Thursday, August 31, 2006

i'm a crush machine

I love school. I'm aware that this represents a complete about-face from last semester, but it's a very welcome attitude-change, believe me. I had about 6 hours of sleep last night, I'm exhausted, and I just got back from my 9am Comparative Criminal Procedure seminar. I've got four hours before I have to start my next shift at work and I'm too jacked up on coffee to take a nap, so I'll write a blog instead.

I have a minor crush on my prof. Very minor, but the fact of its mere existence says a lot about me and my oversimplified emotional responses to the world. This prof, we'll call her EagleEye Goldberg, is pretty great. I had her two years ago for Criminal Procedure and I loved her fierce style and intellect. Lots of people were scared of her, but I thought she was awesome. Back then, she had a very short, severe haircut that emphasized her sharp eyes and slanted eyebrows and otherwise eagley features. I realize now that her short hair also gave her the atmosphere of advanced age and a particular kind of stern eldership.

Well. I haven't seen EagleEye in quite a while (I think she was on sabbatical last semester working on a law review article) and I hardly recognized her when she walked into class this morning. Her once cropped little helmet of hair had grown into a cascade of chin-length, sandy brown curls which she kept endearingly poking behind her ears throughout class. Wow! She looks about fifteen years younger, much softer, and oh-so-cute. She's still fierce and there's definitely still an eagle beneath those curly locks, but the difference is pretty incredible.

Amazing to me to think about appearance and how our appearance informs the world about us. But more interesting for me to think about my simple, almost peurile, approach to the world. I'd like to think more about why I'm just as likely to feel a crush spark into existence rather than just a simple appreciation or respect. What does it mean to have a crush on someone? What is a "crush"? What is it to access the energy of a crush? Stuff to think about.


A quickie from the thick of my first week of school. My schedule is keeping me on my toes, which is a nice change from my uber-slack summer. The school part isn't so bad, but the work part is a little grueling. I work until midnight four nights a week but still have to get up relatively early every morning to do school stuff. As the week progresses, I feel more and more like a zombie.

I'm faring better than a first year student I saw in the women's restroom of the LRC on Monday. She walked in looking frazzled and said "I just hit the wall" -- meaning: I have reached my maximum capacity for this experience. Poor thing. She could only have had the pleasure of two hours of class by that time and already she was hitting the wall. I wanted to pat her on the arm and tell her it gets better. Because it does. She'll see.

As for me, I've got to be up and on campus by nine for a Comparative Criminal Procedure seminar. I'm interested in the subject and I love the professor (she's tough, thorough and very, very clear -- she's also got a dry wit and a very sharp eye... she can be kind of scary actually). It only meets on Thursdays and it meets for three hours, which borders on unbearable, but in the right professor's hands, it might not be so bad. We'll see. Now sleep time. More soon.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

one small step in the right direction

After a long, somewhat uncomfortable conversation with SK a few minutes ago, (as usual) I understand something much better about the thing that happened earlier at the coffeeshop (see previous post entitled "high drama at the black cat"). Maybe not the thing that happened itself, but my reaction to it and some beginnings of an answer to my stubbornly unanswerable questions about how to stop something -- how to change it -- from the swirling middle of it.

I asked SK, exasperated, like a blockheaded fool banging my blocky head against a cement wall, "what should I do? What practical step can I take in my life to change this? Should I choose another neighborhood to live in? And if so, why?" I was feeling deeply confused about my own role in my gentrified neighborhood and stubbornly stymied around a solution. SK, calm as usual, said, "You have black neighbors. Do you say hi to them when you pass?" And I, with my blind, blockheaded stupidity, answer "No, I don't say hi to anybody," as though being an equal-opportunity recluse immunizes me from culpability here.

No, I am not immune. I AM the lack of community. I AM the bad thing about gentrification. I AM the reason those guys could waltz into the coffeeshop and steal the tip money right out of the barista's hand. I AM the problem. The solution (or at least a step in the right direction) is to simply say hi to the people I see on the street. To start talking to the barista and other patrons of the coffeeshop. To start talking to my neighbors, whoever they are. To act like there's a community, even if I can't see it or feel it. To be the community I want to see around me.

I walk around with my head in a cloud of my own neuroses and old wounds and drama and self-doubt, but who doesn't? Maybe our clouds look a little different and make us behave in slightly different ways, but we're all struggling with our own stuff. Just because I'm shy or not very assertive or whatever I am doesn't exempt me from being a necessary part of the solution, whatever it is. And I can't wait until I'm not shy anymore. I can't wait until I've solved all my own racism issues or fixed my inferiority complex or learned to accept my power and rank in the world, I can't wait for all that because I could be working on all that my whole life. I have to start now. I have to just do it, no matter how awkward I might feel at first. Otherwise it will never in a million years change and we'll all be stuck like this forever.

high drama at the black cat

Also known as: one more reason for me to leave.

Also known as: the trouble with gentrification.

Also known as: this place is just fucked.

I'm sitting here at my coffeeshop, reading my (of all things) Civil Rights Litigation homework in my previously described, thrivingly-gentrified neighborhood, on a street that used to be a run-down gang main drag (what was it before that? i don't know, my portland history is only informed by the mythology commonly passed around and that mythology seems to begin in an era of gangs and decay) -- this coffeeshop is in it's own way a little trashy and caters to white, indie-kids, pseudo artists and geeksters, lots and lots of queers and, wait, did I mention they're all white? They're all white.

So it was noticeable when these two young black guys walked in, loping around in their oversized clothes and disjointed swaggers, lingering by the ice-cream cooler, looking around, talking to each other, not getting in line to buy anything, just standing out like sore thumbs. I looked up at them. It isn't completely unheard-of for black kids from the neighborhood to come in here -- they don't tend to hang out much, but they come in sometimes to buy sodas or cigarettes or use the internet computers in the back -- I looked up at them and noted their clothes, their swaggers, their blackness. I felt that gnaw in my stomach, that gnaw that doesn't have an answer, that gnaw that starts gnawing every time I walk through my neighborhood, that gnawing on the confusion of class and race and how I fit into it all and how fucked up it all is and what to do with it. A tangle of guilt and misunderstanding and whatever else.

One of the guys leaned across the counter from the wrong side and asked the barista if there was a bathroom he could use. She said, "Only for customers, but yeah, you can use it." She pointed to the door. He used it. The other just stood in his spot and stared at the ice-cream. His friend emerged and said, "Look, they have ice-cream." They slouched toward the line and stood for a bit, shuffling hugely baggy pants forward as customers moved along. I stopped watching them. Suddenly, there was a crack of activity, a woman's voice said "shit!" and a rush of rustling clothes and feet slapping ground, a blur of white jacket out of the corner of my eye.

I looked up too late. Everyone in the shop was looking up. Then the barista, shocked and wide-eyed, started explaining: "I was taking the money out of the tip-jar, I had a handful of ones and that guy just reached across, right under my nose, and grabbed it right out of my hand. He grabbed it right out of my fucking hand!" Pasty white faces looked lazilly around and people said, "wow" and "shit" and "that was *fast*." The woman sitting to my left jumped up and walked outside to stare down the sidewalk after the long-gone guys. A damp sense of limp outrage sort of sparked among the crowd for a minute, then passed. The barista called the cops. I heard her explain it. Now, ten minutes later, it's like nothing happened, but the barista has probably still got a lingering adrenalin buzz. Meanwhile, those guys are probably down at the convenience store five blocks away buying candy and lottery tickets and laughing.

Why is this neighborhood gentrified? Why was this once black neighborhood suddenly full of white liberals with coffeeshops? Why don't the black kids shop here? Why are the white kids suspicious? Why was the fucking barista taking the tips out of the tip jar right then anyway? Why is this a race thing? Because it *is* a race thing. It's not a thug thing or a criminal thing. It's black kids in their once black neighborhood stealing tips from white baristas who sell coffee to white geeksters who have taken over their street with the things the so-called progressive Portland neo-yuppies value: bike shops and food co-ops and indie rock bars and clothing boutiques and 80-million goddamn coffeeshops.

After all these years, what is the solution? What changes this scenerio? What do we do? How do we learn to like each other, to look after each other, to care for each other, to understand something of who we all are? What's the missing piece, the missing equation in this value system that keeps people so separate and contentious? Case in point: the next season of Survivor plans to separate the contestants by race. To prove what? To appeal to whom? What century are we living in?? What are we doing to ourselves?

the bubble, deflating

Having heard about it on NPR and read about it in the New York Times, I now see evidence of it all over my neighborhood: the housing bubble is bursting. If not "bursting" at least it's deflating. My thrivingly gentrified, Northeast Portland neighborhood is full of recently snatched up and newly renovated bungalows that have been sitting still while their values have been skyrocketing out of all proportion. That is, until now. Over the past week, "for sale" signs have sprung up all over like the late-season sunflowers that proliferate in this 'hood. Looks like the fun stops here. All those folks who moved in fast and hoped for a windfall in such a crazy market are now trying to get out quick while they can still, with a straight face, ask for upwards of $400,000 for a three-bedroom craftsman bungalow in a neighborhood now being called the "Alberta Arts Discrict" (not the "you'll get shot by gangs" district of ten years ago). Good luck, folks.

A year ago, I was ostensibly a "homeowner." I never really felt like *I* owned the house, but I was (also ostensibly) married to CB then and she owned the house and if that didn't exactly make me a true "homeowner" it at least made me *not* a renter and as close to a homeowner as I had ever been. I contributed money toward building the deck and installing a woodstove. I worked in the yard and garden. I helped plan future renovations. I daydreamed about new paintjobs and construction. I eyed the house's increasing value with quiet satisfaction. If I didn't always love my relationship, I *always* did love my house.

Now I live in a rented basement and any understanding I'd had of what my future (near and distant) might hold has scattered to the four winds. Despite the profligate "for-sale" signs bearing ever-decreasing asking-prices, I no longer eye-ball the houses in my neighborhood and imagine myself as a homeowner again. The shine is off that old dream. Nothing is certain. I know only that I want to leave Portland in the Spring and look for clues to my future happiness elsewhere. It's like I'm on a global scavenger hunt. The next clue is across an ocean and until I've found and examined it, I can't know what next thing my future holds. It is confusing and frustrating, but also, behind all that, thrilling.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

last hurrah

I'm at my coffeeshop for one last, leisurely afternoon of reading and blogging on this my last weekend before school starts. Technically, this isn't even a free weekend because I have homework assignments in all my classes that I must complete before I attend those classes next week, so if I was smart, I would be sitting here with my civil rights litigation book reading the 35 pages that are assigned for my first class on Monday. Instead, I am planning to try to finish the book on pilgrimages I've been reading, but first I will write a blog post or two.

I say good riddance to this summer. This summer has sucked. School will whip me into shape and keep me busy for the winter. Hopefully, I'll find myself realigned by school. Placed magically back on the track I seemed to have been knocked off of. We'll see.

Yesterday, SK stuck her head in my shower then proceeded to chop off her wet hair, taking it from well-past the shoulders to just above the chin. I helped with the back. The new cut is so cute, so becoming. We left the house and went to the Lloyd center mall and SK picked out red frames and turned in her prescription for some reading specs --her first pair of glasses ever. Suddenly, SK has a whole new, super-hot look and I spent the day following her around, very happy to be with her.

This morning wasn't so great. Woke with the same headache I went to sleep with and realized I was feeling a sweetness and a neediness around SK that wasn't reciprocated. SK and I have, recently, decided to "give up" on something of our relationship. We decided to give up on the forever dreaming, the future dreaming, the partner dreaming and we have instead been just appreciating each other for who and what we are. Things had just been too difficult, too painful -- we were constantly hurting and disappointing each other. So the step-down made sense and was working pretty well.

However, this morning, I stepped outside the bounds of the step-down, a victim of something inevitable, I think. Something about the step-down always seems to make the relationship feel so much easier and better and the sweetness and the dreaminess starts to creep back in because the space is so much more welcoming. But it can't work -- doesn't work -- b/c you've already been down that sweet, dreamy path and it didn't work and that's why you did the step-down in the first place.

So SK and I took a drive to Saddle Mountain for a hike and I was feeling really sad, bumping up against the reality of our slow separation from a new, surprising angle. Trying to hike was ridiculous, I walked along behind SK huffing and wheezing, my throat closing around a geyser of crying that wanted to happen. All I wanted to do was crawl behind a tree and bawl like a baby for a few hours. Eventually, I stopped to rest on a rock after a particularly steep bit and I let SK get quite far ahead of me. Only then could I relax, rest and hike after awhile. I walked the rest of the way slowly, stopping frequently, remembering that our different paces (hers quick, mine slow) were just one more reason we took the step-down and, as a result of the step-down, I no longer had to try and figure out how we would manage this difference (among others) in the long term. I could take this hike slow, she could take it fast, and we could meet up in the middle somewhere and it would all be ok.

And it will. All be ok.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

domo arigato

Sometimes it's the little things. Usually it's the little things. Tonight the boys I work with (Fat Tony and Chunk) put on some loud music and made a cardboard robot. It started as an "avant garde mask" Chunk tried to make for his friend whose father just died, but the mask (a giant piece of white construction paper rolled into a wide tube and taped, with a long, rectangular eye-slit cut a quarter of the way from the top) was too narrow to fit over Chunk's massive head. He claimed his friend's head was the same size (wow) so the mask was technically a failure.

Not to be deterred, the ever-creative Chunk set to work assembling old cardboard boxes and random "found" items into a three foot tall, legless robot with "I come from the future: 1929" written on it's chest and a geometric design taped to it's stomach that I complimented as it's lovely flower. Fat Tony corrected me, "that's his vortex of death." The boys played their loud music and walked around with the robot like a giant puppet and it felt like a moment out of fourth grade. They were very sweet and I forgot for awhile that they are useless in terms of actual "work." They made me laugh and that was good.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

open letter to the city of portland

Dear Fair City of Mine,

Hope this letter finds you well. Have you had a good summer? Mine's been okay, pretty quiet really. Anyway, the reason I'm writing is this: my bucket is gone. Not so very long ago you asked us to stop putting our glass recycleables in paper bags on the curbt and to instead start putting them in something sturdy like a bucket or a tub, for the safety and convenience of our disposal workers. Bags, paper especially, aren't sturdy and after a long night of Portland drizzle don't hold up very well when they're yanked up off the ground full of heavy glass bottles. Something tells me the bags split and the bottles come crashing and tumbling out more often than not.

So, you asked nicely if we would mind putting our bottles in a plastic bucket and I thought that sounded pretty reasonable, so I dug this plastic bucket out of my trunk which had been riding around in there awhile because I was planning to donate it (among many other things) to my work. That's what I do with almost everything I don't need or use anymore. That's how my refridgerator poetry magnets ended up in the kitchen of the drop in center. Fortunately, though, I kept forgetting to take the bucket (among other things) out of my trunk and into work, so it was still there the other day when I went looking for it. Like a good citizen, I filled it with several weeks worth of glass recycleables and dutifully deposited it on the curb beside the yellow bins.

Well, City, when I woke the next morning my bucket was gone. It was, after all, a good, sturdy, blue bucket with a good handle and I did have a pang of concern as I left it on the curb full of bottles. What's to stop someone from walking off with my bucket? Apparently nothing. My bucket is gone and City, you know what that means? It means you'll be getting my glass recycleables in a bag again until you bring me a bright yellow, city-issued bottle bucket to match the bright yellow recycle tubs. That was the only plastic bucket I had.

Your friend,


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

in which i reevaluate

I'm steaming a pot of beets on the stove and sitting in my lowslung, black chair in the middle of my apartment where I can see out the window that the sun has started to come out a little and there is a blue sky peeking between the green leaves of the trees across the street. That last post about having no friends was kind of pathetic. I mean, it's all true, I do find myself somewhat solitary, but it was the tone that was pathetic. There was something too victim-ish in it.

Over the past couple of days I've felt a slow, creeping peace settle over me and I've realized there's nothing lamentable in my situation. I have let my friendships slide away and I have not made much effort to create new ones. But all for a reason. This has been a shitty summer, capping off a shitty spring which followed a shitty winter. All of which has led me to a place of solitude. And it's a good place. A place to rest in and a place from which to move forward.

Last November, when CB's bender was three months old and I was miserable but not yet ready to leave -- and when SK was still just a mysterious coworker on whom I'd long had a crush and whose attentions I always sought, usually in vain -- I went into her office one day to sign my timesheet or pick up some paperwork or something mundane and we started up a conversation. I can't remember all the details, but I think I told her things with CB were bad.

In the midst of all that, she told me about this astrologically significant event that had begun at the end of October and would last for a full year. Jupiter was passing through the sign of Scorpio, which happens once every twelve years, and would be bringing all sorts of good fortune and opportunity for those of us with our sun in Scorpio. She printed something off a website for me that detailed some of the many good things the next year would bring me -- amazingly it showed my breakup with CB which was already beginning to happen. It also promised new love and opportunities for personal growth and significant career change. I was hopeful and I reread the paper many times over the next weeks as I left CB and started sleeping in my friend's cold attic.

The thought that I was entering a charmed year helped bolster me through a difficult and bleak time. However, as the weeks and months passed, none of the charm seemed to be coming and every new turn seemed to bring more discomfort, more sadness, more friction, more disappointment. Last semester was awful, my internship with Birdlady was miserable, things with SK have been tricky and difficult, my summer has been bleak. I have been in a low-grade depression for months -- lacking motivation, lacking inspiration, lacking direction. The cheery promises of that astrological occurrance began to seem like a mean joke.

Lately, though (in the past few days) something has started to feel more solid. As I said, I'm starting to feel a certain peace in my solitude. And now that school is starting up in less than a week, I feel a purpose returning to my days. School will sweep me onto a sort of roller-coaster that will carry me quickly through to December and exams and then into the bar prep course and finally the bar exam itself at the end of February. I will get on next Monday and the ride won't seem to stop until next March. That will probably feel a bit like a blessing. And then what? I think I'll leave. For an undetermined period of time. I envy SK's nomad years (she spent quite a long time wandering and exploring India, Nepal, Australia... where else, SK? I've lost track). I think I should have a nomad period myself. We'll see.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

long lost word of the day


Pronunciation: 'er-"säts, -"zäts, er-'; '&r-"sats
Function: adjective
Etymology: German ersatz-, from Ersatz, noun, substitute
: being a usually artificial and inferior substitute or imitation (ersatz turf) (ersatz intellectuals)
- ersatz noun

Saturday, August 19, 2006

in which i lament my lack of friends

There was this episode in one of the early seasons of Six Feet Under about a woman who died and had no friends at all. She had a very regimented, solitary life and she died one day at her kitchen table while eating. She choked. No one knew she was dead until people in neighboring apartments could smell her. No friends expected her anywhere, no family came looking for her, I think she even had some kind of solo job. I think I could be that woman.

I've always managed to keep at least a lover/girlfriend of some kind in my life, so I've never had to feel so alone, but I'm noticing now, as SK and I slide further apart and I have some evenings at home alone, that I have lived in Portland for over five years and I no longer have close friends. None. How did this happen? How did I get to be 31 years old with no close friends? Where are my friends from high school? College? Other places I've lived? Other times in my life? Where are my friends from the past five years, here in town? Where are my friends?

I guess I haven't maintained the friendships. I dated a woman we'll call Dolly (for reasons I won't explain but you can probably imagine) after I'd been in town for almost a year. I knew her from work and for almost two years we had a pretty nice little arrangement. Me and Dolly, Hoot and Andree, DJ and Jennifer, MAP and Pocahontis, we were four couples who all worked together and hung out together. We had potlucks and fondue parties and lots of wild nights in dive bars drinking gallons of Pabst and playing pin-ball. We had a good time. A really good time.

Of course, I was never all that happy with Dolly in terms of our relationship and when I left her in November of 2003, I lost almost all of those friends. I only just temporarilly forfeited Hoot and Andree, but years later, even though they like me and gave me a place to stay after I left CB last winter, we never hang out. Hoot asked me one night at Chez What (boy do I miss that place) if I'd still be his friend after I went to law school. This must have been during the summer of 2003 before I started school. I hesitated for a moment then answered, honestly, "I don't know."

I didn't know because I knew I wanted my life to change a lot and I knew I didn't want to look up in four years and find myself still sitting around in bars drinking too much and playing pin-ball for fun. I looked at Hoot that night and wasn't sure we had much more "friendship" between us besides good times. How many friends do *you* have who are real, deep and genuine -- not just based on beer drinking and pot-lucks?

I don't know what's normal, but I use SK as an example of what seems healthy and she has at least three really good friends in her regular life, plus several pretty good friends and some really good friends from the past she's only in contact with irregularly. They share history, mutual concern, affection, love. They care about each other, they make time for each other, they enjoy each other's company, the rely on each other.

After five years here, I have: Leo from college who is wonderful for lots of reasons, but who is not a close friend; Waspy from school, who is fun to argue with and who was really there for me when I was leaving CB, but whose life is very far from mine and will remain so; a handful of acquaintances and old faces I never see anymore; folks with potential that never materialized; a couple of ex-girlfriends I don't want to see; some coworkers I can just barely tolerate, scores of mentally ill clients from work and, last but certainly not least, SK. However, even as "girlfriends" (at this point a debatable designation for us) I can't expect SK to be my only friend, to shoulder all the duties of friendship, when she, herself, has plenty of friends. It's unbalanced and unfair.

All this points me in one direction: a donkey farm in Spain. Again, if I'm going to be lonely in my own town, I may as well go risk *not* being lonely somewhere new and interesting. This year I have learned something very valueable: I have been living in some kind of fog. I have been drifting. I have been clueless. I have to wake up and take control of something. I have to get out of here. And if I look up in a few more years and find myself somewhere still with no friends, I'll make sure to get a goddamn apartment that allows pets. Then I can be just like my mom, holed up in my house, just me and the dog, watching the sci-fi channel and eating too much. Perfect.


My brain is mush. My paper is basically finished. My girlfriend is in on her way back from Vancouver and my friend Leo is on her way over to pick me up for a hike in Forest Park. Walking in Forest Park will be weird without SK, but I'm sure Leo will take me on different trails and I'll get over it. I wish I had a digital camera to take with me so I could come back and post lots of lovely pictures. Forest Park is really gorgeous. Maybe Leo and I will go out for a milkshake after our hike. All I want lately are milkshakes. Chocolate. Did I mention my brain is mush? Writing papers is hard. Or maybe I'm just hungry.

Friday, August 18, 2006

absent without leave

Sorry I've been so quiet lately. End of summer finds me working furiously on the rewrite of my paper and researching my latest obsession: going to Spain after I graduate. SK thinks I'm a little bit nuts for sharing my big Spain idea with the world and it definitely goes against my usual Scorpionic guardedness. I've even been talking about it at work with coworkers! Unbelievable. But in my opinion, talking about it right now is a way to surround myself with it and help make it a reality.

Why Spain? I want to go to Europe and I want to learn to speak Spanish by immersion. My very level-headed, practical goal is to get my Spanish polished up pretty well by taking classes and living it every day, then to return to Portland to practice law bilingually, maybe in immigration, maybe just in a low-income setting where Spanish speaking is in-demand. My crazy, far-out, awesome dreams about the trip, however, involve: a long stay on a donkey farm in Andalucia, school and work in a city (yet to be determined), more school and more work, renting my own apartment and finding a whole new, exciting life there.

This last dream is fueled by the story of one of SK's friends who is currently working on a PhD in Spain. He is American and his PhD is costing him 50 Euros a year, according to SK. If I can remain a student for the rest of my life, I will be satisfied. If I could die with PhD attached to my name, so much the better. If I could translate either of those two things (before the dying) to an awesome career that I love and that makes me enough money to pay off my ridiculously huge student loan debt, I will be a completely fulfilled individual.

So that's me. Now back to the paper. Before I can conquor Europe via Spain, I have to conquor the substituted judgment standard and why parental consent for early gender normalizing surgeries should not be considered adequate. I'm almost done with this paper, but for every page I finish, four more pages must be written. It will be good when it's done, but it will have sucked up the last of my summer. Oh well. This will be the *last* last of summer sucked up by law school, there's no debating that. :-)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

proudly introducing...

...a new blog! As everyone who has read yesterday's post knows, I work in a transitional housing facility for the homeless mentally ill here in downtown Portland. And one of the many, many things I do at my job is facilitate a weekly writing group. Well, now I'm very excited to announce that writing group has its very own blog! Yay!

It is called "the in-between places" and can be found at (see the link field to the right since I still can't figure out how to create links within posts). It will be updated at least weekly with the new stuff written in group and I promise you will enjoy it.

The folks I work with are really interesting and have great stories -- some are kind of mundane, some are heartbreaking and some are just unbelievably fucking weird. Either way, their stories are valueable and ought to be read by lots and lots of people. Thanks for checking them out. Oh, and please leave comments if you want because the group would be really excited to get feedback.

Yay. And by the way: SK gets all the credit for the blog idea. She encouraged me to restart writing group and she's the one who suggested the blog. Without her, I wouldn't have done either. Thanks SK. You're the best.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

my fifteen minutes, winding down...

I did more than just a double-take this morning when I clicked on my sitemeter and saw that I'd already had 92 visitors on this blog by 10am. I rubbed my eyes and hit refresh. Ha, ha. Sitemeter thinks I've had 92 visitors. Must be on the blink.

I opened the page that shows me the details and there they were, page upon page of different visitors, *actual* visitors to my blog. I clicked several to see where they were all coming from. Turns out they were all coming from the same source: Jack Bog's Blog. I checked his site and there it was: a quote from my post of last night, "cutters," with a link.

Jack Bog was my tax professor last year and also writes a very popular Portland blog which usually addresses issues of local politics. When this blog of mine was just a baby, I wrote him and asked if he'd take a look at it and if he liked it, I asked if he'd post a link to it on his blog. I wasn't sure if he would have any concept of who I was (as a student in his Income Tax class) and, when I didn't hear back from him for a very long time, I became terrified that I'd accidentally breached some honor code principle by contacting a professor personally during exam time. I kept waiting to get a reproving message from him, asking what I'd been thinking and threatening to turn me in to the associate dean in charge of scaring the shit out of you and kicking you out of school.

That never happened and before long, I noticed a link to my blog on Jack's site. I was thrilled. I felt as excited as I would've felt if I'd learned a poetry journal had accepted one of my submissions. I anticipated a steady stream of new visitors to my blog and certainly I've had visitors come from Jack's blog, but only a handful over the months since he posted the link. That is until today. With the quote from my blog in his first post of the day, the hits were rolling in like crazy and I felt dizzy imagining all the people who were suddenly reading last night's late and sleepy ramblings. It was like waking up to find my name in the paper with the phone ringing off the hook, suddenly, if briefly, in demand.

The hits to my blog kept coming fast and furious for a few hours, but have slowly petered down to a trickle. Jack has posted a few new items and now the quote from my blog is buried a bit and fewer people are clicking the link to check it out. At last count, 144 people had visited my site today. My little site, which currently has an average of 14 hits per day (and a good chunk of them are just me and SK...) Amazing. So, thanks for the traffic, Jack. For just a moment, I felt almost like a celebrity.


Tonight at work I looked up from the computer and noticed one of the clients was doing something weird. For anyone who doesn't know, I work in a transitional housing facility for the homeless mentally ill. It's in a big, old building downtown and the part of the building I work in is a wide open, high-ceilinged space we call the drop in center (DIC). There are tables and chairs for eating in the DIC and on one side there's a sitting area with four couches, all in a friendly, conversational little square.

At night, some of the people who don't have beds in the building (either in the shelter or in the rooms upstairs), but who still have 24-hour drop in center access, are allowed to sleep on the couches and it was one of those guys I noticed when I glanced up from the billing I was working on. Usually friendly, funny and helpful, he's been really depressed since losing his girlfriend and the housing he'd only had a few weeks and tonight was his first night on our couch, though he's been a visitor for awhile now. He's the kind of guy who jokes around and does nice stuff for everybody because he feels completely worthless and shitty on the inside.

So I looked up and saw him on the couch in a weird sort of daze, poking at his forearm and staring blankly. I watched him for a minute from the desk across the room, then my coworker, Mohawk, noticed him too and walked over to check-in with him. I sat at the desk and watched. I couldn't really hear what she was saying, but I watched him closely and it became clear that he was jabbing something into his skin over and over. Right. Because he's a cutter. She talked to him -- turns out it was a thumb-tack -- and convinced him to hand it over to her. She threw it away, talked to him awhile, got him to cry a little and really impacted his mood in the moment. Meanwhile, I just sat behind the desk and watched.

Three years ago, I would've been so worried about him. I would've jumped up immediately when I noticed he was acting funny and I would've done all the things Mohawk had done. As I sat and watched them, I remembered another cutter I knew a few years ago. She was HIV positive and would scrape cheap razors sideways down her arms to draw blood, which she would leave carelessly spattered on the counters and floors of the common restrooms in our building. Obviously, this was a problem.

One night, when she'd only been in our program for a short while, before any of us knew her very well, someone came and reported blood in a bathroom. I cleaned the blood up and went sleuthing around to try and figure out who had done it. Eventually I got around to this client, (we'll call her Wilma) who had put paper towels on the cuts, which were on her forearms, then pulled down long sleeves to cover them. I convinced her to come into a private room with me and I started gently prying. At first she wouldn't admit that she'd been cutting, but eventually I managed to gain her trust and before long she was gingerly pushing up her sleeves to show me the cuts.

Obviously they weren't life threatening, just superficial slices into the shallow layers, but they were plentiful and unsanitary. Worse, the paper towels she'd laid over them had dried to the cuts and stuck and she found she couldn't pull them off without a lot of pain. I put on gloves and helped her use soap and warm water to wash the cuts and get the paper towels off, then I did some basic first aid and bandaged her up, thinking all the while: "If there is a heaven, I will go there when I die just for this." Performing first aid, believe it or not, is not in my job description, let alone first aid on a person with HIV. But, more than that, there was something so heartfelt, so sincere and meaningful to me about that level of intervention with that client on that night. She was in so much pain, she was so vulnerable and self-destructive, yet she was looking for help and I was giving it to her. My heart was so, so in it. That's the best way to describe it. My heart was completely in it.

Tonight, I sat and watched that guy on the couch with the push-pin and even before Mohawk intervened, when I knew he was probably cutting himself and when I knew I should probably talk to him, I didn't. I hate to think my heart's not in it anymore, because if anything is still in it, it's my heart. It's just... I know too much now. After five years at this job, I know too well the trajectory of this guy's behavior -- not because I know *him* so well, but because I know our clients. I knew from the way he chose to lay himself out on a couch in full view of the staff desk and poke himself with something so small it didn't draw blood that he wasn't hell-bent on *really* hurting himself. I knew he was suffering inside and the only way he could express it was by hurting himself in a way we could see. But I also felt a little jaded. A little unsympathetic. I didn't want to go talk to him tonight because I knew what it would be like, I knew what it would take out of me and I knew where it would get him -- all well mapped, charted territory -- and I just didn't feel like engaging in it.

As it was, Mohawk came along and did a really great job and when it was all over I told her what a great job she'd done. She did everything I would've done three years ago. Her heart is very much still in it and her behavior is not yet hindered by a jaded mind. It's not that I don't *care* anymore, it's just that I no longer feel uniquely responsible for something. And that is an interesting feeling to notice.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

almost too sweet

I lifted this completely from a blog called 33, written half in English, half in Spanish that I found while surfing expat sites. It is sweet, but almost too sweet, and I wonder how authentic it is. I will imagine it is completely authentic, because it makes me happy, and I will not let myself think that some stupid person made it up just to circulate it around the internet. Here it is:

A group of professionals posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds: What does love mean?

"When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth."
Billy, age 4 (who will grow up to be either a poet or a therapist, and is already a sage)

"When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love."
Rebecca, age 8

"Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other."
Karl, age 5

"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."
Bobby, age 7

"Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK."
Danny, age 7

"Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more."
Emily, age 8

"Love is what makes you smile when you're tired."
Terri, age 4

"Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday."
Noelle, age 7

"Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well."
Tommy, age 6

"When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you."
Karen, age 7


I walked to the coffeeshop this morning barefooted. I've been walking here and also down to Wild Oats barefooted as much as possible lately. I'm trying to build up callouses on the bottoms of my mythically smooth and tender feet.

I was never a kid to run around barefoot and my comfort in shoes has persisted into adulthood. I usually wear shoes in my house, only removing them at bed or bathtime and I am annoyed when I visit a friend and am asked to leave my shoes by the door. I do not enter the world prepared to remove my shoes on command.

But lately I've been trying to build callouses. Perhaps the bottoms of my feet are the only part of me left not covered in thick callouses? I'm speaking metaphorically of course. I'm at the coffeeshop alone. SK is across the river. I am heartsick and my stomach feels hollow. What are we doing?

Lately I've been fantasizing about living in Spain. I guess it began when I started reading 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' awhile back, which is set in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. It wasn't so much the setting or the subject matter that got me, but Hemingway's translation into English the simple Spanish the characters all speak to each other -- I was reading the English, but hearing the Spanish -- what little Spanish I remember crowding my brain unbidden like bubbles fizzing to the surface of a pop.

I read and heard Spanish and thought "I want to go to Spain and finally, really learn the language." I took a lot of Spanish in college and attained some level of proficiency, but I have since lost it all through lack of practice. I was amazed how much came back when I spent eleven days in Mexico a couple summers ago. I could only speak in the present tense, but so much vocabulary returned, so much grammar. Now: all gone again.

I started fantasizing about leaving Portland, traveling to Spain after I take the bar exam in February, maybe teaching English there, learning Spanish, having a European adventure, changing my life. I would go to Spain with only a limited understanding of the language. I would be a double outsider, not Spanish and not European. The expat websites I've consulted warn people who are not members of the EU that it will be harder for them to find work and make a life in Spain than for their European counterparts, but I know it can be done. As I sat at County Cork a few nights ago, alone, just blocks from my house, I thought "if I'm going to feel alienated and uncomfortable in my life anyway, I may as well go somewhere interesting and new for it."

To throw myself on another country, on the mercy of the locals, their customs, their government, is to infantilize myself, in a way. To become dependent again on others for almost everything. At least at first. And what a relief -- I am so painfully, stubbornly, masochistically independent, it will take a transatlantic move to a new country, new continent to shake me out of that particular pathology and grant me the relief of placing my fate in the hands of others, in small and large ways, every day.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

i heart george clooney

I spent most of my day working on the paper I'm rewriting. After hours and hours of explaining the tort of negligence and the development of medical malpractice law and the reasonably prudent person standard (sound familiar?), my brain was fried and I was desperate for some entertainment. So what did I do? I walked down to the Hollywood Video a few blocks from my house and got myself my first ever video store membership.

Yeah. I know. First ever. I've managed all these years just using other people's memberships, which has been fine because I only generally want to watch movies when I'm hanging out with other people and those other people tend to have memberships. However, tonight, with SK gone and my brain totally fried, nothing sounded better than a nice rental. Because I've never had my own membership, I've also never gone into a video store all by myself to rent any movie I wanted, all for me. I've always gone with someone else (or with someone else in mind) and there was always some kind of compromise. Even when I got to pick, I always felt worried that my choice would annoy or disappoint whoever else was going to watch it. So, it felt pretty nice, pretty liberating, to walk around the store picking out things I really wanted to see without a second thought about anybody else.

And what did I choose? Quite a random selection. Good Night and Good Luck, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Breakfast on Pluto, which is about some English drag queens as far as I can tell. It looks colorful. I brought them all home, whipped myself up some *awesome* bean and cheese dip to eat with tortillas and watched Good Night and Good Luck and oh my god, what a great movie! And oh my god, George Clooney wrote and directed and starred in it!! (Ok, so he *co*starred in it, whatever.)

I felt the first stirrings of love for George Clooney when he appeared as the mulleted handy-man on my favorite '80s show Facts of Life. He was the unlikely love-interest of Nancy McKeon's character Jo Polnachek (people of Poland, forgive my spelling), which had an unsettling yet titillating effect on me because Jo was so obviously a lesbian and in love with Blaire. I was, in turn, in love with Jo and, at the same time, modeling my life and personality after her. Introduce George Clooney to the mix, with his boyish charm and his dykey mullet and, well, I guess I was just confused all around. But whatever, it was a yummy sort of confusion. And now George is all grown up. Gone is the mullet. Gone is the bad '80s tv show. Gone is Jo Polnachek. George is making intense, serious movies about the pressing issues of the day and he's so awesome I want to lick him!

Ok, now I have to go watch Harry Potter. Just thought I'd share.

Friday, August 11, 2006

my night, sans sk

SK is on the coast doing a Process Work thing and I am home alone trying to keep myself entertained. Here's what I'm learning about myself: I don't have many friends right now and I'm shy. I made a few calls with no luck, then walked myself down to Billy Ray's (my favorite dive bar) all by my lonesome, to have a few beers and play some pin-ball.

I drank one beer sitting at the bar downstairs and reading the Mercury (a local, indie rag). Then I got another, along with some quarters, and went upstairs to the pin-ball room. The game I love (Medieval Madness) was blocked in the corner behind a few people playing another game I love (Elvira). Instead of playing any of the other games that were free and available, I sat down awkwardly on a couch and pulled out my book. Whenever I'm socially challenged, apparently, I hide inside of words.

Instead of moving, those people playing Elvira just multiplied and I never played any pin-ball at all. I finished my beer and left. As I walked home, I noticed I was hungry and craving a burger, so I decided to stop at County Cork, a little pub two blocks from my house, for the same bacon and bleu cheese burger SK got a few nights ago. The place was buzzing and it took forever to be served. No problem, I had my book. While I waited for my food, the musicians came back on after a break, and they were pretty good. An Irish accordian and a guitar player. Pleasant. Appropriate.

My burger was good, the music was good, the temperature was good, the atmosphere was nice, etc, etc, etc. However, I was alone and lonely and, as much as I enjoy doing things alone, I felt a little annoyed that in a world full of people, I couldn't manage to have one useful conversation with anyone. Oh well. Now I'm home and it's time for bed. I miss SK.

welcome back 1993

I'm in a timewarp. It's mid-August, 2006, but a confluence of circumstances has thrown me back into fall of 1993. It's something about the quality of the light today (hard and bright) and the air (almost crisp) and these hippies from Reed College who have come into my coffeeshop and taken over the table next to me with their silly role playing game and youthful enthusiasm -- it's all throwing me back to my freshman year at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina and my favorite coffeeshop of that era, the beansTalk.

Appalachian, aka: Happy Appy, was a sort of hippie-drug college in a sweet, sleepy mountain town in western North Carolina. Nowadays they're trying to build it up and turn it into a big football school, but back in my day it was still just a small, quiet, liberal arts school with lots of hippies and little ambition. Back in those days, there was only one coffeeshop in town, near campus on King Street. It had a tiny downstairs and a mediumly tiny upstairs and it was such a haven for me and my compatriots, not unlike these fucking nerdy hippies who are sitting here arguing over the "carbon life form" in their game. We'd sit around, read books, debate the finer points of eastern religions or ancient civilizations, drink coffee and smoke clove cigarettes and all the other shit you do when you're 18 and everything is really exciting and new.

It's fun to remember that feeling -- and sitting here with these little nerds next to me, drinking cold coffee and working on a paper, I am more than just remembering that feeling. I'm fully emmersed in reliving it. I'm so disoriented, actually, I don't expect to walk out onto Alberta when I leave, I expect to walk out onto King Street, maybe bump into some familiar folks, walk down to the Boone Baglery for a tempeh reuben, then back to campus to finish working on my paper in my room. This is such a weird feeling. I'm starting not to like it...

ahhhh, the warm fuzzy feeling of procrastination

It feels just like home. :-) I mean, I've had a sort of lazy, useless summer, so you could say I've been procrastinating since the day after my last exam in May. However, when you don't really have anything else to do, doing nothing can't really be called "procrastination." It certainly doesn't feel as fulfilling.

So here I am today, back at my coffeeshop, working on an actual PAPER for SCHOOL. Remember school? Remember papers? Actually, there was only ever that one, big paper. That's the one I'm still working on. I turned in my rough draft in the middle of March and my professor just got it back to me with comments on it in the middle of July. That's a FOUR MONTH TURNAROUND.

Sorry to beat you over the head with all-caps, but jesus. Four months is a long time to wait for a paper to come back. Now I'm working on the re-write and I've set myself a hard deadline: I must be done by the end of the weekend, ie: by Sunday afternoon when SK comes back from the coast. So I packed my bag up and came down here to my coffeeshop to work on it (just like old times) and now that it's all serious business again, the pull to procrastinate by writing blogs is soooooooooo sweet and alluring!

To put a reasonable justification type spin on it, blogging is like priming the pump. I can write some here to get my mind and my fingers in the spirit of writing the paper. It actually does help. But it also just feels good to procrastinate. Why? SK would like me to deepen this experience (all experience) so I'll work on it right now. What feels good? To procrastinate right now feels like pulling back a rubber band -- I'm letting the tension of the deadline build-up, which will create a sort of intense thrust later when I really get started. It'll be like shooting the rubber-band across the room -- it'll go fast and smooth and land somewhere good and then I'll be done. That's what it feels like to procrastinate right now. More or less.

the breakup: everything that's wrong with anything that was ever wrong

Last night, SK and I went to see this Jennifer Anniston, Vince Vaughn nightmare, The Breakup. It fucking sucked. If you think you might want to watch it and you think you might like it, stop reading right now. Not because I'm afraid I'll ruin it for you, but because I don't like you anymore and don't want you to read my blog.

The Breakup. For christ's sake, it was like watching a terrible trainwreck with a lot of senseless violence and destruction, all the time knowing that you'd seen that trainwreck before, lots of times, and asking yourself, "why the hell am I watching this, what's wrong with me??" Yet you're still sitting there, watching.

First of all: the fighting. Entirely too realistic. Not funny. All the screaming and yelling and treating each other like shit. The friends who are dragged into the middle. The nasty things said on both sides. The manipulation. The lack of communication. It was depressing and terrible to watch and not even a tiny bit entertaining. It was too much like everyone's worst example of a bad relationship and I wondered at every turn "why make a movie out of this? What does the movie add to our understanding of this kind of relationship?" Turned out, nothing.

Then the complete unredeemability of Vince Vaughn's character. He was a big, funny, stupid guy who wanted to play video games all the time or watch sports on tv, who never helped around the house, who took all his girlfriend's contributions to the house and the relationship for granted and who thought that sex was a "nice thing he could do for her that she hadn't had to ask for." Gag. I know all men aren't this fucking stupid and useless, but in the case of those men who are, why are there Jennifer Annistons out there willing to put up with their shit and wait around for it all to get better? In my opinion, all parties can just rot together, it's pathetic.

Gawd, that movie put me in such a bad mood. I left the theater with a big, fat headache, thinking how depressing humans are, how immature and ridiculous and ill-equipped for adult relationships we are, myself included. Even with SK, who is trained in an awareness style, a communication style, that would seem to support the development of great, wonderful relationships -- things are still rocky and complicated and painful. Why? Isn't it possible for something to be simple, peaceful, relaxed and still meaningful and fulfilling? Are we just destined to keep hurting each other and fucking things up, for all time and eternity? I hope not.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

keep your voice down and your pants up!

The full moon tonight (gorgeous and fat, shining through back-lit clouds) was wreaking havoc on my work environment tonight -- but what's not to love about a shift that includes two visits from the fire department, people smoking crack right outside the building, and the need to tell a client to keep his voice down and his pants up?? I played hours of skip-bo, cleaned the hell out of the kitchen and even started cleaning out a newly vacant room with help from an on-caller who asked if someone had just died in the room because it felt so "heavy and dark" when he stepped into it. I was happy to tell him that, of all the dead people we've had in our building in the five years I've been around, none of them have been in that room. But it was pretty fucking filthy nonetheless.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

untangling james

James was my stepfather from the time he married my mom when I was about 4 until the time he divorced her when I was about 13. That was almost 20 years ago and I've only seen him a couple of times since, but something of him stays buried in me and comes out in startling ways.

For instance, I channeled him perfectly this weekend when SK was at my house. After her shower, I noticed the bathroom rug hadn't been returned to hang on the edge of tub like I like it. I called her over and she came, from the living room, with innocent, curious eyes, expecting me to point out an unusual bug or something equally interesting and benign. Instead, I pointed to the crumpled rug and said "why?" She quickly bent and fixed the rug then, very kindly, asked if it had been necessary to call her over and "rub her nose in it."

Of course I found myself apologizing immediately. It had just come out of me so naturally -- this was the mirror image of a much repeated scenario from my childhood. James would call me and I would, with much dread, go to him. I'd find him standing, for instance, on the landing to the basement where I had left the light on. He would tell me to stop forgetting to turn off the light and then he would stand there, ominously, in front of the light switch waiting for me to walk over and turn it off.

If he'd been a different person -- kinder, friendlier, easier -- he would've flipped the light off himself and then reminded me later. Or maybe he would've found me in the house and said, "hey, kiddo, you left the basement light on, go turn it off." But he wasn't a different person, he was cold, aloof, domineering, angry James and the way he "taught" me to turn off the basement light was scary and a little humiliating.

I've been thinking a lot about him and our relationship since channeling him Sunday night. He frequently escapes notice when I'm psychologizing and therapizing myself. I often scrutinize my bitchy stepmother and emotionally manipulative dad because they're still in my life, albeit infrequently, and they're still just as bitchy and manipulative as ever. Even my mom, who has been much less awful in the past ten years, gets plenty of attention when I'm trying to diagnose my patterns and traumas. Why has it taken me so long to get around to examining how James helped create the huge mess that is me??

Well, as awful stepdads go, he doesn't rank with the worst stereotypes and that has helped him just a little. He didn't beat me or molest me, he didn't drink or smoke, he didn't hit my mom and he had a good job. In fact, he was a workaholic and we hardly ever saw him, which was a great blessing because, despite not beating or molesting me, he was still no picnic to be around. Looking back now, I can appreciate that he had his own fucked up psychology and was pretty uncomfortable with himself and his life and especially with all the people in it.

When mom, who is gregarious and funny, met him, she saw him as a sort of fixer-upper kind of guy and, feeling equipped for the renovation, she married him. Needless to say, mom's renovations were unsuccessfully and, if anything, he only got worse after they were married because he no longer had to pretend to have a personality. "I don't have to keep acting," he actually told her, "now that you've married me." Wow.

"Not acting" meant he frowned all the time, hardly ever smiled, had no friends, hardly spoke, had no sense of humor, only laughed occasionally at the television, and made everyone he was around uncomfortable. He had a terrible temper and even though I can only vaguely remember the reality of his yelling, I very distinctly remember watching him clench his jaw and flare his nostrils, which always implied to me that he was holding back a rage that, unleashed, would probably annihilate our whole block.

I had basically no relationship with him at all, even though I grew up under his "care." He never looked at me and the only time we ever spoke was when necessity required words or when I was "smarting off" to him, letting my snarky, scorpionic sarcasm take brave jabs at him when I was feeling particularly valiant or provoked. If some misfortune found us crossing paths in the dark, narrow hallway of our house, we both rush by awkwardly, eyes averted, silent. Whenever the whole family went out together (rare, but at least once a week, to church), I refused to sit behind him in the backseat, insisting on sitting behind mom on the passenger side and forcing my brother into the other side. He didn't seem to mind.

I couldn't stand James and can't believe I lived in a house with him for all those years, never feeling at ease, never feeling comfortable. What is more surprising is that I haven't looked more closely in all these years at his impact on my continued feeling of discomfort and dis-ease in the world. How I still walk down halls pretending not to see people. How I assume everyone who sees me will see me as he did: with cold indifference or open hostility. And how I have never managed to trust men emotionally -- how I can laugh with them and joke with them (as one of the boys) but I can't manage to really care about them or feel that they care about me.

SK will note the places where this assessment could be taken deeper and expanded, and I know she'll be right. However, as I sat this morning thinking about James and his impact on my life, I felt him only as a huge knot with strands coming out all over, tangled beyond recognition in so many aspects of me. Looking at the knot is my first step towards untangling it. Hopefully the next steps will come.

post-script to the corpse flower

Thinking just now about that last post and hearing SK's lingering directive (to herself mostly, but sometimes to me) to deepen every experience and take everything the next step, I have something to add. Not much, but something in the direction of the next step.

The so-called "corpse-flower" smells like rotting flesh to attract carrion flies which propogate it. Yet, the corpse flower, amorphophallus titatum, *looks* like a giant, grotesque display of human sex organs engaged in copulation. Smells like death, looks like the creation of life.

Deep, right? Ok, maybe not, but that's as far as I can take it.

corpse flower?

Weird news always interests me, so of course I checked out the Yahoo headline I saw just now announcing the blooming of a corpse flower in Virginia. Known for its thick fragrance of rotting corpses, the flower blooms just once in ten or so years. I clicked on the link and saw the picture and holy shit, I don't know what the thing really smells like, but it *looks* phenomenal. The flower itself is about three feet tall and has the appearance of a huge, cream-colored penis coming out of an even huger, red, feathery vagina. Unbelievable. And I'm not the only one noticing this resemblence, the flower's latin name is amorphophallus titanum, which looks to the untrained eye like it might mean something like "titanic phallus." It's pretty incredible.

Here is a link to some pictures of ye olde corpse flower. This isn't the flower that's currently blooming in Virginia, these are much better pics of a flower that apparently bloomed in 2002. I don't know whose family web-site these were taken from, but the pics are really good. Hope it works.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

global politics and irony find me at the laundry

At the laundromat down the street just now, sitting outside reading the late-arriving Sunday New York Times, waiting for my last spin cycle to finish so I could transfer everything to the dryer and relax for another forty minutes, I went in to check the status of my cycles and noticed someone had put some sheets in my white laundry basket. I was annoyed.

Actually, I was already a little annoyed because the place was packed and there were four kids, siblings ranging from two to eight, running around wreaking havoc -- and if ever I can stand kids, it's *not* when they're wreaking havoc. I was feeling a little frazzled by all that and also feeling territorial about my chair outside with my five-dollar paper beside it and, feeling pulled in several directions, I noted the sheets in my basket, noted that my machine had a few minutes left on it, and went back out to my chair to regroup.

I didn't need my basket until my clothes were done spinning anyway, I reasoned, so I would wait and then reclaim my basket as graciously as possible. I'm sure whomever had dumped their sheets in a basket clearly not their own was probably feeling just as frazzled as me. When I went back in, I saw a man holding the sheets and talking into a cell phone. He was short and dark brown and speaking a language I didn't recognize. I thought he was maybe from North Africa -- maybe Egypt or Ethiopia -- he craned his neck this way and that and looked befuddled, the sheets poised in his hand above my basket. But then he dropped them back in and walked away. Hmm. My machine still wasn't finished, so I went back out. At least I knew whose sheets they were and when I went back the last time, I'd just tell him it was my basket and ask him to take his sheets, rather than dumping them out unceremoniously on the table. I was feeling very magnanimous.

Fortuitously, when my machine was finally done, the sheets were gone, so I set about transferring my wet clothes to the dryer and putting in the money. A few minutes later, when I emerged from the laundry, there was the man. Sitting in my chair. So it wasn't *my* chair, with *my* name on it -- it had my newspaper beside it and there was another chair on the other side of the door with no one's paper beside it he could've taken. Maybe he hadn't seen it? Whatever. He was on his cell phone still and I walked over, bent down, retrieved my paper, and moved to the other chair.

I proceeded to read several articles about the Middle East including one that detailed the woman-phobic writings of one of the 9/11 hijackers who described how disgusted he was by the American women he met when he was in college in Colorado as a young man. The author of the article noted that this feeling would not surprise anyone who had spent any time in the Middle East. So, with my mind now effectively marinating in that reminder of the misogyny that can coincide Islam, I glanced back up at my little basket stealing friend through new eyes.

Why had he used my basket? Why had he taken my chair? I saw him suddenly as a transplanted man from a harsh, patriarchal culture. Did he take my basket and my chair because I am a woman and don't matter? Worse yet, because I am a disgusting, American woman whose values, whose body, whose very presence in the world is repugnant to him? Am I crazy for wondering these things? It's not as if these thoughts don't exist in people's minds. It's not as though I'm making this up. Suddenly, I was less inclined to see him as a frazzled, foreign guy in a busy, American laundromat, maybe confused, maybe out of his depth, maybe just tired -- and more inclined to see him as man who doesn't value women, a man who doesn't care if he takes my seat or my basket, a man not unlike a lot of men, but backed by a culture (I imagined) that wholeheartedly supported his attitude against women. I made quite an enemy of him.

I also checked myself at every stop and reminded myself that something of this little mental exercise was ridiculous and dangerous. I reminded myself, also, that even if he was as misogynistic as I could imagine him to be, he was still a foriegn, brown-skinned person in *my* country and I had no right to see myself as any kind of victim of his misogyny. I'm white, I speak the language, I am at home here and I have privileges here that he will never have. And for Christ's sake, all he did was put sheets in my basket for five-minutes and sit in a chair I was no longer using.

I was still mulling all this over as I was leaving. I noticed him from my car, standing in the laundromat in front of a wheeled cart. A white woman was standing on the other side of the cart and though I couldn't hear them, it was clear from their faces and her gestures that it was a cart she had been using and he had taken it from in front of her machine. He smiled, broadly, and gave a palms-out gesture of apology and backed away as she, also smiling, took the cart. Not such a sinister interaction and I was happy to think, as I backed my car out of my space, that he was probably a nice enough guy who was just new at the laundromat-scene.

And the irony? After all my foriegnizing of him in my misogyny-laden fantasy, I noticed the license plate of his white van as I pulled away. He was from North Carolina, my home state and pretty unusual out here in Oregon. Clearly he was not originally from North Carolina, but niether am I. So we're even.

sitting and listening

I'm at my old favorite coffeeshop on Alberta, the Black Cat, which was the birthplace of this blog, where I sat, hours and hours on end, last winter when I was leaving CB, studying for exams, living in the cold attic room at my friend Kristen's. I started the blog to help keep me level when everything around me was turbulent. I sat in the coffeeshop, studied for hours while everything churned under the surface, then I'd stop, open my computer, and everything that had been churning would come blasting out like water from a burst pipe. Those were the early blogs.

Now, without looking too much at the middle space, I'm back at my coffeeshop, sitting outside, alone, listening to these two young people next to me have some kind of courtship conversation -- he's in a band and has stopped talking mid-sentence three times to sing to her, she asks him too many questions and laughs too much at everything he says. They make me a little bit sick. SK is across the river trying to figure out if she wants to be in a relationship with me. I have some hope -- she's checked my blog twice since she sent me home this morning. No Sunday brunch and New York Times for us today. It's all the same, the Times didn't come this morning anyway.

Friday, August 04, 2006

meme's are usually beyond me

If you're reading this blog, then you probably know what a "meme" is. Unless you're SK, in which case, here's the definition of "meme," from Wikipedia: "The term "meme" (IPA: [miːm], not "mem"), coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins, refers to a replicator of cultural information that one mind transmits (verbally or by demonstration) to another mind. Dawkins said, Examples of memes are tunes, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Other examples include deities, concepts, ideas, theories, opinions, beliefs, practices, habits, dances and moods which propagate within a culture. A meme propagates itself as a unit of cultural evolution analogous in many ways to the gene (the unit of genetic information). Often memes propagate as more-or-less integrated cooperative sets or groups, referred to as memeplexes or meme-complexes."

For some reason, these weird questionnaires that get passed around online are called "memes" and since I'm not *really* a computer nerd, I usually don't know about things like memes. In fact, I still don't know how to make links on my blog or post pictures, so I'm pretty pathetic. But, today, I saw this book meme on Andygrrls site and decided to do it on my blog too, b/c I love books. So here it is.

1. One book that changed your life: a spiritual book was Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, which taught me fascinating things about India, Hinduism, meditation and the nature of reality. Literature was On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. Maybe cliche, but I can't help it. I read it at 15 and it literally changed my life, opened up my world, inspired an urge to travel, to write, to experience.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once: To Kill a Mockingbird. It's my favorite book and I've read it over and over.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: The Tao Te Ching, preferably the copy I carried in my back pocket for years. A good book to study slowly over long periods.

4. One book that made you laugh: Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth. It made me laugh, blush and a few other things I'll refrain from sharing.

5. One book that made you cry: just one?? So many books make me cry. Stone Butch Blues made me cry a lot, a long time ago. It's poorly written, but the subject matter is pretty heart-wrenching and personal.

6. One book that you wish had been written: I don't think I understand this question. A book I *wish* had been written? So is that a book that doesn't exist, that I *wish* existed? If that's the case, I wish SK's books had been written. She's got these ideas, this heart, this incredible spirit -- and I would really want to read those books she dreams of writing...

7. One book that you wish had never been written: This is tough, b/c I love books and value expression, but two books spring immediately to mind: Mein Kompf and Malleaus Mallefecarum (pardon misspellings) -- books that perpetuate hate, misunderstanding and violence.

8. One book you’re currently reading: For Whom the Bell Tolls, because I'm in the midst of a late-blooming affair with Papa Hemingway.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: Perhaps in the same vein, I feel like I should read both Don Quixote and Confederacy of Dunces. Among about 1,000 others.

10. Now tag five people: I hate tags. Just do it if you love books and you feel like it.

the coolest thing ever in a garden

I went out to my little garden mound this morning to water and pick tomatoes. It's not a regular garden, just a big heap of organic mulch that my land-people offered me to use as a garden this summer. Maybe six feet in diameter, I've planted it (with SK's help and encouragement) with tomtatoes, cucumbers, sunflowers, marigolds, lettuce, basil, arugala and kale. The kale hasn't done so well and the lettuce has long since flourished and been eaten. Now the tomatoes are ripening and the cucumbers are tiny, crooked fingers, doubling in size every two days.

But all that aside, the coolest thing ever in a garden just happened to me while I was watering. I was standing, very still, holding the hose (with my thumb jammed in the hole to help distribute the water better) when I heard the thumping whir of a hummingbird. At first I couldn't see it -- but then it appeared, hovering just over the top of the tomato to my right. That little, shimmery-green hummingbird hovered within the six-foot diameter of my garden for probably two full minutes!

It seemed most interested in the water arcing out of the hose. I stood stock-still, I didn't even glance to see where all that water was landing, as the teeny bird zipped towards the water, then backed away, then towards, then away. I've never had such an extended, close-up view of a hummingbird before in my life! It was amazing. Throughout the encounter, he was never more than three feet away from me, and often he was closer, mesmerized as he was by the hose. At one point, he hovered two-inches from my hand, making quick dashes for the water -- so close, I thought he might actually land on my wrist!

I watched his tiny, green body which had a sheen like an oil-slick -- his long, black beak and the bright red patch on his throat. I watched his wings, just a blur, and imagined how fast his little heart must beat, how wildly his blood must flow to keep those wings beating at such a crazy pace. I wanted him to land on me just so I could see him still, but suddenly, after a last dash into the water, he zipped away. I saw him land in a tree on the other side of the fence around the backyard and I imagined he was watching me with the water, thinking about returning, but he didn't. I finished watering and he stayed in his tree.

Such a magical thing -- for a creature like that to suddenly just enter your space and change your mood, then leave. If I'd been born in another culture, something so auspicious might be considered to carry great meaning in my life -- there might even be celebrations or rituals or vision quests proscribed for such an event. As it is, I come in and sit down at my computer to write about it -- next to my computer on my desk is a paper for school I need to work on and a stack of mail I need to deal with and I feel, in this moment, that the world I *do* live in has no space for the magic of the hummingbird in my backyard.

I want to tell the stack of mail, "Hey, don't you understand? A hummingbird just chose *me* for a few minutes. I've got magic in me today, I'm too good for a stack of mail!" So far, the stack of mail doesn't care. The stack of mail reminds me of a path towards a different kind of life that I chose when I went to law school and now, if I want, I'll have to figure out for myself what meaning a hummingbird has for me, and if I need to switch paths, I'll have to do it myself. The culture that would otherwise shape and guide me is silent, if not completely absent.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

boy! get down off that chicken!

One time, my mom was in the grocery store and she heard a woman yell this to her kid. When mom looked, she saw the kid, about three, in the woman's cart, riding a whole frozen chicken like a little horse. It's one of my mom's favorite non-sequitors and she yells it at us every now and then just to make us laugh. Mom's full of those.

Anyway, this could also have been titled "adventures in bad cooking" or "why i have a mother" or "no soup for you!" Sunday night, while SK and I were taking an evening off, I bought some chicken at Wild Oats down the street. I used half for my supper that night and intended to use the other half in some chicken soup. Of course, some procrastination ensued, and here it is, Wednesday, and I'm finally ready to make the chicken soup.

The chicken, however, may have passed its moment of readiness. I opened the butcher paper and noticed a less than fresh smell rising off the chicken breast. Now, this wasn't a "Holy shit, I'm gonna be sick!" kind of smell. It was more like a, "Hmm, that doesn't smell quite right," kind of smell. Now, I am not a great cook anyway, but I'm especially untested when it comes to cooking meats. In all my years out in the world, I have almost never bought and cooked meats for myself, perferring a nearly vegetarian lifestyle. However, lately, I've been branching out and roasting the odd chicken, here and there. This branching out has not yet prepared me for the dilemma of a funky chicken.

I put my thinking cap on and tried to analogize to my other cooking experiences. Sometimes, when the tofu is a little funky, you can cook the funk away. You'll know by the smell if the cooking is successful -- a disgustingly amplified funk-smell indicates that the tofu is too far gone. Throw it out and open some windows. Can this principle hold true for chicken? Can't chicken kill you? (Those of us who haven't cooked much meat are susceptible to paranoia about its toxicity.) Isn't there someone I can ask about this??

I considered my options. I could never call SK because I have too much pride. Even though she will read this and chuckle or tut-tut that I didn't call (or tut-tut that I'm cooking funky chicken), I absolutely couldn't bring myself to ask for her help in this matter. I could call my grandmother, but she's a terrible cook and seeking her advice with this would be like asking a basketball coach for help with a knitting project. I even considered calling my land-owner upstairs and asking her -- I know she's home, I can hear her kids running around upstairs. Certainly she would know. But then, finally, I remembered my mother.

Why didn't I think of mom first? I don't know. Mom's complicated. Mom makes fun of me. Mom was very likely to just laugh and yell at me to get down off that chicken! But I have a mom and my mom is a great cook and she was, of course, the perfect person to call. So I did. And guess what she was doing when I called? She was cooking chicken too! Chicken pot pies. Yum. If it wasn't 3,500 miles away, I'd head over for supper.

"So you want to know if you can cook the funk away?" She asked and laughed and laughed and then said. "Yeah. It's just bacteria. You can cook it away. It might not taste too good, but it won't hurt you." She asked me for all the details of my experiment (by this time, I'd already boiled the living hell out of the chicken and was relieved that I hadn't unleashed an onslaught of toxic fumes). She weighed the info I gave her and she pronounced that the chicken would be fine, that it might not taste great but that I could cover the taste with lots of spices, and she told me to eat it fast and get rid of it because it won't keep very long. She never even once told me to get down off that chicken. Thanks mom.

So the experiment goes on -- it's all in the pot now and will be done pretty soon. It won't kill me, but it won't be the best pot of soup I've ever made. Which means: sorry Sk. No soup for you. I'll make us something else this weekend that doesn't involve nearly-spoiled meat.

car culture

Lately, for exercise, I've been walking to work once or twice a week. This walk is about three miles long and takes about an hour. Two-thirds of the walk is through sweet little neighborhoods on back streets until I can't avoid the big streets anymore and I wind up on Broadway, ready to cross the big, red bridge over the Willamette and into downtown.

Every time I walk, I cross this particularly complicated intersection on Broadway. It's tricky because two sets of traffic, moving in the same direction, but merging from different roads, get two different lights which are pretty short. The people waiting at those spots, sensing they're being shafted by the super-short lights, always run the reds. I can guarantee that at least three cars will keep barrelling through the intersection after my pedestrian "walk" sign has lit up and the light in my direction has turned green.

Today as I stood on the edge of the curb waiting for these last stragglers to go so I could cross, I found myself really watching the last guy to go through. He was well behind the others, which meant the light had been fully and completely red before he'd even gotten near it, yet he'd decided to sail on through anyway. I watched and wondered who this guy thought he was that he could just slide through a red like it didn't apply to him. I wasn't so much annoyed or irritated as curious. What was he doing that was so important? What was he late for? What did he tell himself about his own importance that made it ok for him to run the light and hold up four lanes of traffic and at least one pedestrian who had waited their turn and now had to wait longer for him?

In other words, why doesn't this guy care about the other people in the world who aren't him? And it's not just "this" guy -- "this" guy could be any of us in any moment, sailing along like we own the place. My first thought was "car culture." We wear our cars like armor -- they protect and shield us from interacting with others. We can ride around in our little pods and lose our humanity. That guy probably wouldn't have even considered busting in front of me in line at the grocery store, because we would've been eye to eye -- human to human -- and he would have had to face me as a person when he cut me off. As it was, he could glide through that red light, barely discernable behind his windows, without even glancing at the four lanes of traffic and pedestrian he was cutting off. He could tune us all out.

Of course, car culture is just one aspect of a much larger problem that starts somewhere in that nebulous notion of rugged, American individualism. There's certainly something in our larger culture that rewards the bully and emasculates everyone else. Just look at our president and the global disaster we're perpetuating on every level. America, as a nation, lives the global version of that guy in the SUV every day. Is it any wonder people run red-lights? We see our leaders run them on the grandest scale. I guess I should be lucky there are any cars left who stop at all.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

out of whack

My friend Rose has no sense of proportion whatsoever. I think it's because she comes from a huge, liberal, Catholic (happy, close, loving!) family and she's got the personality of a golden retriever -- she expects the whole world to hold her like her perfect, giant, wonderful family holds her and she romps and sniffs her way through life with all the grace of a big, clumsy, loveable dog.

Rose's latest act of disproportion is minor in comparison but serves as a perfect illustration. We are supposed to meet up for happy hour drinks on Thursday. We both work downtown and "happy hour drinks," as a well-recognized institution, can be understood to mean we will meet at a bar central to our workplaces which offers a happy hour special and/or at the time of such "happy hour." Rose, however, as usual, wants to make a modification. Rose is house-sitting for people out in St. Johns who have given her free reign of their liquor cabinet and she wants to hang out there.

What's so bad about free drinks in St. Johns? I'll tell you. For one thing, St. Johns is way the hell out of the way. It's nowhere near downtown where we both work and it's completely and utterly inconvenient. For another thing, St. Johns is depressing. For one more thing, we're not in high-school, for christ's sake, and raiding somebody else's liquor cabinet just doesn't sound so appealing. I want to sit in a nice, interesting bar with strangers all around for entertainment, I want to drink a cheap drink or two and chat, and then I want to leave. And when I leave, I don't want to be leaving from all the way out in St. Johns and driving (after *drinking* mind you) all the way back into town. No way.

While this is typical of Rose's misappropriation of fun plans, it is not extreme. My favorite example is as follows: every year our school has a fundraising auction to support the Public Interest Law Project's loan forgiveness program. People donate all sorts of things including seven-night stays in cabins in far flung places like Eastern Oregon. For nine. For some reason, Rose (whose sense of proportion was at an all time low on this fateful night) decided that a week long trip for nine to Eastern Oregon would be a great idea and not only did she bid on this trip, she won it. I can't remember how many hundreds of dollars she paid for this disaster, but as far as I know, she has yet to bring the trip to fruition.

What's so bad about a week for nine in Eastern Oregon with Rose? I'll tell you. For one thing, Eastern Oregon is way the hell out of the way. The cabin was about a six hour drive from Portland. That's no fun. For another thing, Eastern Oregon is boring unless you can afford to ski or do something else fun. For one more thing, we're not in high-school, for christ's sake, and a week long pajama party with 8 of our closest friends doesn't even sound fun, much less feasible. What nine people do you know who could coordinate one week during which all nine could be off from work, school and life-responsibilities?? And if you *could* find nine people willing and able to accomplish such a feat, you can bet they wouldn't do it for a trip to Eastern Oregon. Maybe an all-expenses paid trip to Tahiti or something, but Eastern Oregon? Come on, Rose, what were you thinking?

Rose is sweet. Rose is friendly. Rose is missing some important software that helps her understand what the world can handle and what the world just won't accomodate. She more than proves my theory that sibling dynamics inform all your relationships forever. A week in a cabin for nine probably sounded like a page out of the family play-book when she saw it on the auction block. However -- sadly -- none of her friend were playing by the same book. Poor Rose.

working with a hippie

I worked with a cute boy tonight named after a tree. He had dreadlocks and a nose ring and huge, beautifully carved, spiralling earings in his ears. He was nice, friendly... talkative. He was vibrant and full of life. He was not gay, yet talked about the line of clothing he designs and manufactures. At some point, after asking if I wanted to go out for tea with him and his girlfriend after work, he asked me what I do for fun.

What do I do for fun? What kind of question is that? I was standing in the kitchen when he asked, looking over the spatter of magnetic poetry words on the fridge while I ate a bowl of Cap'n Crunch cereal with rice milk. What do I do for fun? I kept staring at the words on the fridge and thought about it. Do I have fun?

I have deep, complicated conversations with SK about my psychology and her psychology and sometimes about dreams and sometimes about television. I take long walks with SK in Forest Park. Are those things "fun" per se? I don't know. They're certainly really enjoyable. I also sit in front of my computer staring at blogs and news. Is that fun? Not really. I sometimes watch dvds of shows like Sex in the City and Northern Exposure on the weekends with SK and that can be fun for sure. SK and I have brunch and read the New York Times every Sunday morning, and that's not exactly *fun* but I like it.

Of course, as soon as he asked the question, I remembered the times when having "fun" was having a few pints of pabst at Billy Ray's and playing pin-ball with my friends. I don't do that very much anymore, and that's probably a good thing, but does the absence of drinking too much and playing games have to signal the end of fun? Why haven't I found other fun things to replace those fun things? What's it like to be an adult and have adult fun?? And why does "adult fun" sound only like sex. Which is also something I sometimes do for fun. I guess "fun" changes over time. I like to think it evolves rather than erodes, but who knows?

What do *you* do for fun?