Monday, May 30, 2005

It's Haiku Day

Ode to My New Hummingbird Feeder

Drink up, Little Bird,
Little wee hummy creature;
you sparkle and dart.

Thoughts on a Sick Day Spent Watching "The Deadliest Catch" on the Discovery Channel

Ride real rolling hills
that fall on slippery decks;
risking life for cash

I Need a Better Book to Read

I can't concentrate;
I'll trade this book for TV.
I blame the author.

How the Playlist Saved My CD Collection

This CD has one;
Two of twelve are keepers here;
Ipod saves the day.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

My Book Shelf

Imagine I invited you over.

You ring the doorbell, noticing that the paint on my little porch looks like it has seen better days. I come to the door and let you in (being the gracious host that I am).

At that moment, the telephone rings, and I must leave the room to take the call, since it is an unidentified friend or relation having some sort of freak-out attack.

Having nothing else to do while waiting for me to finish the "listen, rephrase, sympathize, suggest alternatives to suicide/homicide/Krispy Kreme run" therapy cycle, you take a look at the book shelves in my living room. This isn't really snooping - the books are right there for anyone to look at, but you still feel a little snoopy, stooping over to read the titles. It's okay. I'll give you a head start now. Of course, that will give you little to do during my therapy cycle, but maybe you will be able to find the remote, or the National Geographic on the end table will catch your eye.

  • Dave Eggers' A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius. Maybe I run in rarefied circles, but isn't this book kind of like the Frampton Comes Alive of 2000? In other words, wasn't everyone pretty much required to buy a copy? In both cases, there is a reason why they appealed to us. They were a good time. Dave Eggers is funny, and can be heartbreaking, especially when he has the life experience to back it up.
  • Christopher Moore's Fluke. There comes a time in your author-reader relationship when you are so sure of his work that you show up at readings and buy hardbacks just because you know it will be worth the extra money not to wait for the paperback or even longer for your name to come up on the library wait list. Christopher Moore is one of those writers for me. Although Fluke wasn't necessarily my favorite. I like The Island of the Sequined Love Nun and Coyote Blue. Yes, I like funny.
  • A couple of John Irving books. Another author I buy in hardback now. Back when I was poor, I would buy paperbacks or borrow from the library. I wish I had a hardback copy of my favorite, A Prayer for Owen Meany. I destroyed my paperback copy from overuse. A masterpiece. I like Son of the Circus too.
  • Several Chuck Palahniuk books (when they are not lost in the horror that is my son's room). I not only buy Chucky in hardback and go to see him speak (when I can get in - he's a little too adored here in the Portland area nowadays - understandably) and watch DVDs of bad documentaries made in homage of his appearances at a writing workshop. He writes like no one else - dark, violent, self-loathing characters being placed in dark, violent, I-loath-you-right-back sort of situations, all with a certain blythe, pixyish, mischievousness that I just eat up. In person, he is so jolly and warm, it is hard to blend the written with the writer. It's just enchanting and so awfully entertaining. And his current fascination with his ability to gross people out is also somehow childlike and endearing, yet not without a little hidden malice? What's more seductive than that?
  • Mark Twain. I like all Mark Twain's stuff. I love his more autobiographical stuff. My favorites in order: First, Roughing It, about his trip out west in his younger days, riding in a stagecoach out to Nevada, testing out his writing chops at the Virginia City newspaper, and setting unintentional blazes (so he says) at Lake Tahoe. If you didn't think you could laugh out loud at a 130-year-old book, this one will change your mind. Second, The Innocents Abroad; about Mark Twain's trip to Europe with a bunch of fussy conservative Christian types (yes, they had them back then too). Funny and enlightening re: how things change, and how they stay the same. Third, A Tramp Abroad; his follow-up to The Innocents Abroad - more of the same.
  • A. A Milne, The World of Pooh. I've had it since I was six. Why get rid of it now? It's a classic that never ages. At least it wouldn't have if Disney had kept its greedy rodent paws off of it.
  • America, The Book (by Jon Stewart and the Daily Show gang). Amusing enough for a while. Don't buy it, I'll lend you mine.
  • Edgar Allen Poe. Like every other teenager who felt misunderstood, I was a huge Edgar Allen Poe fan. I still pick it up every once in a while, because the guy could write.
  • JFK, Profiles in Courage. It's JFK so it's got to be good. I'll read it eventually.
  • Gregory McDonald. He came to town last year to promote another in his Flynn series. I frankly didn't know he was still writing so I went to see him, and since I was one of about 15 there, I felt obligated to buy his new book. Mr. McDonald is a very good mystery writer (less so since he put his very good and very funny Fletch series to bed), but turns out he's a rather self-aggrandizing speaker.
  • John Steinbeck. Grapes of Wrath. Love Steinbeck. Love every Steinbeck work. He is the best American writer. I love East of Eden. I love, love Cannery Row. I love, love, love Tortilla Flat. Read Steinbeck.
  • Pearl S. Buck. The Good Earth. Good book. Left me with some much needed perspective. I believe highly in gaining perspective through the reading of superior books like this. And very readable, even though it is about a culture we don't really get.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby. I bought this in hardback because I was thinking that if it was as great and life-changing as everyone said, I would want it on my shelf to re-read. I may re-read again, but only to find out what the big whoop is that I missed the first time. Some classics just seem to pass over my head. I will admit that.
  • Gunter Grass. The Tin Drum. I bought this around the time that Grass (finally, he says) won a Nobel prize. It was pretty freaky. Definitely dense with symbolism. Very surreal. I don't think I really understood it (not being from Germany where the collective guilt must be intense and the history would be more immediate and local), but I understood the impact that it must have had. Worth the trouble.
  • Herman Melville. Moby Dick. Another one that I bought because of the testimonials about how Melville is the bomb. Sorry, the prose is a little too purple for my short attention span. How long can you talk about whale whiteness, anyway?
  • David Sedaris. Me Talk Pretty Some Day. I love David Sedaris. In this era of cable TV coming out your ears, I bet you could write an episode of CSI or Still Standing in your sleep, but you could not replicate a Sedaris story. You can never really guess what Sedaris's next sentence will be. He can surprise me and make me laugh every time. I like his books, but his books on Audible for my Ipod are even better because his delivery is hilarious. Another best bet for your Ipod: Sarah Vowell, another This American Life (NPR) regular. Very funny, but with a sincere side that is charming and occasionally educational.
  • Fire Engines in North America. Coffee table book given to my husband because, well, he's a fire fighter, I guess. (Note to relatives of fire fighters: volunteer fire fighters love this stuff. However, very few career fire fighters are fire engine history buffs).
  • The Picture History of Painting. Garage sale coffee table book given to me by a dear friend. It's fun to pull out every once in a while, but the color plates are sometimes off a little.

There you have it. If I'm not back from my telephone call, make yourself at home with one of these books. I'll be right there.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Hey, Piglet, What's That on your Hands?

Hey, good question!

It's dirt! I've been in my back yard, turning over sod. Sound fun? You bet!

It's funny what age will do. If you told me 20 years ago that I would spend the better part of two days making perfectly good grass into about 150 new square feet of tabula rasa dirt by hand, I would have told you that you got the wrong chick. I'm sure that would have been accompanied by something about time is money, and my time is more expensive than that, or something about how I'm ever so petite and unfit for big shovel work (including batting of eyelashes) or just a lot of whining and procrastination.

What changed? I'm not sure where the idea of manual labor, or just menial labor, lost its disgust factor for me.

Maybe it has to do with my discovery of books for my ipod, or good programming on the local NPR radio station. That might help, but it's not the whole answer, because music works just as well as a good story.

Maybe it has to do with spending hours out on the road, walking and running. Twenty years ago, I thought about fitness in terms of minutes, not hours. That sure has changed. Maybe that has helped lengthen my patience span a little.

Maybe it has to do with painting as a hobby. The main thing I have learned over the years is that if there is a short cut to finishing your painting, DON'T TAKE IT. It will only ruin what you've done so far. Painting is a game of patience. If you just want a final product, take up another hobby. Like collecting troll dolls.

Maybe it has to do with my Theory of Constructive Fitness. If something takes manual labor, it's like a second workout, which automatically qualifies me for more chocolate. What's not to like about that? I call it a Constructive Workout(tm). You not only burn calories, you have something besides smelly clothes to show for it.

What I do know is that I don't gauge the worthiness of a task by how quickly and easily it can be accomplished anymore. I'm not sure if this is something that can be taught, or just comes as a bonus gift with wrinkles.

And no, I won't come to your house and turn over your sod.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Low Point

What has been your low point so far?

Here's one of my favorite low points:

I'm 22, pregnant, living in Austin, Texas, in what used to be an addition to an old single-wide trailer, now long rusted away, barely making it from one of my husband's Air Force beginner pay checks to the next. This so soon after graduating cum laude from the University of Oregon, the former goal of graduate school fading, partly through my partnership with an Air Force Airman who didn't get to decide where he might live, but mostly through my own ambivalence to the final product - a PhD in psychology that I wasn't sure I wanted.

We had just moved into The Cottage (my euphemistic word for our rental "house") after the last affordable apartments in town went "condo." When the gas company came to do their pre-service check before turning on the gas, they "red flagged" the water heater, meaning that it was too old and decrepit to use safely. So until the old couple that rented The Cottage to us could replace the water heater, we lived there without hot water. This was less of a hardship than it might have been since it was summer, and the temperature and humidity were both over 90, and The Cottage had no air conditioning. We merely changed our shower time to the afternoon when we could do nothing other than stand under the cold water for relief.

Oregonians have long been called webfoots for a reason; the main weather system out here is rain. When forecasters say there will be a ten percent chance of showers, they really mean there is a one hundred percent surety of rain - they just want to give us a little hope. We are used to weather that requires our regional dress code: flannel, wool, and gortex. We are not used to day after day of 95 degrees with 90 percent humidity.

I was unable to move in the heavy, hot air. It was like a really uncomfortably hot extra gravity blanket. That is, until the tornado watches started. That got my heart moving like nothing else. I can still recall the tones we would hear on the TV as the Tornado warning would scroll across the bottom of the screen. For an Oregonian, this was like waiting for death to come - it was like seeing a crawl at the bottom of your TV that said, "Death is roaming the area southwest of Austin, moving in an easterly direction. Take precautions." Our Cottage was a square, cut into four squares with a small square in the middle that was our bathroom (no kidding - architects, take note), so during the closer tornado warnings, I would huddle in the bathroom, since it had no windows to blow in and stab me to death, although unsafe from the fact that The Cottage had, at one time, been associated with a trailer - that trailer scent that tornadoes are particularly drawn to - and could have chosen to squash the flimsy structure with a huff and a puff.

Where were we? Oh, yes, I was 22, pregnant, wearing one of two ugly maternity frocks (whichever one was not dirty), and scratching for change in the mattress cushions of the couch that we were buying on credit at usurious rates from the weasely furniture dealer who preyed on underpaid Airmen strapped for cash, and hoping I didn't pull out one of those big Texas cockroaches instead. I still shudder when I think of watching those cockroaches scuttle under the kitchen cabinets.

This day, I was feeling particularly pregnant and depressed (I can't imagine why), so I had taken money I couldn't afford to waste and bought a pack of those special School Boy (or something) cookies. They are those little rectangles of shortbread with a rectangle, just as thick as the shortbread, of pure milk chocolate on top. Oh, perfection.

I can remember sitting on the bed in my red plaid maternity frock, eating my first cookie out of the package and feeling a little better about the sticky, hot day, noticing the wind pick up a little bit in the landlord's cow pasture outside, and then opening the package a little more to get to the next cookie, and seeing movement inside the package, then looking a little closer, and realizing that the whole package is actually infested with tiny moth-like insects.

I cried and cried. Drew was sympathetic, but a little puzzled that a spoiled package of cookies could send me into such a fit of despair. But of course, it wasn't the cookies. It was everything. The Cottage. The hot water heater. The tornado of doom. The cockroaches. The heat. The humidity. The distance between me and my family. The fear that I would be a terrible mother. The fear that I would never amount to anything now that I was jobless, PhD-less, pregnant, and so damn afraid.

I guess this is where I say that I may have not amounted to much, but I'm no longer afraid, but that's not really true. I'm still afraid of lots of things. But at least I'm not afraid that I won't amount to much. I'm not much, but it's enough. My baby grew up without too much emotional scarring, and for the most part, outside of Texas.

So if you're at a low point, try to remember that it's a low point. And there's nowhere to go but up.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Who took Dennis Miller's brain? And show?

Wow, I am so not making this up when I say that when I sat down to write this, Dennis Miller's show on CNBC had not been canceled. When I went to Google to look up a fact for this very posting, I read the news that was released approximately five hours ago. This puts me in a relatively awkward position. Do I continue to complete my thoughts on the dumbing of Dennis Miller, or let him recover without my rant (although it is so backwoodsishly obscure and microscopic that it is virtually invisible to anyone within his posse)? Well, I already spent 45 minutes on it - hate to waste time and all...and if he wasn't such a Republikisser, it would never have come to this...

Remember when Dennis Miller was funny? And seemed to have read - and actually retained - the same books you were forced to read in college?

What happened?

He seems to be not only less witty and literate, but actually seems to be dodging actual facts - a true sign of a member of what has been cleverly termed the "neo-con death cult."

He says he "saw the light" after being in New York during 9/11, and felt that it was all important to put his faith behind the president's crusade - oops - I mean "war against terror." That's cool. Except now he seems to see the light on the president's war on Social Security - oops - I mean Social Security privatization plan, and the president's war on the United Nations - oops - I mean his nomination of John Bolton, and his war on Democrats - oops - no, I guess that's the right term.

I don't think the far-right wing is technically advanced enough to produce pod people. And they don't believe in using stem cells, so the evil clone idea is out. I guess I'm going to have to go with brain washing.

The question we have to ask ourselves is twofold: does brain washing cause enough brain damage to account for the obviously huge drop in IQ (come on, doesn't anyone remember those awesome Monday Night Football freak shows when Al Michaels and Dan Fouts couldn't follow one Dennis Miller sentence to its conclusion without their eyes wandering back to the game in a desperate search for something they could grasp? I loved that!), and two, does anyone remember him dropping out of sight long enough for the brain washing to have taken such a wildly obvious effect? Or can they do that by sneaking into your bedroom at night and wispering in your ear? Or replacing your Special K with Special W?

I don't know. It's just a thought. And I have really lost my appetite for the whole subject since the cancellation thing. Hate to kick a fella when he's down. I guess that's just the Democrat in me.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Annie is seeing things. Posted by Hello

Hallucinating Collies

My dog's eyesight has always been pretty iffy. She seems to have a lot in common with the T. Rex in Jurassic Park - she needs movement in order to spot something - either movement or a scent that she can pick up with her comically anteater-sized snout. Lately it seems to have gotten worse. Yesterday she ran into the back of a parked utility trailer. Usually she can avoid the parked cars along our walking route, but the low-lying trailer must have faked her out somehow (I guess they considered sidewalks an unnecessary luxury when they were building our neighborhood to house shipbuilders during WWII - see, there's a story everywhere.)

The reason I bring it up is because today her eyesight problem seemed to progress beyond the mere unseen into the realm of the imagined. This produced a much more animated walking partner (lately I've been doing a lot more leading and less following), but also a much more unpredictable one. I record our walking conversation as going something like this (mind you, memory being what it is, I have paraphrased some):

Annie: Hey look! Circus elephants and little dancing poodles! And a unicyclist! Ha Ha! Let's follow!

Me: That's a small white pickup. Sorry.

Annie: What's this! A spilled ice cream cone? My lucky day!

Me: That's bird poop. Don't lick it.

Annie: Hey look! A friendly man! Watch this, I'm going to pull on my leash until he extends a hand to me then I'm going to recoil in fright! Ha! Gets 'em every time.

Me: That's a scare crow.

Annie: (Whines). Scare crows are wily, wily creatures. Look at the way he's looking at me. Well, you may have won this time, Scare Crow Man, but your day will come! Oh, yes, your day will come, and I will be there to laugh heartily! (Annie is notorious for her over-use of the exclamation mark.)

Annie: Hey! What's that?

Me: A weed.

Annie: It smells funny. Hey! What's that?

Me: A weed.

Annie: It smells funny. Hey! What's that?

Me: A bush.

Annie: Are you sure it didn't move?

Me: Only the part that you hit with your nose.

Annie: It smells funny. Hey! Something's biting me in the but!

Me: That's your hip. You seem to be having some arthritis pain. Let's get you home.

Annie: Okay, but that arthritis guy better not come any closer.

Me: That's a garden gnome.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

It's Ten O'Clock: Do You Know Where Your Garbage Is?

It's ten o'clock and I don't know where my son is.

This is not the dilemma that it may seem on the surface. My son is 20. He comes and goes as he pleases (within reason). However, it is garbage night: the one task he has been given as a member of the household, other than cleaning up after himself and keeping his room in, if not clean, at least a vermin-free state.

My dilemma is: should I take the garbage out myself, thus sparing myself the worry of whether he will come home, see my note, and take the garbage out before he drags himself to bed, or should I put the garbage out and sleep soundly, however relieving him once again of the one shred of responsibility we have left his sorry, 20-year-old, carefree, careless, oblivious self?

You know, he's 20. He's not going to learn much more from me. His next learning curve is going to have to wait until he gets a place of his own, with all that entails: rent, electric bill, water bill, food expenses, gas, insurance, and his own garbage day. He won't learn anything from my overfilled garbage can. That lesson will come with its own distinct aroma on his first missed garbage day.

If you need me, I'll be schlepping the recycling out to the curb.