Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Live Blogging New Year's Rockin' Eve

10:50: Ryan Seacrest is interviewing the Jonas Bros.

Ryan: So, tell me, what's the wildest thing you've ever seen a fan do?

DH (cutting in to answer for the boys): Well, Ryan, it involved a cucumber and a cigarette...

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Winged Creature Perched on the Suspension Bridge

Got lucky today and fished this out.

Exit 98
Some people ask me where it is,
And I say, "You're there." Throw back a little fake koan.
Detachment provokes a slim selection of reactions:
Frustration, mostly; some are spurred
To try to get through it, breaking or slipping;
Last are the ones who smile and settle, satisfied.
But to you and you alone I'll tell the real story:
It's an easy road, well maintained, laid down
By some appropriation long ago paid off,
Metamorphosed into favors shaping a future
That will never quite balance out fairly.
Not the way that veers into the barrens,
Where the branches block the sun and the taproots
Suck at spilled blood, nor the one that crumbles
Into the shifting slate the surf becomes in midwinter
Churning over bones the fish nibble clean.
It's the turn for the ones who choose not to try
For the last chance. Penultimate.
The place for the ones who don't go there.

Photo: A construction of the Jersey Devil, an uncharacteristic image from some ad-ridden website full of bad jokes and old stories and photos of the kind that circulated on emails of years gone by. I would credit its creator, but that remains as mysterious as the rest of it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sweatshops and Cold Sweat and Sweaters

Time still dogging me. Spent too long with the paper as usual, but read a lead like this one, on the story of WaMu's downfall, and you can't put it down. Meth-sniffing loan officers, kickbacks to Realtors, creative documentation, inflated appraisals...

What gets me is that people who were used to normal, simple bank employment were pushed to sell home loans to anyone, anytime they could. If they didn't make their quota from their places behind the teller's cage, they were bused to a boiler room after working hours to pitch home equity loans. The workload, of course, came down on them as well: One office with 108 people and "several hundred" new loan files a day.

"I'd typically spend a maximum of 35 minutes per file," she said. "It was just disheartening. Just spit it out and get it done. That's what they wanted us to do. Garbage in, garbage out."

Now, of course, even the shareholders, who pushed this process with their own greed, are screwed. I wonder if the CEO fears bodily harm, she asks, purely abstractedly and with the kindest concern? I can't stand the thought of how the ad industry contributed to all this, as well.

Elsewhere in medialand, I check out the top songs and etc. of 2008 to see what I've missed. I really miss not seeing theater because of lacking babysitting and money. That I miss. But I do hear songs on the radio. OK, I love M.I.A.'s Paper Planes, in fact it's been on my mental rotation for more than a year (I don't have an iPod, not safe to run with one, can't deal with the tech, can't afford the toys, so I play songs in my brain to myself as I run through my days). But it didn't need to get tricked up with literally sh**ty lyrics from the sufferin' Kanye like "how it feel wake up be the sh*t AND the urine" and from poor Lil Wayne, who must have been overworked in the sweatshop of his own making to come up with lyrics like "swagger tighter than a yeast infection." (BTW, I don't agree with all her lyrical assessments in that link, but some are pretty funny.) With my diet and lifestyle and luck, that's not an experience I've dealt with for a good long time, but when I cast back in my memory, I seem to remember that swagger would have been the last word I'd apply to that situation.

Another pick is Beyonce's infectious "Single Ladies," whose message makes me a little sick. It sent me scurrying to the bookcase for Adrienne Rich's A Wild Patience to see if I could find something better that would possibly scan. Not quite, but follow the bouncing ball:

In a world where
property is everything
You belong to
your daddy then the man who chooses
If you fail to marry
You are without recourse
If you're married you are
leeee-gally de-eead

My used copy of this book has "no rights" written in a sweet, rounded cursive in the margins, a helpful message from the last student who owned it.

I have a bad memory. I can remember the precise moment a three-year depression lifted--on an airplane en route to Tampa, smoking a cigarette, wearing a mint-green pastel jersey suit, listening to Thomas Dolby (ironically, "Flying North") on a Walkman (!), but I can't remember the year without looking things up and counting backward and even then it's a challenge--it was sometime in the early 80s is all I know. I remember dancing on a chair at BA's house after the mushroom dip; I remember the exact way a lover described a costume worn by a comic book villianess that gave him a hardon, I remember what a stranger said to me sitting around a fire in October, I remember my daughter's first word.

But I cannot remember birthdays, ages, dates, names, phone numbers, addresses, whether I made that appointment, or the combination to the community garden shed. I am in grave danger of losing my plot, because all the family health problems meant I didn't do enough fall weeding and cleaning. So I was out there today, weeding and filling old shopping bags full of wood chips and compost and walking them back to my plot, two at a time, because I couldn't open the shed and get a wheelbarrow. I was the human wheelbarrow. And on a climate-changarama day like this, near 70, I was sweating.

I got two particularly warm Solstice presents: My sister-in-law filled an old 1800 Tequila bottle with malt vinegar, scotch bonnet peppers and spices to make me island hot sauce; my mother gave me a cashmere hoodie to replace the one that accidently got put in the dryer and now fits my daughter.

Right now, I have put my daughter to work, perhaps in violation of child labor laws. She is to sort an entire drawer of hair accessories. She's grown her hair long once, cut it off and donated it, and is going into second-growth stage now, about shoulder-length. In the process of her work, she has covered herself with hair clips. Her only pay is going out for Chinese chicken tonight. Can you spare ten cents a day for this child? You already are, if you're a DC taxpayer, cause that's about what the schools end up getting.

Love and Sweat to you as the countdown continues.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Deeper the Cushion, the Better the Pushin'.

Goodbye Harold Pinter. A link. And a link.

"It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. ..

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable."

He actually talked about Nicaragua in that speech. But I forget. That never happened, either.

PS: I know, poems, I'm gonna do it, just been holidayed to death. You know, if you show up with one more in the meantime, you could be the big winner...Anyhow, gotta do it before tomorrow. That's the new moon. Jesus, I'm totally getting my candles mixed up. A beeswax for Solstice, the littles in the menorah, then a big white jar candle for new moon, don't hardly know what to light up first some nights.

Photo: Mountain Weasel by Karunakar Rayker; Wiki Creative Commons.

PPS: No harm to any animal occurred or is implied by the juxtaposition of that headline and photo.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's All Going Down, So Grab a Big Honkin Toblerone

I am trying not to give in to bitterness and rage over the prospect of my friends and family either losing their jobs or being worked to death. (If that sounds like exaggeration, after the last newspaper layoffs I made it through, I ended up with 12-hour shifts, and no additional money, none, none, none. Someone I worked with crashed her car, probably because she hadn't slept in days. They laid off near 2/3 of the staff and added eight editions. I also once got laid off while I was still recovering from a c-section, but I was eventually hired back. So I have earned my trauma.)

I am trying not to punch the wall over the prospect that now that I finally have time to write, the publishing industry tanks. I am trying not to hear my father's voice in the continual communication that all I love to do is valueless.

I am trying not to waste my fury on the humans who traded my daughter's future for cocktails and handbags. It's not the first time that island has been the scene of such a monstrous mortgage.

I spent much of the Solstice face down in bed, with a candle lit, trying to see if there is a crack in the wall, and I saw it in, of all places, the Sunday newspapers. Which tell me that those "in charge," the "experts" are lost. "We have no playbook," they say. "We don't know what anything is worth anymore." "We don't know how to value anything." "We just have to wait to see how far it goes." "No one knows how far it will go." "No one knows what anything is worth."

Their ignorance widens the crack until it becomes a window into which I can wedge my will, like that slice of sun that comes through the stones on the darkest day. So, men, if you don't know what's worth anything, I'm happy to tell you. The only things worth a damn are art and beauty, love and magic, sex and pleasure, talk and spirit, health and laughter, the earth and her creatures. That's my ecomony, I am the expert, I set the interest rate, and I live a luxurious life within my means, and nothing else matters.

That's it. I'm over the edge. We're living on crazy old lady time. It's my world now.

So I'm going to start a poetry reading series, if the brave people who offer a venue stick with it; I won't be reading, I'll just be presenting others and doing open mike. And if they don't, I'll find a place. And I'll keep writing, because it's worth millions. Mr. Boog in Salon seems to think so, as long as I can repurpose my format to fit the times. But alas:

"There were hedge fund guys with no background in publishing buying up publishing houses," says André Schiffrin, founder of the New Press and author of "The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read." He explains that corporate owners of major publishing houses expected impossible 15 to 20 percent profit margins in an industry with traditional margins of 3 to 4 percent. "They were part of that whole feeling that you could make money by buying and selling companies, rather than by selling books. At some point it comes to a dead end."

Wow, that's the same exact thing that happened to newspapers! Gee.

Anyone want to serialize my detective novel for iPhone consumption? Come on, I've already proven my willingness to give away the good thing for far less than minimum wage many times over; give it a try.

Photo: Santa strawberries, from the UK Inspired by Chocolate and Cakes blog. She's a genius.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Marshmallow to Marshmallow"

My holiday present came yesterday, when The Batman (so called because he used to keep a baseball bat at his desk to scare reporters) sent the link to the annual Regret the Error Best of the Year, with corrections from media worldwide. Scroll down to find so many, many mistakes, including faked photos and big bad-word typos. I'm happy he didn't forget the New Media:

Best Blog Correction
Back in January, The Consumerist reported on a rather vulgar-yet-amusing post on Wil Wheaton’s blog. After seeing the Consumerist post, Wheaton contacted them to clarify things. From the resulting Consumerist post and correction:

Wil Wheaton (of Star Trek: The Next Generation) would like you to know that he does not and will not endorse AAA Insurance. UPDATE: We initially reported that Mr. Wheaton disliked all of AAA. Not so. He tells us:
“I’m happy with the rest of the AAA services I’ve used, and continue to use. The insurance, though, can eat a bag of dicks.”
We regret the error.

This is my personal favorite:

The Guardian:
Gore Vidal was once head-butted by Norman Mailer, not the other way round. Vidal described the altercation as “marshmallow to marshmallow” when asked about it at the Hay festival 2008 (Diary, page 9, G2, May 27).

There's also a link there to buy the whole book. In poking around the links sent, I also found a present everyone can use, a rundown on How to Spot a Plagiarist or Fabulist, written by the second-greatest living copy editor. Somebody cares!

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Wake the Ghost, Shake the Lie, Unchain Time"

Io Saturnalia, the original reason for the season, whose peak used to be reputedly (and disreputably) celebrated Dec. 17. Just by chance I'm listening over and over to "The Body" off the Gutter Twins' Saturnalia. Just because I can't go for more than a week without one of my Big Dark Brooders. Dulli said in an interview that they were "the Satanic Everly Brothers"; well, then, this is Pluto's Canon in D.

Feeling Pluto and Saturn not heavily but surely, paring, grinding, polishing away at me. "You'll learn," they mumble, "this time." A warm wind blew in today and I'm hoping it holds so I can run through it in the morning.

Saturnalia is the feast where the masters switch places with the servants. Don't tell the guys at the gate, but this one's not planning on going back to her old place when the festival's over.

Image: Callet, Louvre

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Slave to Love

I love Mickey Rourke, or maybe I used to love Mickey Rourke, or maybe I love to watch Mickey Rourke, that would be it. His recent interviews have been a spooky patchwork of artifice, dissembling, and resignation, much like his recent face. It would appear to be a case of what is on the outside reflecting what's within. I miss seeing his handsome face, but more I'll miss seeing that expression in his eyes that says he knows what you want better than you do, and that he feels the sadness and the beauty alike of that knowledge.

That's called acting, and he's doing a different kind now. They're talking Oscar for The Wrestler, which if babysitters are forthcoming, we might actually see, even though it's directed by the catastrophist Darren Aronofsky--"try heroin and you'll end up in the hands of a big (black, of course, come on, Darren! much more likely she'd be condemned to a short life as an independent operator) pimp with your arm rotting off in a southern jail and the refrigerator chasing you around!" Subtlety is not the boy's strong point, but, hell, subtlety isn't everything.

What's kind of funny is that I ran into this article on Amy Tuteur's The Skeptical OB blog about the nicely funded anti-meth ad campaign just not working up in Montana. I always like her take on skewering scientific and medical studies and statistics when warranted. And doing anti-drug and other social improvement ads is one of the most interesting challenges you can get in the business (and there's good money in it, too. The bright boys at Crispin Porter Bogusky partially made their name on the anti-tobacco Truth campaign, in part because they had the cash cushion to do kid focus groups and play the ideas out for a while). But unfortunately, the Montana anti-meth campaign's super-scary, alarmist tactics aren't doing the job of discouraging potential or present users. Who's one of the big-name directors brought in to execute the Montana ads? Darren Aronofsky.

I'm certain all involved had the best intentions. One of the commenters on Tuteur's blog, who says he used to work with Gay Men's Health Crisis, says the problem is that the people creating the ads are a million miles removed from the audiences they're trying to reach. Plus, the pitch to people in poverty, near-poverty and tribal cultures in Montana is going to be way different from a pitch to a gay man in NYC.

I'm reminded of a very long ago conversation with Jill Matrix, in which she said the most effective anti-drug ad she'd seen was the one with the tagline: If you smoke pot, nothing will happen.

So: "If you do meth, the Man wins," how's that sound? Trouble is, for too many, the Man wins no matter what, so why not rot yourself away? A problem that can't be solved through better advertising.

Back to love. The acoustic version of Hey Ya finally caught up with me. This song moves me anyhow, but add a big guy with an acoustic guitar and it tears me up.

Photo: Week 7 of 9 1/2, I believe.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Generation Jones and the Doom of the Fourth Estate

So the media meltdown continues as the Tribune chain has filed for bankruptcy. What this doesn't have in common with other businesses in crisis: No one is asking for more than the usual handout, I mean bailout. What it does have in common: Blame the workers, hurt the workers, screw the workers.

The rumor I got is that those who graciously took early retirement are having their payments and maybe health benefits held up since the whole deal's now hit the courts. Who do these workers and people trying to collect their pensions think they are? Everyone knows when a business fails, it's the fault of the ones out there doing the work. The ones flying around and collecting millions in salaries and commissioning ice sculptures are just trying, trying as hard as they can, but those workers keep bringing it all down. They ask for so much. They live like kings.

So now we'll be stuck with the Post, and that's floating around on a deck chair among the icebergs too. Gotta love a paper you pick up in the hangover haze and it tells you you're a member of the the dumbest generation of the past 200 years. OK, maybe dancing with that gangster-looking guy WAS dumb, but give me a break. The Outlook piece uses the Generation Jones tag on us--that undernourished slice of a generation born between the boomers and GenX--and claims we had the worst test scores, the worst education, etc. The Millennialists, he claims, are the really smart ones.

That Generation Jones tag's got trendy Gladwell-wannabe all over it, but I kind of like it anyway, with its shucks-shuffle rhythm and undertone of illicit, unrelieved longing.

We Jonesers were alternately neglected and demonized as children? Check. We were subject to weird educational experiments (at the hands of boomers, I might add) and classrooms depleted by inflation and municipal failure? Check. We were so terrified by our free-lovin', boozin', Ice Stormin' parents that we started dressing preppy and voted for Reagan? Ah, here's where we splinter. A faction of us became obsessive autodidact punks instead.

And we're so dumb? Here's a little test: Generation Jones gave us Henry Rollins. The Millennialists claim Britney Spears. Your witness.

Speaking of newspaper cutbacks, Die, Sunday Source, Die, with your hilarious stabs at fashion and absurd "product testing" crew who write like 7th-graders ("I don't usually use anything but Ivory soap, but this body lotion smelled kind of good, like Lemon Pledge? but it felt all goopy? and made me cold when I put it on, so I threw it away. But if you like body lotion maybe you might like it. It costs $75.")

Well, I won't have it to kick around anymore. The Post claims the staff will be sucked into the Style section. Better this than subject us to more pages full of interns trying to pretend they care about heels and mascara ("I'm just obsessed with mascara--I have a dozen different kinds," one lied recently) when we know all you little DC vixens really want to talk about is the dangers of protectionist trade policy to the international economy.

Oh, and Barack Obama? Jones.

Photo: Henry, a pub job.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cookies and Cognac

My Hot Friend E and I eventually made the scene for Santarchy Saturday night, but we actually ended up hanging out spending a lot of time talking about the future and the nature of love and happiness, including during a leisurely dinner at La Forchette (where I once was seated next to Christopher Hitchens, back when he was a physical wreck and I liked him better that way) in our Santa-ette costumes. Then we danced a lot at Heaven, where I really enjoyed a long, changing, strange mix of DJs. Mmmm. It’s been a long time since I’ve asked for a toy under the tree, but this year could be the exception.

We were cooling off in Hell when this lovely round man walked by, took a look at us, and burst out laughing—but not in a bad way. After some hugs, he ducked behind the bar (apparently he works there) and asked what we wanted to drink. E said “cognac,” which led to a long ritual involving trips to the back, two lighters and a pack of matches, but here’s how it went: He opened three miniatures, poured each into a snifter, then laid each snifter on its side, then ignited them one by one, doing a sort of swirly fire dance with each flaming snifter before presenting them to us. The whole time, he was giving a sort of diatribe on beauty, the importance of finding bliss during your daily work and life, and the ignorance of mixing cognac with Coca-cola. This was no Tom Cruise in Cocktail; it was voudoun god. Did I mention it was midnight? We drank, we ladies went to the ladies room, where we stood and looked in the mirror and laughed ourselves silly, and when we came back, he was gone.

Thank you, Santa.

Five reasons to watch the Elvis Costello talk show, based on the first one:
1. At least 20 minutes of props handed to Laura Nyro.
2. Tumbleweed Connection-era Elton John.
3. I’m thinking “who’s that guy on keyboards” and it turns out to be Alain Toussant.
4. There’s this songwriter I never heard of, David Ackles, who I now want to check out.
5. They just start and stop songs at random because they’re all really good musicians and they can.

It’s going to be sad when we’re all poor and depressed and starving and can’t do these kinds of things anymore. Santa, we need you.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Three Items, Of Which the Second Could Be Regarded as Cleavage

I'm really intrigued by this--haven't read any of the poems, but I want to. Grace Cavalieri (who does so much for so many poets) reads from her new book Anna Nicole 2 p.m. tomorrow, Sunday, at The Writer's Center, in Bethesda.

BAker sent me this tool that purports to psychoanalyze your blog,and I was afraid to look at it, but I tried it. It basically said I'm a Libra (an emotional performer). Which is accurate but not too scary.

And Santa (eBay) finally brought my husband the Miles Davis On the Corner sessions. The box art is amazing, featuring not least a sort of frieze of an old-school funky cartoon characters embossed on the box, bell-bottoms, hoop earrings, platform shoes, big hats, big hair. One lovely lady in a leotard actually has one forthright, raised nipple perfectly embossed.

Photo: Shamelessly ripped off from Time corporate. Those Guess adds were so startling in the world of emaciation and dirge--it was all, like, who IS that woman?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Oh, My Darling

It is the song that must be sung this season in the Cougar household whenever one of the sweet little citrus fruits is opened: "You are lost and gone forever, dreadful sorrrrrry, Clementine."

Which is fun for me and DD but leads to many questions from a 7-year-old: "Why is she lost and gone forever? Why is he sorry?" She assumes the singer is male. Interesting.

"Well, he just thinks she's gone forever. But really she just swam downstream a little bit and she'll pop back when she's had a little time. She can't call him because the song is from the old days and far away, so he's feeling bad, but he'll feel better in a little while."

She's buying it. "What's escalating for a mine?"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Simulcra Victorious

One of the highlights of a trip to Cali to see the parents is the visit to the Jelly Belly candy factory. They're masters at creating an illusion of flavor (the factory, not my parents, well, actually, they are too). Think it up, and they can conjure it, from madeleine to mangosteen. I spent a migrainous night bombed on painkillers and plowing through my free factory tour-size bag and reading, just wondering what flavor was going to visit my mouth next.

It's much like Demeter Fragrance Library does with perfumes (they're the makers of Dirt and Gin and Tonic scents, ah, the boys of summer!). In fact, Demeter actually did a co-brand with Jelly Belly to make a couple scents, including Fruit Salad.

So it goes with my pseudonyms, my extra people. They have more concentrated, carefully formulated scent and flavor than I do, and more interesting lives as well. One of them recently joined Facebook, something I/me would never do. It's too complicated and you can't control what comes into your world as well as I can here. But she got the little "be my friend" thing from someone way back whom I like a great deal--let's call him the Celtic Tiger, and watch him cringe--and who's so busy I worried I might lose touch if I didn't keep the avenue open. So "she" said yes, and has begun to write of herself in the third person.

I write a lot of poems in the second person--it's so lonely in there, I'll just rope you in with me, accuse you as I do myself, project it all onto you, you, you, my reader, my double--but even for me, writing fiction in the second would be too affected. That famous experiment perished in the 80s, speaking of cringing.

On the plane home, I read in an overripe November issue of The Atlantic that splitting oneself into multiple selves is not only not pathological, but could be critical to survival and happiness. I could get all poetic and tell of how when the lightning struck a year and a half ago, I split into many parts, knowing one life would just not be enough for me anymore, and tell of the tree with three trunks I saw in Rock Creek Park, but I'll let the authorities speak instead:

"We used to think that the hard part of the question 'How can I be happy?' had to do with nailing down the definition of happy. But it may have more to do with the definition of I. Many researchers now believe, to varying degrees, that each of us is a community of competing selves, with the happiness of one often causing the misery of another. This theory might explain certain puzzles of everyday life, such as why addictions and compulsions are so hard to shake off, and why we insist on spending so much of our lives in worlds--like TV shows and novels and virtual-reality experiences--that don't actually exist."

BTW, I'm keeping the contest open a little more, but if you're not inclined to write a poem for charity, here's another place your dollar could go: Mumbai Orphans Fund. Nothing fake about it, and thanks to the Professor of Osculation for the tipoff.

Photo: The Young King in Jelly Bellies, from a UK candy site.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"If By R&B You Mean Roots and Berries!"

I heard "Right on the Tip of My Tongue" the other night, and it sent me off on an Itunes hunt that led to a bunch of Thom Bell masterpieces and Philadelphia soul. Like most things involving Teddy Pendergrass, it soon got out of control. One odd thing that popped up was a tribute mix album called "The Barack Obama Victory," featuring Harold Melvin, The Stylistics, the Staples we thought it was a bunch of insufferable hippie college boys who got this election won, but it was my peers behind it all, after all.

So here's MY thankful mix to grind nutmeg to: Right on the Tip of My Tongue, Brenda and the Tabulations; Children of the Night, The Stylistics; Love TKO, Teddy; Never, Never Gonna Give You Up, Barry White; He Was a Big Freak, Betty Davis; Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time), The Delphonics; Trouble Man, Marvin Gaye; Win, David Bowie; Come Go With Me, Teddy; More News from Nowhere, Nick Cave; Hurt So Bad, The Delphonics; End of the Line, Roxy Music; Betcha By Golly, Wow, The Stylistics; Feel the Fire, The Essential Teddy Pendergrass...

Photo: My new fantasy is John Legend in a forest ranger outfit. This'll have to do for now.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Gods Must Be Crazy

I've been reading little bits of The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson; it's one of those complicated, romantic, erudite, tricky books that make you feel smart but are still fun to read--like Possession, or (an obscure favorite) Girl in the Swing or, in some ways, the works of Jack Salamanca (criminally underrated and one of my teachers). I'd put Neil Gaiman in there too but he's just too much fun.

Anyway, it's about a guy who was a right bastard and a porn star who gets burned nearly to death in a car crash and encounters this psych patient who starts telling him she knew him from a Middle Ages monastery and has the languages and the illuminated manuscripts and all the rest of the accoutrements to prove it...she keeps feeding him gourmet food and reading him flips around in time and etc., and has a lot about suffering and God (the Christian one) but not enough to mean you can't read it while you're sick in bed.

While I'm only halfway through, and it's pretty amazing even if it weren't a first novel, I've got quibbles, the biggest being that this guy keeps claiming that his old self, the pre-toasted bastard, wouldn't have gone near this woman because she's TOO CRAZY, and you know that just doesn't ring true. Because she's good-looking and solvent; she's actually rich from being an artist (and that doesn't ring true, either, but hey, it's romantic). So she's maybe schizophrenic, maybe bipolar, definitely delusional, so what? He still would have tapped it, "old self" or new. Because honestly, there's nothing tastier to a troubled player than a hot lunachick, tell me I'm wrong.

If he'd really had a massive change in character, he'd have learned to love a middle-aged woman who wears I Heart My Terrier sparkle sweatshirts and would sit with him for hours watching Everybody Loves Raymond reruns. Anyone can love a beautiful crazy rich artist.

He does share this priceless sentiment about our impending holiday season:
"In my childhood, I'd had a succession of Christmases when [my caretakers] spent the money originally intended for my presents on methamphetamine; in my adulthood, Christmas meant fucking a woman who was wearing a red felt hat."

And check out the author photo on the back flap. Wouldn't kick him out of bed for eating lithium, either.

Speaking of which, took kids to High School Musical III finally, long-delayed due to illness. My new crush is Troy's dad, yes indeed. (My handle, if you haven't guessed, is ironic. Anything under 30 years old doesn't do much for me.)

Photo: St. Dominic's book barbecue. So much for spiritual enlightenment in the Middle Ages. He was a big pain in this ass to the Cathars for years. What's depicted is a smackdown--he threw his books and those of the Cathars on the fire, and only theirs burned, thus proving they were heretics (and deserved to go the way of their books). Pretty icky way to prove a point, but better than a shootout, I guess. Wiki Commons.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Which Way the Wind Blows

First! Fresh poems; check them out on the comments from days past!

Been down so long I have barely looked up. My media consumption this week was beyond cliche, as you will see, usual suspects.

So I didn’t see until yesterday that a great, insightful astrologer had died, at 11:11 a.m. on Halloween: Rockie Gardiner of Rocky Horoscope fame in LA Weekly and other alternatives. She always had a twist on the usual and a fast way of putting it; she dated Jim Morrison, and rumor is she’s the one LA Woman was written about. She was 70.

In my quest to cultivate gratitude, I’m grateful for this from scientist Stuart Kauffman :

"Forget the "God" word for a second and just try to feel yourself as a co-creating member of the universe. It changes your stance from the secular humanist lack of spirituality to a sense of awed wonder that all of this has come about. For example, I was sitting on my patio and started thinking about the trees around me. I thought I'm one with all of life. If I'm going to cut down a tree, I better have a good reason. It's not just an object. It's alive."

Go, unconsciously-touting-Paganism-man, go!

But why wasn't this on the front page?

William Ayers is busting out all over. First I heard was on Democracy Now, talking about how the 60s were being deomonized as an era or horror, anarchy, chaos…the whole get off my lawn thing that ignores all the civil rights advances made. Got himself a couple book deals, too. And asking questions I was hoping someone would ask, but I guess I’m so naïve, cause it had to wait til after the election:

"I think we were off the tracks, definitely. And I think we were jacking ourselves to do something that was unthinkable and that none of us could ever imagine ourselves getting into. We were driven, I think, by a combination of hope and despair. And in one chapter, I imagine two groups of Americans. One slightly off the tracks and despairing of how to end this war and penetrating the Pentagon and putting a small charge in a bathroom that disables an Air Force computer. An act of extreme vandalism, but hard to call, in my view, terrorism.

"Meanwhile, another group of Americans -- also despairing, also off the tracks -- walks into a Vietnamese village and kills everyone there. Children, women, old men. They kill every living thing, even livestock, and burn the place to the ground.

"And the question is, What is terrorism? And what is violence?"

I don’t know, like, all of the above? That always worked for me on the SATs.

PS: Interview also points out that Bernadine Dohrn, who was the actual leader of the Weather Underground, was completely ignored in the recent attack campaigns. Wimmenfolk can’t never get the credit.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

An Unhealthy Preoccupation

I am sick, and tired, and I am a damned bad patient. As a compulsive autodidact, one of the things I do too much reading about is health, partly because I have to for my paying work (which I've just barely caught up on after a hell week of deadlines, meaning I can't do any of the fun work) and partly because I want to know what's up with my body (and those of the ones I love. To a certain extent.).

But here's the fun part--when you go into a doctor's office, you have to pretend you don't know any of the things you know. I guess I'm lucky to have doctors that explain things carefully and slowly and present me with some options. But most of what they're explaining (when it comes to a chronic problem I'm working hard to heal) is something I've researched days, months, or even years ago.

But at the doctor's office, I keep my mouth shut. Knowing too much about health generally pisses medical folks off. You get condescension, then resentment, then hints that you're a psycho. You're not supposed to be reading and learning about these things; it implies an unhealthy preoccupation and hypochondria. How many women do I know who have gone to their doctors with this study and that about a health issue and been pushed off with an offer to prescribe an anti-depressant (the go-to panacea of the internist and gyn alike)? Too many. Years ago, I would get tsked at and warned when I said I was taking supplements such as fish oil; now I'm regularly being told to do so, as if I'll find it some great revelation.

I'm not saying I'm as capable as someone who's gone to med school and practiced forever. I know all the reading I do will never make it so I could do surgery, or even fix a car or a sink for that matter. And I'm wildly in awe of those who can do all these things.

It just bothers me to have to hide what I do know. Med professionals at all levels should know by now that it's in everyone's self interest to have self-educated patients, but they don't seem to want to let that get above a certain level.

Try having a baby, for instance. You'll be told that you're the one in control of the process, that you're part of a team, all sorts of nonsense. But the nurses, goddess bless them, will clue you to the realities: If you have a healthy labor, stay away from the hospital and do it yourself as long as you can get away with it, because once you come in the door, I'll have to put you on a fetal monitor so we won't get sued, and you'll be stuck flat on your back, unable to move naturally, and your chances of having a c-section will start climbing. Tell your doctor that, and she or he will likely scoff at any connection.

And about that c-section "decision": Get one, and from one side you'll be painted as a spoiled weakling; say you want to avoid one, and from the other side you'll be painted as a selfish nutjob. We've got not one politician or two but an entire medical industry that still puts "health of the woman" in air quotes, and I'm not, jesus why do I even have to make this clear, speaking only about the abortion issue. It's made very difficult for a woman to own responsibility for any even small aspect of her health.

For women, staying on top of the sometimes weird ways of medicine imposed "for her own good" has long been a matter of survival. And hey, guys, now that every other pharmaceutical ad is being aimed at you, urging you to try something new for something you're not even sure is wrong with you, you better get on that train, too. Just remember to play dumb when you hit the doctor's office. I know you haven't had as much practice at playing dumb as some of us women have, but maybe we can give you some tips.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Now Surf the Sun and Scale the Moon"

The other day in yoga, the teacher was playing this music that sounded like Philip Glass. Made me think I ought to get one for myself and play it all the time to get that feeling like I'm in a movie. Endless repetition can so be dramatic! Pick up bagels and cupcake liners bah-dah-bah-dah-bah-dah-bah-dah drive to the playdate chunn-chunn-chunn-chunn-chunn spread the peanut butter lee-dah-lee, lee-dah-lee, lee-dah-lee edit health policy document rriii-rriii-rriii-rriii does co-morbidity get a hyphen does co-morbidity get a hyphen does co-morbidity get a hyphen

Actually I'm listening over and over to TV on the Radio "Halfway Home." I don't know if I like anything else on the CD, but I've listened to that one about 20 times in a row. Repetition builds forms and furrows. Is that how the moon got to look that way?

Photo: I took it off the NASA website, which says it's "The first full moon of May 2007, photographed May 2nd by Tony Wilder of Wisconsin." Thanks, Tony.

Update: Holy crap, a typo! It's fixed, it's fixed, really it's fixed now. Plus: You know that Jonas Brothers, Love Bug song? Not bad!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

"The Mystic Chords of Memory"

Slept late after going to Philadelphia and back for a Drive-by Truckers show. My friend thinks Our Beautiful Cooley looks a little ragged, but he'll always look good to me. Nothing quite as nice as a skinny man with a big guitar. Lunch with DD, and over a bowl of restorative cheese grits, this popped into my mind at seeing the handsome face of James Merrill looking out from a three-column photo in the Times book review.

Caught in the Act

Like hell the photographer surprised you.
I'll accept the authenticity
of the cluttered bookcase, even
the arabesque upholstery, though I suspect
Your partner picked it out.
I did the math, too: Mid-fifties,
It's cold to have your shirt unbuttoned
So very far, isn't it? I see the sisters
To your forearms in my mirror,
The ropy muscles and the veins alike,
And that pleasing, elegant precision
Of the cheekbones; I imagine, like you,
I earned these without ever appearing to--
The artifice of the daily strain against sag,
The philter and the poultice. Yet
This noon light's revealed again that nothing
Has stopped the conqueror worm
From taking up residence in my very skin
And eating me up from within.
On top of my own cluttered bookcase
Perches my Ouija board, for decorative
And entertainment purposes only.
You dead might give me pages and pages
But I'm not hearing it, not today.

Surely, you can do better than that. Enter the poetry contest, and I'll stop calling you Shirley.

Oh, well, haul your tired caboose back onto the Hope train, girl: Here's something else beautiful.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Damn Hippies

Julie and Ivy are some of the most recent in the American Girl world, a line of dolls that reflect different periods in history. There's an American Revolution doll, an Industrial Revolution doll, a Depression doll...

Julie and Ivy live in 1976. In San Francisco.

My daughter's favorite was the Depression doll, Kit, but now she really wants Julie. We can't afford her, even though Julie is something of a recession doll. Maybe an inflation doll (which must be distinguished from an inflatable one). The depression doll's backstory is that she saves her family by going to work at a newspaper. If I made a doll for today, I'd create a biracial blogger deeply in credit card debt with no dental insurance. Her accessories would include an iPod and a yoga mat.

Julie's accessories include a peasant dress, a hibachi and a bed with a beaded curtain. I'd like to crawl into the catalog and live her life. She needs a pack of tarot cards and a roach clip, though. Ivy comes with a cowl-neck top and chandelier earrings.

It's odd to see your life and your accessories as part of a historical re-enactment. Though in 1976 I was still a virgin, which feels quite like ancient history. I smoked, yes, that too, and drank. I spent a good part of Bicentennial summer on the Mall, sitting in a tent at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival as a volunteer in the African Diaspora section. My job was to listen to the blues performers all day long, writing down on a log the names of the songs they performed as an audio tech taped every minute. Some of these guys are still at it. (I know I saw Cephas, but I don't remember if they were performing together at that time. I had little idea of how amazing it was to see what I was seeing, but I liked it all the same.)

The book that best captures much of the feeling of the city at that time is King Suckerman.

I hope my daughter doesn't ask for stories from the old days, though if she does, I will share the good, non-scary parts.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


When you grow up in and around Chocolate City and you're white, you can forget what things are really like. I grew up in PG county, which has the highest concentration of rich African-American people in the country. (My parents actually preferred I date black guys, because they were classier. My father taught part-time at Howard and Bowie State.) So I'm more likely to get this "what's wrong here" feeling when the black people are NOT represented among the ones wearing the suits and running the show. You get used to black doctors, lawyers, bosses, councilmembers. Maybe you start getting a little "colorblind," let it slip your mind that the magazine named for the city you live in has had but one black person on its cover in its long history, stuff like that. You start thinking you're living in one of those movies where the cast is so carefully calibrated, so the judge is always a black woman, and there's always a black friend in the group that hangs out at the restaurant, and of course the president is black; why wouldn't he be?

So thank you, Real America, for once again crashing into my unreal complacency and making me see what's real, and what's really important and amazing and revolutionary. There was nothing easy about it, and I needed reminding.

LOOK OVER THERE. The annual charity poetry contest is back. And Backstretch, I still have your t-shirt. Don't let me drink next time I see you and maybe I'll remember. Yeah, right.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Community Is Contagious

If all our weenie wishes come true today, the commies I read and listen to say, we'll still have a lot of work cut out for us. Along with cultivating awareness and saving the Earth, we'll have to cultivate community. We'll need community organizers, I guess.

In my own tiny way, I've been trying to create/engage in community for years, ever since the demoralizing W ascendancy, because it seemed the only thing constructive to do (I had friends who moved to New Zealand, but that wasn't really an option for us). And just like saving energy and changing your habits, making community is hard, really, really fucking hard.

Because community means head lice. Community means getting people to come to the special meeting at the school with the outreach person from Children's Hospital who will tell us how to get rid of the head lice. Community means everyone actually has to do the work to get rid of the head lice.

Community means having a mom in the babysitting coop tell you "she only threw up once this morning" when she drops her kid off, and it means you might have to live with the fact that your kid might be throwing up by that night, because the mom has to work, but so do you, so what do you do? Community means trying to figure out how to avoid the mom that makes veiled and coded racist comments, and wondering what you should do about it.

Community means listening to the woman in your activist group who always seems to have some exotic ailment but you think she'd probably feel better if she stopped eating Doritos and walked around the block once in a while. Community means wondering if you should say something like that. Community means not getting impatient with the handsome egotistical guy who dominates every single discussion and thinking you could shut him up pretty quick if you shoved your tongue into his mouth. Community means making yourself stop and pay attention and keep your mind on the issue. Community means wondering if you're the person everyone is wishing would shut up, or go away. Community means trying to find a nice way to tell someone in your art workshop that what they're pushing is a bad idea. Community means feeling stupid when people don't like your poem. Community means getting annoying emails with dire warnings discounted on Snopes years ago, and then getting emails defending the emails.

Community means weeds. Community means the woman two garden plots over making snippy comments about the weeds in your garden infecting the rest of the garden. Community means overhearing lots of people making snippy comments about your weeds.

But community also means the old guy who is the keeper of the garden's fig trees, who is himself as round as a fig, whose English you can barely understand, chattering at you and piling your hands full of ripe, sticky figs.

Every day I think of getting out of every community I struggle to be a part of. But just like healing the Earth, there really is no other option for survival than learning how to be together in ways that don't involve buying something.

On another note: Many thanks to Brotherman for sending the Alejandro Escovedo live tracks. I love his work just with the string quartets. Strings have been getting to me more lately--we just went to see Rachel Getting Married and there's violin and fiddle work all through it, plus just this little chunk with Robin Hitchcock almost acoustic with strings just swelling it out, giving it so much heft.

Photo: Above CB's are not from the following site, but there's one that has 365 freaking days of Grumpy Bear, love it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

"Long Live the Blacklist!"

And goodbye to Studs Terkel. This is from the Post obit:

"If it weren't for the blacklist I might have been emceeing [today] on these network TV shows and have been literally dead because . . . I'd have said something that would have knocked me off [the air], obviously. But I would never have done these books, I would never have gone on to the little FM station playing classical music. So, long live the blacklist!"

I was just looking stuff up about him the other day and leafing thru my books, because he was the one that introduced that Emile de Antonio movie I wrote about a while ago, and I started thinking about him and etc. and almost wrote something but it was getting too damn long. Saw him speak on three occasions and for someone so good at listening, he was really good at speaking, too.

Another "commie" when simple decency and caring about how people live and keep it together is defined as being "socialist." Last night thru a half-asleep haze I saw on Bill Maher or think I remember Cornel West pointing his finger at everyone in turn and saying "you're a socialist, you're a socialist, I'm a socialist," etc., etc. How's this for black-and-white thinking: If you're not some kind of socialist, chances are you're some kind of sociopath.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Dumb Supper

I'm making cornbread for the Dumb Supper, which some celebrate on Halloween--you put out foods for ancestors and departed friends and such, sometimes dining with them. "Dumb" has its archaic meaning of "silent," in this case. I usually do cornbread, greens, sweet tea and open a beer (this year two, one for my grandfather per usual and one for an acquaintance who left this year).

I got a New Year's card yesterday from a friend who can fly (Samhain is sometimes called the witches' new year), and it reminded me of her card from last year, which had a black cow and a white cow on it, and that reminded me of the artist Vernon Pratt, so on this Day of the Dead I'd like to remember him, too.

You could call his work conceptualist/minimalist, but since it gives you enough to think about for days, it's pretty maximal. He worked often in black and white--now there's something to get started chewing over. Where do they meet, where do they blend, when does it become "more black" or "more white"? For instance, one work was hundreds of marbles, black and white marbles in separate containers; one marble was dropped at a time into the other container.

Just think.

You can see his work large scale in Raleigh: The Education Wall.

I met him when I was 22 and had gotten a grant to work at an artists/writers colony, god knows how--you submitted your work w/o a name and the judging was very blind, indeed. (I wasn't the youngest ever there yet; that would have been my best friend at the time; he got in at 20, which is what gave me the idea to apply.) I was lonely and awkward and never knew what to say or do; we had to eat dinner in this big room and I felt like an idiot most of the time. Like when the director put me down in front of everyone for not having read Issac Singer.

Vernon was fun and kind and unpretentious in every way; he never flaunted his considerable intellect but was just curious and interested in everything going on around him. The colony was on a working farm that raised a black-and-white breed of cows; he had a lot of fun with that. He was also a musician and we talked alot about jazz. He had a car and I didn't, and he gave me rides to the nearby college in the mornings where we were allowed to use the pool and gym and we even went to movies in town ("Pretty in Pink," can you believe!). He was a straight man who didn't try to sleep with me; now, not that there's anything wrong with making a polite and happy attempt, but I say that to bring out how deliriously happy he was with his wife and family. He spoke often with pride of his daughter (who became Jane of Jane magazine), barely my age and already a star.

He died after a biking accident during yet another stay at the artists' colony. He gave me my first real painting by a real artist; it's one of a series of "scribble scales" he made, once again adding black gestures to white canvas. It's hanging above my altar room (aka closet) now.

Photo: James Stewart and Kim Novak in Bell, Book and Candle. Both such great physical actors, and the physical harmony and communication between them is so palpable. But of course the real reason I love this movie is for the witches and beatniks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"I Wanna Get Back to the Old Days When the Phone Rang and I Knew It Was You"

My daughter is sick again, which pretty much makes me crazy with fear and worry, which I smush down and stamp on and act natural so I won't be accused of being a helicopter mother, a tag I've fought since she was cut out of me. She's much more comfortable this time around then she was with the strep a couple weeks ago. In her case, they should call it "dancing pneumonia" instead of walking pneumonia, because she is performing the complete works of Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato, with a little Jonas Bros (for this, she puts on a sideways ball cap and lowers her voice to foghorn pitch) thrown in. She has three notebooks open to jot down the songs that come into her mind as she performs. My favorite is "this is a rock and roll house, this is a bouncy bounce house," to the accompaniment of banging on a yoga ball. They say the antibiotics will clear this up in a day. We'll see.

One big privilege is getting out the big Real Artist Kit and using all the colors and different kinds of paints and pastels and pencils in it, like Real Artists, which means drawing fruit. Above, the baby pomegranate and the mommy pomegranate. She says mine looks like a pumpkin. I say hers looks like a heart.

Tonight is the new moon in Scorpio; I always do a new moon ritual, but this one may be difficult. I ran across this astrologer's website by chance and like what she has to say: "The Scorpio New Moon is a night to strip yourself bare and release your pretensions..." But hon, with all my pretensions, I'm going to be stuck standing around nekkid til the year 2525. Nevertheless:

"Scorpio is the sign that seeks deep truth in all things. The New Moon in Scorpio is the night to acknowledge the ways this questioning process manifests in your life. This is the most serious New Moon of the year. This is the night of truth and dare: dare to be truthful with yourself and you will greatly increase the rewards of this ritual."

I know I'll be working for healing, because we've had enough. But it's also a good time to let go.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Have You at Long Last, Sir, No Sense of Decency?"

I was excited to see that a staged reading of "Trial of the Catonsville Nine" was slated for election eve even before I realized it's by a director I admire. And there's a chance I might even be able to go, because my in-laws have plans to steal my child next weekend.

Trial transcripts turned drama are an interesting case--you always expect a trial to be dramatic, but they don't usually live up. I've heard rumblings but don't know of any successful attempt to do anything with Brecht's HUAC testimony, which would be my top pick to see enacted. Maybe with some embellishments to make it even more "Duck Soup"-y.

Long ago, I saw a video of another Berrigan trial put to drama, "In the King of Prussia," about the Plowshares Eight, who in 1980 sauntered into a GE plant and beat on nuclear bomb parts with hammers--beating swords into plowshares--one of the few times when taking a biblical exhortation literally could rate a hell yeah from me. The video, by Emile De Antonio, was shot in two days, just before the crew were carted off the jail; Martin Sheen supported the production and also plays the judge, who becomes apoplectic each time the defendants non-ironically but certainly disruptively break into "Kumbaya." It's a quick and dirty job I wouldn't necessarily rush onto the Netflix list, but de Antonio's work (he also did films on the McCarthy hearings and the Weather Underground) is part of the roots to current political documentary making and deserves its props.

It was made in 1983, not pre-MTV but damn close, when artists were still arguing about whether video was worth anything. AFI used to be housed at the Kennedy Center, and they'd have a video festival each summer and I'd go and give myself a headache from nonstop viewing and no eating (KenCen then as now a wasteland when it comes to any nearby affordable food). Saw my first Nam June Paik installation; there was a Twyla Tharp piece with cameras mounted on the dancers that caused people to stand up and yell at her; and there were many complaints that "In the King of Prussia" was slapdash. The point was that video could capture this sort of thing in the days before the subjects would be sent up; it changed time and distribution.

I actually think that the longing-to-become-slick early-80s audience was just embarrassed by sincerity--going to jail for your beliefs was so last-decade. Such a showing today might touch off a "real Americans" vs. "domestic terrorists" cage match.

The tone taken by the Others in these last days before the election is scarier to me than the dire prediction of an "international incident." They're stirring up the ugliest, in code; Palin is sounding more like George Wallace in (overpriced) skirts every day. My comeback line, when people told me after 9/11 that I ought to move away from Washington, was: "Yes, we'll go someplace safe in the heartland, like Oklahoma." You know, you can't have a day care center in a federal building after that happened? You can't have on-site daycare. Parents, nursing mothers, have to walk out of their buildings and down the street to visit their children during the day because in Oklahoma, a clutch of our fellow Americans didn't want Their Taxes going to food and roads for Those Other People. That's just one of those tiny but breathtakingly horrible details from the act of domestic terrorism everyone seems to have forgotten.

So why am I not outraged that Bill Ayers is walking around free to eat mache and give pretentious lectures? Fair question, but you could ask it of anyone--as Dick Gregory has been doing: If we think he's an evil domestic terrorist, why are "we" letting him teach at a major university? Why didn't all these appalled people go in and bust him years ago? Gregory also adds in another factor that gives me pause, that he suspects plants inciting or even committing destructive acts, something that was common then. Um, or maybe not just then. (Paging Lucy Shoup!) The degree and intent of the damage, the times, the cause behind it, all make me want to think that one over a while more. There's a little teeny aspect of college intellectual boomers getting away with shit while farmboys don't that I don't choose to go into right now, either.

But it gets very complicated, doesn't it? If you break into a nuclear power plant to stage a pacifist protest and a security guard believes she's endangered and takes a shot and hits an employee, who is responsible for the harm? Where is the boundary between destruction of property and harm to humans? Who should be more free, a protestor or a police officer in St. Paul? Who's more endangered? Whose rights are more endangered? It's way too complicated for me. I wish I could turn on the TV and hear people debating these questions, but we're not allowed to talk about it--all we're allowed to say is "He's pallin' around with terrorists" or "He's just some schlump he knew on a committee once." We're under orders to keep it simple.

Photo: Martin Sheen in Badlands. Man, that Terrence Malik could pick 'em, could he not?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oh No, Must Be the Season of the Cinnamon Broom

Today's musings over the microwave minestrone...

Our Mad Man friend wrote a while back about an odd encounter with a tall, bony blonde in a grocery store. She helped him find a can of chicken broth, inquired solicitously about his health, and then, when he told her he was buying it for his fiance, who was making a special dinner, said he was a lucky guy. It was Ann Coulter. Doesn't that sound like one of those weird dreams you'd tell your shrink about? But it was real.

Latest Pew says 60 percent of women don't like Sarah Palin; the right says that's because we're just jealous that she's so pretty. Hon, that's the only thing about her I can stand. You know, in a bar, maybe, with the music too loud to hear her talk, well...I might sidle up. But $150,000 for clothes? Girlfriend is buying the drinks.

Full disclosure: I'm thinking my hair/makeup/clothing budget probably hits a grand, and that's including running stuff. I hardly ever wear makeup, but I'm so phobic I throw out all the (cheap organic) stuff every three months and replace it anyway. Most of it's the haircolor and waxing, which I pay an arm and a leg and an ass for. But it's worth it--the woman who does it, besides being really good at her job, is a former French literature scholar who left Iran and has lived all over the world, and she always has such interesting things to say. I thought Sarah P.'s highlighting job looked a little skunky under the debate lights. I really should find a way to get that number down from a grand. It's unsustainable.

I know I'm kind of tiresome with my constant foisting of astrologer Eric Francis on people, but he reran this piece that took me right back to Miami in hurricane season. A bare hotel room, a perfect stranger, a mirror, candles, a trance CD playing over and over, power down and a wind right out of Cuba slinging rain at the windows. Book me for that one.

Instead, I'm on the couch wrapped in a blanket, watching Countdown. And, goddess forgive me, House. Jesus. My TV consumption shot up to almost four hours this week. I'm a little under the weather. Bored. Microwaved.

And then there's the other side of Miami: An old friend formerly from there won a cooking contest with a recipe for "Pig-Wrapped, Pig-Stuffed Pig." He's a really, really good cook. And the video's pretty funny.

[I know, you're thinking lipstick joke, but jesus if you say it I'll virtually stab you with a pen, the way my Hot Friend E did a lawyer in her office the other day, because he wasn't listening. And he just shook it off and kept on talking.]

Photo: Muse Erato, from the muses sarcophagi in the Louvre, public domain.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I Read. I Smoke. I Admire.

That's Laura Bush's reply to her mother-in-law when asked what she "does," brought back to me in reading reviews of W (though they attribute it being said to a different character; no, haven't seen the movie, come on, babysitter?): "I read. I smoke. I admire." It’s so Whartonesque, and so sad; such a cave to the requirement that a woman in her position be ineffectual and decorative. I read—an independent act, a richly exploratory act, but a lonely and interior one; I smoke—again, independent, transgressive even, but in a way that harms only the subject; I admire—the only outer-directed action being that of a mirror, a springboard, a prop, in effect nonexistent until the real people come along and need you. She turned herself into a flaneur on an exclusive, stunted boulevard. And I’ve been there, even to the specifics on a lower scale: With my own family and the ones I’ve married or partnered into, I’m an outsider suffered a place at the table to the degree I can provide a charming reflection or render myself invisible.

And it’s a tiring state to maintain; you can hear the exhaustion in that laconic delivery, can’t you?

But this made me laugh: Daphne Merkin writing about Sophie Calle, relegated to the NYT Sunday Fashion Supplement (which I'm slavish about reading for the perfume reviews). She's the one who did the piece where a man broke up with her via e-mail, and she gave that e-mail to a wide group of women of substance, who then used it to create works of their own (a scholarly essay, poems, drawings, more). My favorite was by an editor who corrected the e-mail's grammar and wording. As Merkin quotes one academic: "it's rare in contemporary art to make people laugh." The title is the funniest part of all: "Take Care of Yourself."

Of course, there are those who pound on her "narcissism," a critic who calls her work "more in the territory of mental disorder than art," "soft-core identity politics to advance/indulge/realize herself." Oh lord, and more than a hundred years ago we have poets proclaiming "Nothing human is alien to me" and "I sing the body electric"; no quibble with a man seeing himself as the universal human, is there? But here's Merkin with the big finish:

"[Calle says] 'The way I use stories protects me from bitterness.' Which leaves her as she wants to be seen: as a lone ranger of a sort, a defiantly risk-taking woman in a man's world, making her mark, like it or not."

Photo: Another enigma that splits the prodigy/late bloomer mold: Jean Rhys. Brilliant youthful work, silence; terrifying midlife work, silence; and as an old woman, one of the greatest novels of the last century, Wide Sargasso Sea. In between, she had husbands and children and lovers and drinks. Her letters are terribly moving; in one, she advises her adult daughter to go the chemist's and get vitamin C and calcium powder for her children, that that was one of the things she did for her daughter when she was little, during the war, and she grew up healthy and tall.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"We Are Ugly, But We Have the Music"

Seven things that made me burst into tears in the past seven days:

1. Esperanza Glass is in her 40s.

2. High school bullshit never stops, even when you're in your 40s.

3. High school bullshit dogs one to the assisted-living facility, if one isn't lucky enough to keel over on the 18th hole before that point.

3. High school bullshit actually starts in elementary school.

4. My daughter is not after all showing signs of being as big a social tard as I am. She is also, entirely objectively speaking, beautiful, and she has a naturally long, lean physique. These gifts may allow her to glide past the high school bullshit present and future like a mermaid over a sewer pipe. Beauty generally frightens bullies (who are usually ugly, if you look hard enough, and who as unfair as it is nonetheless sometimes have the music).

5. Amid the deafening silence of the week, I heard from an old, old friend. And a new one.

6. My Hot Friend E left a wise, two-call-long message on my phone that I want to try to save forever. Or at least as long as the high school bullshit lasts.

7. I ran Billy Goat Trail B and C today through blazing trees and a river just high enough to talk. I've been in a low-boil depression for a while, doing the things I need to do to roll through it to the other side. One of those things: Working a ritual with Oshun, Orisha of love and beauty and in a deeper sense, renewal, and running by the river is part of that, as she is a river goddess. I have always been moved by the story of Oshun and Ogun. Ogun, the maker of tools, and in a deeper sense, perpetual creator of what humans need to live and keep going--he works unceasingly--became disillusioned and exhausted, feeling as if his constant work was for nothing. So he quit. He went to the forest to hide. For a while, no one noticed, but soon there was fear and chaos. People and Orishas alike called through the forest, telling him how much they were suffering, how he couldn't behave this way. Oshun quietly slipped into the forest, wearing five yellow scarves and carrying a gourd of her sacred honey. She wandered silently until she sensed Ogun behind some brush, watching her. She didn't say a word, but began to dance. Ogun crept closer, watching her dance. She dipped her fingers into her gourd and quickly reached out and brushed his lips with honey. He came closer, and she fed him again, wrapping him in her scarves.

He agreed to come back to work.

So I run into the woods, but have to send a part of myself after me, must gather my own honey, must try to tempt myself back to work, without any of her conviction that it's worth the effort. The answer to that is always the big, brick-wall question: What's your alternative, hon?

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Hamster Wheel of Necessity

My friends, please represent and support the American Center for Sarah Palin Inspirational Limericks, my friends. My friends, I know you can show them the best. Oh, that goes for my enemies, too. Thanks to the most voracious poetry blogger on earth for the tipoff.

And for this one, too. Someone's hip to the fact that my prodigious output is part of the plot to bring down the system, man. An apologia for the poetry bailout:

"The crisis has been precipitated by the escalation of poetry debt—poems that circulate in the market at an economic loss due to their difficulty, incompetence, or irrelevance. What began as a subprime poetry problem on essentially unregulated poetry websites has spread to other, more stable, literary magazines and presses and contributed to excess poetry inventories that have pushed down the value of responsible poems."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Brazen as the Trees

Autumn in DC. Why does it seem so...depressing? It'll pass. I just have to get out of the conference rooms and onto the Gold Mine Trail this weekend.

Malcolm Gladwell's look at prodigies vs. late bloomers posits that the latter are "experimental innovators" who, awwww, love the journey more than the destination. Tell that to Cezanne, throwing his paintings up into the trees in fury and frustration. Examples of women artists are conspicuously absent in the piece, as well, perhaps because the reasons behind the caesauras in their oeuvres tend not to fit the theory.

And there's nothing anywhere that explains the impulse of a foolish woman to start at the age of 46 cranking out poems, clueless about their quality, entirely unconvinced of their use, and helpless to stop. It's been a year now since this madness struck me.

Enough complaining. Here's the mix: Could I Be Your Girl, Jann Arden; Stoney End, Laura Nyro; Next Time Round, Elvis Costello; The Infanta, the Decemberists; Love and Anger, Kate Bush; Me, Erykah Badu; Wichita Lineman, Cassandra Wilson; Spirit, The Go-Betweens; Gamma Ray, Beck; Holding on to the Earth, Sam Phillips; Get it While You Can, Janis.

"I'm no trouble...nothing like the trouble that I used to be when I was somebody's double..."

Photo: Louise Brooks, acting prodigy, writing late bloomer; and what happened in between was between her and the bedpost. Again, no permission. They'll put me on home detention for these copyright crimes soon. UPDATE: Had to fix--bad photo--instant karma? Thanks, whoever you are...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Make Them Open the Kimono First

Back in town from Mommy's Special Camping Trip with a big haul of poems. I keep thinking I'm never going back again, but as my acupuncturist says: "There aren't many places you can get that many insights in three days without destroying your marriage or your job." I'm speed-dating the cosmos. For all the discomfort and awkwardness, it's still the greatest place I've found yet to wander around drunk with gratitude toward people you don't even know. These are just fast snapshots written on the drive home and between loads of laundry. I would love to hear whether they work at all for people who don't know the setting.

Irish Pub
No one would ever swing from that chandelier.
That’s reassuring. Two melody lines
From the fiddles entwine in the warmth,
And nobody minds when the singer forgets
A few lines—“something about knife,
Something about wife”—because
We’re all fucking family here.

Camp Sexy
Most people want it in the morning, but
They get to it in different ways. Some use the scent
As a cue to speak their aubades, an excuse to roll
Out of the tumbled blankets and ease down the road.
Others stumble out alone and shivering, chasing
The promise of warmth. Then there are those
Who ignore the call and turn to one another,
Not minding the salty lips,
Or that there may not be any coffee left
By the time they get there. When I went
To get my cup, the sugar was gone,
But there were many other kinds of sweeteners offered.

Tower of Power
It’s all in black and white on the screen,
Sharp as a tuxedo at 9 p.m., cool
As the condensation on the shaker.

“I am like an island adrift that would like to unite with a continent.”
--Carlos Fuentes
Maintaining the border matters. Two saguaros, once stately,
Now sagging, hold the line, their strange and dangerous spines
Suspiciously like bars. Beyond them lies a nation
Of fast patter and shifting images. You only get a glimpse,
But the people in the pictures look happy.

Whiskey and Whores
So a woman walks into a bar,
Takes a seat, asks the bartender for a light,
Pulls something out of her bag. One cowboy
Jackrabbits to the couch, grabs a snoozing blonde,
Tries to dive into her mouth for cover. But the Woman
With No Name just passes it around, and everyone takes a shot.
The men tell stories other people made up, in other places.
They’re all accustomed to taking the spin, the chance, and the consequences.
Outside, a turtle lumbers down the dirt road,
Stops to feed on a wilted rose, its jaws snapping the stem,
Working its way to the bud.

Then the Mariachi comes strolling by the bar,
Armed with nothing more than ordinary guile.
Long shots from three points of view, and some
Rapid-cycle close-ups on the eyes.
The Mariachi speaks three short, honest sentences
And sweeps the Woman up in his arms and carries her off.
Her pleasure makes the lantern sway on the pole.

Zelda’s Inferno
The caravan stopped here and spilled its cargo
Of quilts and cat-eyed poets. Cardamom scents the air
From the bubbling samovar at the next camp.
Parti-colored flags flutter above a pair of reclining lovers,
As a flame-haired woman reads aloud
From a book of prophecy.

Bright tangles of candy twine,
Candy jewels awash among the flotsam—
What’s dropped at the amusement pier
Piles up around the jetty’s sturdy legs.

Holding the long line, they pull together on the canvas
As one, tugging it over the dome and lashing it to the poles.
What will happen here requires that the circle
Stay in close contact with the earth. It may be
It would like to float away like a big balloon
And take its cargo back to Kansas.
What you learn here is that there is always
Another way to get home.

Photo: Don Draper gets hip to the beats. Permission? I don't need no stinking permission.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

What. Not.

I've been feeling guilty about being so distracted by the election "and whatnot" that I haven't been writing much. So I forced myself to come up with a poem today while running.

Carolina, My Ass

Something in the way
It sounds makes you think
You've heard it before. But you're lulled.
The voice, rich and reedy at once,
Diction a mix of precision and drawl,
And that fingering, sliding
As if the strings have been lubricated.
But they still ring out plucked steel;
There's nothing sloppy about it.
An intake of breath and he constructs
A country in his chest, pouring it drop by drop
Into your ear. Ain't I weak, he sings.
That's when it falls apart. Now you hear
The junkie whine behind the words,
And the only hardness is that of a heart
That takes what it wants and turns away,
Then turns back to ask for more.

I should make myself do it every day, like the rock and roll poet, who filled out almost a whole month last month. Check out the one for David Foster Wallace--it's stunning, I think, and could apply to almost anyone, like the one above could, except it's shorter, which is always better.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Kinda Mainstream Racism

Well, several nights free of trouble, and a daughter dancing and singing all over the house in her usual fashion. Life is good again, and giving mommy plenty to feel sick about. From the Post:

"Worse, Palin's routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her "less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media." At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."

"...Palin, speaking to a sea of "Palin Power" and "Sarahcuda" T-shirts, tried to link Obama to the 1960s Weather Underground. ... "Kill him!" proposed one man in the audience."

At least that paper's still managing to get the reporting job done, despite being cut to skeletons and spending all its money on interns testing cosmetics. Sunday, our Times wasn't delivered and my husband went out on an errand, leaving me with the newspaper dregs--including that egregious banality, the Sunday Source, in which I read that for "retro curls" I should spread between my hands "an egg-size amount of voluminizing mousse," which sounds kind of sexual? Maybe that's just me, and in which someone actually got paid for putting this subhead on a sidebox: "Teach Your Children Well." Gag me with an egg-size...well. That's enough of that.

But it's got ELECTROLYTES!

Photo: Idiocracy. Permission? What's that?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hugs and Drugs

Like the prospect of hanging, having a sick child concentrates the mind wonderfully. (Course he also said that no one but a blockhead writes but for money, so what does that make me?) I don't give a shit who dives out of Wall Street windows; just gods, gods, gods, make her stop waking up crying at 1 a.m.

She askes me these scarily grown-up questions in our rocking late-night encounters, ones that run through my own mind as well. So perhaps that means that my questions are simply childish. You be the judge.

"What if this never stops?"

"It'll get better, baby, I promise."

"I'm so tired of being awake. I want to sleep. I never want to wake up at night again. What if I never sleep?"

"Remember last night? It started feeling better and you got back to sleep. You will. You just have to give it some time. Give the medicine a chance to work."

"What if this never goes away? Will I ever be able to play with my friends again?"

"You will. I promise. We'll make it better."

"But I'll still remember what this feels like. I'll have the memory of this and it will never go away."

"The memory will go away, too. You can help make it go away."

"But if I make the bad remembering go away, will the good memory go away too? How can I keep the good rememberings?"

"You just keep putting the good thoughts in instead of the bad. Who's the boss of your mind? Who's the queen of your mind?"

"I am."

"You are. Right. We'll all help make it better together."

And on and on, over again. I have no idea what I'm doing. This line of questioning isn't supposed to start until the college years. I want to punch doctors who are reassuring, yet am stuck with nothing more than being able to be reassuring myself. (BTW, it's nothing horrible, don't worry; just very, very uncomfortable and difficult for her, between medicine and side effects.) And I don't, don't, don't want to be at work (where I'm sneaking this in while waiting for a late client because if I don't write something real I'll go nuts). I passed a store window with a t-shirt on display: "Lucky Mom, 24/7" and about lobbed my coffee cup thru the window. If I were 24/7 mom none of this would happen, she would never get sick, the world would be peaceful, the market would be humming, right?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Milk and Honey

The farmers market by my work has only a few weeks left to run. The woman from my favorite farm, Licking Creek, has been transfered to NIH. The handsome farmer who gives me discounts says he doesn't have greens--hardly anyone buys them, he says, so there's no point in even picking them. I buy a bunch of chard, which I'm cooking now, to have with pasta, in between typing and helping with homework. I never have chard. It seems like such a New England thing. Chaaahd. Like John Updike is saying it. The local honey guy has still has a big crowd around his stand. It makes me feel good to see a bunch of men standing around tasting honey from little spoons.

Hey, this just in: Nathaniel Mayweather's honey, Hyla, will be on Chelsea Lately again tonight, but with an ALL-REDHEAD panel. You know I'm not missing that.

Of course the sunshine isn't going to last: The Post ran this piece from a Chinese blogger about the melamine in milk horror. This blogger, a university teacher, visits the countryside, where her unsophisticated cousin tells her that the last crop of rice they grew was poisoned by pesticides, so the farmers took it to Shanghai and sold it. She doesn't know what to make of the story, or what to do:

"What could I do after I heard something like this? Where could I go to report the problem? I can't think of any official in this vast country who would patiently listen to me and try to address the problem. Most officials would probably regard me as insane if I went to talk to them....

"There are all kinds of things like this happening in the country. There's nothing I can do about it," I said to myself, trying to appease my conscience.

"How pitiful I am. I already know that my effort will be useless even before I take any action.... I am caught in the same situation as my imaginary, impassive official. Both of us are controlled by a curse and have lost the ability to take appropriate action . . .

"Trapped in this kind of silence and not able to do anything about it...I almost feel that I've become a pile of [dung], or a slave who only knows work but not how to speak. I chat and joke with people around me, but I am not able to talk about the biggest bewilderment on my mind."

This Kafka state is similar with the current cri$i$ (thanks to Professor of Osculation for the locution). It seems there's nothing you can say, nothing you can do. That's an illusion, as usual, created to make us give up our power. I hope it's not a dress rehearsal for the next big crisis, when there could be babies' lives at stake instead of just 401ks.

I just remembered we have some andouille left over. I'll put that in with the chard.

Photo: Daughter and I went to an arts festival and did Craft Projects. That one's mine. Blurry photo of collage. Moon, flames, trees, the usual preoccupations.