Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Good Things Come to Those...

Originally uploaded by Martina.
Not only is spring (aka the grand flowering of the earth in celebration of my naissance) is less than two months away, but it would appear that my job is potentially changing for the better! For months I have been grappling with whether to just chuck it and find a new one or trust our new CEO's promises of a better work world. Because I've built up a really good vacation and benefits package in the 5 years I've been with the company (and, more importantly, because my schedule allows me to work on the non-professional things that are what's really important to me), it's not been the easiest decision.

It actually looks like the waiting may pay off. While I still have the same boss, she is taking on extra responsibilities which will mean more delegating and less hovering. Really, the hovering part has been better for the past month or so, which kind of makes me wonder if my newly adopted policy of kind frankness in dealing with her hasn't paid off as well.

Anyway, It looks like my job could evolve back into doing more of the research and evaluation types of things I enjoy and like there will be some opportunities for completely new work. This might not be my forever job and the some of the issues particular to my work environment still remain, but it's getting better. It's looking like this could become more stimulating for me at least for as long as I do choose to stay.

This may all change when my attitude has again eroded, but today, I am feeling hopeful.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Life and Times of Martinio Kröger

It would appear that I have embarked on a self-inflicted, Tonio Kröger phase. Wherever I go these past few days, I feel myself feeling mildly aloof, retreating from sociality role and into that of observer. The only difference is that while Thomas Mann is about the tension between the artist as observer and society, my tension is strictly between Martina the Introvert and her immediate community. Art has nothing to do with it.

If I'm going to be honest (and why not?), there are times when I find it exceedingly difficult to be social; times when interaction that should come naturally feels like an incredible amount of work. At those times, there is an odd comfort in stepping back and watching, even when the part of me that fears that I'm acting like a unabomberesque "she was always so quiet and also nice to dogs and children, we never expected anything like this" type rather than just having an introverted day.

It's not misanthropism or even that I am shunned, because everyone's heart is filled with hate at the sight of me. At worst I might evoke ambivalence in some people, but I'm hardly the girl everyone loves to hate. Really, my friends, family, and personal community are pretty tolerant of my shy girl phases. As a result, I get that when I become this way, it's all me. Sometimes, even when I feel like I should seek a role more active than playing the whacky, wide-eyed watcher in the corner, my more overwhelming urge is that of retreat. This was been unfortunate for Sunday's blogstravaganza installment, because this feeling of hyper-introversion left me not feeling like sharing anything of myself via writing for others' eyes and not caring that I didn't care that I didn't feel like posting.

So, what did I do with my weekend? Just the sort of introverted things you might expect. I took care of some necessities like grocery shopping and getting the car serviced, then I retreated to my cave and wrote a bit (but only for me), pondered the past, present and future, meditated, read. Then, when I was ready to come out of my cave (but not into society), I ordered Chinese food and watched movies.

As a result, I have a book recommendations to share:

If you've never read David Rakoff, I can highly recommend picking up his Don't Get Too Comfortable, a highly entertaining collection of essays that explores everything from citizenship and national identity to hooters air to high fashion to cryogenics. Like his friend, Sarah Vowell, Rakoff has delightful way with words. My favorite descriptive moment is the passage in which he describes Karl Lagerfeld's ass as a "large doughy rump dominating the miniature furniture [a tiny velvet chair] like a loose, flabby, ass-flavored muffin overrisen from his pan". (Let me add that in context the passage does not sound as quite as unwarranted as it does isolated here, but I'll leave it to you to read for yourself, if you're interested.) Rakoff is a great storyteller and definitely worth taking an afternoon to read.

Beyond reading, the weekend also included an accidental Paul Giamatti/3 Degrees of Toni Collette Film Festival, which featured Sideways (starring Paul Giamatti), The Lady in the Water (also, starring Paul Giamatti, directed by M. Night Shyamalan) and Little Miss Sunshine. (starring, among others, Toni Collette, who was in M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense). All in all, despite that the The Lady in the Water did not get great reviews (maybe I just liked it, because of my interest in fairy tales?), I have to admit to enjoying all three movies. I also have to admit that, while I really liked the movie for other reasons, I did not find Sideways to be (with the possible exception of the scene where Miles sneaks into the home of one of Jack's romantic conquests in order to steal his wallet back, only to be chased by angry naked guy) as "hilarious" as the DVD box promised. Then again, I come from a maternal lineage with an inexplicable affinity for Tim Conway's Dorf videos, and may just be genetically incapable of getting humor of a subtlety greater than Carol Burnett wearing a set of drapes (curtain rod included) as a dress.

And so it is that I have shared enough thoughts for one day. Now it's back to the cave...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Of Starry Nights and Music

The following thought's are brought to you courtesy of listening to the Bryan Ferry version of Goodnight Irene:

Many years ago, I brief had a crush on a boy we will (because it was his name) call Kai. Like me, Kai was not from Southern California. While my family was from the Northwest, he had grown up in Eastern Texas and his people were mostly from Louisiana.

We met on night at a party thrown by a friend's roommate, who was also a transplant to the area. The roommate had come to California for college and ended up staying, hoping to pursue a career as a musician. As a result, not only did said party include some really good, authentic Southern food (the best red beans and rice I have ever eaten!), but also some great, live music.

It was on that clear (and magically smog free), summer night that Kai asked me to dance to him. The song was a slow, Cajun waltz sung accompanied only by a fiddle and a guitar, and it was lovely. Dancing there under the stars enveloped by music, arms and a warm breeze on my skin, for a just a few moments life felt perfect. Things changed not so long after that, but even now thinking back on that moment, I can recall the warm contentment of just how intoxicatingly pleasant the simple things like stars, wine, music, good company, and dancing on a summer night can be.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Too much work, too little not being tired

Like reclusive Cleocatra, pictured at left as she prepares to go to bed, I am old, tired, and cranky. Too tired to write what I had planned. I had another one of my dreams - this time involving a modest looking house on a hill (that was really a huge, multilevel, subterranean lair), a path, a puppy, a lion, and people and animals looking for shelter. As it is, however, I'm too tired to do it any justice. Frankly, I'm too tired to do much but think about going to sleep.

It's not been a bad day, just a busy one. My boss has been gone all week, which means that I've been able to play queen bee. While my rule has been a kind and benevolent one (maybe too benevolent...there are times when I feel like the babysitter who lets the kids get all hopped up on candy and stay up too late), it has also been tiring. Balancing loosening the reins on a staff that at times feels a bit choked by them while also making sure everything gets done is tricky business. I want them to be able to breathe and enjoy without taking advantage of the freedom in a negative way.

It's gone well this week. I've developed some new strategies that seem to be working. My coworkers are happy, my boss is happy, even the temp is happy. I am glad that things have gone smoothly, but it's all left me a bit sleepy. I feel like I haven't really done much this week but go to work, come home, go to sleep, go to work, come home go to sleep, etc. Hopefully, with the weekend will come a new era that includes "do something fun" somewhere in between the work and sleep part. Right now, however, sleep sounds more fun than anything else that comes to mind, so good night!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Non-ennui Inducing Life of Pi

As few days ago when I finished reading Yann Martel's Life of Pi, a friend informed that his former book group had deemed the novel "dull". When she saw I was reading it, my friend S. also commented that she had started the book, but didn't get very far before giving up on it. Pi is not the sort of book that one reads half-heartedly. I will admit that as I was reading the novel while waiting at the hairdresser's, I too thought "I'm not sure if I like this." As it turned out, it was not that the book was boring, just that I was reading it in an environment that was already overloaded with stimulus and did not allow me to focus and really be in the book.

As it turned out, once I got home and was able to start over and give the book the attention that it deserved, I found that I really loved it. What appeals to me about the book (in addition to being well written) is that it can be read from so many different angles. The novel poses questions about God, religion and spirituality at the same time as it explores the nature of narrative and reality. Part fable, part allegory, part fictional memoir, it is the kind of novel whose questions linger even after the reading is over.

The story itself is divided into three sections:

1) The childhood of the boy, Pi (Piscine Molitor Patel) in India: This section focuses largely on Pi's quest for God and how his seeking leads him to become a follower of Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity as he develops the belief that different religions are but different "passports" to the divine.

2) The adventure Pi shares with the Bengal tiger, Richard Parker. As Pi and his family are emigrating to Canada, their ship sinks. Pi and Richard Parker find themselves stranded together for 227 days on a lifeboat. Realizing that his only chance of survival is to tame the tiger, Pi (using the knowledge he has gleened as a zookeeper's son) sets about training him.

3) What happens to Pi after he is rescued. This section includes a short, alternate explanation of Pi's post-shipwreck experiences. While this version of the story is even more horrific, it is perhaps more realistic than the longer story in section two (a story that reader ends up wanting to believe).

While the points above form the basic framework of the story, there are so many small details that lend to its rendering. For example, Piscine's very name means "pool" and (in a bit of additional foreshadowing), he is the only member of his family who feels comfortable in the water. Additionally, according to Wikipedia, even the tiger's name has significance. Richard Parker is not only a character in a Poe story about a shipwreck, but there is a historical shipwreck that involved a real life Richard Parker.

Then there is Martel's writing style, which is fluid and subtle, for example Pi's reaction to learning the Christian story of the crucifixion:

And what a story. The first thing that drew me in was disbelief. What? Humanity sins but it's God's Son who pays the price? I tried to imagine Father saying to me, "Piscine, a lion slipped into the llama pen today and killed two llamas. Yesterday another one killed a black buck. Last week two of them ate the camel. The week before it was painted storks and grey herons. And who's to say for sure who snacked on our golden agouti? The situation has become intolerable. Something must be done. I have decided that the only way the lions can atone for their sins is if I feed them to you."

"Yes, Father, that would be the right and logical thing to do. Give me a moment to wash up."

"Hallelujah, my son."

"Hallelujah, Father."

These are but a few examples of the kind of details that make the novel such a pleasure to read. Well written, entertaining (I got to the point where I really could not put it down) intelligent, and thought provoking - in short anything but boring.

Me me me

This morning Good Morning America ran a story about a family that was kicked off of a plane, because their child was throwing a tantrum. The parents were outraged at the treatment, because they feel she was just being a "normal" 3-year old. I imagine that being removed from the plane was inconvenient from them, probably embarassing too. It's not that I don't feel some pity for the family, however... What about the convenience of the other 125 passengers on the flight?

So many times when one encounters parents with poorly behaved children, their excuse is that they're "just being kids" or that they have to have room to "express themselves". I am all for self-expression, fulfillment of needs, and maximum happiness for everyone. Everyone. Even short people. Nonetheless, one person's happiness, convenience, self-expression, etc. should not infringe upon that of another.

A number of years ago, I was at a restaurant with my friend Kim. We were having a discussion about something serious, some problem or other. I don't remember the topic anymore, I just remember that it was a grave conversation and that the child from the booth next to ours insisted on draping himself over the back of Kim's bench, balancing with his butt at about the level of her head and his feet in the air, while his parents sat obliviously next to him just chit chatting away, enjoying their dinner. When Kim finally had it and told the child that he needed to go sit properly with his parents in his own booth, the mother actually had the nerve to get mad. Her excuse? "He's just a little boy. He doesn't know any better." Kim just looked at her and said, "Maybe so, but you should."

It makes me sad that so many parents don't seem to feel the need to teach their children things like courtesy and respect for the rights of others. I'm not saying that children will be perfect. They're kids. They get mad, they have tantrums. Sometimes they even get kicked off of planes. Those things happen, but that doesn't absolve parents from teaching them how to behave either. Sometimes I think this is how we ended up with this corporate, Survivor, "it's all about me" society, where we seem to value excess, winning and getting ahead at all costs above carving out a good life for ourselves and our communities without steam rolling over everyone else.

It is a great thing to teach children that they are special, but it's also worthwhile to teach them that everyone else is too.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Numfar & the Dance of Joy

This morning I gingerly stepped on the scale to find that I had lost two pounds. While but a minor victory, this set the stage for a very good day of the sort that only comes on weekends when I am at liberty to do whatever I want and am in a good mood, because I've just lost two pounds. So, it was Sunday and the world was my oyster (as long as it was not to be fried, sauteed in butter or served with any kind of fattening sauce), because (in the words of Cartman) I do what I want. But what would I do?

After having a bowl of turkey noodle soup for breakfast (don't look at me like that, it was the special, irresistible one with the stock made with the would have done it too!), I determined that I was feeling my inner heathen and would not be going to church. This freed me up to stay home and make a collage while watching multiple Angel episodes. All in all, it was a good choice. The collage is not done (but is coming along), but is still satisfying. My DVD watching allowed me to behold the wonder that is Numfar of the Deathwok Clan do the Dance of Joy (and that of Honor) until he was called off to do the Dance of Shame. Truly, the few collected minutes of the episode with the Joss Whedon Numfar cameo, made the whole of Season 2 (which was good even without Numfar) worthwhile.

One of the really great things about my years (mid-90's - early 2000's)of non- (or at least severely limited) non-news television watching is that as I discover shows that are no longer running new on t.v., but have their collected episodes on dvd, I can indulge my nerdy obsessions without having to wait a full week to see what happens next. It also allows me to feel like I live in a time warp as I am presently reliving 2001 instead of watching the hot new shows that are on now. If I did, what would I watch in 2013?

Saturday, January 20, 2007


It is late, I am sitting on the couch with my nose in a book. I appear to be reading, but really I am half asleep. I think I may have even fallen asleep for a moment. But then, suddenly, I hear a noise in the kitchen. It is after midnight and someone who is not me is in the kitchen. I hear shuffling and scraping.

Gingerly, I get up and tiptoe aroud the corner, my heart thumping. For a moment, I really am nervous. Then, I see this:

Rudiger, the architect of my fear, has set his sights on the discarded ground turkey packaging from dinner's soup making. The rustling was him clawing holes in the little, hanging plastic bag where we put small garbage. He has managed to remove the bottom and procure his prize. Alas, sweet victory is only momentarily his, because his mean owner takes the precious as soon as she sees it. He vows silently that vengance shall be his. Oh, yes it shall be his. But he is patient, so for now, he settles for glaring at me with major stink eye.

So, at 2 a.m., I find myself a little cold, but wide awake, having just come in from taking out the trash. Rudiger is less than pleased, but being as forgetful as he is vengeful, he will soon get over it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

ex libris

Some days are days for writing, some are days for reading. Today is decidedly of the reading variety. So much so that it is difficult to tear myself away from the book I'm reading. It is incredible. What if something were to happen while I was gone?

For once, normally bloated dust jacket claims contain truth. Life of Pi really is "a novel of such rare and wondrous storytelling" that I do not want to put it down. Not only that, but in the midst of the headiness of inhaling such a well crafted novel, I am prone to believe L'Humanité's bold claim that "...the name of the greatest writer of the generation born in the sixties is Yann Martel". It is such a lovely book - so many themes and questions to ponder - that the threat of breaking my post a day promise fills me with only a hint of guilt, but sometimes a hint is enough.

So, now I go to my reward (a final one, but not the final one ) - the final 40 pages. I will be sad to have finished. Finishing a good book is like parting with a new love. You know you'll see each other again and that it will be great, but it will never be intoxicating in the same way as the first time. On the up side, there is more Yann Martel to read, and this book will undoubtedly yield more material for a future post.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Snow Day

Today was, much to the delight of the dogs and humans of Powellhurst alike, another snow day. While the canine contingent spent its day alternately going out to frolic in the snow and coming in to warm up, I spent mine playing doorman and working on my laptop. Alas, my boss has caught on to the fact that internet access allows work from home, so my freewheeling days of lounging about are over.

As work days go, it really wasn't a bad one. I got a lot done and managed to watch Arsenic & Old Lace (it was even better than I remembered!) and multiple Angel episodes while doing so. Of course, it helped that today's project was the sort that would have been acheivable by a drug addled, blind monkey with ADD.

But the day wasn't all slaving away on the couch while watching movies. I did manage to talk to a friend in Germany (who informed me that Portland was on the news there, now famous for its citizens inability to handle roads in inclement weather) and also take a walk to the Plaid Pantry on the corner. Over the course of that short walk, I was able to determine a number of things:

1) Some of my neighbors are a few balls short of an snowman - the guy who was pulling his kids sleigh down the road by monster truck; the other guy who was doing cookies on the corner with a snow mobile while encouraging his dog to chase him; the guy who almost slid his car into me, because he was too eager to wait for his light to turn green before turning. But that's only three people. As far as I can tell, the rest of them are ok.

2) My tennis shoes no longer fit right and my best walking shoes are my Keene hiking sandals, which has too many openings for effective, non-frostbitey snow walking.

3) If forced to drink only water and soy milk for long enough, nothing becomes more important than walking to the Plaid Pantry on the corner

4) If you can avoid getting hit by a car, going for walks in the snow really is delightful and should be undertaken whenever safely possible.

And now it is late and I am tired, so good night.

Monday, January 15, 2007


During the war, Oma traded her gold wedding band for a loaf of bread. A single loaf of bread. She was a woman who placed high importance on tradition and propriety,yet she gave away her ring. When Opa died, she wore her modern day widow's weeds for a year and took to wearing his ring along with her own, which had been replaced when fighting was replaced with peace and refugeeism with a home.

It would have been unthinkable for her to do anything less. She was a traditionalist. Yet, at the same time, she was a pragmatist. She would not have thought too long when faced with the choice of keeping her ring ("It's not the only ring in the world," she would say) and feeding her family, because even more than being a traditionalist, she was a loyalist who was fiercly protective of those she loved.

For sixty years she was married to Opa. She loved him, even though his behavior was not always exemplary. In the early years after they fled to the West, he drank. I think he must have done it to forget. He had seen some horrible things during the war. Once, when he was still driving trains, a guy he worked with was caught having stolen a handful of sugar from one of the many bags that were being transported. Over this little handful of sugar for his kids, this man was shot in the head. That was one of the stories my grandfather shared many years after the war was over. The bad ones he kept to himself.

My grandfather was a man who was brilliant, observant, funny, stubborn, generous, opinionated, proud, persistent, infuriating, selfish, and temperamental - often all at the same time. The alcohol did not do much to augment the parts of his character that were good. When he drank, the generous man who bought ticket after ticket for his girls to ride the merry-go-round, telling my grandmother "Just let them ride until they fall off, they haven't had much fun in their lives", disappeared to be replaced by someone darker. Things were said, sometimes done, that created an hurt and bitterness that sometimes overwhelmed the love my grandmother felt for him.

No one in the family ever called him an alcoholic. They would have said "He enjoys a good drink", but the a-word was never used. Still, I have to think that when drinking starts to affect one's relationships and safety, there is indeed a drinking problem. He almost killed himself once, crashing into a tree on his motorcycle. Then there was the time the police stopped him as he was slowly driving home after an evening of libationary celebration. That escapade cost him a month in jail. He was angry at the police, but too embarassed to tell the truth at work, so he asked for vacation with the excuse that he was taking a trip to Italy. When his "vacation" was over, he returned home only to be mercilessly teased by my grandmother about his lack of a tan after such a long sojourn in the Southern climes.

For all of his flaws, my grandfather was a good man, and a very principled one at that. He never joined the Nazis during the war. After it, he never joined the Communist party either, despite the fact that it cost him his job. When "invited" to join, he boldly told recruiters "You're not any different from the Nazis, your oppression just comes under a different name". When his girls were sent home from school with literature encouraging membership in the jungen Pionieren (think Communist scouts), he instantly forbad it. When his invitation to live and work in East Berlin was rescinded after an unpleasant incident with some border guards, he, at great risk to his own self, snuck back in the middle of the night to help his wife and children escape.

By the time I came along, Opa had already lived a long life. He was a different person from the drinker of those early years in the West. When I was young, I didn't always understand the tension that sometimes existed in my grandmother's demeanor toward him. I thought she was unfair to him. This was the guy who would secretly take me to the ice cream parlor across the street to buy me ice cream cone after ice cream cone. He was the guy who (despite my grandmother's hearty objections) introduced me to that international phenomenon that is known between grandfathers and children everywhere as "Pull my finger." My grandfather (who had himself wanted to be a teacher, but was prevented from it by a father who felt he shouldn't "waste" time and money on education when he could be earning a living) was also my first language student. He would signal the beginning of each lesson by extending his large hand (he had such large hands) to shake my then tiny one as he smiled and said "How do you do?" He was the man who taught me that there is no question I might have that the library cannot answer (and often with a variety of answers).

By the time I knew him, he didn't drink at all anymore. It had been decades. He was just my Opa, who was filled with interesting stories, devoured books like candy, never believed anything without first doing some research of his own, and seemed to know something valuable about everything.

It was only later that I began to understand how much my grandmother really did love him and that they were at heart alike in the ways that really mattered. They were both decent and kind. They just had different approaches to life. While my grandmother's was to wait and help whoever came to her door, my grandfather went out in the world looking for adventure, sometimes dragging it home with him.

There were times when my grandparents bickered like two old balcony muppets. They had very different personalities. Opa wanted to wander out and see the world, while Oma preferred to stay home, content to feed it when it came to her. Even 50 years after emigrating to Berlin, she remained a small town girl, while Opa's heart was cosmopolitan. When Opa finally did make it to Italy, Oma did not go with him. Not being overly adventurous, her response would have been something akin to "Italy? What do I want in Italy? It's the same as here, except for they drown everything in marinara sauce." So, one day he hopped a plane on his own. He came home a couple weeks later tanned and wearing shorts, only to be teased about his skinny legs. Still, they loved each other deeply, sticking together through many situations where other people might have called it quits.

When I look around me, their commitment seems something special. In this world where we all want and have grown used to receiving everything so quickly, sometimes we don't allow time for our love to really blossom. I think of people I know who are barely out of their 30's and have already been married multiple times or those who hit a snag only throw up their hands to say "That's it. I can't live like this anymore. It's over". While I in no way advocate staying in a situation that drains a person's soul and causes fundamental unhappiness, in our fast times we sometimes do not treat love lovingly enough.

We try to make all these rules about love - who can marry; when to pick up the phone; how much notice is required for us to say "yes" to a date; women are like Venus, men are like Mars; etc. Yet love is not about rules, it is only about love. Look at all the people who seem far too preoccupied with how expensive a ring they can finagle based on some heinous three month salary "rule". Look at the money we spend on extravagent weddings. There are so many people who seem to spend their lives looking, pining for someone to just love them, yet for every one of them there is another who takes the love she has for granted.

Is that love?

When I think of these people, I think about how lucky my grandparents were. Despite the problems they encountered over the years, they each got to spend a whole lifetime with someone they loved and who loved them back just as much. Commercials tell us that love is a tennis bracelet or a diamond the size of your fist, but that is not love. Love is trading a simple, gold wedding band that means the world to you for a single loaf of bread, another day, another hour to just be together.


Half way through my blogging month, I have officially hit my first wall on the tenth hour of this fifteenth day of the first month. For ages (or almost a half an hour) I have been staring at the screen. Little snippets of thoughts leave my fingers, only to be quickly deleted. What do I write? There's plenty of material - puzzlement with women who seem to equate the copious carats in an engagement ring with copious love; the challenge of trying to write when one lives in a house with someone who doesn't write; the incredible novel I'm currently reading (The Life of Pi - it is so wonderful!); etc.

The problem a very long day is that I am lacking the energy (and focus) to delve too deeply into any one thing. So, instead, I will share a quote that recently came to me, because it is lovely.

To care for a thing as if it was a person is illusion
To care for a person as if it was a thing is violence
To care for a person as if it was a person is justice
And to care for a person as if it was yourself is love
- Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Everyone has an opportunity to be great because everyone has an opportunity to serve. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today I had the privilege of listening to a fascinating exchange between the estimable Reverend Susan Leo and Rabbi Ariel Stone. The topic was the nature of sin as viewed from Christian and Jewish perspectives - sort of a Ding an sich guide to avoiding the badlands. Because I tend toward the liberal view of different religious philosophies simply being different paths up the same mountain, I am always intrigued by discussions of a comparative nature. As such, it was not that the dialogue was specific to sin that gripped me as much as the contrast and similarities between the two philosophies. If there's anything I could have changed about the discussion, it would been to broaden it to include other perspectives as well. Throughout the conversation, I kept thinking what a wonderful think it would be to listen to a whole panel offering perspectives from other religio-philosophical viewpoints.

One of the great things about listening to a perspective that is relatively unfamiliar is that new ideas open up. For instance, the most interesting part of the discussion for me was not specifically about laws or commandments, but rather the notion that each and every person is put on this planet for a reason and has some sort of destiny to fullfill. While this is not a completely new idea to me, what added an interesting layer was this: None of us will know our destiny until it has been fullfilled. Not only that, though. If we don't fullfill it, no one else will either. It will just be there, left undone. For a person of the neurotic, worrisome persuasion, this is a lot of pressure. I mean, I have a hard enough time worrying about the little stuff, now they're telling me that I have a huge inescapable destiny and I'm really going to be letting not only myself, but the world, and even the universe down, if I don't meet it? That is huge - fodder for a lifetime of therapy.

At the same time, however, it's a really beautiful idea, this concept of every human being being indispensible. And it's also strangely comforting to think that even if we don't know what our purpose is, it is there. It will appear, we just have to be ready to grasp it when it comes along. We will know what it is after we have met it, which ultimately means that the best we can do is keep looking and in doing so trying to live in a way creates Goodness in universe.

I suppose that this idea resonates for me, because I am always plagued with this sense that there is something more I could be doing; some better person I could be being; some greater impact I could leave on the world. I mean well, and often even do well. But there is a huge chasm between right thinking and being inspired to right action. It's hard to believe that the forces of nature put anyone on this earth with the proclamation "Senior Account Coordinator is thy destiny. Go forth! Type, analyse and organize!" I'm not saying I'm a bad person or even that I haven't done things that have left a good mark on the world, just that I could do more. We all could.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Caberoklezmer - Part 2

And, now, so the world need not forever wonder about the rest of the contents of my Nano CD, we bring you the gripping conclusion of Eastern Caberoklezmer Music for Writing Inspired Nano Novels and Other Works of Unparallelled Artistic Merit and General Brilliance in quickly readable list format (to be further updated with comments at some later point).

10. Au port - Camille
I first became aware of Camille via a program on NPR, where artists are featured in their own words. When Camille was on, she was talking about her use of a bourdon to tie all of the songs on her CD together. I was intrigued, so I downloaded a few songs of hers from iTunes. As it turns out Au Port and Pourquoi l'amour me quitte (which turned out to be big favorite of mine during the summer of melancholy and still is, though I don't listen to it as much now that I'm pretending not to be melancholy) are my favorites. She an interesting artist who does some cool things with layers of sound. When I first heard that she liked to experiment with unexpected sounds, I thought perhaps her music would be to artsy and thereby inaccessible, but it really isn't. It's quite lovely.

11. Mein Lieber Herr - Ute Lemper
I've already spoken at length about my fondness for singing with this song in the car, so I won't say much more now. It is the I Will Survive of showtunes and equally fun to sing to.

12. Hager - Salamat
Exotic. Percussive. Fun. As with many of the songs on this CD (which I think I mentioned in part 1 of this post was picked up on a total fluke), it is a great example of why world music is so fun. It's a shame that more people don't listen to it.

13. Ghost of Stephen Foster - Squirrel Nut Zippers
Words fail to express how much I love this song. I am completely enchanted by the opening. It is genius. The whole arrangment is great. It always makes me feel good to hear those opening strains of gypsy violin, which is probably why this song has made it onto so many of my mixes.

14. Complainte de la butte - Rufus Wainwright

14. The Transformation into Marlene - Vagabond Opera

15. Cabaret - Susan Egan

16. Arab Andalusian Music/Gharnati - Ahmed Piro Ensemble with Amina Alaoui

17. Tango te Evora - Lorena McKennitt

18. Ick Hob Dikh Tsu Ful Lieb - Vagabond Opera


Originally uploaded by Martina.
Tonight is one of those nights when it is completely clear to me why it is so great to take in strays. They are good for the soul. After an evening of getting my hair done, then hanging out with my friend Suzzette listening to music and chatting, I came home about a half an hour before midnight to find three very anxious dogs waiting to gleefully greet me at the door. Suddenly the headache that had been developing (totally my own fault for not eating anything since lunch), melted a bit in the face of all that excitement. It is good to be loved THAT much.

All three of our dogs have sad pre-Powellhurst stories. Toby was rescued from doggie death row at 3 months of age. His whole life had been spent in shelters and his time at animal control was running out, which would have mean euthanasia, if we hadn't taken him. And how could we not? He was adorable, with his puffy Art Garfunkel puppy hair. He has the sweetest, most laid back personality. His hobbies include singing and attempting to maneuver his 80 lb frame into people's laps without them noticing. Every morning he greets me by sticking his nose in my face and grumbling at me until the singing begins. He also spends a lot of time out back, where we think he may smoke pot. Seriously. It would explain a lot.

Ruby came from the Human Society. She is really Toby's dog, having been adopted so he would have a friend. The first time I saw her, she was in a pen with about six other dogs. She was shy, holding to the back of the pack, hopefully thumping her tail and staring up at me with her big brown eyes as the others pushed ahead of her. She was only 9 months old at the time, and I am fairly certain she was abused. For the first year a person could stretch or raise her arms around her without her cowering. Even now, I often wonder if her seizures weren't brought on by having been hit in the head. She certainly acted like she was used to being beaten, which is tragic.

Baxter is the youngest dog, having turned 4 on Boxing Day. The offspring of a stray, he spent his first months very sick battling all manner of parasites. There was a period where all he could eat was a bland diet of baby food (chicken and rice). I didn't realize it at the time, but he came very close to dying before he was even two months old. Now he is a healthy, but freakish little dog who loves Toby and Ruby, his cat Isis, my mother, my uncle, one of our former neighbors and me. He is not so wild about strangers, but is starting to come around a little now that he realizes they are not all out to cause him harm.

It is sad to think that all three of them could have easily ended up somewhere where they would not be as loved or well cared for as they are now. It is beyond me how anyone can abandon or abuse such sweet animals. But their loss is definitely my gain...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

To Post or not to Post

Eleven days into my post a day project I am happy to report that my experiment is going well. I don't want to jinx it by revealing too much of what I've learned now, but I had thought it that it would be more difficult to come up with something to say every day. The opposite has been true. Indulging in a bit of daily stream of consciousness writing has actually produced more than I post here. Some things get cut for being too personal, too raw to share with anyone who is not me.

Tonight is one of those nights where my head is racing in too many directions for it to calmly settle on any one idea. It's not a night where I feel much like posting anything. I almost told myself that I had posted every night when I was sick, so surely it would be okay to skip a day, but I didn't want to do that. Being on my way to acheiving something (even this) is a good feeling. I don't want to ruin it, not now.

It is a night when I am not content to sit still. I am in fixer upper mode having spent the evening sketching out a plan for Phase 1 of Project Peacock (aka The Roomening) and developing a Phase 2 that I did not even know existed until today. I can't say much more, because I am still working it out. It is all about creating an ambience, a productive environment, not only in my home but in the other areas of my life. It is about conscious choice and seeking out what feels good (not momentarily good, but good in the bigger sense). But that is all a plan to be worked out tomorrow after my trip to the Hair Goddess (which really is not unrelated to my phase 2 scheme). I'm thinking deep purple and blonde again, but that could all change by tomorrow night. Things happen. Plans change. Either way, I'm looking forward to having my hair done. Sporting a new 'do ranks high on my list of life's simple pleasures.

And, now, since I am at the rambly point where I could say anything, I think it is best that I bid this day good night. Angel awaits...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Great Storm Watch

First Frost
Originally uploaded by Martina.
There is something magical about watching the first few flakes of snow as they begin their descent from the heavens. Snowflakes always evoke memories for me. Growing up in the fairly mild climate of the Pacific Northwest, snow was a rarity. When it does snow, we don't get the kind of storms encountered on the North Dakotan country where I was born (during a blizzard no less).

Even the slightest hint of snow is usually cause for great excitement in this part of the world. Newscasters bundle up, going on location in front of their studios, braving snow drifts as high as 1-2" to report mother nature's wrath from the front lines. Schools close, busses go on snow routes, and the public begins hoarding food and gasoline, hoping against hope that their provisions will see them through to the great thaw.

The great thing about getting snowy weather so infrequently that we are not really prepared for it is that as a kid, every mounting flake inflates the possibility of fullfillment of the dream of dreams - a snow day. Midwesterners would laugh at the conditions under which activity stops in our city, but I remember the glee with which I watched the skies as a girl, hoping, praying that the superintendent of our school district wouldn't be able to make it down the hill from his Mt. Scott home, for that would mean that schools would be closed.

One of my favorite snow storms ever was when I was living on the Illinois prairie. There is not much I remember fondly about that period of my life, but there was something so beautiful about the snow as it began to fall that night. Watching as just a few white flakes turned into a flurry falling beneath the street lamp outside of my apartment transfixed me. It remains forever etched into my memory as one of those moments of perfect beauty.

It's funny how memory can turn a moment that might have meant nothing into something significant. I'm not sure if I was listening to my favorite of Vivaldi's Four Seasons as I watched that night, but it is the soundtrack to my memory just as visiting Alliance, Nebraska during a snow storm on my 30th birthday will always be accompanied by Carhenge, maribou bunny ears and dancing in the snow.

And, so, on this January night when the Portland metro area is under a snowless snow watch, I reminisce about snow storms pass. There may be no snow on the ground, but there are plenty of warm memories of it in my head.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

From Whence I Came and Where I'm Going

Today as I was sitting around waiting for the flu to go away, my thoughts turned toward the week of my birthday, which is still over two months away. Except for those years when I can't afford it, I make it my business to either be visiting or doing something I've never visited (or done) before on my birthday. It just seems to me to be a good way to start a new year, and I've fortuitously thought ahead and asked for the week off already.

Because there is not much else to do when one is home sick and unable to sleep, it was nice to let thoughts drift to what it is I might do to celebrate. There have been some good past birthday week trips - my great Westward migration (featuring Carhenge and House on the Rock), New Mexico, and the year I went on a road trip to Ashland and back up the Oregon coast. There are so very many places that I would like to visit. The probablem is that while I can probably swing a treat, this is not going to be the year I fulfill dreams of Greece or Tuscany or even just going back to Berlin for a visit. As much as I'd like to branch out, I'm going to have to stick a little closer to home.

For a brief while, I thought about visiting the town in North Dakota where I was born. Yes, I know I've been there before, but having left it at a month old, I have no clue what it's like there - except for that it's small and that my mother finds it highly mockable.

When I was born, my dad was stationed at Grand Forks AFB, but I wasn't even born in Grand Forks. I was born in the nearby township of Mekinock. As far as I can tell, there is not much there. A little research ferreted out that Grand Forks is the Gateway to Canada (being a gateway doesn't sound to promising...all that means is no one wants to stay), but I wasn't able to find much on Mekinock. I think the City of Grand Forks website says it all. The first big story on the news and events page was entitled "Grease is bad for you and your sewers too." I'm getting the sense that a road trip to my homeland would be of the sort where I would be heavily relied upon to make my own fun.

So, I am left wondering what to do. Maybe it doesn't have to be something new, just something I know I'll enjoy. Rent a house at the coast for a few days for a little retreat? A trip to Seattle or road trip around part of Washington state? I've never visited Bend before. What about California? Leavenworth? Arizona? I don't know. A lot depends on weather if it's a road trip. I'm presently liking the idea of spending a few days in Seattle. I've never really stayed there for a longer visit. Or maybe I'll just find something interesting to do around here. Clearly, I need to get my hands on a map (or maybe just a person with some good suggestions). There is still time to think, I suppose, but I'm warning you ideas, I'll be on the look out for you!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Eastern Caberoklezmer Music for Writing Inspired Nano Novels and Other Works of Unparallelled Artistic Merit and General Brilliance - Part 1

Christmas has passed, the turn of the year too, and Nano month has long ago come and gone. That means it is finally time for me to make good on my promise to Jen and share the playlist for my November novel writing soundtrack (officially titled Eastern Caberoklezmer Music for Writing Inspired Nano Novels and Other Works of Unparallelled Artistic Merit and General Brilliance).

1. Freilechs von der Chuppe - Schicky Gnarowitz & the Transparent Wings of Joy
There few sounds that fill me with the kind of sheer delight engendered by a well played violin. One of my favorite childhood memories is listening to the Hungarian, Russian and Gypsy dance music my mother favored. These songs were a big influence on my desire to play the violin when I was a child. Give me a violin playing an Eastern European piece like a czardas that starts off slowly, then increases in tempo until the violinist's fingers are flying and my own soul feels like it could fly away for the sheer joy, and I am in musical heaven. So, it is no wonder that I immediately fell in love when I was first introduced to concept Klezmer music. Really, even though I didn't know it until much later, I had been listening to a lot of Ashkenazi music all along, not knowing what it was called or that Klezmer is just a subcategory. Nor is it any surprise that Schicky G's rendition of Freilechs von der Chuppe fills me with maximum happiness. Whenever I hear this piece, my head immediately fills with images of celebration. Any song that can do that is a-ok with me. On top of that (as if they needed it), the trio also gets bonus points for being local to Portland.

2. Coin-Operated Boy - The Dresden Dolls
The Dresden Dolls' website describes their music as "brechtian, punk cabaret" (probably in order to emphasize what they see as parallels between their approach and that of Bertolt Brecht and his avant-garde concept of Epic theater and his use of Verfremdungseffekt). However one describes them, they are unique in a world of Brittneys and Jessicas and do manage to capture the spirit of Brecht's bid to keep the mood strange and just a bit uncomfortable. I'm not sure if they are as successful as he was in using this to promote detachment on the part of the audience, but that may be more evident in their live shows than on CD. While still unfamiliar with a lot of their music, I can say that I gladly welcomed them into my Cabaret-Klezmer mix, for the following reasons: 1) they have an interesting, artistic website; 2) their at times near cacophony of piano and drums appeals to me in the same way that the dissonance of a lot of Eastern European music appeals to me; and 3) Coin Operated Boy (the video of which may be viewed here) gels pretty well with my own sentiments about shying away from real, live boys for the moment. For now it's just me and my cats, because in the words of the always delightful Crazy Aunt Purl , nothing is sexier than a single woman with a house full of cats. Give me a few years and my master plan will be complete. I'll be surrounded by their plaintive mewing, while I crochet kleenex covers out of variegated, acrylic yarn. They will keep me company as I watch the collected seasons of Matlock and Murder She Wrote on DVD and write irate, Grandpa Simpson-esque complaints to magazines like Modern Bride. But that is just a view into the future. For now, my attachment to the song is simply that I enjoy it and it seems to fit to mood of my current writing soundtrack.

3. Trou Macacq - Squirrel Nut Zippers
Oh, how happy the Squirrel Nut Zippers make me! There are few songs that can put me in a good mood as quickly as Trou Macacq, La Grippa, Hell or The Ghost of Stephen Foster. Plus, one has to love any band of which Andrew Bird is an honorary member. Most people know the Zippers as part of the 90's swing revival, but there is so much more to their music. Yes, there is a swing band/crazy 20's music vibe to a lot of their songs, but there are also, for example, Klezmer influences to many of their songs. Their fast songs are the kind of music that make me want to get up and dance (while sporting cute, bobbed hear and great clothes from the 20's), yet at the same time put my mind in a kind of light, funny place that is great for writing. And that is why they are a regular part of my writing sountrack and could not be left from this mix!

4. The Night I Can't Forget - Magnetic Fields
One of the things I most love about Stephin Merritt (in addition to his use of words like "presentiments" in his lyrics) is the fun he has playing with gender and perspective - men singing songs from a female perspective, women singing from a male perspective. There is something strangely delightful in hearing a guy sing: "You were an army officer and I just a rockette" as he laments over an ill-fated Paris fling that ended with a child (little Junior), but no other romantic remembrance of the sentiment that engendered him - and all of this sung to a cheery fast waltzing rhythm of strings and accordian, and that is what Merritt does so well - juxtaposing things that seem not to belong together into a harmonious and melodic whole. What, I ask, is not to love about that?

5. L'accordéoniste - Ute Lempre & Bruno Fontaine
Ute Lemper is one of those artists who has a voice and style that are so expressive and edgy that I am always a little sad they are not mine. Whether she is singing a song that I love or one of which I am not so fond, I always admire her artistic merit. Lemper is one of those artists whose work is informed by strong political, cultural and historical motivations. Having devoted much of her canon to the work of Kurt Weil, she definitely has mastered the art of the Brecht aesthetic. Lemper herself notes how much of an influence the art and music of Weimar has had on her own work. Nonetheless, I think my favorite parts of her work (beyond her amazing work in Cabaret and Chicago) are those where she sings the pieces of Edith Piaf. (View Piaf's version complete with creepy disembodied hands - not really disembodied, just an effect of a dark dress on a dark background - below.)

6. Zemer Attic/Tanz Tanz Yiddelach - 3 Leg Torso
It was just last year that I discovered 3 Leg Torso at a CD release party (really a concert at the Avalon) for The Stolen Sweets Shuffle of to Buffalo cd (which is, by the way, filled with wonderful music, none of which is very Eastern, Cabaret-ish or Klezmer-y). Even though 3 Leg Torso was the opening act, it would have been well worth the price of admission or more just to see them. This song is by far my favorite off of their Astor in Paris cd. It is one of those songs that fills me with good will and joie de vivre (don't laugh, in my private moments, I can display incredible joie de vivre. I'm not all seriousness and severe hair and clothing. I can show a little ankle from time to time...). It's funny sometimes how the best things require the smallest amount of explanation, so I'll just stop and go on after noting that Portland is very blessed to be able to count this group of fine musicians as a local band.

7. The Mariner's Revenge Song - The Decemberists
Oh, The Decemberists. What is not to love about having The Decemberists as the last component of my triumverate of local bands on my mix cd? I've talked about this song before, so I will recap what I said before: Words fail to express just how much I love this song, a jaunty ballad of revenge on the high seas. It is a glorious tale of vengeance and being swallowed by a whale. My two favorite part about this song are 1) the appearances by protagonist's ghostly, consumptively weak mother, who urges her son to "Find him, find him, tie him to a pole and break his fingers to splinters; Put him in a hole until he wakes up, naked, clawing at the ceiling of his grave..." and 2) The fact that the mariner is thrilled that he and his victim both managed to survive being swallowed by a whale, because it affords him the possiblity of killing him himself. It's just a great song. If Edward Gorey's art were music, surely this would be it.

8. Zebra - Magnetic Fields
There is something that just delights me about the spoiled, ennui plagued heroine of this song. Maybe it's the fact that she allows herself to engage in the kind of petulant whining I would never allow myself or maybe it's the line "I shan't go to Bali today, I must stay home and hoover up the gold dust", but I find this song extremely satisfying. Besides, as with so many songs on this mix, it makes me smile.

9. Mambo El Soudani - Salamat
Salamat is a band that I first came across a few years ago while browsing the world music shelf at the library. Intrigued by the cover, and wondering what "Mambo El Soudani: Nubian Al Jeel Music from Cairo" would sound like, I decided to borrow it. As it turned out, it was well worth a swipe of my library card. The title track (especially the percussion) is my favorite of the the pieces on the Salamat cd, but the blend of African and Middle Eastern style makes the whole cd worth listening to.

And here ends Part 1 of my writing mix song list and chronicle of why these particular songs made the cut. Since I'm trying to post every day for a month, there is a good chance that part 2 actually will see the light of day. For now, however, my musical mind is spent.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Today the gift of an epiphany star came to me as I sat on a hard, wooden pew with my head throbbing. The headache (which is still not entirely gone) had been so bad as my mom and I were getting ready to get in the car that I'd almost turned back. It seems that I find myself increasingly headache prone these days, which is particularly annoying considering that there was a time when it was a rarity for me to get one. To the inventor of chocolate, you have my highest regards. To the inventor of headaches, I offer simply the infamous Italianate chin flicking gesture.

Whether head throbbing came from stress, the onset of a cold (or is it catarrh???), or having slept wrong (how does that happen? it seems that if there's one thing that should be pretty fool proof, it's sleeping) is still unclear. Whatever the cause was, my head hurt so bad that it woke me up at an ungodly hour this morning. And that hurt so bad that I really was in no mood to go anywhere when 10:30 rolled around. Somehow (mostly because my mother was obviously keen to go, but being so gracious about potentially not going), I managed to drag my sorry self into the car and then into church, where I found myself sitting on said pew as epiphany stars were being handed out.

Each of these stars is inscribed with a word. My word for the year is "surprise". As it turned out, I did find myself feeling surprised at how good it felt to be there despite feeling bad. There was such a light, pleasant mood today - a mood I would never have even begun to approach, had I followed my inclination to burrow under a blanket like a very large rodent.

And so, I've spent the hours since thinking about surprises and how easily a small shift in attitude can change a situation about which we're experiencing dread, fear or even just ambivalence into one that can actually be enjoyed. It makes me think of all the ways in which we might surprise ourselves, if we took the time to (as Mark Twain wrote): "...throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

For today, that is the meaning of my epiphany star, but who knows? Maybe when the year has passed I will be surprised to find that it wasn't that at all. But if it is and if I can manage to "sail", I don't think I will regret it.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Guten Abend, Gut' Nacht

Dashiell Winn
Originally uploaded by Martina.
Promises have been made. Only a few short days ago, a post a day was vowed. Luckily for me the size and quality of said posts were never negotiated, which gives me a good out on a day when I've been busy and find myself feeling too tired to think (let alone write) too much.

Now I am home and preparing to go to bed (or at least to couch, where I will read a little Libba Bray in the futile hope that it will keep me awake until SNL starts). First, however, this post must be written, because I have managed to guilt myself into keeping my word.

Undesirable duties of the morning (work, errands) notwithstanding, it's been a nice, cozy afternoon of movie watching ("Gandhi" - if you haven't seen it, you should!), dinner and discussion. It's such an incredible movie, but I really am too tired to do it any justice here now. Suffice it to say that Ben Kingsley is amazing and that the life and philosophies of Gandhi are fascinating and worth deep consideration.

As if Gandhi weren't good enough, my library copy of "Arsenic & Old Lace" was waiting for me today when I stopped by my branch. It's such a lovable movie. Did you know Ronald Reagan was offered the part of Mortimer Brewster and turned it down? It's true! It's difficult to imagine the film being as charming as it is without Cary Grant.

In other exciting film news, not only was "Arsenic" waiting for me at the circulation desk, but also Season 1 of "Angel". This is particularly good news as it will allow me to further develop my theories on who would win in a Johnny Depp vs. James Marsters hot off. This study is, of course, purely for academic interest and offers me no personal enjoyment. I just hope that Hugh Jackman doesn't complicate things by throwing his hat into the tring.

Oh, dear. It is a long fall from the nobility of Mohandas Gandhi to hot offs. I really am tired. I do believe it IS time take a page* from the book of the adorable Dashiell Winn (pictured above).

*Note: This page is the one wherein he cuddles adorably under a blanket, not the one wherein he gets to know his catnip pillow, then splays himself on the floor all strung out and drooly. I only do that on party nights...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Of the Old and the Beautiful

One of my most prized possessions is also one of the rattiest looking. It is an ugly, brown book that is waterstained, its pages fragile and greying with age. It shows the scars of almost 300 years worth of existence. Frankly, it does not look well loved, yet I love it.

What makes the book so special to me is the the three centuries worth of hands that have touched it. The book, which is a German collection of sermons for Sundays and high holy days, was published in 1708. It has all sorts of handwritten notes on its cover In 1790 someone signed and dated his name on one of the fly pages. There is, in fact, quite a bit of writing on the fly pages and endpapers. Somewhere over the years someone also left behind a scrap of a letter as a book mark. It is difficult to tell just how old the scrap is, but it's clearly old as it's written in a script no that died in Germany before my grandmother was born and is the faded brown of old fountain ink. It is a powerful thing to hold in one's hands an object that has seen so many history and been held by other hands with so many stories of their own.

It is these traces of humanity that are my favorite parts of this book. To think that I am in some way bound to these people who long ago touched, read and internalized the contents this object is an overwhelming epiphany. It is in some ways as though by touching the imprint they've left, I am touching them. Really, this is why I love books so much in general. People like to think of reading as a passive activity, but really it is not. It is a dialogue that is thoroughly active for the mind and sometimes even soul.

Through story we are connected to the imprint of author and to worlds of which we are not a part, yet somehow we become a part of them. In reading words (also viewing art, hearing music) we have the privilege of being privy to the imagination and inner workings of another, which thereby sparks our own imaginations. It is in entering into this dialogue that books (and art and music) connect us. Our shared stories connect us. And that, my friends, is why I love books so much. Studying literature and ideas is studying people and we are an interesting lot.

Conclusory note: There are those who will think these thoughts cheesy. If it must be so, let them (the thoughts, not the people) be something good like Roquefort or Havarti and not some crappy brick of Velveeta or jar of Cheese Whiz, though I guess for that it would have to be "cheesy" and not cheesy.

Note 2: In that last sentence, "Studying literature and ideas is studying people and we are an interesting lot", I have just had what is turning out to be a "What do I want to be when I grow up?" epiphany of sorts. All is not yet unravelled, but perhaps some of the fog is lifting. Go me!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Yuck Certified

Today has been one of those completely craptacular days that could put a girl in peril of forgetting how good her life really is! The worst thing is that the stress started even before I woke up. After a night of dreadfully depressing dreams, I woke up feeling like I'd been crying and was about to cry some more. Then, within a half an hour of waking up Ruby had a seizure.

Poor little noodle. I think she knows when one is coming on, because she usually comes to get me. Today was no exception. As I was checking my mail, she came at me from under the desk, trying to put her head in my lap. Generally a docile, unassuming dog, Ruby becomes very clingy just before a seizure. Her insistence on wanting attention ensured that I knew something was up even before she started to lose her balance. It's sweet, really, like she thinks I can protect her from what is about to happen. I can't protect her from seizures once they start, but I did manage to get down on the floor with her just in time for her to stumble into my lap. After that, all I could do was hold and pet her while she shook.

The thing about seizures is that they feel like they're going on forever, even when only a few minutes have passed. This episode lasted about 6 minutes total. The other animals are so sweet when she has them. Baxter hung around like a nervous parent, sniffing her and tentatively thumping his tail, while Toby just stood back watching. Once it was all over, Ruby was up and wanting to go outside to play. I swear they stress me out far more than they do her. Thankfully, she doesn't have them too very often. I know other people and animals who are a lot worse off.

Seizure over, before I knew it, it was past time to go to work. Even sacrificing a badly needed stop at Starbucks, I barely made it. Frankly, there was so much commotion that I don't think anyone would have noticed had I actually been late.

I arrived to a mailbox filled with a string of snarky e-mails between my boss and another department head, who we are assisting with a project. Working with her department is always a challenge as they have a tendency to ask for help, downplay what our role will be, then dump mounds of crap (seriously, it's CRAP - all the complicated, messed up things they can't figure out) on us, while they keep the easy tasks for themselves. Once the dust settled (insofar as it settles lately - these days my department is like a giant dust bowl), we'd inherited not only 300 accounts that need analysing, but 300 accounts that one of her employees had sat on for a month, which means lots of calls to irate people who have had a month to stew over their problems, because no one has bothered to help them. The worst part of it all is that none of this is actually my job (thank God); it's just a favor my department is doing for theirs.

Needless to say, the whole thing causes a lot of tension in my office. My boss is stressed and conflicted, because she doesn't like what the other department is doing, but is too politically correct to stand up for herself and call shenanigans. My coworkers are stressed and annoyed because we're being asked to do something that is so foreign to what we usually do and definitely NOT what any of us signed on for. My boss does try to help, even offering to tackle the potentially nastier calls for us, but it all makes for a heavy atmosphere. It's a good thing I either get punchy (silly and prone to laughing at things that really aren't funny, not prone to punching people) or borderline narcoleptic when I'm stressed. For most of the day, I managed to keep a sense of humor, by thinking about my lunchtime walk (at least until it was thwarted by a bizarre, fast moving rain - hail - snow storm that lasted for precisely for the duration of my lunch). Once lunch was over, I wanted nothing more than to just go home and go to sleep.

The afternoon didn't go much better, though most of that was my own doing. The low-light was when I managed to thoroughly screw up a report by erroneously thinking that if I did a VLOOKUP on a filtered spreadsheet, it would only affect the visible part. Silly me. I ended up having to reconstruct about an hour and a half of lost work from memory. Then, driving home, looking at the lovely, pale, full moon made me think of someone whose memory makes me feel melancholy. Then, I managed to get into a totally unnecessary snark off with my mother via cell phone. Thanks to modern technology, I don't have to be physically present to get my grump on. Go Verizon!

Now it is 8 p.m. and I feel like it's about 2 a.m. I can't imagine doing anything more with my evening than maybe having a drink and going to bed. My soul feels pale and wraithlike, like if I looked in the mirror, I'd have the dark under eye circles of someone not accustomed life in the light. At this point, I just want a do over. At this point it's just best to go to bed knowing that tomorrow will be better. Oh yes, the end of the week is looking pretty good from my presently headachy and bleary eyed vantage point.

So, again I have not posted what I planned. Sometimes a person just needs to vent. Maybe tomorrow I'll get to that clever post that will make you all envious of my brilliance. For now, if you're still here, thanks for reading. I'm off to make a nice beverage and get lost in a book until I fall asleep.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

11 Things

It is getting late (but feels much later). On day three of my month long blogging experiment, I find myself tempted to just skip it, but that would be breaking my unspoken and just invented New Year's resolution to be better about following through on things. That does not, however, remedy the problem at hand. What I really wanted to post is not quite ready, and I find myself too tired to finish it right now. Instead, bearing in mind my other secret resolution - to be more grateful for the good things in my life - here is a list of eleven things that make me feel good:

1) Sunsets (especially watching them sunset from Crown Point or at the beach on summer evenings)

2) Getting a new haircut and color

3) Gypsy violins

4) Reading a book that is so good that I can't put it down, even though it is almost 2 a.m. and I know I will be sorry when the alarm goes off in the morning

5) Receiving mail that is not a bill, advertisement or credit card/loan offer

6) The ocean

7) That warm feeling that radiates from inside when someone says "I love you"

8) That I have convinced a coworker that she should never get into her car to leave the parking lot without first doing a little dance outside my window. (We have a rating system from 1 to 10 with a cumulative score based on choreography, originality, and over all performance. I even have score cards. It's like hosting my own version of "So You Think You Can Dance" from my cubie.)

9) Hearing Toby the dog bark and howl on my answering machine message whenever I call home. It makes me laugh every time. Sometimes I call when I know no one's there just so I can hear him.

10) Being around people who make me laugh so hard the spot behind my ears starts to hurt (you know who you are!)

11) Sunny days when I can drive around with an open moonroof

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Day in Powellhurst

Welcome to blogstravaganza, my attempt to see if I can find 31 days worth of writing. It is Day 2. So far so good. I should probably save this for a day when I don't have six half-written posts saved, but here is a day in my life:

3:30ish - Wake up to a woman's voice calling my name. There is no one there but me (and a large, snoring dog), so I decide it must have been a dream and go back to sleep.

6:45 - Wake up again. Briefly contemplate getting out of bed, but decide in favor of snuggling down into the covers to go back to sleep for another 45 minutes.

7:30 - Sun comes up, it's Tuesday morning. After a week off, I do not want to go back to work or even get out of bed. Luckily, the thought of my minty, new bar of Ice Blue soap (I love it even more than my former favorite, Demon in the Dark) from Lush draws me into the shower before I can think of a reason to call in sick.

7:45 - Put on my robe and step on the scale. My worst fears are confirmed. I am turning in to the Pillsbury Dough boy's taller, paler sister. My mood is immediately buoyed when I open the bathroom door to find three very excited dogs standing side by side in order of height, waiting for me to come out. While we have only been parted for about 15 minutes, they seem to think I've been gone for months. It is cause for copious wiggling and jubilation.

8:00 - I am in the garage looking for a suitable outfit to go with my adorable new shoes. I may not feel like going to work, but the first real day of 2007 will see me well shod.

8:15 - Toast an English muffin to share with Citizen R. This is what I am reduced to after the convivial atmosphere and pre-2007 gastronomic debauchery - muffin sharing.

8:45 - Leave for work. Spend the next 45 minutes singing with Ute Lemper and listening to the first of my second chance before consignment to the resale bin cd's.

9:30 - Discover Mrs. M has left me a gift. Maybe returning to work is not so bad after all. I like gifts. This one is a 2007 calendar filled with castles in far away lands. It is like the 2006 castle calendar she gave me, but different.

9:35-11:00 - Boring work stuff. Highlights: 1) My favorite temp is back for a month. 2) My neighbor has set a date for her wedding in September and tells me to keep it open. Now everyone in my area but me will be married. I am undecided on whether this is good or bad. 3) The first e-mail I open is an irate homage to all the reasons why a woman in Iowa will never do business with us again. Frankly, if I were here, I wouldn't either. Her account was really jacked up, and my company did all the jacking itself. 4) After what feels like hours at my desk, I look at the clock and find it is only 10:30. All the time off has clearly spoiled me.

11:00 - While taking my morning break, I realize to my great joy that I now have 23 vacation/personal days at my disposal. I celebrate by asking for birthday week and Thanksgiving week off.

11:10 - 13:00 - More boring work stuff. It's busy, so the midday hours mercifully pass quickly.

13:40 - Discover that I have forgotten to bring along socks for my lunchtime walk. It is pouring rain. While my walking shoes are adorable and comfortable, they also have a lot of openings. Vow to exercise later today, then retire to the kitchen to heat a bowl of peanutty turkey noodle soup (so good!), catch up on reorg gossip, and read the last 40 pages of Charlaine Harris' Grave Sight.

14:00 - Distant coworker shows up with her new born baby. I am happy for her, but do not share my other coworkers' compulsion to drop everything to run and coo. Decide to stay in the lunchroom and read/work on some writing as I had planned, since I spent a good portion of the first half of my lunch chatting with the temp and then La Pretenziosa. Spend the next 10 minutes wondering if my lack of baby magnet means I'm a bad person. I think not. I actually do love kids and being around them. I just don't have that thing that a lot of women get around tiny babies.

14:40 - 16:00 - Even more boring work stuff.

16:00 - Sneak a peak at my library account to see if season 1 of Angel will be waiting for me tonight. It is still in transit. Briefly consider cursing the library, but realize that I love it, even if it does toy with my emotions.

16:10 - Realize that thinking about the library for this long cements my status as a massive nerd and go back to work. I start to become concerned that I will not be able to finish everything I need to get done today, but because I am fabulous, I do - with a half an hour to spare. This gives me time to take down the Christmas decorations in my area. As I am taking them down, I wonder what they would say if I erected an old school hollow holy family in my cubie next year. It would be crowded, but I think the room is there, It's probably not the best idea. Still, I make a mental note to revisit it next November.

18:00 - Lock up the building and head for home. It is one of those rainy nights that don't make me look forward to the long commute back to town, but with my Cabaret-Klezmer mix to cheer me on, I navigate the backroads and freeway safely, while singing along to Coin Operated Boy and other musical gems. When I'm not singing (i.e. in the case of the gypsy string songs), I imagine in my head how I would play them on the violin as I listen. Somehow this keeps me from freaking out about the slick roads, but still leaves enough of my attention available for me to drive carefully.

18:50 - Arrive at home and enjoy a dinner of ground turkey and blue cheese on a ciabatta role with a side of the pineapple casserole recipe I got from Wendy. I do believe I could live on Wendy's pineapple casserole.
19:30 - Check my e-mail. Even after all these months, I check out of habit when I first get home. There is nothing from him, but there is an interesting note from the hair goddess. She has a way of mailing me just when I've been thinking about her. My head needs repurpling. I make a mental note to give her a call later.

19:45 - Woo hoo, I've paid the last of my Itax online. A great burden lifts from my shoulders as the looming cloud of debtor's prison drifts away from my environs.

20:00 - Retire to the bathroom to take a bath and read. As I am soaking, I realize that I am a damn, dirty liar. I never did make up for the missed lunchtime walk. I am momentarily disappointed with myself, but then remember that I only promised to start with 3x a week and that I really did do an awesome job at staying on track with my diet today. I was not even tempted when L. (who also started a diet today) decided to make herself my dietary nemesis by trying to rid herself of a bag of Rollos by putting a large pile of them in the middle of my desk. Instead of eating them, I gave them to all the temp. This allowed me not only to stick to my plan, but also to be the kind of person who is nice to temporary employees.

21:00 - I am out of the bath, but still reading. The quiet is interrupted by a potential cat smack down. Sensing that there is trouble on his beat, Officer Baxter charges at Rudiger and Loki to break up the fight. As ist to be expected, Rudiger stands his ground while Loki flees. Baxter, who gives chase, is a bit overzealous, treating a threat level puce like it is a fuschia or even a magenta. I realize that if he were a real police officer, he'd be the sort who would smash your tail light just to have an excuse to give you ticket. Apparently my dog is an asshole.

21:43 - Log on to compose a post. I glance over at the couch to notice that Baxter is holding my library copy of Libba Bray's Rebel Angels neatly between his paws as he prepares to nibble at the cover. I am able to relieve him of it just in time.

21:45 - Respond to Jen's comments on my last two posts by accusing her of having a secret affinity for hippies, then spend the next 10 minutes contemplating minions. How does one get them? What would I do with them if I had them? Could they help me determine what I want to be when I grow up?

22:00 - Start working on blogstravaganza post #2

23:00 - Check to see if Jen is online, so we can chat for a few minutes. She is, alas, busy overseeing her magnet empire. Instead, I add a few links to my post.

23:30 - Retire to the couch to watch a South Park rerun (unless it is stupid, in which case I will read), then eventually go to sleep.

So, there you have it. A day. Not a special day, not an exciting day, just a Tuesday, but a day nevertheless.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

One of the great things about my place of employment is the access to discounts for restaurants, movies and museums. New Year's Eve, my mom and I decided to take advantage of this perk and use it to visit Portland's Japanese Garden. One of Portland's many gems, the garden is the sort of place I always forget until chance takes me on a drive past its gates. Luckily, I was recently reminded of its presence as I was taking a stroll through Portland's Rose Gardens, which are conveniently located across the street.

Its design influenced by Shinto, Buddhist and Taoist philosophies, the Japanese gardens are restful and tranquil - the perfect sort of place to contemplate the passing of the old and the coming of the new. As we walked, talked, and sometimes just listened to the sound of the birds and running water, I found myself thinking about things I would like to accomplish this year. A friend of mine insists that being my fabulous self will set a lot of things right. While I do plan to embrace this plan, I have a few more specific things that I would like to accomplish in 2007, Year of Fabulousness:

1. Make time to meditate, pray, write, create something (it's all one, really) every day.

2. Make time to move every day (starting with 3x a week is okay)

3. Begin my "Going Places" photo project (a photo to represent something significant for each month of the year + extra photos for special occasions that will go into the 2007 album)

4. Embrace what life has to offer, "Don't die with your music still in you", Just Say Yes (a Jenvention, TM Jen, Inc.), etc.

5. Fight back, fun Martina! Let go, get over myself and just have FUN.

6. Treat myself just as well as I treat other people, because I am far meaner to myself than I would ever even think of being to anyone else.

7. Try something new at least once a month. (In light of this, I declare January Blogstravaganza month wherein I will attempt to post a day for 31 days.)

8. Figure out what I want to be when I grow up

There you have it. As with everything, these goals may be tweaked after more thought (some are, after all, pretty vague), but here they are as they apply today.

So, if you are still reading after all that, here is your pay off. You are my favorite. Really, you always were. Those other people who started reading and didn't finish, well, just between you and me, they should be banned or at least shunned. Let me tell you, if I were Amish, there'd be some shunning going on. But you, you're different. I could never shun you. You stayed, so I say to you: Happy New Year! May it be filled with all the abundance, happiness and love that your heart can carry!