Monday, June 25, 2007

The Gimpfoot Film Festival

After over a year free of gimpfootery, adding that bit of running to my recently increased walking schedule has heralded the return of my gimpy foot. No, wait. The foot didn't actually go anywhere, it's just the gimpiness that is back from hiatus. Really, it hadn't been too bad until Sunday morning. I am choosing to believe it was an aberration, because it's been really nice, this pain free living of the past year. So, in the name of happy feet, I decided to make yesterday a day for lazing around reading (enjoying Calvin Trillin's love letter to his departed wife, About Alice and struggling through C.S. Lewis' less riveting Mere Christianity) and watching movies. After many weekends with no loafing, doing a whole lot of nothing felt pretty good.

Unlike last summer's lonely hearts film festival, which was a complete hodgepodge , this one had an accidental theme of churches, religion, and movies that accidentally fell into my lap rather than me choosing them on my own.

First on the list Joan of Arc: Child of War, Soldier of God courtesy of my neighbor. This is a documentary was originally a made for t.v. production narrated by Alfred Molina and starring Anna Paquin's voice as Joan. I'm not sure why, but someone else was cast to actually play the maid of Orleans. The documentary was produced by the ominous sounding name of "Faith & Values Media" (which sounds like the media wing of the RNC) and attempts to tell Joan's story through her own eyes and words. It also features commentary from assorted biographers and academics along side that of the executive producer of the t.v. series Joan of Arcadia (is that still on?). I have no idea what the producer's background is, but have to wonder at the scholar/t.v. lady combination. I guess maybe it makes it more accessible for non-nerds who hear academic and think "boring". I have to admit that I've never actually bothered to watch Arcadia. Maybe that would explain it for me. A look at Arcadia Joan's diary on the CBS site sure didn't illuminate anything for me other than that it made me think the show must lean more toward being inspired by the idea of what kind of hijinx would ensue if young girl were to start hearing voices than it does toward the source material that inspired it. Either way, I thought she was an interesting choice of commentator and that the film was, all in all, a pretty fair introduction to Joan's biography.

In the way of A&E profiles and History channel biographies, the enjoyment factor of offerings like this one probably goes up in direct proportion to the size of a person's inner history nerd. I'm not sure my nerd knows that she's supposed to be inner. Joan of Arc is a figure who has held fascination for me for quite some time now. I've always been interested in that fuzzy line between unusual personal experience, reality and madness. Can you imagine how you would feel, if at the age of 13 (or 30, for that matter), you suddenly started hearing voices proclaiming it was your destiny to change the course of history? Would you think they were real or the product of mental illness? That is really the question about Joan of Arc. Were the voices that inspired her a real example of divine intercession or did they come form somewhere within herself?

As would be expected of a production of a body called Faith & Values Media, the film came down firmly on the side of geniune mystical experience rather than hallucination or schizophrenia, noting that Jeanne was the only mystic to exert an actual effect on society. Not only that, but when you think about it, it is huge that during a time when women had few rights, a young, inexperienced girl would be given a whole army and manage to lead it to multiple victories against a force such as the occupying British military. Those under her command would not have been men who were used to taking direction from a woman, which makes her accomplishments pretty large, even without the attendant questions of mysticism vs. madness.

Next up, satellite dish and a German Heimatfilm, Der Schönste Tag Meines Lebens (The Best Day of my Life). Filmed in 1957 when Heimatfilme were at the height of their popularity, Der Schönste Tag... is the story of an orphaned Hungarian boy, who is adopted by an old ship's captain. After learning that the boy has a talent for singing, the grandfatherly old man helps the boy acheive his dream of becoming one of the Wiener Sängerknaben (Vienna Boys Choir). Of course, as is the way in such films, it has its sappy drama filled moments, when the boy is almost kicked out of the choir for stealing. In an attempt to save the pretty nurse/mother figure who takes care of the boys from being fired when a large sum of money goes missing, he cops to a crime he didn't commit. Somehow in his bid to keep everyone from realizing he has lied to protect her, the boy runs away and manages to incur a life threatening injury when he falls in the river. The nurse prays, a golden shaft of light sets the crucifix on the wall near the boy's bed aglow signifying that tragedy will be averted and the boy wakes up. True to the genre, this is all done against idyllic backdrops with much singing. Ultimately the nurse and her choir director fiance provide the requisite happy ending by adopting the little orphan boy.

Of course, it's all completely formulaic. One of the few references I could find to the movie on the internet completely panned it, but I have to admit that I have a real soft spot for Heimatfilme. They always remind of childhood visits to Germany. When I was kid, my grandfather would tape them whenever they were on t.v., so we'd all have something to watch together when I came to visit. So, even though the genre was at its most popular at least ten years before I was born, I have a pretty good familiarity for someone my age.

The final viewing of the weekend was Stigmata, a film I thought I had already seen, but felt bad refusing when my neighbor pressed it on me. In the end it turned out that I had never seen it before and had confused it with some other movie. As might be expected, the story is about an individual who begins to experience the stigmata. At first, she can't figure out what is going on. After receiving a shifty crucifix as a gift from her mother, who bought it from a street vendor while on vacation, our heroine suffers a metaphysical attack while she is taking a bath, then lands in the hospital as an apparent suicide attempt. The story leaks into the newspaper and that's how she meets handsome science-priest, Gabriel Byrne when he is sent by the Vatican to investigate her case. The twist is that unlike traditional stigmatics she's not Catholic, not a believer, not anything but a very young looking, thin, pre-Medium Patricia Arquette who wants her life back.
In some ways the movie reminded me a bit of The Da Vinci Code in the sense that it had a subtext of cover up with the hierarchy of the Vatican being none to pleased at the prospect of the derailing of Christian history via information that does not fit into the accepted canon of belief. It also had some shades of Emily Rose, combining possession with the concept of stigmata. At times it really did not make a whole lot of sense to me, especially the line between the deceased priest who was trying to convey a message about a lost gospel of Jesus and what were ostensibly malevolent forces. That said, when taken as what it is, I can't say that I didn't enjoy the film. It was suspenseful and I lost track of time, which is pretty much all I wanted on my day of taking pleasure in leisure.
And so ends my German Kino Plus/movies borrowed from my neighbor film festival. A day later, my gimpfoot is much improved and it's only four more days to the weekend, so things are looking good!

Friday, June 22, 2007

As pigs fly by...

Remember ten short days ago when I boldly proclaimed that the only way I'd run up a hill was if there was ice cream at the top? Apparently it's a good thing that I specified that the ban applied to inclines and not flat surfaces, because it allows to save face just a little. I cannot believe I am typing this and I still don't know how she did it (my current favorite theory involves hypnosis via the pendulous swing of a watch made entirely of carne asada marinated in spices that just happen to make the subject lose all memory), but somehow my neighbor/walking buddy cajoled me into running when we went on our track walk this afternoon. I'm not saying I ran far and I won't pretend I wasn't wheezing like a geriatric asthmatic after a few feet, but I actually ran and it did not even kill me! Tomorrow, she claims, we will run a little further. I am cautiously optimistic, but would be happy even just continuing with our walking regularly.

Things have been going pretty well on my food crackdown. It has now been twelve days since I've consumed any refined sugar or flour. My meals are mostly consisting of salads, fish, chicken, fresh berries, nuts and lots of non-starchy vegetables. The best part is that it seems to be having a good effect. Some of my clothes are already fitting more loosely. Moreover, except for the one day when I accidentally found myself at a chocolate tasting (leave it to me to get invited to a product preview that is in large part a chocolate tasting a few days after starting a diet!), it's been pretty easy. Still, I'm pretty pleased that my resolve is strong enough to withstand even a room full of chocolate.

That's always been the surprising thing to me when I've given up sugar in the past. It is so difficult at first. You crave it to the point where you think you could roll naked in it then marry it, because you know deep in your heart that sugar could never be just a one night stand. When you first give it up, your head hurts, your energy flags, and sometimes you want to cry, because you know you will never love this way again. Then, suddenly you wake up one day and you just don't care about sugar. You can think about marzipan and swiss chocolate and the biggest thing it arouses is "meh". Instead, foods that are naturally sweet, like small, juicy red strawberries actually seem like a huge treat, even when they are not surrounded by chocolate and served in a cushion of soft ice cream nestled in Dairy Queen blizzard cup.

While I'm not claiming that I'll never eat sugar again (I've learned from my proclamations on running!), I am finding how good it feels not to be weighed down by foods. I find myself feeling so much more energetic than I did even just a few weeks ago, and that's a good feeling. It makes me feel hopeful. I might still be a fixer upper, but I've got potential (and slightly sore calves with a smattering of gimp foot, but that's ok)!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Where do you go?

One of my favorite techniques when preparing to meditate (or just take a break to relax when my mind is hyperactively racing around and I can't sleep) is to stretch out, close my eyes, take, deep slow breaths counting up to 10 with each in- and exhale, then I slowly work my way from my toes to up to my head, tightening and consciously relaxing each muscle until I reach the spot where my eye would be, if I were a cyclops. Another similar way to do this is to picture the color of relaxation (whatever color you think it might color varies, but it always has a little sparkly silver like starlight mixed in with it) and imagine it slowly infusing you, relaxing as it travels the same path up your body. Yet another means of doing this is to imagine yourself descending a staircase, going deeper into relaxation with each step.

The writing book I'm currently working my way through (Janell Moon's Stirring the Waters), uses a variation of this final method in a focusing technique to prepare for writing. Moon calls the familiar exercise "Gazing into the waters", but poses a question I've never really considered in all the years I've used it for relaxation: "Where does the stairway take you?" Much to my surprise, it is not a beach (though in my head, the ocean or at least a stream of some sort are well within walking distance). Upon consideration I've decided that the white, marble stairway to relaxation leads me to a garden surrounding a white ruin overgrown with old-fashioned climbing roses of the sort that could be found in a Waterhouse painting. It has stone benches, trees with ripe fruits, peacocks, an abundance of wildflowers and birdsong. It is a place where the sun always shines, it's never too hot, and my fingers never cramp from holding a pen too tightly. When I want it, there's always a cool breeze. It is a place where I can be alone or meet new characters and where poetry spills forth, always sounding better than it does in the real world. It is a place of my own creation where I can sit, talk, think, breathe without the worry of being interrupted by anyone unless I want to be. Best of all, unlike the real world, it's a place limited only by the boundaries of my imagination.

So, because everyone is different and my place even surprised me, I wonder: Where would you go?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


What a very long day it has been. I left home a bit after 8 a.m. and am just now getting home a little before 11 p.m. After attending a community meeting on the ICE raids here in Portland last week, my mind is racing with things I'd like to post, but really too overwhelmed to put them into words. We had discussions at church on Sunday (sheesh, it's only Tuesday, yet Sunday feels so far gone!) about The New Sanctuary Movement and what could be done as a body to provide aid to the people affected. The raids left many families unable to pay rent, provide for their children, etc. As such, the city's justice, human rights and labor groups are pretty fired up. Even the mayor's office released a statement in protest of how the raids were handled by ICE.

I learned yesterday from a Latina neighbor that eight families in her church were affected by the raids with some children left with no parental care. Whatever one might think about immigration law and the necessity of reform (and I certainly believe our current paradigm is not cutting it), I can't see anything right about children being left with no parental care, families without a means to food. If I as an adult abandon my children, charges will be brought against me, yet if children are forcibly abandoned as an after effect such a raid, then justice has somehow been served? It's messed up and it was truly overwhelming to look around the room when the audience was asked how many of them had a family member who had been arrested and then how many had been arrested in the raids themselves, especially seeing how many had children with them.

The whole issue is so complex - far too much so to address with short shrift, but the bottom line is that there has to be a better way of handling it than tearing families apart and putting people in peril of not being able to obtain the basic necessities required to live. That goes beyond immigration control and into the area of human rights. These people are not here "taking American jobs" or because they "jumped line" (a newly found understanding from tonight's meeting - that I admittedly need to look into somewhat more before feeling totally confident about its veracity - is that under current U.S. law there is no really viable way to for the average "unskilled worker" to enter the country legally from Mexico and - this part I already knew - that when you talk about "line jumping" you also have to take into account that there are, based on US foreign policy of the day, nationalities that are given preference when it comes to immigration, which adds some nuance to the "but what about the people who come here legally?" question). Our current immigration question is the direct result of a myriad of conditions brought on by economics, NAFTA, the Mexican government, our policies, etc. It's enough to make a person's head spin.

That aside, I can't get away from the feeling (and, being rather fond of having a conscience, I consider it a good thing that I have it) that these are fellow human beings we're talking about - people who just want a better life for themselves and their families. They're not "other", they're not against us, they're not animals, they're not lesser, because they weren't born here. Most of our families emigrated from somewhere at one time. It just seems like that alone should breed a bit of compassion, whatever our feelings are about the tangled mess of policy versus reality.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A rose by any other name...

What a nice, busy weekend it was here in Powellhurst! I woke up Saturday morning to find that I had lost eight pounds since the last time I weighed myself, then got ready to visit the mechanic to finally get that transmission flush I've been putting off. And, boy, is it a good thing I did! When they did the courtesy inspection, they found that I had not one but TWO tires with nails in them. One was repairable, but the other actually had an area where the nail was beginning to pierce the side wall of the tire and could not be saved. Luckily, I just bought new tires last summer and they were still under the protection plan, so it only cost me $25 for a new one. Even more fortuitously, the problem was discovered at a time that was not during the 22 mile commute to work or on a dark and lonely night or during the outing we had planned for later in the afternoon.

While the car was had its spa treatment, my maternal cohort and I went for a walk across the street and did some shopping, which fortuitously ended new "YAY! I lost 8 pounds walking"-shoes for me (and also some stuff for her, since Saturday was also Mother's Day, Observed for Powellhurst's Queen Mother). We really did make a nice day of it.

Once the car was done, we headed South to Moe's in Wilsonville for lunch. Fortified for our outing, we made our way to our real destination: the Heirloom Rose Gardens in St. Paul. For those of you who are in the Portland area, enjoy roses and have never been there, I cannot emphasize enough what a great place it is. It is a gorgeous and worth a visit, even if you have no intention of buying anything. It is also close to Champoeg Park, which is a perfect place to stop for a picnic, if you're not inclind toward stopping for a Close Talker salad at Moe's (but you should do that too - they really are good!).

Like my favorite place on Sauvie Island (Blue Heron Herbary), the gardens are a wonderful, peaceful place to wander around and they boast a knowledgable staff. In additon to an abundance of roses, the garden also has a really lovely meditation area that is perfect for, well, mediating or even just listening to the song of the birds and is appropriately located on the outer edge of their Peace Garden.

Anyway, as a result of our trip, my mom now has her Mother's Day presents of two new shrubs - a Burgundy Iceberg and a Bloomfield Abundance, which is going to look so much pretty than the bamboo we had contemplated planting on the back fence. I think they will be good additions to the garden, which looking beautiful right now, if I do say so myself. If can I remember, I will have to post some pictures.
And so, Mother's Day gifting accomplished, I am now alleviated of the guilt of being a bad daughter. Now I just have to figure out what to do for her birthday in August and we'll be golden until Christmas!

Friday, June 15, 2007

It's alive!

In your face, blue screen of death!

My laptop is back and better than ever, thanks to some help from my new best friend, Neil the Dell Guy. After putting it off for quite a few days, I have this very evening installed a new hard drive, drivers and almost all of the software I had before (minus iTunes, but that will soon be remedied). I'm even wireless again. Soon I'll be back to writing from my back deck and I barely missed any summer during my down time.

Everything's comin' up Millhouse!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Won't You Step Into my Rage Cage?

This evening I went to what may have been my rudest graduation ceremony experience EVER. My neighbor, who just earned her GED, had invited me to it. She was so proud of herself that I just couldn't say no. The ceremony was held outside at Mount Hood Community College and the whole thing would have been really great had not I found myself seated in front of a family that insisted on chattering loudly in Russian through the entire ceremony.

They yacked through the soloist (which I have to admit was kind of secretly ok, since her version of "America the Beautiful" went into some kind of unsettling supercareybeyoncéaguilera showboating overdrive), they chattered through the student welcome and then through all of the speakers. The only time they shut up for five seconds or bothered to clap was when their son went up to pick up his diploma. Once he had it, they loudly packed up their shit and left. I should note here that even though I learned tonight that like national anthems (any national anthem or even just anthemic souding piece, it doesn't matter really), "Pomp and Circumstance" apparently makes me cry, their departure did not.

The worst part of it all was that their behavior before they left, coupled with the reality that I am right at the peak of my sugar/starch detox withdrawal made my patience thin enough to turn me into that lady who shushes people at public events. How did this happen? Next thing you know I'll be one of those old broads who loudly unpacks hard candies at the ballet, yells at kids to get off her lawn and whiles away her free hours writing crackpot letters to various magazines, newspapers and the Lifetime network. I may look younger than my years, but I begin to fear that inside me beats the shriveled up, complaintive, little walnut of a heart of a Statler or a Waldorf!

I'm telling you, though, these people were rude and should not be allowed out in public (except for maybe to attend the annual convention for the International Society of Loud Talkers Who Cannot Keep Their Pie Holes Shut). Trust me, you would have wanted to shush them too and possibly poke them with something sharp, but I'll leave that second part at your discretion.

On the up side, once they left, things were much better. At that point I could get into clapping loudly for all the people who had no cheering section in the audience. Being effectively an only child from a small, reserved family, I always feel for these people, my people, the ones who don't have loud relatives hooting and hollering when their name is called. Of course, being reserved myself, my support mostly just manifests itself in applauding extra loudly, but I think my people know I'm there for them.

Seriously, despite the feeling slightly disgruntled, it was great to see J. and so many others graduate. I know she worked really hard for it, and I'm sure the others did too. I was surprised (but also pleased) to see how many "older" people there were, who had gone back to get their diplomas. It's got to be so much more difficult to do later in life.

So yay to all who persevere - whether it's diplomas or diets or just doing your thang. For as the soundtrack to the 2 minute fireworks extravaganza that capped off the evening said, "Celebrate Good Times, Come On!" And, really, if you can't trust the advice of Kool and the Gang, whose can you trust? The correct answer to that question, by the way, is Bootsy Collins. Now go forth, conquer the world, and do it with a smile! It's how Bootsy would want it, for he is the anti-Waldorf!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Livin' in a Book Nerd's Paradise

If there is one place in the world that feels to me like Disneyland for grown ups (but without the restrictive rule to keep "cast members" wholesome looking), it has to be Powell's Books . We Americans are all too prone to speak of everything we do in superlatives - it's always "the biggest" and "the best" with us. And, frankly, often when we say these things, we're just talking out of our asses. In the case of Powell's, however, I can quite honestly say that Powell's City of Books , the company's 68,000 square foot flagship store in downtown Portland truly is hands down the best bookstore I have ever visited, which is saying a lot, considering my affinity for such vendors. When I was younger and travelled more, it was my policy to always buy a book as a souvenir, so I don't think I've ever travelled anywhere without checking out a city's bookstores. So far, however, I haven't found any that can hold a candle to Portland's beloved Powell's.

Open 365 years and staffed by people who not only know, but love books, Powell's has just about everything a person could want in a book shop -new books, used books, rare books, books about books, authors talking about books, and a cafe where you can take the books and read or conduct the inevitable reckoning, that comes when you realize that you've amassed a dozen or more irrestistable tomes in your basket and can really only afford to take home a few. What more could a person ask for?

The only thing that would be better is if they'd just let me live there. I promise I'd be a good roommate - not at all like that crazy roommate I had in grad school who was diagnosed as borderline psychotic (and who I might add had a gun) or the other weird one who would take my milk and eggs out of the refrigerator and just leave them on the counter in the summer heat in order to make room for her giant vats of kimchee. I wouldn't do that to you, Powell's. I'd buy my kimchee in small containers so there would plenty of room left for your stuff, honest.
I think I could be quite happy having over 1,000,000 books at my fingertips whenever I wanted, but do you think the Powell's people would even offer me a cot in the corner? No!

Oh, well, I guess it's for the best. I'd probably be so giddy with literary glee that I'd stop sleeping and develop insomnia brought on by my nerd brain constantly racing to figure out which of the jillion books to read next. So I guess I'll just settle for visiting, otherwise I could end up OD'ing and find myself strung out on Kafka and Nabokov as I sleeplessly wander a lonely Blue Room late at night muttering memorable passages to the air.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Can you believe it? I, the girl who never wanted a blog, am now in the process of writing my 200th post. It seems like there should be bells and whistles and maybe a prize for the first commentor - like maybe one of the 1200 copies of Dracula that I seem to have amassed since writing that one paper back in grad school. I'm telling you, tell one person you're doing research on vampire folklore and next thing you know, you're receiving copies of Bram Stoker for every birthday and Christmas for the rest of your life. I had them all weeded out at one time, but the collection has somehow grown again. I swear the book seems to reproduce on its own, siring new copies in an out of the way corner of my bookshelf under the cover of darkness.

It really is a great story, even if the 1992 movie version would have gotten me kicked out of the cheap seats at the Hollywood for laughing too hard, if Jen and MQ hadn't been there to kick me. And really, it's not my fault that Gary Oldman's wig when he is old man Dracula looks like he's wearing some manner of hot crossed buns or cinnamon rolls on his head. That he at one point lets out a mournful cry at one point that clearly was meant to be something else, but sounds like he is yelling "bliiiiiiiiiiintz" at the top of his lungs does exactly not help with the laughter control. As you can see, it really wasn't my fault.

So, anyway, happy 200th post to me!

P.s. In other news, day two of my new health plan went well. No cheating, and I even walked a couple miles with my "gang" tonight. They claim our goal is to eventually work in running. Being a total yes man (yes woman just doesn't sound right), I agreed. Little do they know that the only way I'd run up a hill was if there was ice cream at the top, but we'll jump that hurdle (or at least waddle around it) when we come to it!

Monday, June 11, 2007

A new week, a new me

The week seems to have begun pretty well in this corner of the world. Monday finds me doing well on my campaign to stamp out refined sugar and flour and to try to make better food choices in general. My depression of last summer and fall did not exactly result in healthful eating. As it turns out "Screw it, what does it matter anyway?" is not an effective nutritional philosophy. Who knew?

But that was yesterday. Today I am a girl who ate multiple vegetables and consumed no refined sugar or processed foods whatsoever. Today I am a rockstar. Because I am a rockstar who needs a carrot and good health is apparently not reward enough on its own, I have deemed it so that if I can faithfully stick with my plan until my mom's birthday (August 13), I will get a special prize to be determined by me. I wonder what I will buy myself? I hope it's nice. Maybe I should drop some hints, just to be sure.

Beyond that, today was also the day that I decided while I was talking to my friend M., who has been forced to go work in Hawaii for a couple weeks that I am woefully deficient in having visited the islands (also the Southern and Eastern parts of the US, but Hawaii is the particularly sad part). I feel this is something that needs to be remedied as soon as I am willing be seen in public in shorts. It could take a while. Perhaps that will be the grand prize.

For now, however, I am tired and therefore going to go to bed and read my way a little closer to completing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, installment one of the "classics I should have read by now, but haven't" catch up list. Only a jillion more to go...

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

The truth is...

I think I'm pretty boring. The degree to which I believe this varies by the day, so I was pretty shocked when my friend Anne (a Phd student in psychology) told me that the diversity interview she did with me was "interesting". The other people she interviewed, now they were interesting! But, me? Interesting? Who knew?

So, I have been trying to think of things that make me different from others; real things that would make me interesting, if I were a character in one of the books I like to read. Here is the list thusfar:

1. You'd never know it to look at me now, but I used to wear Forrest Gump-like braces on my legs, because my feet turned in. I ditched them before I started first grade, but there are times when I still feel clutzy because of it.

2. I pretty much learned to speak German and English at the same time when I was a child. I spoke English with my dad, German with my mom, but my first words were "Ack-e up!" (Blackie [our dog's name], shut up!)

3. When I was 18, my greatest dream was to move to New York to work for the UN. Unfortunately, even though I spoke German, English and French, I didn't think I had a near enough to native proficiency in all three. Also, German is not one of the official languages of the UN.

4. I have gotten lost in Amsterdam's red light district while taking an ill advised, off the map shortcut between tourist attractions. In that 30 minute span, more people offered to sell me pot than ever before in my entire life combined.

5. My neighbor and I used to play Barbie's House of Horrors when I was a kid. We would string barbie's up by twine nooses and hang them from the ceiling of Barbie's dream house. We'd also make one of my Dawn dolls sleep in a plastic box cum casket, because she was a vampire. Despite my morbid imagination, I did not grow up to be a serial killer or even just an unsavory societal element.

6. When I was a kid, I once carried a sick, stray kitten home 65 blocks on foot, because the bus driver would not let me bring him on the bus with me. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

7. Under the influence of Jack and Coke, I may or may not have once have tricked my friends into stopping by pretending I had to barf, just so I could run out and sing "Viva Las Vegas" in front of a hollow holy family on a Southern California lawn containing a garishly lit Christmas display.

8. On my first day alone in L.A., I not only got two flat tires in on day, but also got lost in Compton and learned that the back of a police car is really not that comfortable. (The police car actually has an innocent explanation, but I'll refrain from sharing what it is, so you'll not think me less of a badass.)

9. Up until a year or two ago, I had never seen Star Wars. Now that I have, it makes me feel less special.

10. I do not have a favorite song, book or movie. Because I am indecisive, it is too difficult to pick. Plus, I hate being pinned down.

11. Of all the Amish, the Arcola area Amish are my favorites, because they eshew buttons.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Book Group

Last summer I started a book discussion group. It was the first time since grad school that I'd been in one, and it was great. It took me back to those days in my 20's when my friends Anne, Camilla, Jonna and I would meet at Camilla's Laguna Beach home to drink wine, share dinner and discuss literature. This newer group would meet out on my back deck on summer evenings to read, talk books and often current events. It was great, like having my own little Rahel Varnhagen literary salon transplanted to the 21st century Pacific Northwest. I've always thought that if I lived in the past, proprietess of a 19th century salon filled with artist, writers, intellectuals would be on my list of desirable existences.

Over the winter, the group disintigrated, which was okay, because the holiday season is a busy time and it somehow just naturally fell apart. I missed it a little, but thought "If people aren't interested, they aren't interested". Well, as it turns out they were interested and their lack of response to the couple of e-mails I send to plan for the winter was all due to some evil mail server issue and not to lack of interest at all. Basically, it all came down to me being a massively oversensitive goober who jumps to unsubstantiated and unnecessary conclusions, when she could just ask "Hey, don't you all want to do this anymore?" Anyway, by spring the whole misunderstanding was cleared, and we started up again.

So far we have discussed Jacob the Liar and The Kite Runner. The discussion of Jacob was exciting and went on for a couple of hours. The Kite Runner was also great, if less focused. We kept getting sidetracked into the abyssmal state of American politics and our disappointment in a congress that approved additional spending for war rather than telling Bush "no", which then turned to a discussion about how most politicians (even the Democrats who claim to be the voice of change) are more interested in how their stances are going to poll than they are in just doing what is right because it is the right thing to do. Still, it was a great discussion, even if it didn't do Hosseini's book justice. Hopefully, we can comment a bit more of the Kite Runner next time.

Anyway, last Thursday when we met, we drew up a schedule for the rest of the year, and here it is:

Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis


Red Badge of Courage. Stephen Crane

The Quiet American. Graham Greene

Mountains Beyond Mountains. Tracy Kidder

Never Let Me Go. Kazuo Ishiguro

Out of Africa. Isaak Dineson

It is a nice combination of classics that I haven't read, newer books I haven't read and one classic that I have already read but love and am excited to talk about, because it will give me a captive audience at which to quote the more poetic passages. Now if I could just start my own writer's colony. I think a writing group may be just what I'm missing...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Five Good Things

1. Best Baguette on 82nd and Division - The only place I know of where you can get a foot long sandwich on fresh, crisp French bread for as little as $2.25. My favorite so far is the grilled pork marinated in lemongrass-soy dressing, served with pickled carot and daikon, jalapeno, cilantro, mayonnaise and soy sauce.

2. Sabrina Ward Harrison's book Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourself - A combination personal/art journal filled with all the things we worry about when we're 18-21 (and later in life). Harrison's journal offers a voyeuristic look into the sorts of anxieties we all thing are unique to us when we are young, reminding that doubts, fears, days of shaky self-esteem are just a part of the human condition. The only difference with this girl (who somehow manages to seem both innocent and wise beyond her years) is that she managed to turn her angst into art. It's an inspiring read for anyone who journals or is drawn toward creative expression.

3. LIFE A Journey Through Time - A collaborative project featuring Frans Lanting's gorgeous nature photography, LIFE A Journey Through Time offers a visual history of life on earth.

4. Kris Waldherr's collection of famous love stories at her Museum of Love website. The website also allows you to tour her virtual museum and get free online tarot readings from her Lover's Path deck.

5. All you ever wanted to know about 15th century headgear, complete with instructions for making your own, because you never know when you might need a butterfly henin.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Sunshine and Lollipops

So, I realized last night when I got a 10 p.m. craving for chicken strips, then became mildly weepy when "Save the Last Dance for Me" came on the radio while I waiting in the car on line at Burgerville that I am either insane or possibly suffering from PMS. As much as I love The Drifters, they do not usually make me cry, not even during that sad part of Under the Boardwalk where the poor guy's shoes get so hot he starts to wish his feet were fire proof. My morning did not start off so well either (cat hiding in a room she's not supposed to be in and refusing to come out, I broke one of the shelves I had taken out of the closet when I came upon the not so bright idea of dropping it on the floor to make a loud noise to scare her out, and I woke up feeling tired, like someone had drugged my honey mustard dressing last night). Work too seemed filled with annoyances (a macro that kept erroring out no matter how many times I recorded it, needy coworker, etc.). All in all it made me delightful to be around. I was even kind of mean (short) to one of my coworkers this afternoon, which does not make me feel particularly proud. I should probably apologize to her tomorrow.

So, in an effort to remember the time a short 72 hours or so ago when life was all rainbows and unicorns, here are some highlights from my weekend:

Chicago you can read about here.

The Portland Buddhist Festival - The first time I ever went to this event was a couple of years back, when it was held at Oaks Park. The festival features talks, teaching activities and tabling by local Buddhist communities. It was an engaging place to visit, because of my fascination with the philosophy and comparative studies in general. I've done a fair bit of reading on Buddhism (Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, etc.), but am nowhere near knowledgable, despite harboring secret fantasies of one day visiting Plum Village . The Sangha was founded by Hanh, who might be familiar to you via his work at trying to effect a peaceful resolution to the Vietnam war.

But even if you aren't familiar with Hanh or Buddhism in general, the festival is well worth a visit, and not only because festivals in the park on a sunny day are fun. My favorite parts were the lectures and the wealth of information to be found (both via literature and just talking to people) at the tables. I especially enjoyed the table for the Maitripa Institute, which was manned by the most genuinely smiley guy I have met in a long time. He was one of those people who have little crinkles at the corners of their eyes from smiling so much. He was especially sweet to any the kids who visited him, singing and playing little tunes for them on a finger piano.

Best of all, I am particularly excited that the the institute offers free classes for members of the community who are interested in learning more about Buddhism, because it just so happens that I AM a member of the community and I AM interested in learning more! Speaking of learning more, there is a really beautiful illustrated book called Buddha by children's book illustrator, Demi, that is a really nice introduction to the story of Buddha's life, if you're interested. It is worth it for the artwork alone.

My Gang Initiation - I am pleased to announce that in my bid to be more open to trying new things, I have joined what my neighbor calls her "gang". I am not usually much of a joiner, but being all Mexican (0% diversity), they needed a token white girl and I must say that it feels good to be part of something bigger (even if I did have to claim that I knew karate to get in). So far our activities have included eating mole, designing Quincenera invitations and taking walks to the park to retrieve the gang leader's boy crazy 15 year old daughter and her younger sister, because they were out past their curfew, but I'm sure we'll be getting matching tattoos or at least do more sitting around drinking coffee and eating chorizo and eggs (my new favorite food).

Seriously, though, I am enjoying getting to know some of my Latina neighbors and am having fun brushing off my dusty ESL instruction skills to help them with their English. It is a good feeling to be able to help someone from another country - especially at a time when things like this are happening. Sometimes I just don't know what is wrong with people. I can't even begin to imagine what possesses someone to think "Oh, look. That person is [fill in your race of choice here]. I should go beat the crap out of him, because he is not white." The most that ever occurs to me in terms of difference is "Oh, wow. That person must have some interesting experiences we could talk about" or (more likely if s/he's from another country) "So, I wonder what they eat where s/he comes from..." That last part could just be the hunger talking. It has been about 4 hours since my last feeding.

Toby - The sweetest dog in the world's health continues to improve. I think the rock eater is finally back to normal after his sojourn at the Veterinary Hospital last week. I had wanted to take him with me to the Buddhist festival to be blessed, but he was still feeling a little slow and I was worried the heat might be too much for him. Even without being blessed by a monk, he is now back to prancing around like a goat when he's excited, grumbling at me when I talk to him, and he even tried to get me to sing with him this morning. It is good to have him back. Someday if I can ever get over my embarassment at anyone else (well, anyone who is not my mom or Jen, Bec or their mom) hearing my part in our duets, maybe I'll post one of his songs. Maybe...

For now, however, I am off to enjoy a fresh piece of Texas Sheet Cake (possibly the only thing that keeps me from turning my back on the home of W) and finish reading Zoli (which I can recommend, if you haven't read it yet, but more on that later).

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Cosmology of Oysters

The Rev. Robert Farrar Capon (a man who has successfully combined the vocations of Episcopalian priest, cooking teacher, author, and food writer into his diverse background) once commented that when people try to describe God, it's like a bunch of oysters trying to describe a ballerina. If there was ever a pronouncement that summarized my spiritual beliefs, that one is it. There is no way that a human being can know God (Goddess, Creation, the Universe, whatever you want to call The Thing(s) Beyond All Things aka Divinity) as a Ding an sich. Our concept is always going to be mitigated by perception and perspective. No matter how many times I read the Bible, Baghavad Ghita, the Koran, the Talmud, or copies of The Watchtower left by our friendly neighborhood Jehovah's Witnesses, there's is always going to be a gap between what I think I know about God and what God is.

In an attempt to pinpoint what it is that I believe, I have been doing a lot of reading and questioning these past few weeks. I've been to Beltaine celebrations, Buddhist festivals, meditations and church. I've read Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis, the Dalai Lama, and The Red Book. I've questioned, thought, written, then questioned some more, kicking The Spiritual Education of Martina into high gear.

It all started after completing the Companions class, which I had taken as 1) a way in which to read some of the Bible things I'd never read before; 2) to see if reading and discussing them made me any more certain about what it is that I believe. While coming upon the idea that I am really just a seeker made me feel less of a fraud in church, I did not leave the class (pro)claiming any stronger religious affiliation than I had before taking it.

If I am going to be honest, there were times when I found myself getting annoyed at the text we used. Because the authors were coming at their theology from a Christian perspective (which was, of course, to be expected and not at all inherently bad in itself) they sometimes made pronouncements equating spiritual maturity with an ability to see past conflicting philosophies to the Truth (aka Christianity). Though, of course, they didn't always boldly call it that, you know that's what they meant.

This is one of the areas that would consistently piss me off as I was doing the week's reading, because it always felt like a written assault on my personal values. What they called lack of discernment, I call open mindedness. I prize open mindedness. You see, even though I'm not quite sure what it is that I believe (or at least I'm not sure of a way of describing it so it comes out neatly boxed and gift-wrapped with some nice label calling me a Buddhist or Christian or Hindu), there is one thing of which I am relatively sure: There is no "right" religion. At best, religion is a human construct that attempts to reflect what we think God wants, but I can't believe that there is only one right way to worship creation any more than I can believe that there is a single right poem or right way to enjoy a sunset or cook a meal.

Furthermore, there is a part of me that sees saying I am an "X" and refuse to listen to the idea that anything else has value as robbing oneself of the opportunity to learn from other faiths. There are beautiful stories in other traditions. Why miss them? It's like proclaiming that you are forever more going to dine on hot dogs and only hot dogs, because ground beaks and hooves are the one true and good food. Then you go through life missing out on all the good things your palate can experience via eggplant caponata, brie, Banzai burgers, artichoke dip and chocolate cake.

I have to think that the various religions are but different meals, different paths up the same mountain. As a humble little oyster, I cannot definitively say what God is let alone everything s/he wants me to believe, and I certainly can't say that someone else is wrong for holding a different belief. Frankly, I can't believe that God is out there looking at some guy saying, "Man, are you screwed! I know you were born in an area where Christianity (Islam, Shoemaism, Whateverism) isn't really practiced, so you latched on to what your father and your father's father's father said about me, but the thing is that they were wrong, so when you died you're going to fritter and fry in Hell with the rest of the infidels. It's just how it is, so stop whining. I don't have time for this. I'm trying to watch The Simpsons. Don't make me come down there and smite you! One...two..."

In my mind, religion is a social construct that meets the spiritual needs of a culture. It's like a cosmic spiritual learning style. What works for someone who is very visual might not work as well for someone who is more idea oriented. Ideally, if it's doing what it's supposed to religion (and probably even moreso faith, which seems to me far more important than dogma, just as orthopraxis appeals to me far more than orthodoxy) make the world better, creating a kinder, gentler, more humane society. As long as it does that, what difference is it which stories are told to teach and inspire goodness, which names we use for God? Was my grandmother any less my grandmother, because I called her "Oma" instead of "Grandma" or "Granny"? Is your grandmother any less loved (or lov-ing) because you call her "Nana"? Do you really think it's any different with God? I don't.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Poor Wandering One

Not too long ago, a friend sent me a link to this. Click it! You know you want to! If you don't, you will miss Sir Mix-A-Lot meets Gilbert & Sullivan. I won't have it on my head that you missed the greatest cultural revolution since the fateful day that chocolate met peanutbutter, because you were too busy reading my blog, so click. My humble writings will wait...

So, you've come back? Great!

Now as I was saying... Watching the video in the link reminded me of an 80's Central Park production of The Pirates of Penzance that I remember watching when I was very. Very young. Frankly, I am surprised that I even remember it. Maybe I just heard about it from my grandmother and adopted the memory as my own. It can happen, right? Isn't that what they mean when they talk about genetic memory? It's not? Well, anyhoo... The connection has less to do with my great memory than the fact that the team of Gilbert, Sullivan & Mix-a-lot used footage that appears to be from the Central Park production in order to make their video, which in turn induced me to procure a copy of the original from the library.

Even though I generally find watching recordings of stage productions disappointing (because they invariably pale in comparison to the energy of seeing a live performance), I found that the not being live only distracted me for a short while and that I began to really enjoy the music as I watched it. The production stars (along with Linda Ronstadt, Kevin Kline and Hyacinth Bucket, aka Patricia Routledge) former Solid Gold host (again that's just a rumor I heard...I am far too young to remember seeing it myself!) Rex Smith, who is now a singing realtor/actor whose favorite color is, according to his website, chartreuse. Chartreuse??? Whose favorite color is chartreuse? But back to the musical...

Sure, Linda Ronstadt was an abyssmal actress with all the copious moony gazes and handwringing that go with it, but she really does have a lovely voice that lends itself well to many genres, including the more operatic sounding parts of Gilbert & Sullivan. And Kevin Kline is someone I almost always find entertaining. Despite, the quality of the video, it is difficult not to love him as the pirate king. How can you not love a pirate whose pillage and plundering comes to a quick halt any time the word "orphan" is mentioned? Most importantly, along with seeing Chicago live last night, watching the production of Pirates helped me reach my May epiphany, which is this:

I miss musicals! There are not enough of them. And there certainly is not enough of people spontaneously breaking into song to express their deepest hopes and feelings in real life. Think about how much better the world would be if they did? Disputes could be settled by Sharks-Jets style dance offs and people would not have time to go around murdering each other, because they'd be too busy singing, building shrines to Bob Fosse, and choreographing big dance numbers. I think that is what's missing in today's society. Well, that, and maybe jazz hands. You don't see enough of the jazz hand these days either...

Friday, June 01, 2007

Sequins in my Eyes

You know how some days are just golden and everything seems to go right? That's how today was - everything (and I mean everything) was comin' up Millhouse!

I woke up feeling deliciously alive as the sun streamed through the windows of my temporary bedroom (mine is completely askew as it is in the middle of a heavy roomening phase wherein the contents of my closet look like they have been vomited onto my bed). It was, after a week of Toby sickness, a murder down the street (really!), a day I had been anticipating, because it just so happened that I had tickets to go see Chicago with my friend Anne.

So, I awoke with my mind filled with just the kinds of questions you might expect on such an auspicious day: Are Lisa Rinna's lips as ginormous in person? Can Luke Duke really sing? Will it feel strange to go to a musical about murderesses a few days after a neighbor was killed by his crazed girlfriend, who later lead police on a chase, then inflicted a gunshot wound on her own head? Surely the Universe would not make me wait all day to find the answers to these burning questions. And yet, it did.

There was long drive and seven and a half hours of toil between my awakening and the Press Conference Rag, so I set about getting myself ready for the day and then stopped for coffee at the Starbuck's on my way to work. As I was waiting at the drive-thru for my order to be complete, I was passing the time by scribbling in the little notebook that I carry with me everywhere. When the barrista came back to the window, he said to me, "You're always writing. Are you a writer?" Normally, I would hem and haw and mumble something lame like "Well, I like to write...", but instead I just told him, "Yes, yes I am."

Frankly, it is the first time that it has occurred to me to just say "yes". What changed is that I was at a party not long ago, where I started talking to a singer. Somehow our discussion turned to creativity and what we do for a living. She sings, I work in an office. The interesting thing for me was that after inquiring what I write, she didn't look at me and think "corporate employee who writes as a hobby", she said "Oh, you're a writer." I started my usual "Well, I like to write..." crap. And she just looked at me and said, "If you write and you have passion for it, you are a writer. What you do for a living is incidental. We all have done non-creative jobs to pay the bills." Looking at it this way felt strangely empowering. Hadn't Kafka worked as a law clerk? Johnny Depp was an ink pen telemarketer. Kiri te Kanawa was a phone operator. Vincent Van Gogh was not wildly successful in his lifetime. That doesn't make any of these individuals less of an artist. Technically, no one pays me to write, but I do write things, therefore, I am a writer. So, when the coffee guy asked, I said "Yes!" and I think we may have a had a moment. How's that for acting like you already are what you want to be? Take that, Tony Robbins!

Then, at lunch I found a pair of adorable shoes on the clearance rack for $10. If that weren't enough, I spent my day being told how awesome I am at work and my boss told me to go ahead and leave early if I liked, since I've been working so hard. It was like the best kind of dream (with the exception of not finding out that contrary to what had previously been thought, Swiss chocolate actually makes you lose weight and builds muscle...still, I will continue to eat it in the hope that my dream will one day come true). Because of leaving early, I made it downtown in time to find a brilliant parking spot (seriously, I couldn't have gotten closer to the Keller, if I'd parked in the lobby!) and have a bite to eat before meeting Anne.

Eating my sandwich at one of the stone picnic tables outside of Koin Center, I had the opportunity to people watch and enjoy the sun. It was interesting to see the crowds grow as the event neared - such a huge range of clothes and styles. It's always puzzled me how one person can find jeans and a t-shirt appropriate attire for the same event that someone else feels requires a sequined gown and heels.

Among the more interesting passersby: a woman who was almost a Doppelgänger for that coworker I used to have who liked to come to work wearing her underwear as a top; a girl with the coolest looking black hair with a splash of shocking red at the front, and (my favorites), two kids in their late teens who were at the table next to mine and deep in discussion about classic rock.

The guy was clearly dorkaliciously into it. The girl not so much, but trying to give the impression of grooving on it anyway, because she is still at an age where she doesn't get that it's pointless to pretend to be something you are not just so a boy will like you, especially a stupid boy. At one point, she made a comment about some song or other, falsely attributing it to Led Zeppelin. The boy paused, looked at her with disgust, then woundedly sighed and said in an annoyed, superior tone on par with that of The Simpsons Comic Book Guy: "After all I've tried to teach you, you got Lynard Skynard and Led Zeppelin confused. That hurts me." And yet she was the one who blushed and looked ashamed. As for me, it took everything I had to not walk over and grab the giant Chicken Carbonara sandwich he was eating and use it to pummel him over the head for making his cute little girlfriend feel stupid because she couldn't tell two bands who were already applying for AARP cards before she was even born apart.

My ire was quickly forgotten, however, when one of the guys who had been in line in front of me and checking me out in the sandwich shop came out to tell me that my dress was pretty. That was all, he didn't want anything - just to wish me a good day and compliment my dress. Sure, I may have more of it now than I once did, but I've still got it! Such a small gesture, but it boosted my already good mood just in time for me to go into the show.

And here is what I learned at tonight's performance of Chicago:

1. I love Bob Fosse. (Ok, technically I already knew that, but it was good to be reminded why.)

2. Lisa Rinna's lips do NOT look as ginormous in person, especially when she is on a stage and you are seated in the cheap seats in row Y. In a similar vein, from a distance, her boobs also do not look as much like two halved coconuts on a board as they do in the photo above, yet it is noticable that the woman has an incredible body. She is seriously gorgeous and toned (and she was really good in the musical). Oh, to be her age and in such good shape! Aw hell, to be my age and in her shape.

3. Luke Duke can sing. (Oh, I know he goes by Tom Wopat now, but I will always think of him as Luke Duke, co-proprietor of the General Lee. I kept expecting Uncle Jesse to wander on stage for a cameo.)

4. Giant feathered fans (and boas, though there were none of those in this performance) are egregiously underused in daily life today, and I think I may need some (fans, not feather boas...I already have one of those).

5. I should go to more musicals/live theater, because I love it. Added bonus: fit male dancers are not exactly hard on the eyes.

6. More days should be as good as today was - it even ended with fireworks as I was driving home over the Morrison Bridge. If this the new turn my life is taking for the summer, bring it on!