Thursday, February 22, 2007


Growing up in an Air Force family, I have spent a lot of time on military bases. My father was a Vietnam vet and my early years were spent stationed in Germany. When I was a kid, we even lived next to the army barracks in Frankfurt where Elvis had been stationed (though that was years after he was there).

Even after my father retired, visits to our local base were a regular part of my childhood. We spent a lot time around military people. My father always said they were "a different breed of people". In a lot of ways, I think his friends in the military became a kind of surrogate, supportive family that he never had growing up at home.

My father is buried at Willamette National Cemetary. If he were still here to answer the question of what about his life made him most proud, he would say his military service. I also have no doubt that he would be appalled at not only at what we are doing in Iraq, but at the way our young men and women are being abandoned without adequate access to medical and psychological treatment when they finally do come home.

Countless books and movies have been made about the human costs of this ill conceived war. It is not among the prettier, nobler parts of our history as a nation. No doubt many more will be made. By now everyone should know that while Saddam Hussein was undesirable in his own special way, he had nothing to do with 9/11 and that he was (despite being many other horrific things) not a Muslim fundamentalist. Everyone should know that our government engaged in some sleight of hand where intelligence was concerned in the lead up to the war. Everyone should also be aware of the costs of the war, costs that go far beyond the billions of dollars that will have been spent on it by the time all is said, done and blown up.

One of the better illustrations of those costs that I've had the opportunity to see in recent weeks is the movie The Ground Truth, which I've linked below for ease of viewing. It's not easy film to watch, but I can highly recommend taking the time to do so. Then, if you're still fired up (and I hope you will be, because, really, how could you not be?), and in the Portland area, please consider attending the peace rally and march scheduled for March 18th at 1:30 p.m. in the South Park Blocks (yes, the South Park Blocks...the event has moved).

Monday, February 19, 2007

Who needs sleep?

Back around my last major bout of insomnia, I discoverd the Bare Naked Ladies' song Who Needs Sleep. The crazed tempo of the chorus resonated as the fluffy (albeit catchy) pop version of how insomnia feels - not very deep, recurring thoughts flitting through the mind like an insistent melody that just won't leave.

These days I'm also able to link insomnia to Kumbhakarna (of The British Library's The Sleeping Demon Kumbhakarna above). It's not so much because I am a Hindu demon about to go head to head with against a monkey army (even if that would be good material for one of my weirder dreams and also makes me wonder if any of the monkeys I've dreamt about were veterans), but because the picture captures for me the feeling of my mind being prodded with pitchforky thoughts that keep pestering away even when the rest of me wants so badly to just sleep.

If you would have asked me Sunday night, I would have said Kumbhakarna got a sweet deal being cursed to six months of sleep at a time. I know that it resulted in being poked awake by an alarm clock of pitchforks and what look in the picture to be giant spoons, but around 4 a.m. when I was still awake, I think it would have sounded like a fair trade.

It's funny the things that run through a person's head when she cannot sleep: mental to do lists, recordings of conversations, song lyrics (Freedom is coming - freedom, but apparently not sleep). The worst part is that feeling of "something's bothering me, but I can't quite pinpoint what it is, so I guess I'll just stay awake FOREVER (and ever, amen)." My past bout with depressive prairie insomnia (the worst kind of insomnia!) tells me there's nothing less sleep inducing than trying to will yourself to sleep. Sometimes it's better to just get up, but being up when you really are tired and know you have to get up in the morning is unpleasantly pressure filled.

Thankfully, this was just one night and my days of long-term insomnia are far behind. Because I'm on the precipice of pre-geezerdom, my internal clock is now totally off from my night of non-sleep. What happened to the days when I could be out all night, come home, take a shower, and go teach at class at 8 a.m.? I can only sighingly say that I don't now and fight the urge to yell at some kids that they should get off my lawn. On the up side that sort of thing is tiring and might guarantee better sleep tonight...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In Memoriam

On the heels of coming home from my first rally planning committee meeting of the year, I learned that other activists were at work on their own event, when I read the headline Strippers in Smith Vigil. Apparently in honor of the death of a fellow former exotic dancer, the girls of Rick's Cabaret will don the traditional black mourning pasties and sheer black veils as they cease shaking their money makers to pay homage to Anna Nicole Smith. At the stroke of midnight, the lights will dim as they gather on stage to blow their fallen comrade a goodbye kiss. To add class to the event, the single source of light in the room will be a spotlit empty stripper pole. Dignity in life, dignity in death.

While it is tragic any time someone so young (especially someone leaving a small child behind) dies, the circus around this messed up human being's death is appalling. Whatever else she was, this woman was so obviously a colossally wounded, lost soul. While she chose to live out her struggles in the spotlight, it just seems wrong to turn a death into such a sensationalistic, gluttonous frenzy of infotainment.

It is amazing to me how many "news" segments have been devoted to speculation about everything from the events surrounding this woman's death to the paternity of her infant daughter to hard hitting investigations of why a TrimSpa spokeswoman would have Slimfast in her refrigerator. If only the media (and the public) would give the same attention to the war, healthcare, the corporatization of our government, and accountability for our political leaders. Speaking of which, I have to break from my thoughts for a moment to point out the irony of George Bush uttering the words "money trumps peace sometimes" during his press conference as I type.

If we want to conduct hard hitting investigations and hold someone accountable, now there would be a good place to start! And, so, I am off to hold my own mourning ceremony for a media that has for years failed to step up to the plate and do its real job. (No pasties or strippers poles will be me, nobody wants to see that.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Of specters, music and midnight blue

Last night was a night for another of my house dreams. This time I was driving along through the country on a sunny day. I passed a house (but not the house) with dozens of cats and kittens in the yard and thought to myself: "I want a kitten. I think I'll take one."

So, I slowly cruised by the fence at the edge of the yard, then proceeded to hang out there looking squirrelly. When the cats saw me, they all came running. The kittens, especially, were scaling the fence, eagerly hanging from it. It was then that I spotted the blue siamese kitten (a breed common only to dreams). It took me only a second to determine that he was the one for me. Alas, the owner of the house came out, probably wondering who was so clumsily staking out his place, so I drove on, thinking "I'll come back and steal that little blue one later."

Soon I found myself on a narrow road that wound through golden wheat fields, ending at a large, dilapidated Victorian. As I eased down the dirt road, I saw that one of the doors was open, so I parked and got out of the car (which was, by the way, my beloved real life blue Matrix). Even from outside, it was clear that the room it led to stood in stark contrast to the shabby outside of the house. It was well appointed - bright, clean, fresh wallpaper, lovely antique furniture.

A woman came out, calling to me to come inside. They had been waiting for me, she said. At first I thought she was some kind of real estate agent, but she turned out to be what is probably best described as a guide. She, of course, did not tell me this. In the way of dreams, I just knew.

As she showed me the room, I spotted a piano in the corner and rushed over, wanting to play it. As I got closer, however, it started playing a Clementi piece. I held back, wondering if it was an old player piano, watching the keys move up and down of their own accord.

The guide laughed and said, "Oh, don't worry about that. That's just the ghost, go ahead." The music stopped, so I moved forward to play myself. As I went to put my hands to the keys, I suddenly felt my arms paralysed at my sides, as though being held by invisible bonds. Call me skittish about being held captive by ghosts, but occurred to me that perhaps it would be best to leave. As if sensing my thoughts, the guide said (completely without malice and not at all creepily), "Don't leave yet. She likes you."

It was at that point that I decided it would perhaps be best to flee. While fleeing usually involves running (in the case of anything as gothic as a a Victorian and a ghost, usually in a billowing white nightgown, preferably at night, while armed with a candle), my flight involved walking out into the sun, arm in arm with the guide.

When we got outside, I noticed that there was a pond on the grounds. As I looked out over it, I saw a woman who reminded me very much of Clytie Jessop's Miss Jessel in The Innocents, but wearing a white gown, wading out into the water. For some reason, she carried a parasol as she did this. After a moment, she was gone. I looked down at the ground to see not only the shadows of the guide and myself, but also that of a third, invisible member of our party.

Realizing that the ghost had followed me outside, I decided (despite the continued protests of the guide) that it really was time to go. So, I got in the car (presumably to do some kitten stealing), and drove off, watching the guide and ghost shadow waving at me in my rearview mirror. I had not gotten too far, when it occurred to me that perhaps I had been too hasty in abandoning the house. I wondered if I shouldn't go back. Part of me really wanted to, but part of me was also a little afraid to.

Alas, I will never know what happened, because it was at that point that the real life Toby, impatient with the time it was taking me to wake up, stuck his wet nose in my face and began howling for his morning song (don't ask, it's a thing we have...)


Hell's Canyon Wildflower
Originally uploaded by Martina.
This past Sunday was a beautifully sunny day. Having spent much of it inside, I'm not even sure whether the weather itself was bright. I know that my mood certainly was. From the moment I walked into choir practice to be greeted with a warmth and enthusiasm that would melt even the dourest of hearts, I was enveloped by the sense of being among friends, a sense that it would accompany me throughout the day.

After weeks of not having gone to church in favor of getting my heathen on (there were movies to watch, books to be read, projects to be completed), I was lurked back by the gentle proddings of a music director promising African music. As it turned out, the song on the day of my triumphant return was "Jambo Rafiki" (Swahili for "Welcome, friend").

It is such a joyful, celebratory piece that it's impossible not to be swept away by its welcoming mood. It's like a musical billet-doux to all humanity. The energy it created in rehearsal and, even moreso during church itself was almost palpable. That's the beauty of music. It has the power to create such strong feelings in people - grief, intimacy, serenity, love, or in this case, unmitigated joy.

As such, it made me wonder: Why don't I do this more often? Time and time again, I've found that when I'm engaged with music, I feel happier, more confident, and I smile more. Singing (also playing music...though I don't do that so often anymore) does amazing things for my baseline level of happiness. Singing with people who make me feel so welcome does even more amazing things to it.

That is one of the things that I most love about the church we attend. It is not a large, slick or flashy, but it is so warm and welcoming. No matter how long a person stays away or where she is on her journey, it always feels like home. It's like a family that is always there, patiently waiting.

Even as someone who has very pluralistic views when it comes to spirituality, I feel comfortable there in a way that I know I would not in a lot of churches. Like many people, I've had my share of bad religion in the name Christianity. It's one of the reasons I stayed away from such places for so long, prefering to develop my own spiritual views.

There are days when I truly am not sure exactly what it is that I believe. I suppose that's why I was so fond of the idea of the Christian-Hindu-Muslim Pi when I was reading Yann Martel's book. He didn't have to pick and was able to find God in each of those philosophies. My only regret is that he couldn't have been a Buddhist too.

Still, even if I am not sure what my head thinks about all of these ideas, I do know how music makes my heart feel. One thing of which I have no doubt, is that no matter how we approach God, the divine can indeed be found in music.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Another Saturday Night

Accidental moonings not withstanding, this has turned out to be a really nice week. The sadness that has shadowed me since early summer is finally waning. I realized the other day, that I am (once again) beginning to feel happy, which is far superior to miserable or even just not unhappy. How and when that happened are unclear. I still have strongly mixed love/are-you-fucking-kidding me?!?! feelings about the Swiss (well, one in particular), but this general sense of being okay is a refreshing change. I'm content to just be thankful for it and have no plans of looking any gift horses in the mouth any time soon. Frankly, the chances of my looking even non-gift horses in the mouth are negligible, but I'm not one to quibble.

So, it's another Saturday night (even the Saturday night before Valentine's Day) and I really ain't got nobody, but that's okay. It's one of those relaxing nights when even the dogs seem happy. After a rousing round of the blanket game, Toby (who is not getting old, but is, I have decided, like prematurely grey canine Anderson Cooper - but with more joie de vivre) is snoring in the corner. Baxter is off being Baxter (an occupation that consists mostly of barking and grumbling at the cat, because she has the affrontery to be sleeping in his chair). Suffice it to say the denizens of Chateau Powellhurst are relaxed.

This rainy Oregon dark is perfect for a glass of wine, a little Sam Cooke (how can anyone not love Sam Cooke? I am so looking forward to reading Peter Guralnick's Dream Boogie), and a little reflecting over the past busy week of new dresses, strange dreams, finally completed collages, successful performance reviews, and opportunities to not only sponsor a war protest, but also potentially go to Mississippi this winter to help rebuild homes for victims of Katrina. It's nice to again be in a place where I can appreciate what life has to offer rather than just being sad for what it has taken away.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Library Hills 97233

This past Saturday I arrived at the library a few minutes before it opened to find an assemblage of about 50 fellow nerds already flanking the building. I joined my brethren, our pasty white skin and pocket protectors glowing like a beacon in the winter sun as we waited for the doors to be unlocked. Once they were opened, we, the people, streamed through the doors like black Friday shoppers at a Walmart for smarties.

While some of the nerds immediately rushed in to grab computer terminals, others moved toward the middle of the room to stake out tables. I headed for the hold shelf where I hoped to yoink my copy of Liquor before the librarian got around to reshelving it. In addition to being a nerd, I am a procrastinator of mammoth proportions who waits until the day after the deadline to pick up her books. In the end, however, victory and Poppy Z. Brite were mine.

Novel in hand, I went about my usual routine of browsing the shelves just in case anything interesting might be stowed away there. Considering the volume of holdings of the Multnomah County Library system, it is always possible. This methodology is about half responsible for the 20+ items I currently have checked out. In my zest to know, hear, see, I often have to remind myself that I don't actually have to have all the books in my possession at any given time. It is okay to leave some for the others. It's tough sometimes, though, when a book loving only child finds herself faced with shelf upon shelf of free material just waiting to be consumed.

Apparently I am not alone in my zeal. As I was browsing through the mysteries, a shelf ahead of a mother and young daughter, I heard the repeated sound of little girl hands sliding books from the shelves as she asked, "Can we get this one? What about this one?" Every time the mother would patiently tell her "No, honey, not this one. See, Mommy has a list. We're only getting the books on the list. You understand?"

The little girl would pause before thoughtfully responding "Yes, Mommy". Then, a moment later, I would again hear "What about this one?" Given the state of my book laden arms, it was impossible not to smile to myself and think, "That is a child after my own heart."

The truth is that watching the excitement with which people approach the library makes me smile. What lovely feeling to be surrounded by books and people who love them. When I think of that little girl, I'm happy for the lifetime of reading that she has ahead of her. My neighborhood is just a simple, working class neighborhood filled with people trying to eke out a happy life. Somehow knowing that they're reading as they're ekeing makes me feel closer to them.

Back when I first moved back to Portland a few years ago, I went to a party with a friend. In the course of the dreaded mingling portion of the festivities (I'm not only procrastinating nerd, but a shy nerd), I was drawn into conversation with a guy who asked me what area I lived in. When I answered, he said "Oh, sweetheart, you have got to move!" When I asked why, he said "Well, come on. Living there? What are people going to think?"

At the time, the only answer I could come up with was "Ummm...that I'm not a shallow jerk who judges people based on their zip codes?" (I am not only a procrastinating, shy nerd, but an opinionated nerd.) After Saturday's visit to my neighborhood library (which is, by the way, the largest branch in a library system that has the highest circulation of any public library in the country) I know the real answer is:

"You mean that I like to read?"

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

By the Light of the Silvery Moon

It was around 10:00 a.m. yesterday when my ass decided to throw off the linen shackles of oppression and bust through the seam of my skirt, or at least it would have, had I not immediately noticed the tear and retreated to the bathroom for a bit of needle and thread work. And all this on a day when I was congratulating myself for having lost the 5 lbs that made the dress I'd worn the day before a bit looser.

Then, today, I as I was sitting at my desk reading a complimentary e-mail about me from my boss' boss and contemplating what a rock star I am, it came to my attention that I had majorly messed up a report and subsequently approved some requests that should have never been approved as a result. While my boss was very nice about it ("It happens. It's not like I haven't done it before too"), it left me feeling more Vanilla Ice than Mick Jagger.

If I didn't know better, I'd think someone was warning me against getting too cocky. Suddenly, my successes were all turning Amos Starkadder moments, wherein I was questioning whether it was puffing myself up too much to think about drive around the countryside preaching in a Ford van. In the end, however, I managed to cast aside the Church of the Quivering Brethren and find something really cool about my mishaps. I may have seen something nasty in the woodshed, but it didn't ruin my day.

There was a time when I would have freaked out over the skirt - not so much the damage as the embarrassment (a word that takes on a new aspect in this instance). Instead, I treated myself to a new dress at lunch. And, while I'm not thrilled about my error, once I'd taken ownership of it and done what I could to fix it (we'll see in the morning, whether it was too late or not), I felt better.

So, I choose to look at these things not as failures, but instances that show how well I can deal with obstacles without allowing them to grind life or my happiness to a halt. I think the universe wants me to look at it that way. If it didn't, I wouldn't have been able to find a flattering, $24, cute dress at Target with only a half an hour of time to shop!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Story Time

Somehow life always feels better once Monday is out of the way. Things are looking good in Powellhurst. It was a nice, sunny day. It is still dark when work is over in the evenings, but the darkness is not quite as black as it was even just a few weeks ago. Finally, the days are getting noticably longer. Maybe spring will come back again one of these days after all.

This time of year always makes me think of Winter Ade, a German folk song based on a poem by Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben. When I was a kid, I used to love the verse that demanded "Aren't you going home soon? Even the cuckoo is laughing at you?" The truth is that all of those old German folk songs and stories own a lot bigger piece of my memory than any American ones do. My mother didn't know the American ones, so she taught me the songs and stories of her own childhood in Germany.
They are the songs and stories that shaped my childhood. In fact, one of my earliest recorded instances of moral outrage involves a folk song. Somewhere in a box in the garage, there is still a reel to reel tape of a three year old me breaking off singing a duet of Hänsel und Gretl with my mom to indignantly scream "böse böse Hexe!", when we got to the part about the witch.

My grandmother would tell me stories too whenever we visited her. I remember sitting out on her balcony as a child (usually with a piece of chocolate in hand), listening to her tell me various stories. She never read stories too me, but rather always told them from memory. Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten was a big favorite as were stories about the Schildbürger and also Schlemiel, but no matter which one she told, I always asked to hear this before going to bed:

There once was a man, he had seven sons. The seven sons, asked him: "Father, please tell us a story." And so the father began: "There once was a man, he had seven sons. The seven sons asked him: 'Father, please tell us a story.' And so the fateher began: "There once was a man..."

To my childish mind, this was the height of cleverness. It never failed to delight me. It still makes me smile to think about how patiently she would tell it over and over again, just to make me laugh. Perhaps those memories are why I grew up to enjoy folk tales and music as much as I do.

So, now hours after the sun has set, I'm off to do a little bedtime reading to end the day. Maybe, for old time's sake, I'll make it a Märchen.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Could You Forgive?

Imagine living for 91 days, cramped into a 4' X 3' bathroom with five other people. You have no access to food beyond the scraps that are snuck to you during the night. You cannot leave, because it would mean being brutally attacked, raped, killed. People are looking for you. You know that they have likely already killed your family, that you are probably the only one left.

Along with a million other Tutsis and moderate Hutus, Immaculée Ilibagiza's parents and brothers were killed by the Interahamwe during the Rwandan genocide as the rest of the world looked on - much as it looks on today at the crisis in Darfur, a removed, faceless crisis in a far away land. This is one of the reasons why it is important to read books such as Ilibagiza's. The put a face to events, making them about individuals rather than Tutsis, Jews, Indians, etc. In the tradition of Anne Frank, Władysław Szpilman, and other holocaust survivors, Ilibagiza has written a memoir that personalizes what could be (yet should never be) only a horrible, but distant story.

Remarkably, Ilibagiza's autobiography is not only a record of recent historical events (1994 is not so long ago...), but also a story of forgiveness. After losing her parents and all but one brother, Immaculée was able to forgive the perpetrators of her people's genocidal nightmare. As a reader in a spoiled country where some people have a hard time forgiving people who cut ahead of them in the popcorn line at the movies, this resonates as pretty astounding. At the same time, it is also beautiful. If one who has suffered as this woman did can look into the eyes of her tormentors and still see there a child of God, surely there is hope that we all can forgive those whose tresspasses against us.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Sweet Victory, Thou Art Mine!

They said it couldn't be done. Ok, technically, it was not so much them as me. I can be a bit of a critical, undercutting bitch, when it comes to my own endeavors. Funny how we sometimes treat ourselves far worse than we would expect from any outsider. But today is not a day for undercutting. It is a day for celebration!

A month has passed. Twenty-seven posts and a bit of non-posted material that ended up rambling itself into the arena of too personal for public consumption later, the Blogstravaganza experiment is over. As you may recall, the test was to post 31 unedited posts for 31 days, but the real point of it all was really to get in the habit of writing something (anything) every day. While I missed a few days of posting, I did end up writing every day, so I deem the experiment an unqualified success. I get to do that, because it's my experiment, I am Queen of Blogstravaganza. What I say goes, and what I say is: Go me!

Test results: Aside from having found that royalty fits me like a well tailored glove, I have also found that I am freaking awesome! Note that. Not just awesome, but freaking awesome; steeped in awesome sauce; a fiery ball of awesomenity; a shining blade of awe inspiring awesomeness, and I will cut you like a mofo!

And what is it that makes me such a paragon of awesomeness? Simply that I tried. There were times, when I had to turn off the t.v. or put down the book I was reading and drag my considerable ass off the couch or out of bed in order to write, but I did it. Every day. Not everything I wrote (or even posted) was technically what could be called good. Some of it was a rambly, incohesive train wreck, but there were some things that I wrote and ended up thinking "Huh. This isn't half bad. " You have to understand, this is high and enthusiastic praise indeed when coming from me about me.

The funny thing is that some of the things I ended up liking best were written on days when I was really feeling like I had nothing to say. Of course, reading back, there were some nights when I obviously did have nothing to say. There were, however, others when I started writing something half-assed for the blog that ended up evolving into thoughts with an actual point. Those thoughts then sometimes grew into pieces with potential.

The lesson here? Not everything you write, sing, make, create is going to be perfect or even good, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. Sometimes you're going to write complete and utter shit, but you have to grab your best pair of hip boots and wade through it to get to the good stuff. If you keep at it long enough, somewhere between the imperfections, you will find sparks of ideas, phrases, whole pieces that fall together and are workable. Then, before you know it, you'll be sitting at your desk, typing a way, cackling at the cleverness of your own jokes.

That was probably the biggest lesson of the month. Of course, any writer or writing book will tell you this. It's the whole point of Julia Cameron's morning pages in The Artist's Way. Marc Acito (who is, by the way, very gracious and funny) echoed this in a short e-mail exchange after I contacted him to get a signed book plate for a friend's birthday a year or two ago. Any number of interviews with writers talking about their processes will tell you the same thing. The thing is that I am one of those people who sometimes needs to be hit over the head with a brick to get the idea. As we all have experienced at one time or another, it is one thing to hear something from Marc Acito and quite another to experience it for ourselves.

The truth is that I learned quite a few things from my little experiment:

1-It is quite possible that I don't suck like an industrial grade hoover. In case you have any doubts about yourself, you probably don't either.

2-It is much easier to accomplish something when you give yourself a clear time frame. My mantra when I wanted to chuck the whole thing: "It's only 31 days. I can do anything for 31 days."

3-What I like is not necessarily what other people like. Sometimes they will like something I wrote, even when I have in my great wisdom deemed it "stupid". It's almost like people have personal preferences and minds of their own or something. So weird.

4- Putting your plans out into the universe can keep you at least semi-honest. It also compells some people to point it out whenever you stumble, but you just smile, say thank you, and try move on without falling on your face. Luckily, most people are at least kind about it, and good natured nagging can also be helpful.

5- I am amazed at how much I can say, even on days when I think I have nothing to say.

6- The project was actually not as difficult as I thought. (I am actually toying with extending it, since they always say that it takes 3 months to truly develop a habit).

7- It is liberating to commit to putting one's thoughts out there with no major editing, rewriting, etc. It takes the pressure off.

8- (I know I've already said this, but it bears repeating) The goal is not to be perfect, it is simply to try.

So, there you have it. My assistant Beaker and I thank you for reading to the end our study. I am off to reward myself with a nice slice of peach pie, and think about whether I will continue on into February or perhaps even March (now that would be challenging!) or retreat back into posting only when I feel like it. Either way, I'm sure I'll be back soon.

HRH Martina of Powellhurst