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 na├»ve, 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.