Saturday, April 28, 2007

White Roses

Back when I was still teaching German, one of the staple tools used in introducing a discussion of Holocaust resistance was Michael Verhoeven's movie Die Weiße Rose. It is a movie I have seen dozens of times, but that doesn't make the story of the Scholl siblings and their friends in the resistance any less moving or inspirational. So, when it came to suggesting a film as part of a series of Holocaust remembrance activities, Verhoeven's 1982 film about the White Rose resistance group immediately came to mind. It is one of those films I always enjoyed discussing with college students, because it focuses on a group of people about their age, who stood up to fight against injustice. When I was younger, the thing that always made the Scholls more relatable than than someone like Gandhi, who always seemed a venerable, but lofty ideal of engagement in the work of justice and compassion, was that they were just students, people like me.

So, it was with great disappointment that I was unable to locate a US region compatible DVD to share for the movie night that had already been scheduled for this past Thursday. What I was able to locate, however, was Marc Rothemund's newer movie Sophie Scholl: Die Letzten Tage, which retells the story of the White Rose from the perspective of Sophie Scholl's last days on earth. The thing about this movie that is interesting is that its director had access to court transcripts and historical information that have come available since the reunification, adding another layer to the Scholls' already well known story.

Because of this information, Rothemund is able to focus much more extensively on Sophie's interrogation. The detail afforded by this approach, offers a glimpse of an NSDAP comprised not of whip wielding charicatures, but rather an (in some ways more chilling) beaurocracy made up of people bent on filling their coldly administrative roles as governmental functionaries, sometimes even in the face of their own doubts. The interrogator Mohr, for example, is portrayed as having moments of sympathy for Sophie. He gives her many opportunities (in the original German, Sophie tells her cellmate that Mohr tried to build her "a golden bridge") to recant or blame her participation on her impressionable nature as a female. In the end, however, Sophie remains firm in her resolve that she knew what she was doing and would do it again, because it is the only decent course of action. Tellingly, even though Mohr is responsible for elliciting the confession that dooms another human being to death, he does not respond when she asks him if he thinks his cause will be the victorious one. This silence, of course, says as much about his faith as any detailed reply might have.

Ultimately, what makes this film interesting to me is that middle layer. We all have heard the horrors of the death trains, the concentration camps, the executions, the genocide. What is not as often discussed is the common compliance that gets to the heart of how these atrocities were made possible, how they were allowed, not only by the German citizenry but by the world. Of course, there are many social and economics factors in post-Versailles Germany that helped create the conditions under which Nazism could flourish, however the truth is that if every person who had even just misgivings about the path Germany was taking had stood up as the Scholls did, it could not have happened.

There is a lot from this page of history that applies to today. It applies to our own apathy about the world in which we live. It applies to the willingness of many of our citizens to look the other way while our administration leads us down a dubious path. It applies to abuses perpetrated in our names at Abu Graib. People like to think that large scale injustice is an unrepeatable a part of the past, that we somehow know better than "they" did then, that we're smarter, more sophisticated, that it could never happen again. We're different now, right?

This is simply not true - not in a world where the goings on in Dharfour can happen even in the wake of regret over Rwanda, not in a world where the U.S. can be years into an aggressively unnecessary war, lead by a Commander-in-Chief, who refuses to accept that there could be any other viable alternative, because he is The Decider, and what The Decider says, goes. Even much of the rhetoric is the same "if you're not for us, you're against us", "dissent offers comfort/aid to the enemy", "criticism of bad policy demoralizes the troops". When you listen closely, many of the charges brought against the Scholls in their trial are present in current political rhetoric. And that is exactly what makes the courage of a principled girl who was executed for speaking out against injustice 63 years ago so valuable to look at today.

Monday, April 23, 2007

All Signs Point to Cursed

Folk wisdom has it that the desk on the other side of the partition from mine is cursed. In the five years I've worked in my office, no one who has sat in that spot has stayed for more than a year or two. My boss teases that it's because of me, but after extensive test marketing and analysis, I have determined that I have a delightful personality, therefore the only possible reasonable answer is a curse.

It's been suggested that the problem could be that The Desk sits just outside of the boss' office. As such, whoever sits there has traditionally tended to be the person who gets most picked on for any number of offenses including but not limited to: eating, humming, talking too much, spending too much time on the phone (even on work calls), excessive radio volume, having headphones on too loud, and (in the case of its most recent, brief occupant, who after two days begged to be moved on the grounds that the desk was too high for her) decorating during a lunch break. What makes this spot particularly perilous is that the same activities can take place in any other cubicle in the building without even the bat of an eyelash. Do them at The Desk, and it's like some kind of silent alarm goes off, alerting our manager that ill doings are afoot, even when half a building away.

As an example, despite the Decree 428B, Section 3 banning the consumption food at our desks (depending on managerial whim of the day it can sometimes also just be over our keyboards), one of my coworkers (we'll call her Jane) happily marches past our manager's door every day around 10:30 with a cup of yogurt or a bag of freshly popped popcorn. My boss never says a thing, except for when making comments about how good the popcorn smells. My other coworker, has a bowl that gets filled multiple times a day in a loud symphony of crackle crackle crackle, shake shake shake as she empties chips from a bag that she keeps in her desk. Never a word.

In contrast, the former occupant of The Desk used to get chastised on a routine basis for eating there. It got to the point that we all used to tease her that she could probably get in trouble for just looking hungry. Now an argument could be made that had The Desk's occupant exercised a little more stealth in carrying out her infractions (like maybe dressing camoulflage or perhaps a fetching black turtleneck and black face paint), she might have gotten caught less often. Given my mythomaniacal leanings, however, it seems to me that the only plausible explanation is that The Desk is cursed, and here's why:

Everyone knows that my boss has days when she can take micromanagement to heretofore unknown heights. She is at heart a decent, well meaning person, but she just can't help herself. I don't think she generally intends to insult people's competence. She'd probably feel bad if she realized, because she sees it all as "just doing her job". All of that aside, however, the fixation on the goings on at The Desk any time its occupied is unnatural and intense, even for her, and that, my friends, is where the curse comes in.

Most of all, however, I just think curses are given short schrift these days. Sure, there are those who have their runs of bad luck and make half hearted jokes about being cursed. There was even that great story line in the buffyverse that explained Angel's status as a vampire with a soul as being the product of a gypsy curse. But, let's face it, curses are woefully underused anymore. I mean, sure, who hasn't wanted to pull out this old chestnut* when someone steals her parking place or jams the copier at work, leaving it for some poor, unsuspecting coworker to handle:

I curse thee! let a sufferer's curse
Clasp thee, his torturer, like remorse;
Till thine Infinity shall be
A robe of envenomed agony;
And thine Omnipotence a crown of pain,
To cling like burning gold round thy dissolving brain!

(*from the Prometheus Smacks Zeus Down section of Shelly's Prometheus Unbound, but applicable to ire raising situations of all kinds)

Over all, however, there's just not a lot of cursing going on anymore. No one really goes around calling for much envenomed agony. I guess they're all too busy watching reality t.v. (which from my perspective is a curse in it's own right). That's really where the people at Gypsy Curses, Inc. have their work cut out for them. For the bargain price of a dollar, not only will they "cater to your every gypsy cursing need", but they will smite your enemies with afflictions ranging from scurvy to gigantism to amoebic dysentary too. If they can do all that, clearly someone could have cursed the desk next to mine. That's all I'm saying.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Jilly Bean

When I was four years old, Jill took me to school for show and tell. While all the other kids were content to share a favorite game or toy, she wanted to share me. So it was that I found myself being stared at by a bunch of five year olds in Mrs. Price's P.M. Kindergarten class as Jill extolled the many virtues that rendered me, a mere four year old, suitable material for the role of oldest and dearest friend to a sophisticated, school going Kindergartener.

Creative and unwaiveringly loyal even as a child, auburn haired Jill was my first best friend. A lot of our early years were spent together - sometimes playing, sometimes sitting in separate corners of the room reading. On rainy days we stayed inside, cutting out paper doll cities from construction paper. On sunny days, we made mud pies and soup of leaves, grass and orange colored berries from the tree in my back yard.

Jill was in many ways the slightly older, wiser sister I never had. When she was old enough to leave me behind during the day to go to school, she would come home in the afternoons to teach me what she had learned. When I was old enough to join her at school, we hung out together at recess, playing on the jungle gym and doing cherry drops from the bars. When she found Jesus at the tender age of eight, Jill taught me under the watchful eye of the Holly Hobby mural on her bedroom wall that I could pray to ask Him into my heart and thereby be forever saved.

While it would make a great kind of praise the Lord story to say that this endeavor set me on the path of righteousness, forever cementing my spiritual evolution as walk through Christianity, it wouldn't be true. Today my spritual views are eclectic at best. What is true, however, is that even 30 years after this vignette took place, I am touched at the thought of this little girl who was so concerned about the prospect of a heaven that didn't include me that she made it her mission to save my immortal soul.

But Jill wasn't only worried about my immortal soul. She worried about me in the here and now too. She was one of the first person to teach me that there are things more important than being right - like being kind. I remember once when we were outside chatting it up with a group of kids at recess, I made some outrageous claim that was clearly wrong, maybe even downright assinine. I didn't mean to impart bad information. Despite my eagerness to pass it on, I just wasn't very discriminating in what I believed. Some of the other kids called me on it. Jill knew I was wrong too, but instead of ganging up on me with them, she said "No, Tina's right. I heard about that too."

Once they saw someone else was on my side, the other kids eased up. Maybe, just maybe, if even an older kid agreed with me, it was they who were in the wrong. Later, when they were gone, Jill leaned over and whispered to me "You know, they were right." I remember asking her why, then, would she side with me. She just looked at me in that sweet, clear eyed way of hers and said, "Because you're my friend and I didn't want you to be alone."

That was just the kind of girl she was. Even after her family moved away to Gresham, we still got together often. As we grew older, we grew in separate ways, developed different interests. We didn't see each other as often any more, but one thing that could always be counted on was that she would eventually resurface. Sometimes it would be a call, sometimes a letter would come, sometimes I'd look up and there she'd be coming through the front garden gate, but she always returned.

Then early one evening as she was riding home from work on her bike, a driver didn't see her in the twilight and she stopped coming back. I was about twenty at the time and remember seeing the news in the paper one day as I was at PSU, waiting for my German class to start. Who would have ever thought when we first met, two little girls calling to each other from opposite sides of a street neither of us was allowed to cross that one of us would be gone by the time we reached our early twenties?

In these days following the Virginia Tech shootings and the waste of so many promising, young lives, I find myself thinking about her a lot. The circumstances were different, but the loss of the potential she and all of those other lovely, young people shared still leaves the same kind of gaping hole in the universe. The mind struggles to wrap itself around the whys are wherefores of such a reality. It all seems so wasteful, so senseless. Whatever it is that does happen after we die, it is somehow soothing to think of my sweet, smiling ivory and auburn Jill welcoming these young people to their next great adventure, letting them know that they are not alone.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Over the weekend I participated in a creative workshop in honor of Yom Hashoah , otherwise known as Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day. Yom Hashoah begins at sunset on the 27th day of the Jewish month of Nisan and ends the following evening. So Sunday afternoon found me and five other women gathered together in a church basement to talk about remembrance, play with poetry, and paint prayer flags.

It was a great experience and not only because I got to help plan it (my part was small, it was The Poet who did most of the work!). An added bonus was that the part of me that likes layers loves the idea of a such a diverse group of women (white, black, gay, straight, American, immigrant, Northern, Southern) gathering together to share lunch in the basement of a UCC church while discussing, writing poetry and creating images on Buddhist inspired prayer flags, all in remembrance of the Shoah. That is multi-culturalism at its best.

It was also a great experience because writing has traditionally been a pretty solitary endeavor for me. As much as I love to write, I only ever took one elective writing course in college, so the format of such a workshop was relatively new to me. Frankly, the idea always scared me a little bit at the same time as it intrigued me. I've often toyed with taking some writing classes or joining a writer's group, but retreated from the idea out of nervousness that I'd be that person whose output was the literary equivalent of a Hallmark card, that person who didn't really belong there. Sure, it might be good for me to see that such thoughts are just my considerable crazy talking, but what if I went and everyone laughed at my words, confirming my long held suspicions that I actually suck?

The thing is, I think I'm actually a closer to being willing to take that risk. Once I was at this workshop, worrying about the quality of what I was writing was the furthest thing from my mind. The atmosphere was so safe and the exercises structured in such a comfortable way that it wasn't an issue. It was empowering to find it was much more about process and about creating in community than about scary emotio-creative nakedness. It was an invaluable experience. I'm not going to lie and say that I'm ready to post the poem that I wrote there (or any other of my other stabs at poetry) for public consumption outside of that very safe zone, but it was a good step in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Theatre Lives at Canyon Creek

Yesterday as I was happily minding my own business, enjoying the increasingly rare luxury of a full lunch hour, I was treated to a live production of the famed drama "Three Assholes in Suits Hold a Lunch Meeting in a Café". Led by a delightful individual who liberally peppered his conversation with every imaginable inflection of the word "fuck", the piece centered on the approaching firing of one or more ne'er-do-wells. These individuals were of no importance on the food chain because they were, in the words of their great loud talker of a leader, "just staffers, nobodies".

This was all giddily discussed at such high volume that even tired bystanders, who just wanted to eat their lunch while delving into some light reading in the form of Sonia Singh's Bollywood Confidential, had no choice but to eavesdrop on a lunchtime tour de force featuring not only a riveting plot filled with low-esteem for fellow human beings, but also political intrigue and witty banter including:

Today #1: The thing is there are others.

Would Be Donald F. Trump: "Tell me who they are, and I'll fucking fire them too. Do these people matter?"

Toady #2: "Do we really want to single anyone out?"

Would Be Donald F. Trump [gleefully]: "Fuck yeah, they're just staffers. Right now I really don't care."

Because these people were apparently senior (in rank and age) employees for some conservative politician and thereby also members of the party of values, there was also much talking of "fucking legislation" (do we really need to legislate that too?) and "showing the fucking Democrats what we're doing". All in all a charming lunchtime soundtrack that turned out not to be about corporate assholes in suits, as I had first thought, but rather political assholes in suits.

Before I go on, I should admit that I am not a total stranger to swearing. I don't talk like a dock worker or anything, but a well placed *&%^^&!!!!! sometimes gets the point across in a most freeing way. But does it need to be used loudly and every other word in a public place? For most of my lunch, I sat eating my lasagna and unsuccessfully trying to ignore these people. When that didn't work, I resorted to furtive, but hostile glances. (I'm kind of passive aggressive that way.)

As it turns out, they didn't work either. By the end of lunch, my annoyance had kicked the ass of my usual mild mannered shyness. I try really hard be sensitive about not infringing upon others, so sometimes I really resent it when others don't return that regard. Within 30 minutes of my arrival, they had driven every other patron out of the café. It was just me, them and the sweet Asian lady who owns the place, and is more likely to sprout wings and fly away than she would be to ask them to knock it off.

I'm not sure what did it, but as I got up to go, something actually snapped in me and I thought: What makes this bunch so extraordinary that everyone else is expected to tolerate their rudeness? Did their mommas never teach them about how they were special - just like everyone else? Before I knew it the words, "That is a really delightful vocabulary you have there. You must be so proud. Great representation of your campaign!" were bursting forth from my mouth like some kind of explosive verbal diarrhea. Once I realized what I was saying, I expected the response to be something along the lines of "Yeah, well, fuck you lady!" Instead, my comment was met with a kind of surprised silence.

The only person to say anything at all was the beleaguered café owner, who took me aside on my way out to tell me what a habitual nuiscance three of them are. They come in early, don't order much, then plant themselves for a leisurely afternoon of talking loud, crude talking. No wonder her business has been down since she bought the place.

It all made me think about how inconsiderate and spoiled people can sometimes be. As a group, we are capable of such extreme awesomeness, but some of the things you hear out in the world sure tarnish our collective shine. Even more than utter lack of linguistic creativity, I think the thing that bothered me most was hearing someone refer to other human beings as though he genuinely believed they were nothing. Sometimes people suck at their jobs. Sometimes they're not very competent. Sometimes they even need to be fired, but that doesn't make them nothing. Meanwhile, I can only assume that karma will take care of "Donald F. Trump" and be glad that I don't have season tickets to his productions.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Senseless Rambling or Why I Heart Sitemeter

If we're paying attention, we learn something new every day. For example, one morning on the way to work I learned from reading a sign while waiting at the gas station that Chuck E. Cheese is "Now Open at 1 a.m.!" A couple of days later, I learned that the sign was partially obscured by a phone pole on my first reading. What it really said "Now Open at 10 a.m.!" Somehow I found this comforting, because, really, what kind of person goes to kids theme restaurants featuring arcade games and animatronic characters at 1 a.m.? In my head I picture little kids, all hopped up on cocoa and marshmallows, wearing fuzzy slippers and nightgowns, slinking out of their homes for a late night rendezvous at the Pizza Time Theater. Or maybe they're lured by some strung out, low rent Tinkerbell who fills their heads with promises of a personal audience with the great Chuck E. himself. The whole thing just seemed kind of unsavory. 10 a.m. just seems much more reasonable.

While we're talking about Chuck E., is it just me or does he not look like a giant rat? Wikipedia calls him an "anthropomorphic mouse", but I still find the mascot costume somewhat disturbing - not at all the kind of thing that makes me think "mmmmm, I want to eat THERE!" Of course, I am not without my C. E. Cheese prejudices. When I was a teenager, my cousin got her first job there, and would come home bragging about how she whiled away the hours spelling out dirty words in pepperoni on the counter. This went on until a manager caught her and demoted her to head rodent, and it became her job to wear the "mouse" costume.

But I digress. My point is that when you keep your eyes open, you see things. That is what is so fun about services like Sitemeter and their ilk. They see things for you. With out it, I could not be as delighted as I am to know that this very weblog is locatable by googling the following:

  • Powellhurst woods
  • Charlie & the cheese factory
  • Schreuderspitze
  • quaker colony the dalles
  • fiona dunscombe
  • isaak dinesen
  • appropriateness of sympathy for perry smith
  • shosholoza bathroom [what prompted that search???]

and my personal favorite:

  • anti-war fruitcakes - Somehow I'm thinking that particular search was oozing about as much good will as the guy who tailgated me down I-205 the other day, flipping me off for a really long time (seriously, I'm surprised his finger didn't get tired. He must have been really committed to his cause), because he apparently did not enjoy my "US Out of Iraq NOW! bumper sticker.

Anyway, without my ability to snoop around my own site (which kind of cancels out the "snooping" part, since you're allowed to look at your own stuff), I would also not know that my current readership breaks down into:

  • US - 72% (hey, mans - you've gone one point you were only 65%, which wasn't all bad as it made me feel multi-cultural and cosmopolitan)
  • UK - 14% (You know who you are!)
  • Korea - 2 % (Annyong ha shimnikka - Oh, I really hope that means "hi" and not something like "I have a booger in my nose", I'm placing great faith in you, Internets!)
  • Unkown - 1% (I don't really know what to say to you, Unknown)
  • Germany - 1% (Wilkommen! Wie geht's? Now, I know that isn't anything about boogers, because that would be "Ich habe einen Popel in der Nase", and I would never say that to you, because, well, frankly, I like the cut of your jib)
  • South Africa - 1% (Molo! Sawubona! Hallo! Hello!)
  • Pakistan - 1% (hello, Islāmī Jumhūrīyah-e-Pākistān, 6th most populous country in the world)
  • India - 1% (thanks for taking in the Dalai Lama and for Gandhi. Oh, and curry, definitely thanks for curry!)
  • France - 1% (Bonjour, mes amis!)
  • Ecuador - 1% (Salve, Oh Ecuador!)
  • China - 1% (Ni hao!)
  • Canada - 1% (sorry for being such a crappy neighbor these past few years, we'll try to do better)
  • The Netherlands - 1% (Welkom and thanks for the crepe restaurant by the Anne Frank House! I ate there 18 years ago and still remember it fondly. I wonder if it is still there...)
  • Swiss Cheese Caves - 0% (That's all you get. You know what you did! Apologies may be sent via e-mail, surface mail or carrier pigeon)

And with that riveting analysis, I am off to work, where I have been learning lots of new things as well, for example that "kind frankness" really does work. It really has been looking up since the implementation of my kf policy, but is at the same time more stressful due to unyielding deadlines and departing staff. I am hopeful that it will even out again once I have learned the new duties I've taken over. Until then, the raise I just got somewhat eases my pain. Have a happy Tuesday!

Monday, April 02, 2007


Originally uploaded by Martina.
It is such a strange feeling this morning to think that when I go to work today my neighbor will no longer be there. Although I will miss her (at work, anyway - I have my doubts that we'll never see each other again after), I am really pleased for her. Her last day was Friday. She is leaving to re-open her own business, which will be great for her and also provide her with the flexibility to be more available to her teenaged son. Similarly, I know someone else who sold her house to go back to school and devote the rest of her time to writing. I have yet another friend, who is, after years of floating, volunteering at the library in preparation of going back to school to get a Master's in Library Science.

It's so nice to someone grasp for what lights up her soul rather than being held back by fear or societal proclamations of what is a "worthwhile" pursuit. So often we spend too much time trying to do or be what we think is expected that we ignore the callings of our hearts. The truth is that it is okay to not care about power, money, and all of that corporate crap. What is more important is that we find something, somewhere in our lives that we do care about. That might be our work, it might be where we volunteer, it might be what study, it might be our free time, but it must be. So, hooray for those who do what they love. As Paolo Coehlo wrpte in my favorite of his novels (if you've been reading here a while, you know it's The Alchemist), "You'll never be able to escape from your heart. So it's better to listen to what it has to say."