Saturday, April 30, 2005


Tonight we went to see two of our closest friends' kids perform in a production of Hansel and Gretel put on by the Missoula Children's Theater, which is an absolutely FABULOUS organization. Based in Missoula, Montana, the MCT comes to town, and in one week they hold auditions, cast, rehearse, and put on two performances. Good performances. Musicals.

They do this by having a system. There are two (young) adults who travel with the production. At least one of them plays a central part in the show - a kind of narrator part - and is therefore on stage most of the time to guide and prompt if necessary. Many of the songs are call-and-response, and therefore easy to learn quickly. The parts are tiered by age, with increasing complexity as they kids get older. So, for example, our friends' twins were (at the age of 5) among the dozen or so bats in last year's production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and this year they played the birds who famously eat the cookie crumbs in Hansel and Gretel. The parts become more distinct and complex until the oldest kids, in their teens, have extensive speaking parts and singing solos, and also work as assistant directors and learn to run the lights and sound. In less than one week.

Even the sets - while beautifully made - are modular and break down easily. At the end of the week, the two energetic young staff people pack the whole production up into a covered pickup truck, and drive on to the next town. Nearly 30 of these teams travel to all 50 states, five Canadian provinces, and 15 other countries, working with over 50,000 youngsters each year. They first developed this method to take their work to small rural towns in Montana, and at some point along the way they realized it could work anywhere. I can only imagine the lives of these young staff - probably right out of college, people who must really love both acting and children, and be willing to live on the road, week after week, setting up and striking the same set, handing out and collecting costumes, teaching the same story and songs over and over...

All to introduce children to the theater, to show them the magic of it. Seeing our little friends so excited to be in a real-live play, seeing the simplicity and beauty of the system (because Cousin Flora loves an elegant system) - it makes me want to move to Montana and work for them, I swear.

Friday, April 29, 2005

In honor of Barney

They hang out with me, day after day, on the little couch right behind my chair. They nap, and I hear them barking and growling and running in their dreams. When I move to another room they get up and follow me. They look disappointed when I leave them, and ecstatic when I return. I know I blog about them a lot, but they deserve it.

Yesterday I was home when our dog-walker got here. In response to the usual hello-how-are-you, he tearfully told me that his dog had passed away. Now I know that James' dog was improbably old for a larger dog, 15 or 16. Barney had been his one constant companion, he said, with him for most of his adult life, had moved with him everywhere, had been on every adventure. James felt stunned and drained and thoroughly broken-hearted.

These guys are my first dogs, so I haven't lost a pet yet, but people say it is indescribably hard. It's probably made harder because we feel foolish loving an animal so much, and we suspect the non-pet-owners think us obsessively sentimental. But they are part of our families. While the cliche of unconditional canine love is true, it is not true that they feel love at every moment. My dogs both have expressions which could never, ever be interpreted as anything other than unmitigated irritation. No, we do them a disservice to think of dogs as simplistic affection dispensers, or conversely, highly-evolved manipulators of human emotion; their commitment to us is deeper and more complicated than that. They have unique consciousness and personality and layers of character. But they are constant companions, up for any adventure. Our furry guys are starting to age, to slow down, and sometimes I think about what it will be like to have an empty spot on the couch behind me.

My Toby, who is generally a spastic flake with no attention span, is nonetheless extremely sensitive to sadness, as some dogs are. He knew all was not right with James yesterday, and instead of his usual exuberant welcome, Toby just sat quietly at James' feet as he told me about the big empty hole Barney has left in his heart. James noticed Toby there, looking up at him soberly, his ears pulled back with worry. James leaned forward and tenderly cupped Toby's soft face, bringing it close to his own, and Toby gave him one gentle kiss on the nose.

Rest in peace, Barney. Posted by Hello

Why I get no work done sometimes

Hey, this belly ain't just gonna rub itself, you know. Posted by Hello

Employee Needs Improvement

I suck at getting myself fired.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Trying to get myself fired

Today on my to-do list, among many items, is "Get myself fired from my consulting gig." They don't really need me, the board has told the new executive director that the thing I'm working on isn't as much as a priority as he thought it was - a fact which he didn't tell me for a week, when I heard it through the grapevine from another staff person, after I had sent out a big fat survey to lots of people to fill out in order to keep the project moving. So in short, the work I'm doing no longer seems like a high priority, the communication loops are a little sloppy right now, and there's a high likelihood that I will be a waste of their money AND that I will continue to have to reverse myself and look uncoordinated due to poor communication flow, which is not good for my professional reputation. All in all - I'm hoping to get fired. Layed off, really - let go due to lack of need, not poor performance.

I have found that it's definitely a life milestone when you no longer really care about losing jobs. After you lose or quit a job, and discover that it's not the end of the world, that your friends will still call you, that you don't have to move into a cardboard box and eat the leftovers from dumpsters, because you figure out a Plan B one way or another. After you have a certain amount of weight on your shoulders, or sufficient dysfunction around you, and you think - I should be so LUCKY not to have this job any more. After you rise to a certain level of professional responsibility and you think - this is not a simple job, there is no right answer here, and reasonable people can disagree on what's needed. So if I'm not the right person for the job, the organization should find somebody else, and there will be no hard feelings.

You can recognize people who have passed this psychological milestone in life, because they say things like, "Well, what's the worst that can happen? They can fire me. Oh well." In fact, the sensation is so freeing, after years of feeling penned in by the economic dependence on a job in our society, that once people hit this point - they almost seem to welcome the idea of losing their job. I once worked with a finance director who kept insisting we talk about what would happen if I wanted to fire her. She's completely fabulous at her job, and I would always say in exasperation - "Oh for heaven's sake, I'm never going to fire you." But by then I'd had my revelation too, and I knew that look in her eye: If I'm lucky, maybe some day they'll fire my ass!

It's about perspective, a wise colleague once told me. It's about recognizing the power you have to take action, but also the humility to know that whatever happens - good, bad, indifferent - will never be solely your doing. There's incredible freedom in that paradox of power and powerlessness, significance and insignificance; a freedom that allows you to take action, sometimes even radical or courageous action.

What else is on my to-do list today, you might ask, along with getting myself unemployed? Finishing a fundraising letter for a nonprofit that I volunteer for. Running. Making a hotel reservation for our first night in Rome - five weeks from tomorrow! Doing my Italian homework for tonight's class. Taking a urine sample from my dog to the vet. Much more important things than earning money, surely?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Where has Cousin Flora been?

It just seems like I've been busy! My days seem very full lately, and how can that be possible when I have neither a full-time job nor children? And yet it is so. It's the same thing I realized when I took my 8-month work sabbatical a couple of years ago - it is a very civlized thing to spend your time attending to your life. While I know some couples are happy with both people working full time, Enrico and I are coming to the conclusion that, given that we have no college educations to save for, only one of us should be working full time at any given time.

So I have one consulting job (though I don't quite don't know what to do with them, and I think they don't quite know what to do with me), and I'm exercising and volunteering and planning for the month-long trip to Italy, which looms. I'm still not blazing through my household to-do list as I did during The Sabbatical, but I'm doing a better job of keeping a tidy house and attending to a few items a week. It helps that the weather is lovely, which always puts me in a good mood. It's just very civilized.

Friday, April 22, 2005

In praise of good company

Yesterday I spent a happy day working on my bed, in my pajamas, with my wireless laptop computer and my dogs napping contentedly nearby. And all day, part of a poem from Jane Kenyon kept running through my head.

The dog searches until he finds me
upstairs, lies down with a clatter
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life--in and out, in
and out; a pause, a long sigh.
This is from a poem of hers that I love, called Having It Out With Melancholy, about her lifelong battle with depression. I'm in a very cheery mood today, and I wouldn't want this choice of poem to suggest otherwise. I just love that image of the comfort brought by a dog's quiet presence and steady breath. Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 21, 2005

A resolution

Yesterday, I went running!

I haven't been running in probably two years. For many many years, from a very young age, I ran religiously. I'm naturally built for it. I even managed the transition from the flatlands of Illinois to the hills of Seattle, though it was painful and I spent a lot of energy determining which routes had the absolute least elevation change possible. But then, a foot injury and asthma and general sloth won out, and despite periodic efforts, I haven't maintained a running routine for a while. Yoga came along around then, excellently timed for when I could no longer take flexibility or bone mass for granted - but that really doesn't take care of the huffing-and-puffing type of exercise.

I am 38, soon to be 39. I do not have a problem with stating my age. As Oprah seems fond of saying, "I'm not ashamed of my age, because I own every year!" I have, by any standard, had an extremely fortunate life thus far. To deny my age would be to disrespect the people, places, plants, animals, joys, griefs, dumb luck, and mysterious forces that have combined to give me the life I've lived. It would also devalue my own accomplishments, choices, mistakes and follies. Plus, though I wouldn't call myself wise, I am just beginning to see what people mean by "getting older and wiser," the kinds of things that I was oblivious to in my 20s. I look forward to growing older and hopefully wiser - Creative Force of the Universe and my own stubborn nature willing.

So, as I approach my 39th birthday, I feel a need to treat that lead-in year heading into 40 as a special time. It's the time to set myself up for a new decade of growth and learning and life, and if I'm lucky, health and happiness. I read somewhere that our society is extremely impoverished of rites of passage. Since the dawn of our time, humans have tended to mark coming of age and other major life milestones with ritual and ceremony, and our society's lack of such rituals makes it harder for us to recognize, mark and understand the evolving stages of our lives. So I'm going to make up some of my own stuff for my 39th year, the year in which I prepare for my fifth decade.

As one of my rituals of the year-before-forty, I'm going to take my friend Monica up on the invitation/challenge to run the Victoria half-marathon in October. Unlike several of my friends, I've never been one to use big physical events like marathons or triathlons as a motivator for exercise, but the time feels right on this one. A good time to attend to the old physical plant, if you know what I mean.

I haven't figured out what else I'm going to do for my rite of passage. One older-and-wiser woman I know, in her 60s, has for a number of years gone to the dentist to get her teeth cleaned four times per year. "The older you get, you can't take your teeth for granted!" she would say. I think I'll save that ritual for a future milestone decade.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Some dog pics, just because

Remember when I pooh-poohed the digital camera built into my new phone? Well, turns out, I kind of like it. It takes crappy-quality pictures, but I have it with me all the time and I find I kind of enjoy documenting life. And it's particularly good for the dogs, because it's quick. Our real digital camera takes too long to start up - the lens zooms in, then out, then in, by which time the dogs have long stopped doing whatever cute thing I wanted to capture. So, nearly every day now I send some silly dog picture to Enrico, to liven up his day at the Wastewater Treatment Division. (Wouldn't you need something to liven up your day if you worked at the Wastewater Treatment Division?)

Hi there! That camera smells funny. Posted by Hello

The office help. Posted by Hello

Toby, waiting to bark at some Israelites. Posted by Hello

Name that earwig

Blah blah blah blah 'cause I don't love you and you don't love me.

When I was in Argentina with my friend Megan, we made the 1,000-km trip across the Pampases (and back), during which time we introduced each other to new games to pass the time. Megan's main contribution was The Song Lyrics Game, which goes like this: Person 1 picks a word. Person 2 has to think of - and sing - some song lyrics that include that word, ending on a different word. Person 1 then has to come up with lyrics with that new word, leaving Person 2 with something new, and so on. Words can be re-used, but songs cannot.

We were using the Driver Gets to Be Entertained However They Choose rule of roadtripping, and I was sick of driving, so I agreed to play the Song Lyrics Game as Megan's condition for taking a turn at the wheel. Our two travel companions adamantly opted out of the game and moved to the back seat, where they learned that they could opt out of playing but not experiencing the Song Lyrics Game. I'm sure this revelation became painfully clear to them as, hurtling down a two-lane Argentine road at 95 miles an hour, Megan and I were belting out "Wild Thing, I think I love you...BUT I WANNA KNOW FOR SURE."

We played the Song Lyrics Game for nearly three hours, ranging through pop songs, crooner classics, Christmas carols, children's tunes, and hymns. Megan is the daughter of a professional musician, so she kicked my ass at the Song Lyrics Game. She didn't care, she tossed me softball words just to keep the game going, like "love" and "baby" and "Lord."

But I realized that my memory for song lyrics has really degenerated. Songs that I own on CD, that I've listened to for years, that I once could sing end to end, I suddenly drew a blank on. This has nagged at me ever since, and I find myself trying to reconstruct song lyrics all the time, almost like a mental agility exercise. This in turn has led to a sharp increase in earwigs - a term my sister uses (whence she got it I know not, but she is an editor and knows many words) for "song stuck in your head."

My latest earwig has been an Eric Clapton song, for which I could remember neither lyrics nor title. Just one line: 'Cause I don't love you and you don't love me. Which is not a very polite thing to go around singing. So, before starting a new day, I hereby purge myself of this particular earwig:

Monday, April 18, 2005

I'm too early for my day, too early for my day, TOO ear-ly...

I just tried to call the vet's office to schedule Toby's annual check-up, and you know what? I couldn't. Know why? Because it was only 8:55 am and they don't open until 9:00!

Yes, before 9:00 am today I was already on the second load of laundry, I had breakfasted, written in my journal, posted to my blog, sorted through a week's worth of mail, and checked and responded to email. I was merrily cranking through the to-do list, whose next item was a call to the vet.

I have thrown off the Daylight Savings Torpor! I have rejoined the ranks of people who manage to do anything before 9 am! (Unlike the US Army, I don't feel competitive on this, so I don't expect to accomplish more than anyone else - just a little something is fine, thank you.) I was beginning to fear this would never happen, being self-employed and without compelling reason to get out of my jammies most mornings, so, as you can tell, I'm a little psyched.

It's 9:10 now, so I can rejoin my ass-kicking productivity, previously in progress.

A conclave? Really?

Ok, this is a comment better suited to my sister the editor, but - I notice this morning that the top news item on Yahoo! is:

"Secret Conclave Begins to Elect New Pope."
Now I hate to burst the Vatican's bubble, but if they think it's a secret that they're holdin' a conclave over there - they are going to be sorely disappointed when they notice the gazillion journalists, adoring Catholics and curious onlookers gathered outside their doors. The secret is definitely out.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Clearly, these dogs missed something in Sunday School

Have I mentioned that we live in the Jewish neighborhood in Seattle? There are two synagogues within a couple blocks from us, and another within walking distance. The two close ones are conservative and orthodox, so on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, there are many people walking by our house on their way to services.

Today is Sunday however, and as we sit here doing our own Sabbath thing, Enrico is reading a new translation and commentary of the Torah (yeah, he's as big a geek as I am). And he just came upon the following:

"But against the Israelites, no dog will snarl."(Exodus 11:7)
This is definitely news to our dogs, who look forward all week to positioning themselves at the window and giving the Israelites a vigorous barking. I guess they aren't snarling, they're just barking. And I'm confident this behavior doesn't imply any ill will towards the Jews,* because when we encounter them on the street during a walk, Nelly and Toby are just as polite as pie. In fact, once we were even invited into the home of some Orthodox neighbors, asked by these complete strangers to help with a Sabbath-related lightbulb crisis. (I'm told by a Jewish friend that this made me a Shabbas goy, one who helps observant Jews avoid the Sabbath work prohibition.) For weeks after that, the dogs wanted to charge up the steps of that house every time we passed it by, and visit our newfound Jewish friends again!

But nonetheless, from the distance of the window or the yard, these dogs definitely like to make some noise at the Israelites. Clearly, among the many sins we'll have to answer for come judgement day will be the unforgivable laxity of canine Biblical education in this house.

* (Ok, technically, Nelly dislikes the elderly Jewish gentlemen who lives two doors down. But as I've mentioned before, she was beaten with a stick by an older person before she came to live with us, so her wariness around the silver-haired is understandable, and definitely not a Jewish thing. And our neighbor is a Holocaust survivor, so I suspect he understands much about the lasting scars of cruel treatment, and bears Nelly no ill will for her rudeness.)

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Stripes or solids?

I love to play pool. I'm not any good at it (though I don't totally stink either), and no amount of practice seems to make me any better. I learned to play in my teens when a friend taught me that pool is just elementary geometry - it's all about the vectors. Take the ball you want to sink; figure out where you'd need to hit that ball directly with your cue to send it into the pocket; then, hit the cue ball so its center strikes that magic point on the target ball. It's simple, really. It gets a little more complicated if you have to go off the rail, but it's still just vectors. He also taught me about English, the way to hit the cue-ball low and create backspin so it doesn't follow the target right into the pocket.

Of course, translating the vectors into successful hand-eye coordination is another matter. There's nothing quite like the satistfaction of seeing your ball slam confidently into the pocket, or just drop in with its very last bit of momentum. Nonetheless, I can play and not care in the least if I play badly, or whether I win or lose. Every now and then I'll say to Enrico, "Oh, let's go to Jillian's and play pool!" And because he's a good egg, he always humors me.

Jillian's is a real Seattle establishment, a large pool hall overlooking Lake Union which draws people of all ethnicities and walks of life. The tables around us today included families with children (allowed in only during the afternoons), a group of older African-American gentlement who handled their cues with casual elegance, and a rather rednecky crowd whooping it up near the bar. Pool seems to be popular in the Asian community, and there are always a few tables of Asian patrons. Easily identifiable are the clean-cut students from Seattle Pacific University, a Free Methodist college up the street (the Free Methodist once were the liberal branch of Methodism, opening up their congregations in the 1800s to all races and abolishing the payment-based pew system - hence the "Free" in their name - but their radical progressivism stalled in the 1800s and they still prohibit drinking, dancing and playing cards; apparently, pool is not considered a threat to the immortal soul, however.)

Today, there was a formal tournament going on at Jillian's, and people strode by with their personal cues in leather shoulder bags, very Color of Money. And in fact the walls are adorned with blown-up black-and-white stills from movies with pool-playing scenes. Elegant characters in tuxedoes and evening gowns, down-and-out rascals in dive bars, aristocratic Brits playing billards (and Jillian's does have one true billards table, expansive and pocketless, sitting majestically in the prime window spot; one of these days I'll learn to play that game too).

I just love that place, even with the cigarette smoke and the incredibly slow service and the eight million televisions showing every sporting event anyone could conceivably want to watch. I just gaze out at the lake, take a swig of my beer, and then lean out over that expanse of green to line up my vectors - and life is good.

Posted by Hello

Posted by Hello

This just in!

I thought I'd take a moment to update you on previous stories. I know you've all been on the edge of your seat.

I don't need glasses for distance vision yet after all. Turns out the statistically magical age for farsighted people to also need distance help is still 3 years away. However, my optometrist informs me that while bifocals aren't necessary, they certainly would help me - and I might want to get them while I apparently have the world's most generous insurance benefits. "Where does your husband work?" she asked, incredulous at the lavishness of our vision coverage. "King County," I replied. "Huh," she said, thinking. "Do they hire optometrists?" Anyway, I haven't decided what to do on that yet - reading glasses only, or bifocals plus reading glasses (still necessary for those long stints in front of a book or computer). Just because I can have the insurance pay for something doesn't mean I necessarily should, you know?

Friday our gargantuan tax payment was due, so I planned to photocopy and mail the tax return on my way to an afternoon meeting. Being self-employed, I frequently use the coin-operated photocopier at my local drug store, which I have never seen anybody else use. Seriously, I have wondered how they can afford to keep it, financed solely by my paltry photocopying needs. But yesterday, I showed up with my tax return, and there were three people waiting in line! For exactly the same reason as me, of course, which makes sense, but still, I was all - dude, what are these people doing at myphotocopier? Needless to say I saw all the same people five minutes later at the Post Office too. Tax day just brings us all together, doesn't it, the way it levels the social playing field? Anyway, what you're really dying to know is - did we have to fill out Form 2210? I could have - but the IRS is right, that is one butt-ugly form. And since the "EZ" calculation of our penalty comes to about $25, I decided it was well worth $25 of my life energy to avoid Form 2210. Next year, we are so getting a tax accountant.

We have tenants in one of our bird's nests again! Turns out, posting an ad on the Internet just might have worked! Only the robin's nest is occupied - I don't understand why no wrens are taking the bicycle helmet nest, that is one sweet crib - but at least we're not being totally spurned. Now I awaken every morning to the sweet robin song outside my window. At 5:30 am.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Mine eyes have seen...wait, what is that?

Tomorrow, I go to the optometrist. The primary impetus is the fact that my glasses are falling apart. Screws keep falling out, the lenses keep falling's time for new frames. I currently wear only reading glasses, first prescribed at the tender age of 16, which is pretty unusual. This is not the kind of thing that can be fixed with those little magnifying reading glasses you can buy at the drug store for four bucks. The condition I have is one which, if identified early in life, is now totally fixable through "muscle strengthening" exercises for the eyes. Yes, if diagnosed before the age of 6 or so, all your eyes need to do is hit the bench press a few times a week, and you're cured. But alas, they did not yet know this back in the day when I was young.

Last time, the optometrist told me that by the time of my next eye exam, I would probably also need corrective lenses for my distance vision. This is a radical change. Up until now, the glasses just went on for reading, or extensive computer viewing. In fact, they actually ruin my distance vision, so I have to take them off to see more than four feet in front of me. That's why you see people with their reading glasses on little strings around our necks - we take the glasses off every time we have to look up, which lends itself to forgetting them on the photocopier, the dining room table -wherever our reading activity may have been interrupted.

If I do have to get distance-vision glasses, I will still needed reading help, which means - I can barely type it - BIFOCALS. And I'm not even 40! Plus, I will have to make the monumental fashion decision of which frames to buy. How does anyone decide that? How do all you nearsighted people pick out a single, expensive, breakable fashion accessory that you're going to wear each and every day? Personally, I find it very daunting.

In talking with a colleague recently, I said, "Hey, did you get new glasses?" and he politely pointed out that yes, they were new, in the sense that he PREVIOUSLY DIDN'T WEAR GLASSES, a fact which surprised the heck out of me. So, if everyone is as unobservant as I apparently am, perhaps I shouldn't assume that my new, glasses-wearing self will be such a shock to the system for those who know me. When I get a little wigged out about the bifocals, I remind myself that I'm the last one in my family to need glasses - including my kid sister, who is now legally required to wear corrective lenses while driving. I may have to wear my bifocals on a little string around my neck like a granny, but at least I haven't yet failed the eye exam at the DMV.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Office help for the self-employed

Hard at work! Posted by Hello

Monday, April 11, 2005

Constant use had not worn ragged the fabric of their friendship*

Friday night we rented the movie Gosford Park, a murder mystery set in 1920s England which follows parallel tales of aristocrats assembled for a weekend hunting party, and the servants who work for them. At one point there is the ubiquitious after-dinner scene where the men retire for brandy and cigars, and the women retire separately. "Off you go, ladies," says the patriarch pretentiously, and I rolled my eyes at the sexism of it, feeling thankful I don't live in such an age.

But then, I spent much of the weekend in the company of two longtime girlfriends, and I realized that whatever the motivations of the men in that stodgy old tradition, for the women it was probably just girlfriend time. One of my friends lives a ferry ride away, so with the demands of a baby and jobs and pets and school, we don't see each other that often despite our relative proximity. This weekend, we got together with the husbands for dinner on Saturday night - but also informed the men-folk that Sunday was to be girlfriend time, which nowadays includes our newest member, an 18-month-old baby girl. "Off you go, gentlemen," we basically said to them.

The three of us have been friends since we were 12 years old, which means that our friendship has now lasted over a quarter-century. We've had the good fortune to all end up in the environs of Seattle, which seems nothing short of miraculous. Miraculous because between us, we have experienced graduations and holidays, road trips and foreign adventures, devastating breakups and heartbreaking deaths, depressions and injuries, moments of stupidity and poor judgement, moments of success and elation, long beach walks, strenuous climbs to breathtaking views, fresh starts, improbable serendipities, weddings and housewarmings, countless inside jokes, three dogs, six cats, and the birth of a baby. In both terrible moments and times of contentment, we can sit in total silence and feel completely comfortable. We are the ones to speak the unspeakable to each other, to name the elephant in the room that no one else acknowledges or perhaps even notices. We can also laugh so hard that we gasp for air and beer comes out our noses.

Our last big girlfriend adventure together was two years ago, before the birth of the baby, when we took a backroads driving and hiking trip around the Olympic Peninsula in a 1978 Volkswagon Vanagon. The morning of our departure, having all slept over at the house of the friend closest to our destination, we one by one came out to breakfast, picked up an object on the dining room table, and cracked exactly the same joke about it. A somewhat obscure joke, a bilingual play on words. The husband of the house, flipping us some send-off pancakes, just shook his head. "You guys need to get going," he said, "because you're starting to spook me."

So here's to friendships that do not wear ragged, and which are just a little bit spooky to the men in our lives. That's probably why the women were always sent into the other room.

* Dorothy Parker

Friday, April 08, 2005

Bacteria's right to life!

In the car just now, I heard a report on NPR about how some states have laws pending in their legislatures (how seriously I'm not sure) to allow pharmacists to refuse to fill presciptions for which they have "moral objections." This is, of course, all about those pharmacists who think God intended women to have as many babies as they absolutely can until they die tryin' to have one more - so those pharmacists don't have to fill birth control prescriptions.

Now I think it goes without saying that this is about the stupidest thing anyone has ever ascribed to a higher power. (The final word on this subject was laid down in Monty Python's Meaning of Life, with their classic "Every Sperm is Sacred" song-and-dance number. 'Nuff said.) So I actually didn't bother with too much righteous indignation on this one. Rather, my mind went to all the other ways this law could be construed.

After all, if there are pharmacists ignorant enough to think that "when a sperm is wasted, God get quite irate!", the other "moral objections" lurking out there might be a real hoot. "I'm sorry sir, but I believe bacteria have a right to life, so I'm exercising my state-given right to refuse you the ciprofloxin your doctor prescribed for that oozing case of pink-eye." Or someone might withhold topical treatments for herpes or crabs or yeast infections because YOU REALLY SHOULDN'T TOUCH YOURSELF DOWN THERE you might go blind. Some pharmacist might have moral objections to antidepressants since angst is a gift from God to remind us about original sin and how crappy we are and all that.

It wouldn't just have to be fundamentalist religious objections. Perhaps a woman pharmacist will refuse to dispense Viagra until they take those goddam commercials off the TV. The pharamceutical companies themselves are not above criticism, we could have pharmacists boycotting certain companies, like in the South African divestiture battles of the 1980s, until they do right by the African AIDS crisis or are more honest about their risk research.

Sorry. I know I shouldn't be sneering about people's moral certainties or cavalier about batshit crazy laws, but I actually kind of hope this passes in a couple of places, for the pure entertainment value of seeing it challenged.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Dude! and, Word!

My husband Enrico has commented that if I want the general public to come read my blog (mmmm, still undecided on that one), I should write about the TV shows Lost and Alias all the time, because it seems they have a huge Internet following. It's true. I have gotten sucked into the message board world a little bit, and these shows - like Buffy the Vampire Slayer before them - generate passionate and copious Internet discussion. And in addition to enjoying these shows, I'm fascinated by the message board subculture.

Sure, a good number of the entries go something along the lines of "Dude! That rocked! I am so this show's bitch!" or "Word! Worst. Episode. Ever."

But at their best, these discussions are like attending a virtual lit class. There are entire threads dedicated to "Literary Parallels in Lost" or "The Numerology of Alias" or "Religion in the Battlestar Galatica Universe." Each character gets their own thread, where they are analyzed, parsed, critiqued - something I find fascinating as an aspiring writer, seeing what people find credible or compelling in a fictitious character, what sounds a jarring or false note, which little details of writing or acting help paint a vivid and believable character. Board posters craft elaborate theories and analyses, drawing on literature, mythology, other television shows and movies, and plot leaks from the television gossip columns. It takes me back to high school English, or college French, and the feeling of satisfaction when I had written a particularly well-reasoned paper on a work of literature. The feeling of flexing the muscles of my brain. On the Internet, no less! Go figure.

I'm also fascinated by the evolution of language which is happening on the Internet, for which I've been trying to pull together in a cohesive post but haven't managed yet. I'm sure there have been graduate theses and scholarly articles in linguistics written on that subject. It seems the Internet has rejuvenated the art of literary criticism and debate, the art of writing, and even the evolution of language itself. I think that's all kind of cool.

So - They killed Boone on Lost. I still don't think they needed to kill anybody off, and thought it was surprisingly cliched the way they did it, with Claire's baby being born at the same time - the classic death/life cycle. But, did you notice that Jack's fiancee had a big 44 on her shirt in the flashback - what's up with that?? And I'm dying to know the deal with the hatch, and Locke and Rousseau (oh come on, can those names really be random?). So, R.I.P. Boone, and - I am still so this show's bitch!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Oh well.

You can't win them all. Apparently, you can win them all except for two, one of which is the championship game - but you can't win them all.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Take me out...

Mariners 5, Twinkies 1.

One victory down, one to go!

(Photo taken with my spiffy new phone! And I said I'd never need that built-in camera...)Posted by Hello

A smorgasbord of sport

Today, my friend Beth has tickets to opening day for the Mariners, which she generously invited me to share with her, knowing that I am a fellow fan. We'll probaby freeze our butts off, but I love baseball and I'm always up for some worshippin' in the Church of Baseball, as Susan Sarandon says in Bull Durham. And then tonight, my alma mater and home-town team the Fighting Illini play for the NCAA basketball championship. All in one day!

Ironically, my baseball friend is a Carolina alumna - and hard-core college basketball fan - so after an afternoon communing in a shared loved for the Mariners, she and I shall head our separate ways, to our little houses a mere six blocks apart, to become bitter basketball rivals for the evening.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

List: Imaginary Lives

There's this book called The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron which is intended as a guide to re-tapping into your creative imagination and was originally written for artists who feel creatively stuck, but is actually pretty good fodder for getting unstuck in a more general way, and I know a few people who have found it useful. It found its way into my hands in a rather weird series of coincidences just as I had quit my job and had no idea what I was gong to do next.

Anyway, one of the things she has you do is envision other "imaginary" lives you might enjoy. The goal is not so much to identify a new career as identify the underlying activities or characteristics of these occupations, and find a way to weave them into your current life in some way. I was recently looking through old notes from this time, and came upon my Top Ten Imaginary Lives, which as it turns out, has eleven items, 'cause I'm just a Renaissance kind of gal. They were, in no particular order:

  1. Archaeologist
  2. Private investigator
  3. Professional writer
  4. Person on movie productions whose job it is to find all the obscure items and perfect bits of detail to make the setting vivid and realistic
  5. Yoga teacher
  6. Nobel-prize winning peace & justice activist
  7. Coffee shop owner (a cool coffee shop, with movie nights, and book readings, and of course free wireless)
  8. Designer/decorator of small homes, or possibly professional organizer
  9. Theologian (hey, you saw all those books I've read - I oughtta be able to do something with that...)
  10. Research scientist
  11. Small-(scenic)-town postmistress and eccentric lady who takes in stray dogs
Yeah, there's some range there. The moment for some of these, like archaeologist and research scientist, has probably passed me by. I mean, really, I'm all for lifelong learning, but cannot possibly envision starting an entirely new academic pursuit, all the way through to PhD, at my age. And I'm cool with that.

But of the remaining feasible ones...Nobel Laureate...Eccentric Stray Dog to choose?

Friday, April 01, 2005

Ok, listen up all you happy-clappy-Jesus people

You know, I really believe the woman whose death got so much media attention this week deserves to be left in peace, and thus I have held back from touching on that topic, despite the frustration and anger and sadness that has bubbled up in me so many times, begging for expression. I have watched the death of somebody that I loved very much, and so I have my opinions on the universal aspects of death and dying, as well as the ways that each situation is unique and private. But now, I just can't stand it any more. My patience snapped the moment I read that Tom DeLay is calling for the judges in this high-profile case to be impeached. Now, I am just pissed.

Are we like lobsters in a pot, slowly being boiled as our country slides into theocracy? What are we going to do about it?

For one thing, the subject of spirituality and religion cannot be taboo in progressive circles. Exploration of the greater meaning of things, the wonder of existence, is a natural human desire. It's not clever or smart to deny that this is so, to avoid mention of it as embarassing or quaint or backwards, let alone to respond with ridicule. Why have we allowed public discussion of these profound questions to be hijacked by those who believe in such a fearful, joyless, controlling, and unimaginative set of answers? It's no longer ok for progressive people of faith to say, "but those people just make no sense."

I know there are people pushing back, but why are these questions not shouted from the rooftops: You who call yourselves Christians, where is your faith? You who choose to believe in the transactional Jesus, who traded his life for the keys to a literal heaven, where you'll get to lounge in deck chairs on fluffy clouds and commune in bliss with a bearded God and white-robed Jesus - why would you want to keep somebody from that paradise in which you place such unquestioning confidence? Why would you pin down their souls in a trap of tubes and machines?

Read some of these books. I was trying to be all subtle and polite when I posted them - like, hey, here are some books that, you know, somebody might be interested in. But even then I was thinking - Expand your minds, people! These are serious questions, and failing to fully apply the divine spark that is your mind - this is the greatest abomination of all against whatever God you believe in, whatever force created you. Even the Jesuits, with their love of education and learning, know that.

The Buddhists - as I understand it, though I'm hardly an expert - have a lovely concept of heaven, though that's not what they call it. The ground of being, the pool of all life and energy that co-mingles everything in blissful togetherness. As they see it, when we die, we strive to fully realize our connection that sublime pool of being. But fear and distraction and pain may cause us to hang on to the lesser, familiar existence that we know, condemming ourselves to repeated lifetimes. A dying person must be freed of distraction - noise, physical interference, fear - in order to concentrate on releasing their being to that Great All. That is the first vision of heaven that has ever made sense to me. And once you hear it, the idea of tubes and machines becomes horrific and cruel.

So who says that your vision of heaven gets to be legislated into law and mine doesn't? Who says you get to conduct a witch hunt of politicians and physicians and judges who don't accept your religious dogma? If that's what you want for our country, how will it be any different from the rule of the clerics in Iran?

And oh, Jesse Jackson - I'm so disappointed in you.

All Shall Love Me, And Despair!

Nelly the Magnificent, Future Empress of the Universe

(Yeah, publishing her picture on the Internet - thaaat's a hot poker.)Posted by Hello

List: Books about religion and theology

Composing my little essay on the Creative Force of the Universe the other day - and reading with great sadness lately about bitter disputes over life and death, and what religions and God say about them - has me reflecting on the reading I've done on religion and theology. One of the ways that Flora keeps things tidy is lists - lists on paper and lists in my head that divide the world into categories, themes, whatever can help me manage information but also discern patterns and connections. The following is a list of books I've read, with the best reads highlighted in red. Some of these are more "mainstream" and some more "out there" - I'm not advocating any particular ideas contained within, though I will say I have found value in every single book. And I'm still reading - my public library informs me just today that A Quaker Reader awaits me. So, if anybody out there actually reads this and has other suggestions - they are welcome in the comments!

The Bible and the Gospels

  • The Gnostic Gospels - Elaine Pagels. One of the first accessible books to describe and translate the long-lost Nag Hammadi texts. An important primer on what was excluded from the Bible that gets thumped today.
  • Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas - Elaine Pagels. How the gnostic Gospel of Thomas contrasts with the Gospel of John to illustrate competing beliefs in early Christianity.
  • Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally - Marcus Borg.
  • The Book of J - Harold Bloom. Explores authorship and origin of Old Testament texts.
  • God: A Biography - Jack Miles. Approaching the Hebrew Tanakh as literature.
Where are all the women?
  • She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse - Elizabeth Johnson. A classic on feminist theology and feminine spiritual imagery within Christianity.
  • Adam, Eve and the Serpent - Elaine Pagels. The Adam & Eve story, its variants, how it's been used to oppress women, and why it needn't be interpreted that way.
  • Mary: A Flesh-and-Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother - Lesley Hazleton. What would the world and experience of the historic Maryam have been like?
  • Rebirth of the Goddess: Finding Meaning in Feminist Spirituality - Carol Christ. Review of Goddess scholarship, with the author's personal story of finding a spiritual home there.
  • The Woman with the Alabastar Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail - Margaret Starbird. Posits that Jesus and the Magdalene were married, but early church history buried this knowledge, to the woe of both genders thereafter. Whether you believe this theory or not, it's gaining visibility, and making the Catholic church hot under the collar, and I like the idea of it.
  • The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine - Margaret Starbird. Follow-up to her first book, explaining her "trail of evidence" in scripture and Medieval art and history.
  • Heart of a Buddha's Teaching - Thich Nhat Hanh. Good explanation of Buddhism.
  • The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying - Sogyal Rinpoche. An explanation of beliefs on life and death in Tibetan Buddhism, much-read in the hospice movement. Beautiful book, a must-read in my opinion.
  • Stepping Into Freedom - Thich Nhat Hanh. Intended for students of Buddhist monastic training, but it includes wonderful meditations for different life situations.
  • Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet - Karen Armstrong. The historian author of A History of God tackles Muhammad and illustrates Islam in the process. I love the way Armstrong writes, and this book is apparently well respected in Muslim circles.
  • The Trouble With Islam: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith - Irshad Manji. At turns angry and very funny, a controversial exploration of why Islam is the way it is in the world today.
  • The Place of Tolerance in Islam - Khaled abou El Fadl. Haven't actually read this yet, but it was recommended and just arrived from the library!
Religious histories and comparisons
  • A History of God: The 4,000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - Karen Armstrong. Clear, thorough history of the three monotheistic religions, how they intertwined and have gone through cycles of dogmatism and mysticism over the centuries. Again, I love the way Armstrong writes.
  • Living Buddha, Living Christ - Thich Nhat Hanh. Parallels between the two religions.
  • Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity - Bruce Bawer. Explains the surprising and recent history of American Christian fundamentalism - that it's not back-to-basics theology, but recent heresy.
  • The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity - Martin Palmer. Texts discovered in China that show Christianity made it there by the 9th century and mingled with Buddhism and Taoism. Fascinating illustration of how all the major religions really can weave together.
  • The Quakers in America - Thomas Hamm. History of Quakerism and its three main branches in the United States.
  • A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism - John Buehrens. Primer on the history and beliefs of Unitarian Universalism.
  • Out of the Flames - Lawrence & Nancy Goldstein. Biography of Michael Servetus, a heretic burned in the 1500s for his non-trinitarian beliefs, which later informed Unitarianism.
  • Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths - Bruce Feiler. Explores the shared historical ancestor of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and what he means to each today.
Personal Stories
I like all of these, actually, because I've always loved memoires; it's hard to pick the red items.
  • Meeting Faith: The Forrest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun - Faith Adiele. Adiele became a Buddhist nun in Thailand for a year. Amazing memoire.
  • Seeking Enlightenment...Hat by Hat: A Skeptic's Guide to Religion - Nevada Barr. Personal story and reflections on faith.
  • Traveling Mercies - Some Thoughts on Faith - Anne Lamott. Personal story and reflections on faith.
  • The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness - Karen Armstrong. Story of Armstrong's recovery from convent life and path back to physical health and the study of theology.
  • Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith - Kathleen Norris. Each chapter is an essay built around a religious or theological word or phrase.
Fiction That Entertains and Makes You Think
  • Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal - Christopher Moore. Portrayal of Joshua's life which is very funny, if crude at times, but underneath it is some unexpected and well-researched depth.
  • The Gospel According to Jesus Christ - Jose Saramago. Cousin Flora hasn't read this, but Husband Enrico recommends it highly. Controversial take on the life of Jesus as man, prophet, and instrument of higher powers.
Useful Reference and Basics
I haven't read all these completely, some are more reference or classics.
  • The Nag Hammadi Library - complete translation of the texts
  • Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development - Helmut Koester
  • The Qur'an
  • The Dhammapada - classic text of Buddhist teachings
  • The Upanishads - classic text of Vedic teachings that are part of the foundation of Hinduism and Buddhism
  • The Tao Te Ching - Lao Tsu. Beautiful, poetic, classic text of Taoism
  • The World's Religions - Huston Smith