"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Thursday, September 29, 2011

meth head

i woke up in the middle of the night in a state somewhere between waking and dreaming. i knew i was awake, but i was having a dream moment. i jolted up in bed and looked to my left, where my sleeping laptop light, for a moment*, seemed to glow menacingly at me, and i thought it was a flashlight, or a microphone, that someone was watching me as i was sleeping. i imagined sirens, cop cars coming screaming down the street to snatch me. suddenly, i had bolted out of my bed and was frantically trying to pick up and hide the meth equipment i had imagined were in my room, beakers and tubes laying around on the floor beside my bed. i realized i was being crazy, so i gained control of my body and turned on the light. stood there in disbelief for a moment, in the stark sudden brightness of my room, and had to convince myself it was a dream.

i have been watching way too much Breaking Bad.

* that moment that also occurs when you look at the second hand of your watch and for a moment, that second seems to grow longer than any other second that comes after it due to your anticipation. is there a name for this brief slowing of time?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

fine italian and french cooking

i've been boning up on my cooking terminology and technique during my lunch break today. one thing i'm proud of, is that ben and i have a really terrific track record in terms of our home cooking. we've been making delicious, healthy (low on oil, high in veggies, low on waste), collaborative food since we first started living together, and it's one of the things i miss the most about our life together. it occurs to me i'm really lucky that i have a partner who is as eager as i am to have a fully collaborative relationship, right down to the preparation of fine food. our lives are a lot happier and healthier (and fuller!) as a result, in addition to being less gender normative, which will be good for the kids!

since i'm going back to see ben in a little over a week (yippee!) i've been reading about food and thinking about what i want to make and it made me think about the art of food preparation, the skill required in artful cuisine (knife skills, knowledge about how to choose and prepare produce, proper timing, just to name a few), and the language that is so specific to food preparation. of course, good cooks may not necessarily even know the formal terminology for what they're doing, which is the case with us. i learned today that what we've been doing with our acclaimed pasta sauce is known in the worlds of french and italian cooking as Mirepoix and soffritto (respectively), and "the holy trinity" in Creole cooking. our sauce is more or less a traditional Bolognese Ragu, minus the milk and cream due to ben's lactose intolerance, plus a super secret ingredient i learned from my mom that will go with me to my deathbed (it seriously makes the difference between mediocre sauce and awesome, no-leftovers, lick-yr-plate sauce)!

another interesting thing i learned today was the origin of the cooking term Mirepoix, which is a mixture of onions, carrots and celery, in the ratio 2:1:1, lightly browned and used as the basis of flavoring for sauces, such as our own pasta sauce, and cooking stocks. have you noticed how fragrant and yummy celery is when its flavors are opened up with some heat? delicious! anyway, i was wondering what the etymology for the term was, and learned this:
According to Pierre Larousse (quoted in the Oxford Companion to Food), the unfortunate Duke of Mirepoix was "an incompetent and mediocre individual. . . who owed his vast fortune to the affection Louis XV felt toward his wife and who had but one claim to fame: he gave his name to a sauce made of all kinds of meat and a variety of seasonings" [from Wikipedia]
glad to know a cuckolded, impotent little French aristocrat gave us such a lovely term for something so tasty! thanks, dude!

also, if you've ever wondered what the difference between Ziti and Penne is, here it is:
Ziti and Penne are both cylindrical hollow pastas, but the difference is that ziti is cut with a square edge, while penne pastas are cut at an angle. this is an important distinction! the angled ends of penne allow for even more sauce retention than ziti, since the ends act as scoops. ridged penne, or penne rigate, allow even more sauce retention because of their ridges. an easy way to remember this is that the name penne comes from the latin/italian word for "feather" or "quill" - hence the angled edge and the name. also: mostaccioli are a larger, wider version of penne and their name means "little moustache."

isn't cooking fun??!

tag obsessed

you know that part of Everything Is Illuminated where Alex, Jonathan and Grandpa go to the house of the old woman and find her house is almost completely filled with thousands of boxes, all labeled with a very specific and strange category (darkness, dust, etc.)? that's how i felt when i finished writing the following email about the new delicious, which i can't stand in its current iteration because it interferes with my obsessive need to keep my bookmarks grouped together in a very particular way, like the aforementioned old lady.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

tree house

i've always had an affinity for all things related to trees, nests, and birds. so imagine my explosive delight when i learned of the artwork of Patrick Dougherty! i had the phenomenal pleasure of seeing one of his art installations today, in Palo Alto, CA.
Patrick Dougherty is an artist who uses renewable resources to craft beautiful, dynamic structures. his work material is sourced from local plants and shaped and woven without the use of metal nails or synthetic glues, just the delicacy and dexterity of human hands. this particular piece, called Double Take, was made from willow and poplar branches from a place in California.

Double Take is quite easily the most exciting and inspiring piece of art i've seen all year. my first response to it, as i rounded the corner and first caught glimpse of it, was that it looked like something from out of Where The Wild Things Are.
in fact, that's a good way to start describing the impact the work had on me. the atmosphere and feel of the Wild Things movie was fantastical, vaguely familiar and slightly off-putting, like a dream, a vivid dream that is sublimely vibrant and intensely textured. this is the same effect i got when i approached Dougherty's work: i felt other-worlded, the way you do when you confront something strange and beautiful for the first time. gargantuan nests of woven branches standing over 20 feet high on the corner of a neighborhood - their staggering beauty and seeming defiance of natural laws and elements completely belie the humble materials of which they are made.

from the rigidity and strength of twigs, branches and splinters, Dougherty shaped structures that imparted smooth, liquid movement, at once evoking the hot licking flames of fire and the gushing, explosive force of water. the branches look as if they are constantly wind-blown, but stand hardy and strong despite the elements. the structures are both deeply rooted* into the ground and reaching skyward.
*a little girl shows me how they watched the artist use larger, thicker branches to form a frame, and then dug deep into the earth to root them, later burying them so the whole structure would remain in place.

indeed, what makes Mr. Dougherty's structures so captivating is how full of contradiction they seem. the unnatural, conspicuous beauty of the whole contrasting with the humble parts. the fluidity despite rigidity. the deep-rootedness coexistent with upward flight. even though Mr. Dougherty builds his works of art with the intention of allowing them to decompose naturally under the elements, Double Take seemed impervious to weather and the seasons. i went at a good time, the day after the first day of autumn, and the leaves were beginning to show the first signs of changing color and had begun to fall, landing on ledges in the sculpture windows, sometimes catching in spiderwebs to spin perpetually in the wind. from the ground, vines have started climbing their way up the face of the walls. the sculpture looks every bit as alive and dynamic as i imagine it did in January 2011 when it was finished.
the other dimensions of the sculpture which made it so exquisite: the smell. i wish i could have captured the smell to share it with you. all around it and inside it was the freshest piney fragrance, like being deep in evergreen woods on a clear snowy morning. crisp, clean, comforting, and invigorating.

also: the way it invited interaction. in the hour i was enjoying the sculpture, i met two little girls, who rode their bikes right up to me and asked me, "do you know who made this!!?" they were so excited to start talking about it, and wanted to show me all the ways they could climb in it, on it, around it. after them, a trio of senior citizens came and walked through it, poking their heads out of windows to grin at each other. after them, a family of a dad and his two boys, both under 7 years of age. the boys would go to a window and play a game with their father in which they pretended to serve him a fast food order ("do you want sweet potatoes or ice cream, dad?" "do you want ice cream with that?" "you get ice cream because you're the man.") seeing everyone have so much fun with the art made me realize how rare an occasion it is to actually be able to touch and play with something so beautiful that is also not fragile or protected behind glass.
another amazing thing about this piece was how three-dimensional it was. this seems obvious at first, because of course a sculpture is 3D. but think about the sculptures you see in museums, and how there are only approximately 4 different angles (from the front, rear, left and right sides) at which to view a sculpture before you've exhausted visual interest. supposedly symmetry is a sign of beauty, but it makes for, ironically, flat and boring art. not so with Mr. Dougherty's work: i walked around the entirety of his work for about an hour, and photographed a new angle each time. each section of Double Take, like a tree in a forest, was remarkably individual and irreproducible.

now, for lack of any more words (or perhaps too many), a glimpse inside Double Take. i shot this video while walking through the inside of the work. you can see the phenomenal craftsmanship that went into the weaving and construction of the piece. you can also hear the sound of children playing, the distant chirping of a bird, see the light and hear the wind, as well as the traffic from the nearby street, and the sound of my feet on the brittle wood pieces on the ground.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

the executioner's song

as you'd know if you've been visiting the blog lately, i've been reading Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song. it's a great read, albeit disturbing. it is such a visceral book, leaves me with a knot in my stomach most of the time and i've even called ben crying on the phone after reading chapters of it.

the book is a strange accompaniment to the recent execution of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia. while reading Mailer's book, you get to know Gary Gilmore and his victims, and you really get to hate him and all of his meanness and violence, and you cringe at all his dirty-mouthed arrogance and disrespect for life. but, you know that he's going to be executed. you have that expectation going into it: that the whole thing ends in justice. that SOB got what he deserved. and though you feel sick about it and kind of hate yourself for having these feelings, you just can't reconcile that with the fact that Gilmore was a vile individual, and a danger to everyone around him. so in this case, where the facts of Gilmore's crime are all laid out by Mailer for your omniscient reading experience, you feel satisfied knowing that justice was inevitable, and perhaps more importantly, deserved.

not so when history is being made by the minute. when i found out the Supreme Court denied Troy Davis clemency, despite the recanting of witnesses in his case, and the pleas of thousands of people, and went ahead and executed him anyway, just a few moments ago, i felt a really sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. just this crushing overwhelming sadness. hearing about how he refused his last meal, because he didn't think it was going to be his last, i dunno, for some reason, that thought really got to me. like, my mother always calls me to make sure i've eaten my dinner, every night she always makes sure i'm staying fed, and i always do the same thing to ben now. and Troy Davis, he had hope until the last minute in justice or mercy or pity or something, and then he goes to his death in a cold concrete prison, hungry. that thought, of a man going suddenly to his death, without all his worldly ends taken care of, made me really, really sad. we were all watching and hopeful of little minutes that would build into hours, into days, of delay and finally a stay of execution or a commuted sentence. and then, suddenly, they just went and executed him anyway. one minute he was alive, with family and with a past and with mortal fear coursing through him, the will to keep up a legal battle that has lasted years, and hunger pangs in his stomach and then the next minute, he's gone.

i'm scared. i'm scared of a justice system that will execute people without even a moment's pause. i'm scared of a justice system that is so dysfunctional that sometimes witnesses are talked into giving incriminating testimonies, that sometimes allows potential murderers to play the system and pin their evil deeds on others. i'm scared of a justice system that satisfies itself with murdering potentially innocent citizens instead of seeking out the truth. and i'm scared to live in a world in which such a tragic farce is permitted to exist.

in moments like these, i really hope there is some Plan to all of this chaos, this madness and despair. i hope there is justice at the end of all of it, even when it doesn't seem that way. whatever higher powers that be, please have mercy on us all.

‎"The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, September 16, 2011

weird satisfaction

i love when i tag something on delicious and find out i've used a weird tag before and i'm continuing to build a history for it. example: today while tagging Morgellon's disease*, i realized i'd tagged something "freaky"^ before. the other "freaky" page? this "Indian Pediatrics page," describing bilateral triphalangeal thumbs. it is, indeed, freaky.

*my note in delicious on what makes Morgellon's freaky:
A weird disease - "undiagnosed dermopathy," also referred to as "delusion of parasites" - first "discovered" by a woman whose son complained of "bugs" under his skin. She noticed hairs and "fibres" sticking out of the sores. Doctors refused to see her and c/wouldn't give her a diagnosis, saying she was suffering from a psychological condition. Really weird and freaky stuff.
^"freaky" and "creepy" are distinct. only a couple things are "freaky," according to my tagging practices on delicious, while many things (27) are "creepy."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

all things connected

the universe has been yanking me by previously invisible strings, tied to things it, seemingly, wants me to know.

about this time last year, i began reading the writing of Raymond Carver, because i learned in my research that his stories were the inspiration for the Robert Altman film Short Cuts. why i suddenly had an interest in this particular film, i'm not sure, because i never was that interested in Robert Altman films before. after reading Raymond Carver and learning more about his life, i found out he used to live in Syracuse, NY, not far from where ben and i used to live.

today, i learned that David Foster Wallace, whose work i've only recently started reading, wrote Infinite Jest (which sounds delightful, by the way, and might be the next book on my reading list after finishing Executioner's Song and Eating Animals) in Syracuse, NY. how bizarre, right? of all the places to write a book! further connections: he was born in Ithaca, taught briefly at Illinois State University (unfortunately before ben attended there) and taught fiction at Pomona in Claremont, CA, where my cousin went to school.

some other time recently i was watching a documentary in which the subject of said documentary was living in Syracuse, NY.

i also recently learned that my aunt (by marriage) attended Syracuse for her Master's degree. i'd never even known anyone who graduated from there before and then i found out there was one in the family!

and recently i've been reading and researching and learning a lot about different types of wine. my favorite wines - based on their science as well as their taste - are late harvest, noble rot, and ice wines. turns out, the Finger Lakes region of New York is well-known for making ice wines! and that is only a day trip away from, yep, Syracuse, NY!

and finally, Syracuse is the current home of my husband-to-be.

thus, why am i not living there when all signs point to YES?

worship this

Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.

The human beauty we're talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings' reconciliation with the fact of having a body.*
-- from this extremely genius article, "Federer as Religious Experience" (emphasis mine)

there are so many wonderful things to love about this article: brilliant writing, brilliant sports writing, David Foster Wallace, tennis, a better understanding of life, love, the writing process, and the capabilities of the human body, and Roger Federer. in short, best thing i'll read today.

*i should note, too, that my brief excerpt doesn't even include his terrific footnote(+). DFW, he really knew his way around a footnote. a man after my own heart.

(+) speaking of which, here's one now:
By the way, it's right around here, or the next game, watching, that three separate inner-type things come together and mesh. One is a feeling of deep personal privilege at being alive to get to see this; another is the thought that William Caines is probably somewhere here in the Centre Court crowd, too, watching, maybe with his mum. The third thing is a sudden memory of the earnest way the press bus driver promised just this [religious] experience. Because there is one. It's hard to describe — it's like a thought that's also a feeling. One wouldn't want to make too much of it, or to pretend that it's any sort of equitable balance; that would be grotesque. But the truth is that whatever deity, entity, energy, or random genetic flux produces sick children also produced Roger Federer, and just look at him down there. Look at that.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

look at banner!

my future husband and i are featured on Democracy Now!'s banner for their 9/11 War and Peace Report, "The 9/11 Decade: Voices of Dissent."

the photo they collaged was from an ANSWER LA protest in March of 2010, on the 7th anniversary of the Iraq War [ link goes to the original source article of the following photograph, taken by Gary Friedman of the LA Times ]

this photo of us represents a significant moment for me, so i'm honored Democracy Now chose to use it as a representation of the post-9/11 generation and post-9/11 America, and how we are moving forward in the wake of the attacks.

that particular moment of the protest was an extremely intense and emotional one for me. we had marched through the heart of Hollywood - "thousands" of us, according to the article - and stopped when we reached the soundstage. there were speakers, but i don't really remember what they spoke about. i was too absorbed in my surroundings - people stretching back for miles, and us at the front of it all, learning Spanish as we marched along alternating between chants in English and Spanish, and there were police on the rooftops in black uniforms and i could hear helicopters over our voices.
the following photographs all come from ANSWER LA's flickr site.

everywhere around you could see the ravages of 9/11, amazing how the collective memory is so intact, and intensified, in the presence of so many people. it was fascinating to me to see the violence implicit in a peace protest: people angry at 7 years of war, comparisons between Obama and Bush, banners that read "RIP Public Education" and others that suggested 9/11 was an inside job, others expressed a hatred for Zionism. it became clear how much violence and pain we were still experiencing so many years later, and how much suffering we were still self-inflicting. it made me wonder if we'd ever find our way out of pain and violence.
and then, we were invited to sit in the street and observe a collective moment of silence for all the victims of the aftermath. all the victims of war and hatred and the victims of the class wars and the budget cuts whose impacts will damage us for years to come. 9/11 killed thousands of innocent civilians, here and abroad, led to human rights violations, changed the way we travelled, shattered relationships with our international brothers and sisters, and now was beginning to erode our democracy as public education took the first major hit as the war sucked our government dry of funds. as we sat in the street, everything suddenly hushed, i felt a trembling fear in my heart for what would happen if we did not find a way to peace.
in the silence, i wanted to weep. here we were, all connected by tragedy, but still with the strength to see that war wasn't right. here was hope. i could see all around me people start to put fists in the air in solidarity. there was strength still in all of us, despite feeling crushed down by despair. this war would kill our spirit if we let it, but the crowds of protest were growing, the voices of dissent were growing, and would continue. we were joined on the street by thousands of people from multiple walks of life, and maybe in this group would be a future president, a future lawmaker, a future organizer, a teacher, a parent willing to believe we still have the responsibility to change.
another reason i am so honored that this picture was taken, let alone used by Democracy Now!, is that ben and i are together in it. ben and i first met while working together on a living wage campaign at Miami, and we fell in love through our mutual dedication to social justice. one thing that made me excited to get to know ben better throughout our relationship was the feeling of finally having a true partner, someone who i could depend on emotionally and who would give me strength, but who also shared my passions and would collaborate with me to make the world a better place. my whole life, i wanted to change the world; finally i had someone who would walk beside me all my life and help me do it. as we move forward and prepare to join our lives together, we plan to always honor our commitment to social justice, and to foster lives that practice a philosophy of love.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

the town that doesn't read

...breeds really myopic people.

i currently live in Fremont, CA. i don't love it. i've only lived here 5.5 months, but as a kid, my family and i would visit our family in the Bay Area and we'd stay at my aunt's house in Fremont. in my encounters and experiences with Fremont denizens, i've come to realize the people here are... how should i put this... not intellectually inclined.

it's a difficult thing to explain, since i risk coming across as mean and supremely judgmental, but here it is anyway: Fremont ("Freak-mont" as my cousin from LA likes to call it) is extremely superficial in a way that ought to put LA to shame (that utterance in itself is pretty damning). while LA proved to be a pleasant blend of Midwestern/East Coast transplants, outdoor enthusiasts, intellectuals, activists and community advocates, the extremely poor and the extremely wealthy, the deluded and the jaded and the absolutely crazy, Fremont is predominantly one type of person: privileged. not only privileged, but delusionally privileged, self-importantly privileged, unmercifully privileged, ignorantly privileged. and if there's one thing i can't stand, it's privilege without any responsibility.

the problem with this kind of community is that privilege, and all the trappings of extravagant wealth, are normalized. everyone works at their tech industry job from 9-7, drives their BMW/Mercedes/Lexus to work out at their designer gyms, has dinner at one of many restaurants in the area, and goes home to their mini-mansions and their loveless sexless family lives with their spouse and 2.5 kids. the kids i've encountered who grow up here are terrifying: pre-teens carry Chanel purses and follow their mommies around at the mall, families have Sunday dinner at a restaurant, everyone staring blankly into the gentle glow of a smart phone or iPad. the children all seemed perfectly primed and ready to take their parents' places as the future CEOs and CFOs of america. i can ask my cousins how much a house or luxury car costs and they'll provide an answer in an instant, and with a little disdain for my ignorance, but when i probe them instead for information on the UC budget crisis, their eyes glaze over like robots that didn't understand the command, then shrug it off like it's not important and thus not worth knowing. for further comparison: a few weeks ago, i rode my bike out to the annual Arts and Culture fair to volunteer with a local environmental advocacy organization. my cousin, on the other hand, spent the day charging visitors to the fair $6 to park their car in the parking lot he co-opted with his friends. his parents openly lauded his entrepreneurial spirit, as they explained to me it's one of his most cherished "traditions." what a good capitalist!

comparing my upbringing with theirs makes me so glad my parents chose to be the "rebels" in the family and raise my brother and i in the midwest, while they both worked for a state university. i grew up reaping the benefits of the state and having a deep respect for public programs and institutions. i grew up valuing education and community service, rather than making money, and that has led me to take my undergraduate research very seriously, led me to teach special ed for two years in an underserved community, get a Master's, and now i plan to further my education and get an MPA from one of the best schools in the country so i can research and implement more progressive policies that protect the environment, reduce wealth disparities, and repair public programs so they better serve their communities. my relatives, on the other hand, balk at the mention of higher ed, none of them having gone past a Bachelor's degree in anything. their favorite way to spend their free time is watching tv, surfing the net, playing computer games, and finding additional ways of making money (day-trading, gambling, buying foreclosed houses and upselling them).

i'm always fascinated at the ways in which we choose lives for ourselves, how we carve our identities with chance and choice. being able to understand the story of your life and how you arrived at your convictions and passions is something i think about often, especially when i'm surrounded by so many people who i feel so different and disconnected from.

and, to tie it all up and to return to the reason i started writing in the first place: the reason i am so unhappy here in Fremont can be summed up in one poignant point: they don't read here. in my entire life, i've never known a public library that only opened one day a week from 10 to 5. that is the library closest to me, and it's holding my requested reading list hostage because i can't find time to go during their hours. the whole library system here is messed up and underfunded, understaffed, and underserving the community, you just need to view their hours to get a sense of how many children in the Silicon Valley area are not getting full access to the free literature they should. even more amazing, is that there are also no bookstores in the area to supplement this lack. i searched all of Fremont and neighboring cities to find a viable bookstore and only found one: a Half Price Books (the rest consisted of an adult bookstore, Islamic bookstore and a Zion Christian bookstore). it saddens me to think the nearest bookstore is a going-out-of-business Borders 24 miles away.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

book it!

it's National Read a Book Day! to celebrate, i finally finished reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck. i love the feel of a finished book in my hands: soft and worn from so many intimate hours cradled in my hands or toted around in my bookbags and luggage, and the pleasure i get from fanning the pages of a book without fear of losing my place - that is the delight of an accomplishment made tangible.

"holidays" like these probably mean less to us as "adults" than they did as kids. it makes me nostalgic for "quiet reading" sessions in Montessori school, spending rainy weekends at home in my reading nook/fort tucked into a sleeping bag with my beverage of choice in a thermos and whatever Roald Dahl or Redwall book i was working on that week.

and remember Book It!? goodness knows i don't believe in incentivizing anything, but since i was such a voracious reader as a kid anyway, i never became dependent on free pizza to encourage my continued reading, and my parents probably appreciated that small window of time when my appetite for reading and pizza were similarly insatiable, and i could at least get free pizza out of the bargain.

so, drop your work, turn off the tv, build a fort and read in it! i'm going to pick up some books* at the library on my way home and do the same. i might even indulge in a little personal pan pizza, too, for old time's sake :-)

happy reading,

*for those interested, the books i'm reading next are:
1, 2. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk and When You Are Engulfed in Flames, both by David Sedaris (i'm seeing him in October (!!!) and wanted to catch up on what he's been writing)
3. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (highly recommended to me after my recent efforts to eat and understand my food better. for those of you without the time to read the whole book, i highly recommend and urge you to read the New Yorker's review of the book, which does such a thorough job outlining some of the key points, you'll get the gist and maybe consider vegetarianism/veganism! i myself made a note to pursue humane treatment of factory animals as a future policy pursuit.)
4. The Giver by Lois Lowry (never had the opportunity to read it in school and i think it's about time i did!)
5. Paradise Lost by John Milton (excited about this one because it will be a fine compliment to East of Eden, at least, i hope...)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

at fingertips

for those of you who're kind enough to have bookmarked my blog, you'll notice a small design change: the new "favicon" for the blog, taken from this picture below:

this photo was snapped by ben on our recent trip to LA. we witnessed this amazing moment in nature. and what was so amazing about it was how unnatural it seemed: there were hundreds of these pigeons, on the beach at sunset, flying in these sweeping arcs, over and over above our heads. it was so conspicuous that we stopped, many people stopped, to look up and wonder at their movements. they flew in this gigantic, menacing swarm, gradually descending lower to the ground, so low that at one point, standing on the boardwalk, i could reach my hand up and feel the beating of hundreds of wings, so close to my fingertips.
everyone asking why? why are they doing this? where did all these pigeons come from? there was a man on the shore, wearing a fishing vest and a hat, who we noticed was moving his hand in a certain way. "he's throwing seeds," was ben's observation. could it be possible? were these pigeons performing for food? i noticed later, after the pigeons eventually landed, that the man had a large net, like one used for fishing. could it be possible that he, too, was performing for food (i noticed him lift it menacingly from time to time)?

how strange, the sudden behaviors and togetherness of swarms (both bird and human swarms, in this case). how strange, the choreography in nature and the ways in which forces of nature interact, and the eery beauty that results from nature being manipulated against its will.

it reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite films, All The Real Girls. the movie as a whole has some quietly insightful writing, including the following scene, about nature (skip to about 2:12 in the clip if you want to get to the point):

"have you ever seen a mistake in nature? have you ever seen an animal make a mistake?" there's a beautiful truth to that statement. humans are known as the only animal with "will power" and "intelligence" and somehow we conceptualize humanity as above animals, above nature, and thus able to control and manipulate it. but nature is perfect and seamless and remarkable, and humans, despite our self-importance, must pause in awe and wonder of that perfect splendor.

Friday, September 02, 2011

if you can't beat 'em, outlive 'em!

"It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards."

-- Edward Abbey
from a speech entitled "Joy, Shipmates, Joy!" delivered September 24, 1976

i'd like to add, that though Abbey's words here are wise, they don't fully encapsulate why Abbey was such an awesome dude. i think he'd agree that right now, we need to advocate and practice an equal mixture of fighting for and enjoying nature's gifts.

A.E. Stallings

speaking of mythology, back in the late winter i was doing a lot of reading instead of working and looking for jobs. and somehow, i came across the poetry of A.E. Stallings.

i highly recommend her. she has a way with words i wish i had: fluid, easy, and beautiful, without compromising heft. there is an effortless quality to her poetry that makes it a delight to read. it's lyrical, while still sounding conversational and inner-monologuey, rhythmic while still sounding natural, rhyming coincidentally without the addition of affectation or contrivance or twee.

she has a book of poems based on Greek mythology called Archaic Smile that i would simply love to get my hands on.

you can read an interview with her here, which includes sound bites of her reading some of her poetry. i especially like "The Man Who Wouldn't Plant Willow Trees."

and, you can read her poem "Persephone writes a letter to her mother," which was the first of her works i encountered.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

"tantalized" by mythology!

i was reading East of Eden today during my lunch break when i caught a reference to Tantalus, from Greek mythology. East of Eden is a book i've been (re?*)reading because i thoroughly enjoyed it in high school, and living in the same setting where the story takes place imparts a magic realism to the story that makes it read even more like history than fiction. furthermore, i am convinced Steinbeck and i would have been besties if we just got the timing right. **although now that i'm actually nearing the end of the book, i'm not even positive i finished it the first(?) time i read it.

anyway, lucky for me, i had quick access to a computer and Wikipedia, and was able to read up about Tantalus. what a cute story!

In mythology, Tantalus became one of the inhabitants of Tartarus, the deepest portion of the Underworld, reserved for the punishment of evildoers...

Tantalus was initially known for having been welcomed to Zeus' table in Olympus. There he is said to have misbehaved and stolen ambrosia and nectar to bring it back to his people, and revealed the secrets of the gods.

Most famously, Tantalus offered up his son, Pelops, as sacrifice. He cut Pelops up, boiled him, and served him up in a banquet for the gods. The gods became aware of the gruesome nature of the menu, so they didn't touch the offering [...] The Greeks of classical times claimed to be horrified by Tantalus's doings; cannibalism, human sacrifice and infanticide were atrocities and taboo.

Tantalus's punishment for his act, now a proverbial term for temptation without satisfaction (the source of the English word tantalise), was to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches. Whenever he reached for the fruit, the branches raised his intended meal from his grasp. Whenever he bent down to get a drink, the water receded before he could get any. This fate has cursed him with eternal deprivation of nourishment. [source: Wikipedia]

From Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell":
I dare say you have heard of Tantalus? The wicked king who baked his little son in a pie and ate him? He has been condemned to stand up to his chin in a pool of water he cannot drink, beneath a vine laden with grapes he cannot eat. This wine is made from those grapes. And, since the vine was planted there for the sole purpose of tormenting Tantalus, you may be sure the grapes have an excellent flavour and aroma-and so does the wine. [source]

this was a fantastic learning moment for me: i never knew the word "tantalize" came from Greek mythology, and furthermore, i had no idea we've been misusing/altering the word from its original intended meaning. i've always heard "tantalizing" used to mean "supremely appealing" or "tempting," neither of which pay due homage to Tantalus's situation of being perpetually and torturously out of reach of what he wants.

i thought about how a story like this would have been great to share with students if i were still teaching; it would be a powerful mnemonic device to help them remember the meaning of the word "tantalize." the imagery is great, albeit a little violent, but totally captivating and engrossing for even South Central kids. it also got me thinking about the curious nature of stories and mythology.

i never took a mythology class in high school - i was too busy taking AP Psych and Stats in preparation for what i thought would be a career in psychology - but a lot of my high school friends did. i remember seeing this book a lot in the cafeteria:

in retrospect, i wish i had taken time to study mythology in greater depth. my Greek/Roman history is real shaky, but i've always been fascinated by the stories in their mythology, and how they seem to bleed and blur the lines of historical fact and fiction. i appreciate how imbued Greek history is with myth and vice versa. the same can be said of Biblical history as well, i suppose. it's fascinating to me how blurry the lines between "myth" and "history" are.

this was especially tangible on ben's and my travels through Turkey a few summers ago. for example, we visited the modern day Çanakkale, the purported site of ancient Troy. there were historical sites and landmarks all over that place, juxtaposed with trappings of modern life. case in point: ben is enjoying some Turkish ice cream beside the wooden horse from the movie Troy (yes, that really awful one with Brad Pitt).

in another part of Turkey (one which we did not personally visit), the existence of a "weeping" rock formation gives credo to the ancient myth about Niobe, whose hubris offended the gods and caused them to punish her by murdering all 14 of her sons and daughters and turning her to stone. the "Weeping Rock" in Turkey, amazingly, weeps rainwater through its porous surface, and resembles the face of a woman.

it at once fascinates me to the point of glee and confuses me to the point of irritability, the way history and myth blend together, making it unclear to me what magic is possible and believable because it happened, and what magic is imagined lore made truth thru centuries of faith. because if i am to believe the Trojan War really happened, that means Zeus and Achilles and etc. were real too, right? and if that's so, what's to say all the other wonders of the ancient world weren't also, at some point, real?

it's blowing my mind a little bit.