Saturday, January 29, 2011

Week in Seven Words #52

I feel a little unwell at the beginning of the week, but it passes, and I let down my guard. As it turns out, the microscopic fiends that made a scouting mission through my innards have retreated only to regroup, bring in reinforcements, and launch a surprise attack.

The outside world is crunchy. The streets crackle with ice, the snow on the curb crumbles to a fine powder on the sidewalk. The air has a clean healthy bite to it.

When I get to the room, no one is there. I'm glad I decide to stay. Had I chosen to leave right then and there, instead of bobbing around by the door in a state of indetermination, I would have missed out on an interesting hour of learning.

Apple juice, plain and sweet, waiting in a glass bottle at the bottom of the grocery bag.

I'm running a fever and need to walk across the room. My head is somewhere near the ceiling, and I'm not sure if my feet are touching the ground.

T.V. is suddenly interesting. My patience for commercials seems limitless. Look at that shiny clean pan, that washer and dryer set, that lovely meteorologist swooping around in front of a map with low frozen numbers on it. As long as I don't have to peel myself off the couch and fall back into bed I'm good. Just let me stay here for a while.

I'm so thankful she's here. She makes a weak tea that I can keep down. She goes out into the slippery unplowed world to get some necessities from the convenience store. She tells me I'm certifiably insane for thinking that I can go to class in my condition. She makes excellent plain white rice and chicken broth. When I'm at my lowest point she's there.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Week in Seven Words #51

At his birthday dinner his daughter slips letters under our plates. At some point in the evening we will each come up with a different blessing and well-wish for him that starts with the letter that we got.

The elevator doors open revealing two rows of empty chairs, facing forward. I imagine stepping in, sitting on one, and being whisked away to a floor that doesn't exist.

The delight of finding that all the library books on the list are there, exactly where they should be on each shelf. On the way to the checkout counter I cradle them against me as if they are newly born and in need of a home.

The pleasant shock of a warm room after a long walk in the windy cold.

On a Thursday evening, looming deadlines seem distant.

The edge of the spoon skims across the stew; pieces of fish, potato and carrot brush against each other. The spoon sinks deeper, tilts, fills with chunky creamy stew. The lunch hour lasts longer if you linger over each spoonful.

In my mailbox I find a glittering gold bag containing an insectile windup toy and a small blue dog.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Extracts: At least the winter doesn't get to be like this where I live

He dwelt upon the unseen and the unknown till the burden of eternity appeared to be crushing him. Everything in the Northland had that crushing effect- the absence of life and motion; the darkness; the infinite peace of the brooding land; the ghastly silence, which made the echo of each heart-beat a sacrilege; the solemn forest which seemed to guard an awful, inexpressible something, which neither word nor thought could compass... The magnitude of all things appalled him. Everything partook of the superlative save himself - the perfect cessation of wind and motion, the immensity of the snow-covered wilderness, the height of the sky and the depth of the silence. - from "In a Far Country" by Jack London

There's also a scene from the story where the two main characters, stuck in a cabin together for the winter (and you know that's going to end well), get a first brief taste of sunlight, a noontime that looks like dawn, after weeks of complete northern darkness.
Their eyes were fixed upon the north. Unseen, behind their backs, behind the towering mountains of the south, the sun swept toward the zenith of another sky than theirs. Sole spectators of the mighty canvas, they watched the false dawn slowly grow. A faint flame began to glow and smoulder. It deepened in intensity, ringing the changes of reddish-yellow, purple, and saffron... a miracle, the sun rising in the north! Suddenly, without warning and without fading, the canvas was swept clean. There was no color in the sky. The light had gone out of the day.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Week in Seven Words #50

It takes me a few seconds to register that the sky is full of smoke, a great expanding cloud that thins out with distance, mixing into the mild peach sunset. As I get closer, I see large flames several blocks away, trembling insanely, tall as a house. Later on the news gets out - an apartment building destroyed in a five-alarm fire, thankfully no one killed or hurt. There are however over a hundred people who lost their homes.

The first time I arrive at the building complex, someone walks me through the corridors, shows me how they're interconnected and which staircases I should use to get to the third floor. The next day as I arrive, someone asks me for directions, and it's my turn to be the helpful guide.

She wishes I would confide in her more, but there are reasons I don't. I tell her little things, here and there, some offerings of opinion and thought, occasionally a deep feeling, but nothing that would make me too vulnerable.

He doesn't seem comfortable with public speaking. This is hardly his first time in front of a crowd, and he does just fine, but there's only so much of himself that he can master - he can't help the flushed cheeks, the hands that tremble slightly, the voice that stops and starts.

Gray brown slush, messing over everything, as if the sidewalk has spit up and forgotten to pat its mouth clean.

I don't want to be resigned, to walk a rut because that's the most comfortable way. I say this not because I'm one hundred percent certain I won't betray myself, only because I hope I won't, and I'll work hard not to. There are things I can't compromise on and give up on, not without a sense of crushing sadness.

I love how the trees are outlined by snow, a crisp network of branches. Each bare limb is traced in white, sharp and elegant.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Some thoughts on the Tucson massacre

Earlier I posted an excerpt from Lincoln's First Inaugural Address.

And now I find myself linking to Jon Stewart (from President to Jester). I haven't watched a full episode of The Daily Show in years, though occasionally I'll view some clips on the internet.

I'm glad I came across this one. He presents here probably one of the sanest reactions I've heard from a media commentator/pundit after the Tucson massacre. He also articulates some thoughts I've had while reading through the updates on the aftermath.

Even before anything meaningful was known about the killer and his state of mind and possible motivations (which are still quite muddled and all over the place, to say the least), various media commentators and politicians were already insisting on the narrative of their choice and using it for their own ends, trying to see if they could tie the shooter and his off-the-wall ramblings to any one party. Casting blame and deflecting and defending against it. Some earnest conviction here, but also no shortage of hypocrisy, grandstanding and dishonesty.

The details that have been coming out increasingly show a man who is deranged, with a history of deranged and disturbed behavior, and who is not politically active and has so far not been found to be a member of any extremist group (he was identified as a registered independent who didn't vote in the 2010 elections; that's the most definitive statement that has been made of his politics so far) - in fact his thoughts about government and people and life and the universe, if you have the heart and patience to sift through them, are like something out of scribbled science fiction; being registered for one party or another probably would have been minimally relevant to how he processes the world. According to friends (and some stuff found in his house) he also had some sort of weird fixation on Congresswoman Giffords for a few years now, after meeting her at a similar sort of event where he disliked her answer to a question he posed. (That, and added just now, he really liked movies on conspiracies, mind control, and altered states of consciousness - the article at the link talks about some of his life and also about his parents, who are going through their own personal hell, which I hope they can get through.) For the time being, this is the information we have.

Back to Jon Stewart. The monologue begins at 2:28 (the clip starts with some back-and-forth between him and a colleague, which is amusing but skippable). I really encourage you all to take several minutes to watch it:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Arizona Shootings Reaction
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog<The Daily Show on Facebook

Prayers for Gabrielle Giffords and her family and friends; I hope her recovery is steady and sure. Prayers also for the people who were wounded and the six who died (Christina Green, Dorothy Morris, John Roll, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwin Stoddard, and Gabe Zimmerman), and for their families and friends, who are going through hellish times; I hope they find strength, support, love and healing.

Some other brave, decent people: Daniel Hernandez, a college student at the University of Arizona, who had been working as an intern for Giffords for only five days. When he heard gunshots he ran towards the crowd, getting there in the immediate aftermath. He might have saved his boss's life; he held Gifford's head and applied pressure to the head wound. He then stayed with her and kept holding her hand when the medics took over. Patricia Maisch, who wrestled ammo away from the shooter and prevented him from reloading his gun, and Retired Colonel Bill Badger, Roger Sulzgeber, and Joseph Zimudie who tackled and held down the shooter.

I'm tired of hearing that society is in a hopeless state - worse than it's ever been. (Study history, including the history of political rhetoric, and that assertion falls apart.) I also don't want to see a further breakdown in political discourse or acts of political opportunism and demagoguery because of a lone deranged killer (with his blank smirking mugshot, nihilism, and scrambled thought processes). Right now everything about this tragedy is especially raw, everyone's talking about it, but it's also possible to pause, take a breath, and think.

Stewart's monologue was a breath of fresh air for this reason. I found it thoughtful and decent.

Extracts: "The better angels of our nature"

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. - from Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, 1861

Much-needed perspective.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Week in Seven Words #49

A quick fierce hug when words sting and words can't wholly mend.

I've made my home a little winter den, where I've holed up most of the week, picking away at work, reading by lamplight, storing up some energy for the coming months.

Tipsy on daiquiris and the wildest thing they do is play Scrabble. I love them.

Outside the library, as I tuck books into my backpack, a squirrel hops up on the bench beside me. It cocks its head at me and crimps its hands close to its chest. I wish I had something to give it.

The snow looks like tissue paper torn up and puffed on by the wind.

Watching the sunrise on a heavily clouded day. The sky starts off charcoal, lightens to lead, shifts to cobalt and settles at last on the tranquil blue-gray of an agate stone.

A pool of light, a game board, a plate of rolled figs covered in coconut shavings.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Many moons and wonders

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

But these photos show us things that can't be seen with the unaided eye. Like Titan and Rhea, two moons of Saturn:

Titus and Rhea

Click on the photo to see more amazing images from space. If unlike Whitman you'd like to know what each one is there's an explanation on every page.

Earth feels precious and improbable to me, after I look at these.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Week in Seven Words #48

No ball drop at Times Square this year or silly but traditional TV lead-up. A quiet evening instead spent with some of the people I love.

We dash down sidewalks that are slick with slush, dodge around cars, taxis and buses, leap over fathomless oily puddles, and weave between pedestrians who seem purposefully and obnoxiously slow.

While getting an impacted wisdom tooth extracted I hear: things that scrape; things that whir; the oral surgeon explaining the scraping and whirring; faint 80s pop music; dry sucking sounds from the thin white tube that sucks dryly; the surgical nurse's New Year's plans; my own garbled voice; the domestic troubles of someone I don't know; the swish of boots as I move my feet slowly in pendulum motion.

It's fun watching movies or cartoons with them that they've already seen, because I like hearing them tell me what's going to happen or why I should find something funny.

The commuter train emerges from the tunnel into an urban landscape, scarred and snowed in. Steel tracks and warehouses glitter like badges in the sunlight; narrow streets curve uphill, their trees bare and crooked.

Mashed potatoes, mashed yams, mashed carrots, mashed bananas - there's something both mildly embarrassing and reassuring in eating an infant's diet while convalescing.

We work on puzzles together, and it's satisfying to see the pictures take shape - a rain forest full of reptiles, a teeming ocean, a meadow layered with birds and another with insects. He likes to put the pieces in himself, and I like watching his young mind work. Sometimes he works decisively and logically, knowing where the pieces ought to go. Other times he'll try to smush a corner piece into the center of the puzzle. Even then he's learning and confirming certain facts for himself - that some things just don't fit together, no matter how hard you try.