late night snacking at home, which saves me having to take time out of my busy loafing schedule to make dinner.

Afterwards, we all split a piece of cake that was bigger than my head, leaving enough leftovers for four of us to take a little piece home. In case you were wondering if anyone ever comes in alone and orders a slice of cake, the answer is no. I know, because I asked. I had to. Even with CJ's traditionally gigantic portion sizes, this cake was freakishly large and as a socially aware citizen I was concerned about the size of America's already large ass.

I tell you about my culinary adventures in a strange part of town to set the stage for the real purpose of this post, which is to announce that I not only possess great theater parking karma, but also its spiritual sister of intuitive navigation! Sure, my gut sometimes navigates me to snyper hotels in Yuba City or through a series of bad turns leading to the heart of Compton, but that's California for you. Besides, I always make it home sooner or later!

This time was no exception. Filled with food and holiday cheer, I headed out of the restaurant, promptly merging into the wrong lane to make the turn back onto the freeway. It really wasn't my fault. Anyone who knows the clusterfuck that is traffic getting onto I-5 at that intersection at rush hour will understand. Once in the wrong lane I was doomed. Doomed I tell you! There would be no going back without inducing a serious case of road rage in one of my fellow commuters and that's not what I'm about. As we all know, I'm all about the love, baby! (Besides, I was too busy singing and getting my holiday groove on to "Santa's Doin' the Mambo" to be bothered with cutting anyone off.)

So, I looked at the road ahead and thought to myself "This kinda goes in the direction I ultimately want," and forged on. I know I could have consulted a map, but here's the thing: Maps are for suckers! They rob all the fun from the game. Besides, as I know from first hand experience, maps can be deceiving.

For example, Compton is not nearly as far from the Harbor Freeway as it looks on the map. One miscalculation plus a shady looking orange seller milling around the middle of the road right at the instersection and the next thing you know, you've made a pre-emptive right turn into no u-turn land and you're going in the opposite direction from the bookstore you're trying to find. Pretty soon, already defeated and ready to cry, you hit a pothole on the 405 and blow a tire. Next thing you know, you're somewhere in Long Beach with a busted emergency spare and sitting in the back seat of a police car (in case you were contemplating a life of crime, by the way, I can tell you a little secret: police cars - not that comfortable!) where an officer has kindly allowed you to get out of the rain while she waits with you for the tow truck to come. I'm telling, you maps aren't everything!

Anyway, as it turned out, I was headed for Lake Oswego. It's not exactly the 'hood. The worst thing that might happen to me there is being shunned by a gang of wealthy soccer moms or a ejection from the city limits by a group of hippie hating yuppies. But that is not my point. My point is that through a roundabout series of turns, I actually made my way back to familiar territory without having to backtrack!

Buoyed by navigational success plus my recent good parking karma, my mission in life becomes clearer to me. Not only does God want me to go to the theater more often, but He thinks I should dine out as part of the deal. I hear you, Big Guy. Thy will be done! Sounds like the makings of a good New Year's resolution to me!

P.s. In a piece of unrelated (but much more exciting) news, Baxter now has a girlfriend. He got her as an early birthday present. (If you want to send gifts, he will be another year older on Boxing Day.) Is she not the most adorable thing EVER?????

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Saturday morning was one of those rare weekend days when I was actually kind of excited to get up early, for it was the day when all the Santas flock to downtown Portland for Santacon. Ever since I moved back to Portland and read Chuck Palahniuk's Fugitives & Refugees I have wanted to know more about this event, so I made it my business to be shopping at Saturday Market at the time appointed for Santa to meet at Skidmore Fountain. This year I only watched, took some pictures, and collected some swag (a stuffed santa, candy), but I can already tell that next year will I feel the need to amass some cohorts and procure a wintery red dress with some leopardy muppet fur trim!

The truth is that I am completely taken with the concept and LOVE that there are people in the world who feel compelled to organize such outings. The event (which apparently attracts 100's of Santas) is basically a day long bar crawl interspersed with breaks for activities like Santa Tug-o-War. If nothing else, it is an awesome visual, but more than that, it just looks so FUN. As someone who could use more fun in her life, I say "Yeah, PDX Cacophany Society!" (and thank you to the Santa who gave me the little chocolate bottle filled with Southern Comfort - you didn't know it, but I actually do have a soft spot for a little bourbon now and then!).

But the weekend wasn't only about Santa. I also enjoyed visiting Saturday Market for the first time in a while AND managed hear some really awesome blues AND got the bulk of my Christmas shopping done in the process. I am really pleased to say that most of this year's Christmas gifts will NOT involve big chain stores or mass producers of merchandise. It is such a small thing, but it feels really good to support local businesses and artisans.

Because it was also the day my kicker check arrived and I was feeling cheery and generous, I treated my mom to lunch at the Oyster Bar. And who should be sitting there at the bar when we walked in but Santa(s)? One of my big memories of childhood is having lunch there with my mother whenever we went to the market. She would have oysters and I would have scallops. The place was much as I remembered it, but different too. I'm not sure if it's my age or if I just didn't notice when I was a kid, but it seemed a little nicer than it does in my memory.

Mostly, I remember the Oyster Bar of my youth as a place with a neverending bounty of free crackers on the table and where the waitresses were all old, called me "honey" and looked like they should have diner names like "Vi" and "Flo". They still have the same glass containers of oyster crackers and the decor is about the same, but the waitresses are younger and the menu a little more evolved with salads less iceberg and thousand island oriented (which is fine with me, since I personally think that if gack were a dressing, it would be thousand island).

Either way, it was good and I enjoyed going back. It was a lovely day that wasn't even thwarted by the abyssmally poor service we received by from the customer service grinch in the plumbing department at the True Value Hardware on Sandy in Parkrose on the way home. If you passed not even remotely helpful and travelled another thousand miles, you'd be at about his level of customer service. On the other hand, if you ever have a leak and are hoping that someone will suggest when go looking for a part that you hire someone to fix it (ostensibly because you are just a silly girl, who could never understand the intricacies of plumbing), that's your place to shop.

So, in conclusion: Huzzah, Santa, Blues & Oysters! Boo and a stocking full of coal to all misogynistic hardware store dweebs! I may be a stupid girl, but that won't stop me from ripping your arm off and beating you with it! (Being a passive-aggressive pacifist is what stops me from doing that, even if it doesn't stop me from making snarky references to you in blog posts and giving you the stink eye when you're not looking...)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Gripping Conclusion (Purple Monkey R.I.P.)

Remember the compelling saga of Baxter and his sockmonkeys? Alas, Baxter and Purple Monkey were not able to resolve their differences. This is how it ends:










Monday, December 03, 2007

The Babes of Camelot

How many times have you been sitting around, wondering how to creatively pack a gift for special friend with a quirky family geneology that claims she can trace her lineage back to Merlin? Suddenly, you remember the cool art book you have checked out from the library AND an old, but little used tarot deck on your bookshelf. And VOILA, the Babes of Camelot gift bag is born. I think we've all been there.

Inspired by the fun projects in Suzanne Samanaitis' richly illustrated Kaleidoscope: Ideas and Projects to Spark Your Creativity, my usually non-crafty self was jonesing to make something, so I set about putting together the perfect project for my low craft attention span. All it takes is a deck of cards, some packing tape (I think clear contact paper would work nicely too), a pair of scissors and whatever other paper or embellishments strike your fancy for decoration. Suzanne's version was a cool black and white bag made out of playing cards, but, really, any type of deck or design on heavy card stock will work.

I made mine out of part of an old Arthurian tarot deck. It was perfect for my purposes, because of not only my friend's lineage (hee!), but also because of a certain cheesetastic geezers of rock factor in some of the artwork. While I thought the deck was awesomely mythical and mystical at the time of purchase (I wish I could blame it on drugs, but alas...), I now realize that females in the illustrations look like they were pulled out of a Heart video and many of the males appear to have been plucked straight out of a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert then dressed in pseudo-medieval garb. But through the magic of Merlin, it all works out, because nothing says birthday mirth like a King Arthur who looks like he could break into his rendition of "Free Bird" at any moment. Put it all together and it is not only functional, but mockably fabulous. A total win win!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Ramblings from a Winter Wonderland

As much as I love my city, Portland is one odd duck of a town when it comes to snow. A few little white flakes, and news crews are on location with advice on everything from navigating slushy sidewalks to how many days worth of groceries to hoard for the oncoming blizzard that could result in a 1-2" accumulation of snow. In our defense, we're just not used to the kind of winter weather that hits cooler climes. It's part of why we get so excited any time the snow begins to fall. No matter how old you are, there is something magical in the first few flakes of snow. I think it must hearken back to childhood and the possibility of the most hallowed winter day of youth (except for Christmas) - the snow day.

So, yesterday morning when it did start to snow, I secretly got a little excited too, even though I am too cool to admit it and also knew it was way too warm to stick. Somehow it made it feel like the holidays. So, I took advantage of the good cheer by doing some Christmas shopping with my mom. We bought gifts for each other, for friends and I found two adorable little cat tents for $6.95 at Ikea. The cats, of course, already have them.

I'm not sure what causes it, but on years when we exchange gifts (we don't always, some years we just donate to charity) I am genetically incapable of keeping a gift for a family member secret (or in my possession) until the holiday, if I buy it too early. I blame it on my mother. If it weren't for her whole hearted agreement in years when we opt not to buy presents, I'd think it was all part of her master scheme to program me to buy her more gifts. When I was a kid, we opened presents on the 24th, because that is the German way. Eventually, she and I started sneaking around, opening one gift even earlier. Now that my dad is gone, we have no self-control whatsoever when it comes to keeping gift-oriented secrets. I can't tell you how many times I've proactively bought an early Christmas or birthday present for her, gotten impatient waiting for the holiday to come, then caved and given to it to her early, forcing me to go out and buy a new present, so she'd at least have some suprise on the actual day. In the end, we have so much fun together that I don't think it really matters when or even if we exchange gifts.

Anyway, this is a year where we have decided to make presents part of our family celebration. I think it will be a nice holiday. I know someone who feels that the holidays will be ruined (seriously!) if Gene Autry's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is not the first Christmas song she hears. She gets mad at me when I tell her that she needs a real problem, if she's going to let something like that ruin her life. As for me, right now (in great contrast to this time last year when I would have been quite happy not only to disregard the holidays all together, but buy them a one-way bus ticket to Saskatchewan and tell them never to come back) I can't think of anything that could ruin them as long as I get to spend them with people I love. In the end, that is really what is important.

P.s. The first Christmas song I heard was Cartman singing O Holy Night and it makes me laugh every time. I'm not one to mix my animated characters, but if laughter is a sign for the coming holidays, then everything is indeed comin' up Millhouse.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Ghost of Wordstock (Recently) Past

It has been over a while now since Wordstock. The words have long settled and the authors are all back in rooms of their own, writing the next great American novel (or screenplay or essay or poem). Or maybe they are just procrastinating – wasting time on the Internet reading Go Fug Yourself or The Onion or trolling chatrooms for chicks. I really don’t know. All I know is that they are no longer here.

It is an interesting business, this opportunity to meet and/or hear someone you admire in print speak in person. In some cases their generosity makes you love their work even more. In others, their lack thereof somehow dims their glow. It is always disappointing to find out that someone you admire is cranky, rude, subject to petty fussiness or even just human. Like anywhere else, some people are fabulous, while others are complete tools. Half the fun of going to these events is that you get to see who is who.

Originally, I was a little underwhelmed when I saw the 07 speaker schedule. While there were a few individuals who truly did interest me, there were also a lot of names I didn’t recognize. This did not make for the same level of anticipation as in years past. Maybe I've just grown spoiled living in a city where you can't spit without hitting a great visiting author - not that I would spit at an author. So, great authors of the world, feel free to come to Portland. You have my patented no spit guarantee! Spitting aside, despite the initial lack of excitement, the prospect of hearing Wesley Stace, Harry Shearer and Steve Almond speak did generate enough enthusiasm for me to get dressed in time to hop a Max train to the Convention Center to meet up with some friends and soak in all the literary genius.

It was a gorgeous day for it. The absence of rain probably means that I should have been outside communing with nature instead of getting my nerd on, but I am not one to let what could be the last sunny day before an interminable rainy season keep me from spending the day indoors swooning over books. Besides, I did my part to make sure I don’t end up looking like Igor by soaking up a good 15 minutes of sun by walking to the Max station and waiting for the train. On the way over, I even had an interesting, light-missing conversation with the guy who was filming the anti-war protestors who show up weekly outside of Lloyd Center Mall. (I do love Portland, if I haven’t mentioned it recently!)

Even better, while waiting for the train I was treated to an (overheard) conversation (monologue, really) delivered by a woman behind me. Her crackpot theories included the idea that her cat is trying to dominate her because he is male and senses via animal instinct that she is female. Not one to be oppressed by the furry yoke of tyranny, her solution is to hit the cat on the nose any time he displays too much machismo. Frankly, if I were her cat, I like to think that I too would whack her one for being such a dumbass. The woman obviously needs a firm paw if she thinks it’s appropriate to hit an animal. Luckily, I got to stand by her on the train ride too, which allowed me to hear a number of her other theories as well. There were enough of them that I was pretty ready to get off the train by the time we got to the Convention Center.

This year’s Wordstock was a much more stationary experience than my past visits to the event. Instead of wandering from stage to stage, the schedule saw to it that we pretty much spent all but lunch and the last session (Steve Almond and Poe Ballantine) watching the literary hijinx ensue at the Powell's stage as we listened to Wesley Stace, Lauren Weedman, and Harry Shearer. All in all, it was kind of a mixed bag.

Wesley Stace

Up until a few years ago, Wesley Stace had been mainly known as his musical alter-ego, singer John Wesley Harding. I know this because I had a friend back in college who LOVED him and therefore dragged me along with her to many a concert in the basement of McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Los Angeles. In time, I too became fond of his music. As a result, I was pretty curious when his first novel, Misfortune, came out. It did not disappoint. In fact, it was fabulous in all its gender bending brilliance – like a Jane Austen novel laced with folk music and hermaphrodites.

So, when I heard Stace would again be speaking at Wordstock this year, I ignored my acute ventriloquism prejudices and picked up a copy of his newest novel, By George, which features a picture of a dummy on its cover. Because I have read a whole chapter of the book and am therefore an expert on it, I know that it is partially narrated by the dummy, who also happened to be on stage with Stace for the reading. And wouldn’t you know it? I forgot to bring the book along for an autograph (which is probably for the best considering it was a library copy). Somehow the reading went on anyway.

Stace arrived at the lectern seeming a bit disappointed with the turnout of 33 people (I counted). There was a moment before walking onto the stage when he genuinely looked like he was considering flight. It is a shame, because if he had read at Powell’s store on any other day, I’m sure there would have been higher attendance. From his vantage point, I suppose the small groups intermittently dotting the seats really did present the “strange vista” he proclaimed us to be, but, really, I think the situation was accentuated by the overabundance of chairs. There were far more chairs set up than were ever going to be needed – not just for Stace but for pretty much any of the authors who were not Harry Shearer.

Unfortunately, even though I felt a little sorry for the author, I also got the vibe that he was feeling a little put out by the lack of attendance. I would think it was just me reading too much into things (I like to do that because I’m a supersensitive, Piscean!), but my two companions arrived at the same conclusion. Honestly, it somewhat tainted what could have been a much better reading.

On the other hand, it also inspired a lot of giggling - especially the phrase “the ottoman he used to display his boys on first presentation”. The words refer to the way in which the dummy maker liked to introduce his creations to customers, but filled my head with a sudden immature and perverted glee. For some reason the description reminded of that episode of Golden Girls where Rose explains about the St. Olafian wedding tradition wherein the new groom presents his junk to the bride on a ceremonial platter on their wedding night. Apparently, I am subject to brief interludes of being possessed by the spirit of a 14-year old boy with octogenarian tastes in 80’s television.

There was also some out loud speculation among my entourage (that’s right, I have an entourage!) over what it would take for an author to become embittered enough that he’d storm off the stage and straight to the Red Robin bar across the street, biding his time until he could stagger back to interrupt Harry Shearer’s reading with an embittered, drunken diatribe. That was, however, really only theoretical speculation and is in no way meant to imply that Stace was in full hissy fit mode. He just seemed a bit perturbed.

After reading his blog, I wonder if it might have also had something to do with his great Trimet adventure, which somehow took him not to the Convention Center (where the book fair was happening) but to the Expo Center (and not via the MAX train either!). More importantly, however, I am delighted at the thought of Mr. Fancypants author and his dummy tooling around town on the bus. I wonder if all the authors had to take public transportation to the event?

Lauren Weedman

Such a different mood from Stace’s reading! From the moment she got on stage and proclaimed herself “super flattered” that we were all there, Lauren Weedman cultivated a playful, self-effacing tone that stood in sharp contrast to that of the previous reading. If this woman took the bus to Wordstock, it was definitely a party bus. I can see her now, hanging out the window doing rock horns, screaming “Whoooooooo!”

Listening to Weedman riff on everything from her involvement in The Daily Show to the abandoned interpretive dance segment that kicked off her early readings (so awesome!), you’d have to be dead to not be entertained. She is genuinely funny and so obviously feeds off the response of her audience – so much so that it took quite a while for her to actually get to the business of the day – reading from A Woman Trapped in a Woman’s Body, which was a nice, light and silly pick-me-up after the first reading.

Lunch

Burgerville. I was SO good it will make you cry! I actually turned away from delicious Burgerville spread and lovely orange sweet potato fries to eat one of the many salads that have resulted in my six pound pre-Thanksgiving weight loss!

Harry Shearer

Because of his prolific career in as an actor, author, and radio host (to name a few) as well as his involvement in projects like The Simpsons and This is Spinal Tap, Shearer is one of those names that brings in an audience. He is why Wesley Stace was faced with a small sea of empty seats. Maybe next year, to settle the score, they could engage in a literary smackdown, using only the hardcopy editions of their debut novels as weapons.

Even without the excitement of a duel, Harry Shearer is famous enough that he attracts a lot of listeners, including the enamored laughers who populate all readings. They are those die-hard groupies who will chortle at everything that comes out of a presenter’s mouth (whether funny or not) simply because they admire him. That is not at all to say that Shearer is not interesting or even entertaining, just that his “Shearerness” supersedes any single project or performance. This is probably why his time on the Powell’s Stage was such a hodgpodge of topics.

Shearer read from his 2006 novel, Not Enough Indians, answered questions about his radio show, and fairly graciously (if not enthusiastically) acceded to requests for Simpsons voices.

One thing that struck me in listening to the questions the audience posed for him was the influence of The Simpsons is so huge on our culture that it must be difficult to be Harry Shearer and get people to listen when you want to talk about something else. I suppose that is one of the dangers of success.

My favorite part of Shearer’s performance (I know this, because it’s the only part I bothered to jot down in my notebook), was his two rules for writing his novel:

1. Write every day, no matter now long or how short.
2. Don’t go backwards (i.e. no editing as you write).

It’s not rocket science and it’s certainly not anything I haven’t heard before, but it’s always good to be reminded that the basic process is the same. No matter who you are, you have to sit your ass down and do the work.

Steve Almond & Poe Ballantine

This was by far my favorite reading of the day. And to think that I almost missed it! By the time Harry Shearer ended, I was starting to think I might be Wordstocked out. The readings so far had been good, but there was nothing had really gripped me in any kind of significant way. Luckily, I hung around so long looking at the publisher and bookseller displays with Jen and debating whether I wanted to stay or go that it became so late that it would have been silly not to hang around to hear Steve Almond, whose writing I genuinely do like (if you've not yet read it, you owe it to yourself to read "The Evil B.B. Chow", which is one of my favorite short stories).

Almond ended up sharing a slot with Poe Ballantine, who was a new name to me. As it turns out, he was really great. I enjoyed the selection he read from a piece called “Meth for Dummies” enough that I am curious to experience more of his work. And Steve Almond was just as charming in person as he is in his writing. He read about seeing his idol, Kurt Vonnegut, participate in a panel and also gave us what he called “the gift of his shame” by reading about his experiences as an adolescent lothario at summer camp.

Despite having participated in a long day of workshops before they ever hit the stage, both authors good naturedly entertained questions, poking fun at themselves and offering a perfect mix of reading, general discussion with the audience, and advice on writing (“Essays race to a truth that almost always leads to a shame”, “the job of a writer is to love his characters, whether fictional or non-fictional”, “Writing is not about applause, it’s about humiliation”, and, my favorite “babies are like Glenn Close in fatal attraction – they will not be ignored”. Ok, that last one isn’t about writing, but it is funny!).

This last reading was such a contrast to the first one we attended. Stace skipped his Q&A session, ostensibly with the worry that no one would ask anything. Almond approached his by opening the floor for questions with the affable warning that due to time constraints we were going to have to dispense the traditional initial awkward silence followed by the authors standing there like losers while the audience stared at them and jump right into the questions.

And that, my friends, was my 2007 Wordstock experience. Some of the offering were a little different from what I’d expected, but all in all, I’d say we’re pretty lucky to have such an event in our city. A lot of towns don’t have Portland’s appreciation for books. In the end, it was Steve Almond who best summed up what I move love about events like Wordstock – they celebrate the “shrinking minority of people who take seriously the literary arts and the internal.” Hopefully, they also help to expand the community of readers too. And that is why I am already looking forward to next year!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Harvest, Happy Fall!

So, it's been a while. I know, I know. First you thought maybe The Incident had affected me more deeply than you have first thought. Then you began to wonder if I was two-timing you, but deep down you knew that I love you too much to hurt you like that.

And now you just think I'm a little flakey. I never call, I never write. But I do think about you, Internets! Like the song says, you were always on my mind. Ok, maybe not always but a lot of the time. Or at least some of the time. My point is that thoughts were had.

The truth is that I am in a busy period with a bunch of half-written megaposts about Wordstock, growing up with gurus, movies, books, gratitude - all sorts of things. Somehow I am just not in a finishing kind of place at this time. So, for the moment I will wish anyone who is reading a very happy Thanksgiving and the hope that you are able to spend the holiday with people you love.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The No Good Very Bad Day

Do you ever feel like an unwilling rider on a carousel spinning so quickly it threatens to throw you clear out of an amusement park that has long ceased to be all that amusing? That was pretty much my Friday in a nutshell. From morning until night nothing went as planned. My quest to leave work at noon? Aborted until 3:30 p.m. due to extreme nonsense that kept me hostage for over three hours. The job interview/escape attempt that I had looked forward to all week? Cancelled by me when I came to my senses and realized that the recruiter was not going to make good on promises he had made in order to get me to interview for the position. Needless to say, by the time the end of my work day finally rolled around, I was more than ready to go home. And that is where my adventures with the Curse of Hootie McBoobity began.

In a desperate attempt to shake off an increasingly bad mood, I decided to treat myself to some new underthings. So, instead of going straight home, stores were visited - stores that carry women sizes. And this is where my annoyance comes in: I don't want my unmentionables so frilly that they look like I'm auditioning for the lead in "Little Bo Peep: The Musical", but...

Dear Avenue,

Is it so very difficult to make a feminine bra with matching panties that comes in less than a DDD cup? Why do you assume that all 14+ sized women have gigantor boobs that could smother a small village in the vast crevace of their cleavage?

Love,
Martina

P.s. Even though I do occasionally shop with you, I totally do not feel bad anymore about calling you "Fat Ass Alley" behind your back!

And while we are talking, Lane Bryant stop laughing. You are not getting out of this without a stern lecture. You too have some explaining to do! What is up with those bras that look like two football helmets strung together by a wide band of elastic? When I look at them, I am not sure if I should use them as a brassiere or see if I can find a friend who wants to go halfsies with me, so we can buy one and divide it into matching (albeit really ugly) hats. They're kinda cloche-like, which would be pleasingly retro, except for the fact that I have a pinhead that would get lost in the extreme, bulbous headroom. And I still wouldn't have a new bra.

Beyond the difficulty of finding something I actually liked, however, the crucial lesson in my experience is not about cleavage or even headgear, but rather about the dubious wisdom of woman who is already displeased about her zafticity shopping for something that involves being half-naked in the harsh light of a retail fitting room on a day when stress has already threatened to make her cry not once but multiple times. I'm telling you, the two just don't mix! They lead to sad benders involving the consumption of a whole bottle of cheap wine when you realize that the magnificently big wine goblets you got for Christmas actually hold a full half bottle and that you can drink the whole thing and still honestly tell people who ask you about it later that you only had a modest two glasses. And that, my friends, is just sad.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Celebration Amnesia

For as long as I have been aware of its existence, I have wanted to go to the Dia de los Muertos celebration at Maryhill Museum of Art (conveniently located 100 miles east of Portland on Hwy 14, if you ever get a chance to visit). Every year it's the same thing: I plan to go, then fate (or my own confusion) intervenes and I do not. This year was no exception, for this was the week that dates went all twilight zone on me.


It all started with my friend MQ's birthday. You'd think that knowing that it fell on Friday would be all it would take for successful planning, but that's because you, my friends, are not crazy. In my head, the thoughts went something more like: "MQ's birthday is coming up on the 26th, I need to buy presents! I'm so glad that I have until next Friday (the 2nd) to buy them. Man, am I lucky! That's even a payday!" And, thus, Friday the 26th came and I was presentless! Thankfully, MQ is gracious and accepted an orchid as downpayment on her birthday gifts, which she will receive sometime after my mind has been located.


Despite my faux pas, a good time was had by all. We had a really lovely dinner of chicken curry followed by the best ever chocolate cake with lemon frosting (so good!) and a trip to the theater to see The Nightmare Before Christmas' re-re-release in 3-D. As always, it was a fun movie. The 3-D was kind of mixed with some parts being more impressive than others, but I did love the jack-o-lantern part in the beginning (it made me jump!), so it was all worth it. Plus, Danny Elfman really does have a lovely voice. Who'd have thought the guy from Oingo Boingo would go on to be such a great composer? (For a sample, go to his website where you can hear Serenada Schizophrana.) But my point here is not that Jack Skellington has a great voice (even though he does), it's that you can be a total nimrod AND have fun at a birthday party you almost forgot.


Now you'd think I would have learned from the MQ incident, wouldn't you? Instead, I ended up repeating the same mistake on Sunday. For months, I have been looking forward to it finally being the year I get my shit together and go to Maryhill. Instead I woke up Sunday morning thinking "It is so good that Maryhill's Dia de los Muertos is next week, because that way I can go there AND attend the vote on whether Bridgeport will become an official part of the New Sanctuary Movement, even though I know they are both taking place on the same day.") Much to my surprise (I really should have more faith in people), despite the lack of even a single Calaca, it did. So, the dead will just have to wait another year.




Sunday, October 21, 2007

I heart food: The Arab Table

In my youth, most of the adults around me knew their way around a kitchen. My oma, my mother, my father - all great cooks. My father, in particular, had a discriminating palate. He was one of those people who, once he got a taste of something he liked, could go home and recreate (then often improve upon it) in our little kitchen. It's something I've always admired. Unfortunately, though my skills have grown over the years, I don't think I inherited the Powellhurst superpalate. In its place, however, I am a much more adventurous cook than my father ever was. I love perusing cookbooks and trying new things, especially if they are unusual.

The first cookbook I ever bought (with the exception of a honey heavy Winnie the Pooh cookbook in grade school) was Maideh Mazda's In a Persian Kitchen. I remember my father asking me as I searched across town for Middle Eastern markets at which to procure exotic sounding spices, pomegranate syrup and grape leaves (back during the great grape leaf famine of days of yore, it was more difficult to find them than it is now), if I couldn't just learn to cook something "normal". But that would have taken the adventure out if it! Half the fun is seeing how things will turn out. It's like a culinary grab bag. Sometimes you get oyster gack, sometimes you get a taste of heaven.

Unfortunately, work makes it difficult to be motivated to do a lot of cooking during the week, but once a week on the weekends seems a reasonable goal as I try to get back into my abandoned habit of cooking something special once in a while. My first project has been to explore May Bsisu's gorgeous book, The Arab Table. The pictures alone make the book worthwhile, but she makes it even more captivating by adding little cultural tidbits to the intros of each recipe. So far I've tried her recipe for Monazallet bi aswad (eggplant with ground beef, which I sadly have to admit I did not love) and a slightly modified version of her recipe for Lebanese Meat Pies (which I really did love and plan to eat again and as often as possible!).

These delicious, savory pastries were filled with a blend of ground beef, onions, tomatoes, pomegranate syrup, pine nuts and lovely autumn colored spices. My modifications consisted mostly of food processing the onions with the spices rather than chopping them and of accidentally adding a whole tablespoon of allspice rather than a teaspoon. Basically I'm inept and lazy. But you know what? It was all good anyway! The major difference between my version and hers, however, was that I am too lazy (have I mentioned that I'm lazy?) to make my own dough and opted to instead use phyllo dough sheets from the freezer section of the my grocery store. I was a little nervous at first. My phyllo dough experience centers mostly around stuffing my piehole with baklava, so I basically had no idea what I was doing. Somehow my first experience turned out to be phyllotastic anyway!

I'm not sure what the real recipe tastes like (I suspect the dough is heavier), but the combination of the thin layers of pastry brushed with olive oil was lovely with the filling, so I think it unlikely that I will do anything different when I make these again (other than possibly add raisins and tweak the baking time a little - it took a bit for me to figure out what the perfect amount was to evenly brown the pastry, as you can see from the early tries in the pic). We ate them accompanied by a salad of greens, dried cranberries, candied pecans, gorgonzola with raspberry vinagrette and a glass of riesling. Not very Middle Eastern, but still a delicious combination that complimented the pastries, which I think will inevitably make their way into dinner party rotation at some point in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, I have trying Bsisu's recipes for Semolina Pistachio Layer Cake, Shrimp with Garlic and Cilantro and Sweet Rice to keep me busy for a while!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Martina?

Just look at my new dress! Isn't it cute? Doesn't it scream gogo dancing nun? I have decided to cast off my gacktackular sick girl wardrobe and go back to dressing like a human, if that human wore a really short nun's habit and gogo boots, that is! It is all part of my plan to convince myself that I am no longer sick. It has been a week now, which I think is plenty! I am over it. I want to LIVE!

On the up side, being sick has resulted in some weight loss, which makes me happy. Imagine how thrilled I'd be if I'd had a tapeworm instead of the flu! (Not really, because tapeworms - worms of any sort, really - are gross. Also, I suspect they're not the healthiest way to lose weight, but what do I know? I'm not a doctor.)

Anyway, I am trying to be well, so I can go hear Crazy Aunt Purl talk at Powell's tomorrow night after work. Not having been anywhere but work, bed and cough drop runs since I went to see Cabaret, I am getting a little stir crazy. Thankfully, I can feel the healing power of my new dress already. Now if I only had that pair of gogo boots...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Phlegmbots!

For the past few days, life at my house has been like a reality show for the new Phlegm Network. I would wonder if I were being smitten for breaking the sixth commandment of the lost book of Edsel as recorded by Henry Ford: "While a quick celebratory butt dance in the seat of Thine vehicle is ok, Thou shalt not boast of thine free parking karma, for it is displeasing unto the High Priestess of Temple of SmartPark", but I am not superstitious that way. Besides, I firmly believe it was the two year old next door who infected me with his cooties via his babysitter. My mom (who happens to be his babysitter) has it too, but was infected earlier, which allows for a delightful daily preview of where the phlegm will go next.

So far we are on day five of Phlegmwatch 2007. I don't mean to be a bad sport about the whole being sick thing, but, frankly, I am ready for it to just be over. I was able to stay home from work on Wednesday, but due to 50% of my coworkers either being on vacation, quitting or having gall bladder surgery, my office is not exactly well staffed at the moment. So, I worked Thursday and Friday and have spent most of the weekend in bed or on the couch sleeping or reading. So far I have had some really weird house dreams (thanks, Nyquil!), read Harry Potter and the Deathly Phlegmball (oops, I meant to type Hallows), and watched a lot of movies on German Kino Plus (including my old favorite Monpti with Romy Schneider), none of which make for tales of exciting weekend adventures. My hope had been that with some rest my crud would have crept away by now, but here I still am coughing, addicted to Ricola, not at all looking forward to getting up in the morning, and hoping I will be transformed into a picture of health via a magical moonlight recovery while I sleep.

But before I go, I must share with you a catalogue picture of our new dining set which was delivered today. Isn't it pretty? It makes me want to not have a cold, so I can cook and invite people over for fabulous dinners of not Robitussin and chicken soup!






Sunday, October 07, 2007

My Calling

It is with great pleasure that I announce that after over thirty years on this earth, I have finally realized what my true calling! After seeing Chicago, Spamalot, and Cabaret over the past few months, I realize that God wants me to devote my life to theater-going. That is why I have been given a sign via the holy gift of incredible parking karma! Let us take an inventory of my recent parking history:

Chicago: If my parking spot had been any closer to the door, it would have been in the lobby.

Spamalot: Ample parking and not even a block away.

And the crowning glory of my parking karma - Cabaret: Not only was my awe inspiring Matrix holder only a half a block away, but it was directly in front of a paid parking lot! I even used their entry way to turn around, so I could back into it. Take that, SmartPark! (Well, actually, I don't think it really was a SmartPark, but "Take that, SmartPark!" sounds far superior to "Take that, parking lot of indeterminate ownership!"

Dramatic license aside, the above examples illustrate more than adequately that the universe is indeed conspiring to encourage my regular participation as a member of the musical theater going public! Test results are still out on whether my celestial mandate extends to regular theater too, but I have a gut feeling that it does. I will be sure to report as I collect more evidence to support my theory.

Meanwhile, can I just tell you how fabulous the Portland Center Stage production of Cabaret is? So much better than Broadway Across America's offering ofChicago, starring Lisa Rinna and Luke Duke. Now I'm not one for violence, but I am convinced that in a Murderous Jazz Baby/Whoring Cabaretist Smackdown, Storm Large would kick Lisa Rinna's ass, then wipe up the floor with those big lips of hers! If I wasn't the biggest Storm Large fan when she was on Rockstar, I am totally converted now. The girl has a great voice (and that is even measured against my all-time favorite Ute Lemper performance of Mein Lieber Herr, which is still my favorite, but got a good run for it's money last night).

And Wade McCollum! How can anyone not love him? He has done such great work in Portland Musical theater - Hedwig, Batboy (I heart batboy, in case I've never mentioned it before!), and now as the Emcee in Cabaret. After Alan Cumming's take on the role, it seems like it would be difficult not to allow a new performance to become too derivative, but McCollum's version had it's own character. The Emcee is probably my favorite character in the play, because it is through him that we see what is "real". He is the one in charge of the curtain, deciding whether the undercurrents of Nazism and denial remain relegated to the shadows or brought out into the light. Through him, we see how thin the walls are between the decadence of the cabaret and the real world. Life at that time really wasn't beautiful. Plus, the whole theme of denial just has so many parallels to what the people of this country have allowed the Bush administration to do to our foreign policy in the wake of 9/11 that it's also a topical offering.

One of the things that I love about Cabaret is that, unlike like other musicals that create this world of beautiful mornings and corn as high as an elephant's eye, Cabaret is gritty. In the US, people think of cabaret as nude dancing (German - at least since the 50's - actually makes a distinction between Cabaret and Kabarett, which more about political and social satire), but the cabaret of the Weimar Republic was quite different. Certainly, some of the performances were racy, but it was also an environment that merged the creative and the political. A big part of cabaret was satire and that satire was often targeted at political and social norms. It was also one of the reasons that cabarets were targeted by the Nationalsozialisten, who wanted to replace the "negative" satire of the Weimar era with a more "positive" modern verison.

Suffice it to say that the real world of Berlin cabaret was more than just nude girls shaking their money makers. It's development incorporated a lot of influences. To really look at the history of cabaret, while nude dancing is an undeniable part, you have to look at the influences of theater, vaudeville, music, popular culture of the time. Peter Jelavich did a great study of cabaret in Berlin in the earlier part of the 20th century in his book Berlin Cabaret.

Meanwhile, if you want some impetus to read it (or even if you don't), I can highly recommend going to see Portland Center Stage's production. One of the great things about Cabaret is that despite being a musical, it has some really chilling moments. I think that is one of the things that makes the play so enduring. The grit lends it a realness that keeps it from becoming kitschy and dated in the way that a lot of other musicals of its time have. (Not that there's not something utterly charming about kitschy and dated, but you know what I mean.)

I've always thought that the use of the use of the typical sounding German Volkslied in the composition of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" was brilliant - chilling, but brilliant. The melody reminds me so much of the sorts of songs I grew up with. And the play has so many great touches - like the use of Brechtian techniques like breaking the fourth wall (Brecht did not write for the cabaret, but his work has some overlap), which would have been avant garde at the time in which the play is set.

More than that, though, the play evokes real emotion. There is a sad and enduring sweetness in the secondary plot line concerning the ill fated love story of Fraeulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. Even though it is not the main focus of the script, the Schneider-Schultz romance is poignant in a way that is lacking in the decadence of the main storyline. And the use of a recording of Hitler speaking to a cheering crowd at the house lights faded to black really did send a chill down my spine.

So, my point is, even if you don't have my parking karma (not everyone can...), it's well worth the price of a ticket to go see the show. Meanwhile, I'll be scanning the theater section of the paper to see where I can further enjoy my newly found spiritual gift of awesome parking.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Hi ho hi ho

Have you ever had a really nice week off, then Monday rolled around and it was time to go to work and you really did not want to go? Me neither, but in case you have, here is a Monday morning pep talk list of reasons why it's really not so bad (right?):

1. Working for the man allows you to buy fabulous new shoes (just look at it up there - is it not adorable?)
2. It's only five days until the weekend.
3. Less chance of crazypants coworker looting your desk in search of red stapler when you are sitting at it.
4. It is now October, which means that you will soon be able to decorate the front porch with Halloween bat lights (that one really doesn't have so much to do with work, but I really do love Halloween and am excited about my bats).
5. Because you've hoarded most of your time off until the end of the year, there are only 32 days until your next vacation day AND after that you have a week off in both November and December.
6. It's only a 7.5 hour work day and there will be plenty of interesting things to do after it is over!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Emitte lucem tuam, et veritatem tuam


A few nights ago, I wept as I sat on a bench outside watching the moonlight dance across Alsea Bay, sparkling through the darkness as the loons cried with me from across the water. I wept for Christophe. I wept for my own foolishness, for things I have lost, for things I’ve never had. I wept for my fear. I wept for my insecurities about myself and my body. And when I was done, I decided it was time say goodbye to those things with a little ritual the following night.

So, the next evening I took a little red candle out of my bag and went outside around the same time. Again, the waves were lit by what looked like thousands of fireflies. Again, I was alone (except for my faithful companion, Toby). This time, however, I did not cry. Instead, reflected on the loveliness of the day I’d just spent and all of the loveliness in my life as I listened to the sound of waves lapping against the shore. Once my mind had quieted, I closed my eyes and meditated, holding the unlit candle in my hands. I sat there for a long time, until finally peace enveloped me. Then, I opened my eyes, looked up into the moon’s full, shining face as released my sorrows and whispered a little prayer to the Goddess for my hopes and dreams. I ended with a softly sung offering of Ubi caritas, then went back inside to light my candle and put it in the window where I let it burn down under the watchful gaze of a benevolent moon.

Since then, I have felt peaceful, hopeful and at the same time recharged and ready for more life. Before leaving home, I was a little worried that it might feel weird to go away alone, but it turned out that sometimes solitude is just what a person needs. It recharges our batteries and reminds us of who we truly are in those moments when we are free to just be ourselves.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Gone ridin'

Tomorrow is the first work day of my vacation from work, so I am off to the beach for a bit of rest, relaxation and reflection. I am trying something new and taking a trip on my own except for Toby, who is at this moment slightly miffed at me because I subjected him to the indignation of a pre-trip bath. Apparently he feels happiest in a liberal coating of dirt and other assorted canine funk that is probably best not examined too closely. I have full confidence that he will have forgiven me by morning, though.

I have never really played the role of lonely wanderer before, but I'm relishing the idea of having some time to myself and doing whatever the hell I want for a couple of days and looking forward to doing it in a room with a view of the water. Hopefully, that will translate into a bit of writing and lots of picture taking during long walks on the beach.

I'm feeling a little guilty about going (do not ask me why - I have a job, I didn't steal the money to pay for the trip and I certainly feel no pangs about leaving my job unattended for a few days), but I think that will all wear off as soon as we hit the road.

More like a Czardas


Recently a friend recommended to me that I read Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz. Although Miller is a local author, it is probably not the sort of book I would have discovered without a nudge. The book touts itself as exploring "non-religious thoughts on Christianity", which sounded interesting - much more so than religious thoughts on Christianity (or anything else). Never a fundamentalist in the best of times, these days find me feeling decidedly non-religious and wanting to avoid anything that smells churchy at all costs.

There are a lot of things about Miller's background that bring out my prejudices about evangelical Christianity. I like to think of myself as pretty open-minded, so it is probably an ironic failing of mine (along with many other progressives) that I am too prone to rejecting interaction with the WWJD crowd without much thought to whether there might be more to them than narrow-mindedness and obnoxious evangelism. That is not to say that Miller is closed-minded. While I don't necessarily agree with every mark of ink that spills forth from his pen, his open mindedness and honesty in dealing with his beliefs (and even his doubts) were endearing and somehow drew me in. Not exactly what I expected from a book on Christian thought that was recommended to me by a friend who attends a slick megachurch in the Southwest.

The book is a collection of essays covering subjects like faith, grace, belief, love, and even money. Miller has a nice, conversational writing style that lends poignancy to even some of the non-overtly theological discussions. For example, when he writes about wanting to be known he taps into a fear that I suspect we all have to some extent - that if people really knew us, knew us as we are when we're truly ourselves, they might not want to know us anymore. I know that I felt a moment of self-recognition as I read about how he could never marry someone unless she knew him as he was when he was alone with himself, and how that would probably just scare her off.

A lot of the book also centers around experiences that grew out of the author's auditing of classes at Reed College. If you are not familiar with Reed, it has a rebellious reputation for liberalism and experimentation. Academically, it has a lively environment, but not exactly one that would be branded as a pious, non-hotbead of sin by those inclined to more conservative world views. More likely they would view it as a holding zone for people who are bound to fry and fritter in hell when all is said and done. And in the words of the great Amos Starkadder: "There will be no butter in hell." One of my favorite essays in the book is the one in which Miller talks about setting up a confession booth on campus at Reed. The twist? It was not so much set up as a confessional for fornicating hippies, but for Christian students to confess the sins that they and their religion had perpetrated.

Reading Miller's book made me think a lot about my own relationship to spirituality. It is a strange evolution I've gone through since starting to go to church a couple of years ago. The church I go to (if you can say that about a place you haven't been in four months) is a progressive one. This is good, because I don't think I could stand any other kind. The pastor and about 80% of the congregation are gay. Sometimes it feels like it's just me, my mom, a couple gay guys and the lesbians. But that is okay. These people are my friends. They're great people. It also helps that I don't go to church to find a date.

The important thing is not orientation, but that there is a lot of kindness, a lot of laughter, and a lot of tolerance. It is a place where you truly can just be who you are. When you really think about it, there are very few places like that in this world. Still, when we first started going, I often found myself sitting in the pew feeling like a hypocrite. I figured everyone else there had it all together and that I was the only heathen with a head full of questions and resistance. You see, I don't know that I really believe in everything The Bible says and I've always had some major problems with organized religion and its history.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in the big "be good to each other stuff". I believe in peace. Being a little on my meek side myself, I'd like to believe that my people will inherit the earth even if I'm not sure with what the rest of humanity is doing to it that it's going to be worth much by the time it emerges from probate. I believe in helping the beleaguered and the downtrodden. In fact, I believe that churches sometimes "prayerfully consider" things to the point of inaction, especially when deep down we know which things are the right ones to do.

If someone gets hit by a car, you don't stop and pray about whether God wants you to call 911, then wait for the Cosmos to send you a unicorn prancing under a rainbow in the shadow of a dove to the soundtrack of an angelic "Aaaaah" before moving into action. You get help and you do what you can to make the person comfortable until it arrives. Yet, I often have the feeling that we lend too much dallying about God's will to issues that should be pretty clear. It really shouldn't be that difficult.

Slogans like WWJD give me hives, but I think that if a group is modelling behaviors on his philosophies, it's pretty clear that what Jesus would do is help those in need and exercise things like tolerance and forgiveness. The thing is that it's not only Jesus who teaches these things. I could have all of them affirmed for me by Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and any number of different non-Christian teachers and philosophies. Sure, I can feel God singing in a choir in church. I can also feel the Goddess while standing around a fire with a group of pagans on a cool Beltaine night and it is no less authentic an experience. That is part of why I don't really buy into a cosmology that dictates that Christianity is the only true path to God.

Really, I think I could make a pretty good Unitarian. By not proclaiming myself to favor any one path, maybe I could shake the nagging feeling of intellectual dishonesty that churches always give me. I find it really difficult to call myself a Christian, because I don't know that I am one. Can I really be one, if I believe only in the overarching message of Jesus' teachings, but not in the details? I do not believe that I can be intellectually honest and call myself a Christian while also saying "Christians believe X, Y and Z. I accept X, but Y and Z are crap"? What's worse is that I really do believe some of the Y's and Z'a that are commonly believed in mainline Christian churches are crap. While I get that Jesus was progressive in his social views, I don't, for example, believe that part of Corinthians that says wives should be subject to their husbands, because the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church. I also don't believe in slavery or that God sent a great flood to punish humanity and I certainly don't believe in modern crackpot interpretations that blame disasters like 9/11 or hurricaine Katrina on God's displeasure with gays or liberals or anyone else.

Now, I know that the Bible is a product of various time periods and various writers (not to mention various translators, councils, etc.) and that a lot of what is taught and accepted as the "Word of God" is really just the word of whoever happens to be teaching at the moment. I know that there are schools of thought that are very literal in Biblical interpretation and others that see it all as more symbolic in nature. It is a tough question with which I've always struggled when it comes to churches and faith.

As human beings, we are all too eager to focus in on those parts of a philosophy that feel comfortable and cast aside those that don't fit our desires. But deciding that I can ignore those parts I don't like as unimportant or not being meant to be taken literally is problematic for me if I'm going to call myself a follower of that faith. To me that's akin to proclaiming myself a Doctor, even though I don't technically make an effort to heal anyone but do wear a white coat and carry a stethoscope.

When I took the Companions in Christ (that title still fills me with maximum ooginess, by the way) class that I participated in last year, I used to get really pissed off at the parts of the textbook that judged me as an "immature Christian" for what I see as open mindedness. Thinking back, I'm not sure why it irritated me to be called an immature Christian, when I am not even so sure that I am a Christian at all. I'm coming more and more to accept that I'm just a pluralist who believes that even if there is just one mountain of indeterminate nature, there are many paths to its apex. The truth is that this is what I have always believed and it's not because I'm flighty or unable to commit. It's because I see existence as nuanced and have to believe that whatever God is s/he meets us where we are and with whatever philosophy is most going to speak to us as a member of our respective cultures. Sometimes that philosophy is Christianity, sometimes it is Paganism or Islam or Hinduism or Judaism or Buddhism or even some other kind of Undefinedism.

In his book Miller writes "I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. . . . I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened." For me, spirituality feels more like a czardas - flirty, occasionally atonal, and moving in cycles that explode from a barely there tempo into a fast moving cacophony of multi-layered sound. I don't think that's a bad thing, because deep in my heart I have to believe that whatever the Godhead is, it cares more that we live decent, good, kind lives than what we call ourselves. And that's why it's totally okay for Miller to be blue like jazz, me to be puce like a czardas and you to be green like Yanni or sparkly disco gold like Abba. In the end it is all Music.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Born to Be Wild

Sunday marked our triumphant return to the Sunnyside emergency room after a long hiatus brought on by accident free living. It is always my mother who has to go. Over the years she has succumbed to toxic spider bites, falling stoves (don't ask) and cauliflower carving mishaps. This time it was a cat bite. Cat bites have, by the way, a very high risk of infection due to some especially evil variety of bacteria found in feline saliva. It is standard to treat them with antibiotics, because they almost always become infected. That is apparently the thanks you get for rescuing little black stray kittens from irresponsible owners who allow their children to take them on the roof to play catch with them.

Of course, Rudiger is no longer a scrawny stray, but a big, beefy black cat. He is the sweetest thing in the world until he becomes a biter when cornered or scared. This time (sadly, he has another incident in his past when a vet probed him in a way that was apparently no bueno), things went South when he escaped from the house Sunday morning. I didn't see it all happen, but as far as I am able to reconstruct, something in the neighbor's yard scared Ruddy. He came barreling over the fence, flying at the dogs. This in turn scared Baxter and Ruby (Toby is too mellow become involved in such shenanigans), who developed some strange form of Rudiger amnesia and immediately lost their furry little minds as they cornered him in a pretty aggressive manner. They didn't hurt him, but they weren't exactly playing either. I didn't really see until the ruckus started. My mom reached in to separate them and got bitten by the cat.

I tease my mother about a lot of things, but one of them is that she should have her own office at Kaiser Sunnyside by now. She seems to clock more hours in the ER than much of the medical staff. This time we were there for almost three hours before they finished examining her hand, had administered an antibiotic IV drip and sent her on her way. I, myself, have only been in the hospital as a visitor, reading patiently in the waiting area while she gets stitches, IV drips and surgery. If I've learned one thing from chauffeuring people to the hospital, it is this: ALWAYS have a book. You never know how long things are going to take.

Unlike the medical visit, the events that lead to the biting all happened so fast. It was the strangest thing. Rudiger and Baxter do have a kind of love-hate relationship sometimes, but they sleep together, eat together, play, etc. and Ruby has never been aggressive in her life. They are all best friends again now, like nothing happened, so I can only think that everyone was just startled, causing some base response kicked in. Anyway, everyone is okay now. Animals are calm and my mom had her last IV drip yesterday, so hopefully we have at least another year before the next urgent care visit!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Tangled Web

So, it's been a while, hasn't it? My attention span for blogging seems relatively low these days, which does not exactly make for long, entertaining posts (or posts of any kind, really). It's not that I don't think of things to write or even that things aren't going well. It's just that between being busy and a renewed fixation on personal journaling, not much seems to make it here.

Do you ever go through periods of extreme pensiveness, where your mind has knitted itself so tightly together that your thoughts become entangled like a knotted ball of string? Well, let me tell you that when it does, it makes it difficult to express what you think at all let alone do so in any kind of sensible way. That's where personal journals are great. They don't have to make sense. They don't need to be expurgated and they can ramble on and on, drifting here and there until your thoughts have become completely unravelled.

Anyway, there actually are some things that I have to share before they become irrelevant, so hopefully my fingers will catch up with my fit for public consumption thoughts in the next few days.

P.s. I wrote a poem and for the first time ever, I think it might actually be kinda good. Go me!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How can it be that Labor Day weekend is only a few days away? How can it be almost September? This summer has gone too quickly. Frankly, I wasted a lot of it. I don't suppose I could have a do-over, could I? At least I have a week off at the end of September. Hopefully the weather will still be nice enough for some sunny autumnal road tripping!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gordo's Great Adventure

About a month ago my little two year old neighbor, Antonio, pushed his stroller-bike over to the fence and climbed his way to freedom. Lured over by the prospect of playing ball with Toby and Ruby, he came for the dogs, but stayed for the Otter Pops. Since that time, he has come over for a few visits. Sometimes he brings his mom along, but a lot of the time he just mills around near the fence that separates our yards, hoping that someone will reach over and pick him up. Thankfully, he has caught on that he can just ask to come over rather than furtively stealing away from his mother. This goes a long way in alleviating my fears of being arrested for kidnapping when the amber alert goes out or, even worse, coming home to find his lifeless form sprawled on the patio, because he fell during an escape attempt and bounced his little head on the concrete. Yes, this new arrangement is far preferable.


While I think the impetus for the original visit was simply to play ball with the dogs, the visits have now developed a bit of a routine. First, he and Ruby enjoy a game of fetch. When that is done, he heads for the back door, ushers everyone inside, then heads straight for the kitchen to cool off with an otter pop. If we don't have otter pops, he roots around for another suitable snack, then takes it outside to sit at the table on the deck. There he plays with the cat treat jar, which plays truly obnoxious recordings of "What's New Pussycat" and "Stray Cat Strut" when you open the lid. "What's New Pussycat", especially, results in the boy engaging in copious butt dancing in his chair. It is such a simple thing, but due to the level of joy with which it is infused, it becomes really entertaining to watch. Not only that, but it's infectious.


The truth is that my little friend is fun to have around, because he is so happy. It takes so little to make him laugh. The right song, the right color popsicle and his face breaks into a broad grin. It's difficult to be in a bad mood around someone with such a zest for life. He reminds me of all the important things we forget as we grow up:

- If something makes him happy, he doesn't worry about being a dork. He just smiles for all the world to see.

- If a song so inspires him, he gets down with his bad self, shaking his groove thing with wild abandon.

- When he wants something, he says so, because his hope is unsquelchable.

- If he wants to do something, he does it without bothering to worry about whether he's doing it "right", because he is too busy enjoying himself.

-When he doesn't like something, he says so.

- He expresses himself, but bears no grudges.

- And most important of all, when he loves someone, he doesn't worry about how they will respond, he just loves thems.

When I look at him, I think of all the things I have spent my life studying, learning, reading and experiencing in the hope of finding some purpose to life. And here is this little sage who didn't even exist three years ago and he seems to have all the big, important stuff down. What a crazy existence it is that the older we get, the further we seem to get from each other; ourselves.

Since I was cut from the reedbed, I have made this crying sound.
Anyone apart from someone he loves understands what I say.
Anyone pulled from a source longs to go back.

-Rumi (via Coleman Barks)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

What I did on my summer vacation

My little vacation from the internet has done me good. It allowed me time to reach some conclusions:

1. Although I always thought the bumper stickers were kinda stupid, mean people do indeed suck (as do dishonest people).

2. The asshatery of others is a reflection on them, not me.

3. It is better to go through life with an open heart that operates from the premise that people are good and get hurt from time to time than it is to go through life with a shrivelled, black walnut of a heart that trusts no one.

4. Life can have a strange sense of timing - personal relationships can be craptacular at the same time as business relationships bear unexpected promotions and raises.

5. Even if one thing isn't going so well, you have to at least try to enjoy and appreciate the dozens of other things, people, and relationships that ARE good.

6. A little moping is okay, but after a certain point, it serves no purpose and only hurts the moper.

7. Helping someone else is among the better ways to forget your cares.

8. Change does not have to be a negative thing - in fact, it can be quite good.*

And with that the Greater Powellhurst Area Mopery is closed for the season.*

*I'll have to let you know how those last bits pan out, but I am pretty sure I'm right.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Backslide

Ironically, within an hour or two of my last post trying to find the good in the day, I had an interaction that confused some already jumbled feelings. I'm having a hard time and it seems like all of the posts I start turn a little too revealing, so I am taking a little vacation. This way I can work things out in the privacy of my mind rather than using long, rambling posts that will interest no one but me. This way you can still wonder if I'm crazy rather than having it incontrovertibly confirmed for you. This way everybody wins. Sorta.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Things That Made Today Good

1. Sam Cooke
2. Neighbor-manicurists who make house calls
3. Knowing I have a hair appointment tomorrow
4. Fresh tomatoes
5. Baxter
6. Completion of big, heinous work project
7. Approval to leave work early (with pay!) on Friday as a thank you for completing big, heinous work project
8. Free pizza for lunch
9. Allergy eye drops
10. My two year old friend Antonio, who is the cutest boy EVER
11. Rilke's Duineser Elegien
12. The sun
13. It's only two days until the weekend!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Geburtstag

Today is my mom's birthday. As I sit outside listening to the crickets and watching the sun set, I have to think that I got pretty lucky in the mom department. Sure, we have our moments when we bicker, but we have way more where we laugh. Frankly, I can't think of anyone I know who has as much fun with her mother as I do with mine. We even have a secret handshake involving rude gestures. Can you say that about your mom? I thought not! We have always been close, but as I've grown up, she really has become my best friend. I can't think of anyone I even come close to trusting as much as I do her.

So, in honor of her birthday, we have spent the weekend together doing whatever she wanted to do. Whatever she wanted to do included, but was not limited to attending/helping with a shower for some of the women affected by last month's ICE raids (more about that later!), watching Hitchcock movies (Suspicion, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), visiting Saturday market, strolling around NW Portland, going shopping, going to the movies, and enjoying a lovely homemade birthday dinner together.

Because she didn't want anyone to make a big deal of it, we kept it quiet this year. Beyond a few old friends who already had it on their calendars, almost no one even knew it was her birthday. We still made a really nice weekend of it. Her special birthday dinner featured roast duck with an apple and rum-raisin dressing, red cabbage, new potatoes, and a wine sauce. It is the first time we ever made duck at home (even though she grew up eating it), but it came out really well. The only thing I would changed is the gravy, which tasted a little too strongly of wine for my taste. I'm not sure if it was the amount of wine the recipe called for or just the type of wine we ended up using, but next time we'll have to tweak that element. Anyway, it wasn't at all bad, just a little too wine prominent and the rest was so good that a little too much wine is easily overlooked.

And now in the time I've been writing this it has gotten dark. The neighbors have come by to give my mom a birthday present (despite all her hiding, they felt the need to make a big deal of it after all). So, I had better go, but I go feeling pretty fortunate for the family I have and for the great friends we have as well. They are a far cry from our old neighbors. It's good to be me and it's good to think that maybe just a fraction of the awesomeness that runs through my mom's veins might have made it into mine too. She is a lot like her mom was, so maybe a little of it was passed on to me as well. She's pretty incredible and I am so lucky to have her.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Must we REALLY?

Friends, neighbors, countrymen, lend me your ears. I am here to talk to you today about a scourge whose proliferation threatens to ruin our reputation as arbitors of culture and taste among the three people in a remote area on the other side of the world who haven't heard about how we were the ones responsible for McDonald's, WWF wrestling, Cheez Whiz, Wonder Bread, Rob Schneider, and the Bush administration. I think we all know which scourge I'm talking about - the phrase "git r' done".

It wasn't so bad when it was still just on t.v., but this morning, when I turned on the radio, it was playing a sound bite from some Senator or talking head whose commentary on an upcoming vote included a reference to the "great philospher-poet, Larry the Cable Guy" and the exhortation that Congress just "git r' done". Even worse, the saying has infiltrated my workspace. If there's one thing women in their mid-30's should not be running around saying in a constipated tone (because there are so many things the rightfully could be saying in constipated tones!), it's "git r' done".

For the most part, the people I work with are nice as far as co-workers go. Where things don't gel so well is in my lone non-love of Larry the Cable Guy, who is quickly becoming my secret hillbilly nemesis (not to be confused with my celebrity nemesis, who is, as we all know, Oprah Winfrey. She knows what she did!). But back to Larry.

I get that Larry the Cable Guy is a parody of a stupid hillbilly and that there is an element of irony in the character, but seriously, "git r' done" is (and I can't stress this enough) NOT FUNNY. It never was funny. It never will be funny. NEVER. If all the funny fell out of the world leaving no basis for comparison, it still would not be funny. People repeating it ad nauseum does not make it less unfunny. It just makes it repeatedly unfunny. I'm serious people. I would not jerk you around on this. Read my lips: not funny.

Just between you and me (because I may not be able to put this out after I'm confined to the asylum for "git r' done" inspired amock-running), if I hear one more person utter that insipid phrase at work, I will not be responsible for my actions. Despite my normally non-violent leanings, as God is my witness someone is going to get beaned and then stapled to her chair with a Swingline. I also cannot promise that I will not rent an old school van and a big stick, so I can hunt down said Cable Guy and bop him on the head. Don't worry, I don't really mean to injure, just stun. Then I can begin a regimen of deprogramming that begins with forcing him to eat brie and ends with the kind of good and sensible elocution that inspires people to address issues or even take care of things, but never, ever to "git r' done".

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Guess what!

Remember last week when I wrote my ranting (but later mostly deleted) post about how angry work makes me and how my response was to pick out the best looking job listing I could find and apply for it? Well, apparently sowing seeds really does bear fruit! I got a call back! By that time I had calmed down and was again proceeding through my work world at a pretty even keel. Because a friend claims that I sound like I have Stockholm syndrome when it comes to my boss and because the job is a great opportunity that meets my skill set and includes a lot of the things I want (non-profit, work downtown, progressive environment, environmental/social consciousness, mass transit friendly, etc.), I accepted their invitation to interview.


I am pretty proud of myself for going. It is probably the product of having been overworked, tired and just trying to stay afloat mode for the past few weeks, but I've been a bit less than impressed with myself lately. It is a strange experience to go to a job interview and sell yourself as a high end product when you are feeling kind of bargain basement. Hopefully, the repeated pre-interview listenings to "Razzle Dazzle 'Em" in the car did put me in the zone to show them how much of a first rate sorcerer I am, inducing them to like me enough to produce an offer. If nothing else, it put me in a good mood, making me laugh at the idea that large scale flim-flamming could be involved on my part. I'm not much of a bullshitter and I can honestly say without arrogance that I am qualified for the position. In the end, I think that it's going to come down to likability and personal connection.

So, I'll have to hope that my abilities speak for the themselves and that I was able to call forth the kind of winning personality that I am not feeling right now. I think it's just the feeling of tiredness, but I find myself retreating deeper into my already introvered nature these days. Hopefully, I was able to impart at least some charm. I can be charming, really!

Meanwhile, when I got to work I learned that things are a-changing and that there is a new title/possible accompanying pay raise in the works for me there (are they psychic? I didn't even take time off to interview - I went before work!). So, it's looking like either way I win. Apparently I am a winner even if I am too tired to notice!