Monday, December 7, 2009

Begin It Now

A lot's happened in the past couple of months. I started heading back to WV to rock climb as soon as I came home from Denmark, and somehow enough wacky things fell into place that I've now bought a farm right there in the New River Gorge with one of my best friends, Erin. She and I figured we were of like enough mind that we could collaborate on some projects, and so now we have thirty-three acres on the edge of Fayetteville, complete with a house, a barn, a John Deere tractor, a creek, and a pond stocked with fish. For the past several years I've known that I wanted to have pretty much all of the above, i.e. land, water, and a shelter to call my own (even a shared one). I ultimately want to build a little house all my own, off the grid and super energy-efficient, fueled by renewable resources, and shaped by my own brain.

Erin and I are both going to nutrition school starting in February so we can become health counselors, and now we're in a community that desperately needs exactly that. We're both excited about starting a community gardening project, and maybe even a co-op a little further down the line once we get the hang of growing food. I know I want to build all kinds of things so I know what I'm doing when I start in on an actual house, so once we finish some basic house projects (like ripping out carpet and laying down some reclaimed hardwood flooring) I can run off into the woods and start building my first treehouse. We have ideas for health clinics for pregnant and new moms, people with chronic disease, for working on better food in schools, hospitals, prisons, and the homes of everyone we know, and we are both most happy because we know that doing this kind of work will be amazing for our own health and happiness. Not enough people can say that about their work, but we want to be two of them.

Today in Mother Earth News magazine (the best mag maybe ever), I read a piece on the company Patagonia. Yvon Chouinard is its founder and a pretty mind-blowingly cool individual. When asked about his feelings on the future, he said, "Why should I be optimistic? You tell me. There's no reason to be optimistic. I think society is going to go into survival mode, because there's going to be a crash. The only thing people should be working on are products that people need, not products people want because they are bored. Things like food, alternative energy, and land for agriculture, those are the only safe investments. It doesn't depress me because I'm doing what I can. I'm active. The cure for depression is action. There's no difference between an optimist who says, 'Don't bother, it'll all be fine,' and a pessimist who says, 'Don't bother, it's all hopeless.'"

I just read an amazing quote that I have been finding more true every day:

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now." - Goethe

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Difference Between Laughing and Crying

 I think (I hope) that every one of us has laughed so hard that tears come to our eyes. I've had this happen several times over the past week, and it's reminded me that sometimes the tears threaten to take over. It's a bit bizarre, but it's as if I'm laughing so desperately I could literally start crying my eyes out. I can remember a bouldering trip at Rumbling Bald in North Carolina that about eight of us went on, and we were all were sitting around under a giant overhanging boulder talking about nothing in particular. Someone said something that made me giggle, and then someone else added to it, or I did, who knows--but after a minute I was laughing so hard I was completely controlled by it. I couldn't stop if my life depended on it, and began to wonder if this was what insanity was like. Tears were streaming down my face. Everyone else had stopped after a couple of minutes, but at the sight of me on the ground crying my eyes out they fell in again, too, soon enough. No one was as unhinged as me, though. I couldn't even control my face. I knew it looked more like I was in pain than anything, and by this point it was merciless. Laughing, laughing, laughing, gasping for breath. Ten minutes later I had forced it down enough that heavy breathing could mostly take its place, but it had left its mark, and for the next hour I had to resist any urge to let a giggle escape lest I be forced to surrender completely again.

My stomach hurts just thinking about it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

TV Can Be Good for You


When I was in Chile earlier this year I had a conversation in English with a local teenager at my hostel while she folded laundry. Her grandfather Jaime owns the place, and though he seems to understand a lot of English, his speaking is terrible. Many Chileans don’t speak any at all, though, so I asked her how she became so fluent.

“I just watched all the English TV shows and movies here when I was a little girl. I remember when I was about eight years old, my mom finally said to me, ‘¿Por qué estás viendo eso? No puede entenderlo.’ But I could understand. Once I had started learning how to read, picking up English became even easier, but I had probably understood a good bit even before then, just like any kid does from just watching.”

Of course, I thought. If we had all had constant access to foreign language shows growing up, we could already have a solid understanding of a second language by the time we graduated elementary school. If only I had grown up in a country that imported much of its best media from a country with a different language . . . well, obviously this is a lot less likely to happen in the U.S. But wouldn’t it be great if there were one channel on standard issue free television, like an alternative (non-profit channel) that has only shows in Spanish, with English subtitles? Or, though to a less effective extent, at least one that offers Spanish subtitles on every kid’s show and a few of the adult shows, too? It would still be a matter of encouraging a child to prefer that station over others, but something that is well within the grasp of our powerful corporate station owners. Not only would this take advantage of the wired-in ability of young children to pick up language more easily than learning to tie their own shoes, it would also help them recognize the validity of another culture. This is pretty much the opposite of what the U.S. does right now.

The last time I watched a TEDtalk I noticed that I could choose to have this particular one subtitled in 14 different languages. Though it was already in English I chose Danish since I’m in Denmark, and the majority of words I’ve learned have been through watching English movies or shows translated into Danish text. I'm aware this isn't even close to a new idea, but it's well worth emphasizing--why not watch TV and learn a language at the same time?

As an adult with a brain every day looking more like pumice than sponge, I can of course opt to watch every DVD I see with its available subtitles or buy cable (doubtful, seeing as how I haven't had a working TV in several years) and watch foreign language channels. I can also now go to the TEDtalks website and find the ones that both interest me and offer subtitles in the language I want to pick up. Since I want to work on my Spanish I have more options than those who are attempting to pick up Cantonese, but the options are growing quickly. TED is enlisting volunteer translators as part of their enlightenment army, and anyone can join and turn in translations (which will of course be reviewed by another fluent speaker before they attach it). Sounds like something teachers could encourage students to do for extra credit—translate your favorite not-yet-subtitled TEDtalk or any favorite speech into your studied language, and not only do you make Teacher happy you can literally help educate others when the translation is uploaded to the web. Fantastic.

From TED’s website:
“Along with subtitles, every talk on now features a time-coded, interactive transcript, which allows users to select any phrase and have the video play from that point. The transcripts are fully indexable by search engines, exposing previously inaccessible content within the talks themselves. For example, searching on Google for "green roof" will ultimately help you find the moment in architect William McDonough's talk when he discusses Ford's River Rouge plant, and also the moment in Majora Carter's talk when she speaks of her green roof project in the South Bronx. Transcripts will index in all available languages.

The interplay between the video, subtitles and transcript create what we call a Rosetta Stone effect. You can watch, for example, an English talk, with Korean subtitles and an Urdu transcript. Click on an Urdu phrase in the transcript, and the speaker will say it to you in English, with Korean subtitles running right-to-left below. It’s captivating.”

With statistics like these below, a lot of kids could probably be performing the translations themselves by high school:

  • Approximate number of studies examining TV's effects on children: 4,000
  • Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television: 1,680
  • Percentage of day care centers that use TV during a typical day: 70
  • Hours per year the average American youth spends in school: 900 hours
  • Hours per year the average American youth watches television: 1500
                              -- California State University

I’m a huge fan of Academic Earth as well, the website that offers actual university classes for online public viewing, where I can see brilliant professors from schools like MIT, Stanford, and Yale that some families are refinancing homes to let their kids listen to while I watch for FREE. Academic Earth has yet to offer translations, though, so I save those talks for when I am working on something a little mindless like assembling an Ikea TV stand or cleaning house, and can simply listen while only occasionally watching. No, you can’t ask questions or ask for feedback from these professors, but if you need to you can play their words over again until you get the gist of their subject, or you can simply switch them off should you not enjoy it. Who hasn’t wanted to do that in class before?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

One More Week in Copenhagen...

Yep. I'm pretty ambivalent about leaving. I mean, this place is frickin' amazing, between the biking everywhere, the overwhelming amount of nature all over the city, the canals you can swim in at 4am when you've had way too much wine and nothing seems more natural than downtown skinny-dipping, the fact that there is ALWAYS something happening--festivals, jazz fests, free outdoor movies, parades, demonstrations, gang-related drive-by shootings (actually, that's relatively recent and not so common). Of course I'll miss my Great Dane, and not only his incredible cooking (I swear).

I've been hatching so many plans for my time back in the States, though, that I can't help but be excited to return. It's not just that I'll see my friends and Ollie Cat for the first time in over three months, it's that the weather will be perfect in South Carolina, and once again I'll have my porch to sit on, along with the lovely neighborhood surrounding it. I'll be able to relax outside in the mornings and evenings for hours if I want to and just listen to the cicadas and the owls. Annabelle, the lonely Jack Russel next door, will join me on walks again. I'll be able to ride my motorcycle again (yes yes yes!)! Ooh, and my longboard! My car! All my wheels!

And finally, I'll be going rock climbing again. I could have done so here if I'd wanted to, in a gym, anyway (for about $12 a visit--yuck), or I could have spent a few weekends in Sweden like last year, but this year was different. I tried to spend not very much money as well as spend as much time with the important people here as humanly possible. I figured taking yet another long break from climbing would let me heal my nagging shoulder injuries and clean the bad climbing habits out of my head. But now it's back to the New River Gorge for me, back to scaling the sandstone walls of West Virginia (at least until encroaching mountaintop removal finally makes all the rivers run black), it's back to great dinners with friends, campfires, and great parties.

By January I'll have to have figured out how to swing the nutrition school in New York thing, which will likely be a combination of some weekends in class and the off-weeks living and climbing more cheaply near the Gunks, but who knows? I always wanted to live in New York City for a little while, at least while I'm still young and unencumbered by the crap everyone else seems to be chained to. What makes this even better is that one of my most wonderful friends ever, Erin, is taking the same course, so we can team up and tackle the living situation, studying, traveling/commuting, socializing, or even each other should we need to. I'll be able to more easily convince overseas friends to come visit since NYC is cheap to fly into, and for that matter, if I should decide I need to travel somewhere NOW, fares will be cheap and flights everywhere will be available, no hour and a half drive to the Charlotte airport required. Plus, the shows! Great music everywhere! Nonstop people-watching!

Oh, the possibilities. I feel my muscles twitch every time I think about it (which is pretty much constantly).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sustainable Architecture at Its Most Magnificent

If you're a fan of incredible architecture and sustainable design, check out this TED talk by the brilliant and funny Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. It could blow your mind.

A couple of weeks ago I rode my bike by this apartment building Ingles not only designed but lives next door to. I spend a lot of hours each week riding around Copenhagen taking bad pictures of design I think is beautiful. Many of the houses in the neighborhoods in the Copenhagen suburbs are exercises in brilliance, often petite but loaded with charm in the form of second story porches, walls of sliding glass doors, large sun-filled kitchens connected to warm and inviting living rooms, and private and cozy gardens filled with fruit trees and flowering vines enclosed by fences made of stripped branches. That there is a park within a ten minute walk of anywhere in Copenhagen doesn't hurt their appeal, either. Lakes are literally everywhere here, there are dedicated bike lanes and traffic lights on all main roads, and all patches of vegetation more than a few meters long have some kind of edible fruit within them.

Indulge yourself here for 18 minutes--you'll no doubt finish this video more optimistic about how sustainable architecture could be a big part of saving our future.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I'm terrible.

Terrible at posting a blog, that is. I do a lot of writing lately as I have loads of time on my hands here in Copenhagen, but it's mostly letters. I spend at least a couple of hours a day just writing people e-mails, and though I usually start out each letter with the intention of only writing a few sentences or passing on a worthy link, I more often wind up writing the equivalent of several pages. My letters become my diary of sorts.

I've probably received about twenty journals as gifts in my life, and have never made it more than ten percent of the way through any one of them. My e-mails, though--they are a chronicle of my friendships, boyfriends, breakups, family issues, temporary obsessions--and they have been spewed out with far greater abandon than they would have had I sat down with pen and paper. That said, I still always have a tiny journal with me most of the time. I think using a pen versus a keyboard accesses a different part of my brain, as if writing more slowly allows for less free-association and encourages a little more focus. My typed letters tend to be a series of tangents. My handwritten stuff can be tangential, too, but it's far more controlled and I usually wind up inspiring actual well thought-out ideas.

(In the distance you can see a few hundred deer waiting for dusk to fall in Dyrehavn. Then the barking, the mating, and the head-butting begin.)

Today I copied a link to to send to my brother, titled "The World Needs You to Do What You Love." The blog was exactly what I needed to read right now, and I knew he could use it, too. But then I had to preface it with a little introduction. First, I let him know I officially signed up for nutrition school, and I knew that it would help me to write out exactly why this was going to be amazing for me, that I knew I had some self-defeating habits I need to crush, and then, of course, I had to tell him why I thought I had them in the first place. I figured he might get something out of it, considering we had the same crazy parents, we have similar insecurities, we have similar questions about how to fix ourselves ... you get the picture. I moved it to Word so I could see it all laid out in front of me better, and I wound up typing 2,500 words. Whoops.

When I talk I don't tend to be long-winded, and when I write I deeply value brevity. After spending over an hour just typing the stream of thoughts through my head, though, I did not want to go back and make it shorter. What's great is that I know it doesn't matter to him. I know he'll enjoy it, that he'll read every word, and that mistakes don't matter all that much to him. What matters most is that he has a glimpse inside my head, and we grow a little closer as a result.

I think this is the biggest reason why I would rather write an e-mail any day than scribble in my journal. I like knowing that not only do I have a record of my thoughts, I have shared it with one other person, and for me it's a lot safer than writing my secrets down on a journal that could be found by anyone. I've gone back to old e-mails over and over, and sometimes I'm extremely surprised by the bizarre headspace I was in at the time. If it had been taken out of context and shown to me, I often wouldn't recognize it as my own writing.

What makes it monumentally more rewarding than writing in a journal, however, is the response. I don't expect novellas in kind, but any acknowledgment at all lets me know I've connected.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Neighbor

I have stuck my head out the window to place myself in the sun for the first time in this long lazy day. It’s almost 5:30pm, and Carsten hasn’t made it home yet from work.
Hey. There he is again, the man I met last week, on the brick patio next door in a green plastic chair at a green plastic table, staring at the hedge in front of him. I lean out further and smile thinking about how funny our last encounter was. I have to say something.
Wait. No, I don’t. I walk away from the window after a minute. I don’t know if I want him to look up and find me smiling down at him. Danes are different than people at home. They’re closed and quiet and they don’t look at you on the street. But then I walk back and lean out the window again. I’m bored and have been in front of the computer all day.
Hey, Ken, I say out loud.
He looks up from the beer he has both hands wrapped around.
How are you? I say.
Just fine, thanks.
For some reason his English over-enunciation makes me laugh to myself. It’s as if he’s seen someone say this in a movie and he’s trying it out for the first time. He’s looking for something else to say, I can tell, but doesn’t know what.
No. I’m lying, he says next.
You are? What’s wrong?
My mother died.
Oh no. I’m so sorry. When? Today?
I didn’t know what else to say. I said to myself, of course not today, you dumbass.
Two weeks ago. She had Parkinson’s, you know, that stuff. Alzheimer’s, too.
Wow. That’s not a good way to go.
A few minutes earlier I had read about a music conductor and his wife who went to an assisted suicide clinic to die together. She had terminal cancer in her late 70’s and he was about 85, I think. They held hands on the beds next to each other and went to sleep together, never to wake up. To me, it sounded almost like the perfect way to go.
He stands up and walks to the gate so I can hear him better over the noise from the cars on the adjacent road.
She was still very much alive, still working in the garden most days, still tending the roses. Not all there all the time, of course, but you know . . .
Oh, I walk by those roses a lot. They don’t really smell like anything, though. Hold on, I’m coming down.
I do walk by those roses a lot, and every time I would smell each kind within my reach, and none of them smelled like anything. I pull some pants on and walk out the door and down the stairs in my bare feet.
As I walk out the door he begins again.
There was this one red kind that had the most wonderful perfume. Wait here, I will bring it to you.
I wait by his gate for what seems like a long time, and look down the road for Carsten approaching on his bike, but only a few bikes pass, bouncing over the speed bump out front, none carrying him.
Ken walks back across the brick patio and hands it to me.
It’s in pretty bad shape, with wilted petals and brown spots all over. I put it to my nose but smell nothing.
It smelled really good up until a couple of weeks ago, Ken says, but I think it’s gone now.
He shrugs an apology.
I’ve only been here for a few weeks, so I guess I arrived just in time for all the roses to lose their scent. I was beginning to wonder if all the roses in Denmark were of the unscented variety.
Last week I parked my bike in the central courtyard with everyone else’s and walked back out front toward the street to go in the apartment, and I almost walk into a man in his early sixties who seems to be coming from the door I’m going in. There are only three apartments up these stairs, the guy on the first floor I’ve never met, Carsten’s above him, and the old lady on the third floor who spent a lot of time last year banging on the pipes leading to her radiator, thinking we were making noise when it was actually her neighbors through another wall. So this guy and I both stop and just stare at each other. I think he must be thinking what I’m thinking—that he’s the guy on the first floor and I’m the girl on the second floor, and we should say hello.
Hello, I say.
Hej, he says back. He seems a little taken aback, even though he stopped the same as I did. I assume it’s because I said hello and not hej.
What’s your name?
It was kind of a bizarre question at that point, which made it seem appropriate.
Ken, he responds.
He now looks as if he thought I was someone he knew, but now realized I’m not.
Are you the guy that lives on the first floor right here?
No, he says. I live around the corner. You live up there?
I think we’re both amused this encounter is happening, especially considering the standard behavior for Danes: remain silent and appear absorbed in thought.
Well, alright, I continue. Did you think I was someone you knew?
Yeah, well, I’m not sure. Maybe.
Ha, alright. Well, good to meet you, Ken.
Well, what’s your name?
Alright, good to meet you, too. See you, okay.
Yeah, see you.
And we part ways, and I look for him after that, the uncommon Dane who stopped to talk to me out of the blue at the same time I wanted to stop and talk to him. I am a little lost without my usual daily casual interaction with a few dozen people at the store, or Immac, or at the Hunter Gatherer, or with a hundred or so people when I’m picking up time at the café. I miss the ability to say any random thing to people I don’t know, to make people laugh at nothing in particular. Most people here speak English, and seem to enjoy doing so, but when people don’t smile or look at each other on the street it’s a lot harder to take the risk. Carsten’s at work every weekday, and half the week I hang out with Hunter for a few hours, but my friend Jacob is out of town for weeks and I’m accustomed to a lot more human interaction.
So when I see Ken out the window I want to talk to him, even if only as a person I can wave to when I pass by any given day.
Somehow we get on the subject of family names, and I tell him my last name, one about as Scottish as they come. He becomes more animated and tells me I have to hear this Scottish band he loves, Runrig, so I follow him onto his deck, where there are rows of beer bottles awaiting refund. He walks inside to put a CD in the stereo. A very old man in a plain white undershirt and blue shorts is sitting inside, his brows furrowed at nothing in particular.
Ken says something to the old man in Danish after we have stood talking about music for a couple of minutes, so I walk over and shake his hand. He’s fine with that but doesn’t have anything to say.
Is that your dad? I ask Ken.
Yes, that’s my dad. This place belongs to my parents. I live next door.
My phone rings. It’s Carsten, so I tell him that I’m next door, which he no doubt thinks is strange, but he gamely walks over and says hello to Ken, who insists that we borrow a Runrig concert DVD before we leave.
Then he spends the rest of the evening sitting in that chair at that table with a beer, staring at the hedges in front of him.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Current Copenhagen

Today I am craving crepes filled with rich dark chocolate mousse, freshly whipped cream, strawberries reduced over heat with sugar and a touch of grapefruit . . . but we are out of cream, and milk, and almost everything closes around here at six or seven in the evening. It's not even dark in Copenhagen yet and it's 10:30. I tried to find recipes online to make the crepes with yogurt, but that leaves the mousse, too. No luck, anyway. I did find out that a traditional breakfast on Bastille Day (today) is crepes. Must be my French blood bubbling over.

I just now heard a bird making the happiest little song through the window outside, so I whistled back to it, and it copied me and then did its own thing. Wow! And there it is, across the street sitting on top of a chimney. So I do it again, and then it does it again, and I have a big smile on my face now . . .

Today I went to H's and sat around for a bit, had some herring and coffee, cleaned his kitchen while he snored in the next room, wrote some e-mails, and then left so he could go to the nude beach. I often go with him after our deer park trips and lay on the roof of the picnic areas in the sun, while the tan and sagging bodies of local Danish men amble down the dock and dive into the water. I soak up the sun, and H swims laps, and then we walk by the boys on the volleyball court, and catch the train home.

The other day on the way to the deer park, about 45 minutes of an hour ride out of town, I blew my back tire so our plans changed. We wound walking down a wide path through a forest behind houses perched on hills. The trail was littered with giant slugs and snails, which for the first twenty feet I tried to move out of the trail so they wouldn't be squished under bike tires and running shoes, but gave up when the numbers increased to over ten a square meter. They were absolutely beautiful, though, the snails over a couple of inches in size with intricate colors through their spirals, and the slugs smooth and ridged and two to four inches long and different than the ones in the states, though no doubt just as capable of inspiring a gag reflex in the same percentage of normal people. I no doubt drove H insane pointing them all out as he walked along so he wouldn't smash them underfoot. He nevertheless crunched a lovely snail, making me grimace and reprimand him theatrically for his careless brutality. Poor bastard. I threw him in the bushes. The snail, too.

Two days in a row we did this, though the second day my tire was fixed for an obscene amount of my worthless U.S. money, and both days we made it to Bakken, which is a permanent carnival of sorts situated on the edge of the deer park, with free entry and wooden roller coasters and all kinds of interesting people-watching. We sat and had coffees and exquisite chocolate muffins.

Then we rolled our bikes onto the train and plunged homeward again.

Tomorrow we might go back to the deer park, so we can watch the lovely little deer families watch us. The place covers several miles, with a 400 year old hunting lodge overseeing it all, as well as the nude section of the beach a mile down the hill behind it. No coincidence, I'm sure.

Since Carsten runs a music review website, tomorrow evening he and I are invited to an "intimate" show that only twenty people can attend, where two Danish musicians perform for our privileged ears. It should be interesting.

Next week the queer games start here. I guess it's a kind of gay Olympics, so H and I will be running around taking pictures and video of that for several days. I'll have some posted eventually.

Hope every one of y'all out there is doing as well as conceivably possible.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Fire

My uncle is dating his ex-wife Kathy again, something like fifteen years after their divorce, and her family invites my mother over to Thanksgiving dinner. Ian and I are several hours away in Virginia at his mom's for the holiday, as his family is less dysfunctional and has better food.

It's post-Thanksgiving dinner, and my mom and the other womenfolk are in the kitchen, having a blast with each other, and one story leads to another, and they are soon telling macabre stories from their own pasts. My mom tells everyone of how when she was a young girl she saw the neighbor running out of her house with her baby, limp and bouncing in her arms, screaming for my grandfather, a doctor. The baby choked on a carrot minutes before, and died.

Then my uncle's ex-wife's mother, with whom Mom has not spent time in twenty years, begins to tell a story of how forty-two years ago she was driving down Lakeshore Drive, in Columbia, and saw smoke billowing out of the attic of a house as she passed it. She stopped and ran in the house and called the fire department, who made it in time to save most of the contents of the house, with only minor losses in the attic. Apparently, recalls Kathy's mom, the man who started the fire inside the house had died, drunk and passed out with a lit cigarette. The chemicals in sofas are incredibly toxic, and as they burned they filled his lungs quickly enough that he never woke up to save himself, and was almost the only thing taken by the fire. My mother says,

"That wasn't a man. That was my mother-in-law and the grandmother of my children."

Kathy's mother doesn't believe her at first, but the dates were the same, the house was the same. It was my grandparents' house. They were separated at the time and my grandfather was living in Atlanta. My dad was twenty-six years old, a year younger than I am now and a year away from meeting my mother, and his uncle called him up and simply said,

"Your mother died in a fire."

My own mother had often wondered how the family silver and antique furniture had survived a house fire when my own grandmother, an abused wife and chronic alcoholic, had not. My Dad's father was a notorious asshole, an Army general who was in both World War II and Korea, a man who couldn't separate his feelings about his own family from his violence as a soldier. It becomes difficult to justify kindness and love to certain people in a world where you have to kill other people, who are so often so much like you.

My aunt Sally, having never fully recovered from the loss of her mother at the age of twenty-one, inherited her taste for inebriation. She died almost four years ago at the age of fifty-nine, her insides pickled and her esophagus bleeding from what was probably over forty years of regular alcohol abuse. My grandfather died this past Christmas at ninety-two, having outlived his younger brother and sister, his own daughter, and two wives. It's funny how the people who make us hate life most seem to have the tightest grip on it.

So my mom thanked her brother's ex-wife's current girlfriend's mom for saving our family's heirlooms. If she had come along five minutes later, we would have likely lost them all, but then she says,

"Hey, but if you'd only come along five minutes earlier, my kids might still have their grandmother!"

Then she laughed. We have a similar sense of humor.

There probably wouldn't have been enough smoke to notice five minutes earlier, anyway.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Great Moments for Gays in Modern History

(A personal favorite from Aug. 28, 2007)

Looks like another overly repressed conservative is being exposed for homosexual behavior. Republican senator Larry Craig of Idaho was caught soliciting sex in a Minnesota airport restroom after complaints from other restroom goers about lewd goings-on there.

After Emma posted an article about this last night off of Roll Call, I laughed hysterically, and then sobered up for a little while. Though it didn't state in this article that he was one of the array of Republicans who regularly attempt to squash any rights of homosexuals, I was sure that was the case, and wrote Emma back a ranting e-mail about jackasses such as these. Sure enough, I read in an article this morning that he "has voted against gay marriage and opposes extending special protections to gay and lesbian crime victims," in what is seemingly becoming a legislation policy simply to indicate the voter's closeted homosexuality. I'd say it's becoming more and more obvious that those among us who doth protest too much are exactly those who can't handle the temptation of unrestrained, unrepressed, unopposed homosexuality. If there are any homo-noids in the audience who disagree, let them be heard.

I saw the movie "Jesus Camp" last year, and one of the last scenes in it took place in Ted Haggard's giant McCongregation, before his private life was exposed. There are probably few people out there who don't know who he is. This evangelical preacher's prostitute male lover finally grew tired of the venom Haggard was spewing about gays to huge audiences, and exposed him for the meth-head man lover he is.

How can anyone deny that the church and conservative politics walk hand in hand down the dirt path of extreme repression? I have a difficult time having any respect whatsoever for "men of the cloth" or conservative Republicans when their very existence seems to cry out in opposition to the moral laws they espouse and attempt to enforce with the promise of some form of ridiculous eternal damnation. Is it not evidence enough for you people that if your own leaders don't believe or care that they're going to hell for their sins of the flesh, that they probably don't really believe in hell itself? Is it not evidence enough that thousands of priests became priests not to spread the word of god, but rather to better have access to defenseless young children? If this were not true, what is with the huge percentage of child-molesting priests? And what is going on with conservative politicians that they keep getting caught gay?

Why do you think they prefer to keep women from becoming priests? It may have something to do with the fact that a far smaller percentage of women like to molest young boys (let's assume the stereotype is mostly correct). Thus, they may have a more difficult time understanding that mass collusion in a fucked-up institution has more to do with sex and guilt from repression than it does some man in the sky--though there may be more than a few who may want to play their part (in more ways than one) in the game as well.

These men are not guilty in their sexual inclinations because they think some god gives a damn about something so silly as what appendage they put where and how, they are guilty and repressed because their parents, and their parents before them, and the society around them, made them believe that homosexuality leads to the downfall of civilization. This is not so farfetched an idea, I suppose, simply because if all men decide they want to have sex with primarily men, we'll have a difficult time perpetuating the human race. It is, however, overly antiquated and far more instinctual than intellectual. I think most of us would be pretty excited if nine-tenths of the world decided to stop procreating, especially those fricking people in that developing country that wants to use our oil.

The devout scare me, and the religious not-so-devout (i.e. hypocritical) scare me even more, and the conservative politicians make me fear for my well-being and the lives of my homosexual friends.

Parents, raise your children to feel guilty for having a sex drive and expect results. They will damage other innocent people, and you will have no one but yourself to blame. Guilt and fear spawn the great portion of all ills in this world.

Complacencies of the Peignoir, and Late coffee and parrots and squirrels, too

(Another old thing off that other blog of mine--)

So much to write about, so little motivation to write it . . .

I wore my favorite shirt to work at the café today. It's bright grass green, and has three hamster cartoons in little hamster balls on the front of it (you know, the plastic ones that the hamsters always barf inside of because some brat rolls it across the floor really fast, or worse—they should probably be outlawed), and it says above it, "Rollin' With Tha Homies." For some reason, though I wear this shirt pretty frequently, almost once a week, today I received non-stop compliments. Everyone thought it was brilliantly funny, nice!, cute!, et cetera. People's eyes were lighting up left and right. I remain mystified as to why today this shirt would suddenly trigger so much enthusiastic reaction. Am I wearing a different bra? Maybe because it's hot outside today, and people are thinking of spring, and the shirt is like a stem and my head is like a giant blossom! Yep . . .

I must say, I'm quite glad to be working here again, in spite of having to deal with customers and their condescension, in spite of constant frustration with little piddly things, because the money's not that bad, my coworkers are hilarious, and there is always something to laugh about. The only unfortunate thing about this job is that video cameras aren't rolling constantly, or that I can't write down all the retardation as it happens. Then I tend to forget it. Plus, it would never be quite as funny to people on the outside, I'm thinking now. So I should probably stop here.

I should have written about how a couple of weeks ago someone stopped up the toilet and fled without telling us. Its handle sticks and makes the water run constantly, so no one noticed until we saw the water rolling out across the dining room floor. I ran downstairs to my boss's office, because that's the first thing that floods when this happens, and water is seemingly pouring out of every little break in the ancient ceiling and walls, all over my head as I throw towels around and move trashcans under some of the bigger flows. The water looks clear, but . . . it's probably not. Tyson's upstairs losing his mind, hating everyone and declaring that the bathroom will be off-limits to all the world forever. Of course it happened in the middle of lunch hour, when the line for food is out the door. It's too far gone to write about that, however, in all its humorous detail, of which there was much.

The espresso machine was broken for at least two weeks, too. Can you picture having to apologize to dozens upon dozens of people every day for having a broken espresso machine at a coffee shop? Telling them it will hopefully be fixed in the next day or two does little to alleviate their frustration when you've been telling them that for ten days straight. So then you grow to hate them a little, too, for wanting a stupid latte or mocha in the first place. I mean, holy hell! You're paying over three and a half dollars a day for some espresso and milk?!? That's $1200 a year! Simple coffee and milk is one-third the price! The way I was raised I can barely justify turning on the lights at night to see. My dad used to walk me down the hallway and point out how many bulbs had been burning in the past hour since I'd forgotten to switch them off. I feel guilty about letting the water run too long and using a paper towel when I could have used a sponge. I compulsively pull recyclables out of the garbage can (which is directly underneath the recycling bin at work). My otherwise amazing boss here turns on the hot water every afternoon to wet eight or fifteen paper towels he uses to wipe down the counters, and then he walks away. He comes back to turn it off five or ten minutes later. It makes me literally insane. So do the people who ask for a bag in which to put an already perfectly self-contained to-go box in order to walk twenty feet down the street and into their office. SO! do the people who pull out huge stacks of paper napkins that they later throw out in stacks, still unused, on top of their trash. Waste horrifies me, and not necessarily because I think of landfills overflowing, but because I think of all the waste produced in the first place to get these napkins and to-go boxes and plastic bags and piles of meat here in the first place. And these people consume it so mindlessly . . . they would happily fill up fifty garbage cans a day with their shit as long as they don't have to use all of one hand to carry their lunch or have their hands warmer than body temperature while holding their coffee cups.

I could go on and on, but this must be torture for you. You're probably not even reading these words anymore, having glazed over long ago, still scanning down the page and pretending to yourself that you're comprehending, when you're actually thinking of something else altogether. This is why I don't blog very often. I feel as if the stuff I write about is some of the most pointless drivel any of you will ever read. Half the reason I keep writing is because customers I don't want to entertain keep walking by me sitting in this booth, and I don't want to talk to them, so I look as engrossed as possible in the task at hand, type type typing away, please walk away I'm far too engaged to be distracted this is just where I have internet access and I am not behind the counter anymore and though I like all of you alright twice a day is plenty of time to say everything I that needs to be said, in the seconds it takes to exchange a cup and a few dollars.

But what's even worse is that I'm going on a trip and so everyone wants to know all about my trip and what I'll be doing on it, and when I come back they'll want to know how it went and what I saw and did, and what is coming of the article I'm working on and so on. I do love talking to people. It's most of the reason I love this job. But there's a limit. What point during the week is it that people stop asking about how my last weekend was and start asking what I'm doing this coming weekend? I love people, really, at least some parts of them, but I know all of this is just SMALL talk, and the utter repetition of it is maddening. Also, there are eighteen people in the line behind you, all of whom want espresso milkshakes and large mochas.

I figured I might as well write at least once before I leave, though, since I may not write while I'm gone. After I get back, too, I'll probably be pretty preoccupied with intense customer conversation, so I may have difficulty making time for you people.

South of the Border

(written 12.22.07)

Whereupon Mathew, Jeffery, Hunter, and Lydia journey to South of the Border.

I believe one of these jackasses when they tell me it would take around 45 minutes to drive there. Ridiculous, I know, but it takes almost three times that long, and I am piloting Mathew's car, which is for some reason excessively boring to drive. Sonic Youth on crappy speakers with abundant road noise and Jeffery's beatbox accompaniment along with a weird morning phone conversation with my boyfriend all make me feel sassy, so I decide to be in a difficult mood for awhile, and decree that everyone in the vehicle should also as big of an asshole as possible. Not an easy task for these mild-mannered other three, but Mathew at least does okay.

For all the times I have driven I-95, I have never had more than the most fleeting urge to check out this monument to American absurdity, a roadside attraction on the border of North and South Carolina with plastic animals bolted to pavement, giant sombreros, and tens of thousands of indoor square feet of party favors, plastic poop, giant sunglasses, glass dolphins, Jesus sculptures, and paper mache fruit. Billboards warn of its approach every half-mile starting from forty miles or so in either direction. Threats of its impending destruction (implosion?) have been made in recent years, so when Jeffery proposed that we make a movie there, I'm mostly game. Who knows if years down the road I'll be kicking myself for not having gone to see it when I had the chance? Hunter's brownies transform the whole ordeal from mere kitsch into a joke of grand proportions, or it would have been quickly intolerable. Instead, it becomes a scene of the essential absurdity of Americana, distant past and distant future at the same time, a horrifying representation of civilization's swift ascent/descent into the era of globalization and the tacky shit that suddenly we could decorate our world with for practically free.

I become something of a joke myself, when at some point I realize that I have been so busy filming with Mathew's camera I hadn't noticed mine disappear off of my arm. Mid-scene filming a musical interlude of Jeffery's, I recognize its absence and run out the door of Chinese-crap-mart to our last stops. Oh, there. On the ground, next to the four-lane road, at the feet of a giant gorilla that threatened to topple when I earlier climbed into its outstretched arms. Its bared teeth had obviously kept the few other passersby away, no doubt out of gratitude for our shared affections. Whew. The sun is now dropping quickly, so we know we have to get as high as possible over this place before it's too late.

I run back in the store and the others are finished with filming the future relics of garbage dumps not yet opened, so we journey onward toward the ten-story giant sombrero elevator to heaven. About halfway there it occurs to me that my cell phone is nowhere on my person, and vaguely recall hearing something thump on the ground when I had tried to mount a giant donkey in front of the last store. I'd looked around and not seen anything at the time, not even thinking to check my pockets, but when I run back to see if it's there, there lies the phone, open at its feet. Ha. These animals are obviously screwing with me. We walk on, into the store surrounding the base of the giant sombrero-vator, and buy four one dollar tickets to heaven. An old lady is the elevator operator, and she says she'll stay until we are ready to come down.

We arrive at the roof with all belongings apparently intact, in the center of the grand phallus mexicanus, the confetti-colored beacon atop the Empire State Building of the I-95. We run around the caged brim, watch a train travel next to the highway and far into the distance, and take loads of pictures while the alpenglow makes us all turn a deep pink. The wind is whipping so hard Hunter's hat flies off, and we all hold ours down tighter. Wait. Where is my hat? I scroll back through our pictures to see at what point it disappeared off my head. The old lady in the elevator tells me there's one on the floor. Luckily it doesn't stick.

The sombrero birds begin swirling around the hat brim, while we stand only a few feet above their outstretched wings. The highest point for miles and miles around, and noisy birds from every direction are all flying straight at us as the sun dropped below the horizon completely. Grand. I sleep the whole way home.

UPDATE: To witness the awesome power of SOB via YouTube (if you think you can handle it), go here to watch the intrepid tripvid produced, filmed, in-camera-edited, and soundtracked by my cohort Jeffery: SOUTH OF THE BORDER! I highly recommend that you click on the "more" below "About This Video." Also, please rate and comment if inspired to do so. Those prone to seizures are discouraged from viewing.