Friday, December 30, 2005

Do Not Golightly Into That Good Night, or What Is Your Dangerous Idea?

When I was a mere freshman college student at BYU, I met a drama professor named Max Golightly. What-the-hell-kina-name that is, I don't know. Navajo, I think, actually. But he told me he went to a party once in Greeenwich Village in the early fifties and met Truman Capote, who was sort of strangely, quietly, fascinated by his name.

There you go.

Two days before New Year's Eve, I'm sitting here watching Audrey Hepburn at her party, with the long cigarette holder, the leetle teeny black dress and the up-do with the white-stripe, "reinforcements" showing up with boxes 'o bourbon and ladies with big pink fuzzy hats, and mickey rooney with that bad japanee getup. This is what joni mitchell meant in 'people's parties' -- I had hoped, in a certain way, that this is what would happen on New Year's Eve, my 41st birthday. I'm always of the mind that if you want your birthday done right, do it yourself.

Last year, on my 40th, the party was definitely Golightly-esque. People I hadn't seen forever, a girl group singing 60s three part harmony with a rockabilly guitarist, Festivus goings on (the airing of grievances, the pinning of the head of the household). Me of the last day of the baby boom -- December 31, 1964. Last day of the last year of the baby boom. Maybe that's what's wrong. Not a boomer. Not an gen-x-er, not a gen-y. That's okay. I'm happy here, in the middle ground, middle earth, the birthday cake between. Last year, a huge gingersnap cake with eggnog creme anglais frosting with little sugar handmade can-can girls on top, to be precise. This year was more mellow, barely.

What happened for all y'all? For me and mine, we had dinner at the Pink Door (first cocktails at ours, then cocktails there -- I wore a long green sequined thingypie I bought at the Pike Place Market garage sale space for $15, fit me nicely, nicely -- have a pic I'll publish soon as I find my camera cord) ... My brother and Didi & Sharkey, A & P, too -- pasta, lamb (i ordered something expensive just because). My brother gave me the best present, (which I advised him to), a Holga toy plastic camera! Found out about these roundaboutly from Paul's Modernistic World (a nifty site!)

And then to Il Bistro for a sort of irritating midnight. The sailor wanted to go outside to the clock, and I was too connected to inside, for which later I apologized. Drama. Ah well. Then too much hornblowing and singing from the boys, and too many cocktails at zigzag. In a way, not so different from Holly's evening. She wakes up with her eye shades and tassled ear plugs shutting out the world. I wake up not so different. Just 44 years later. The more things change...

Am approaching the new year with questions. I stumbled across this, and it is endlessly fascinating to me. Check out Keith Devlin Strangely comforting, for someone who has grown up in an American-Calvinist-Protestant-Mormon tradition. Strangely comforting, the thought that we are entirely alone.

What is your dangerous idea?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Not Surprisingly, I'm an Existentialist



Here's a picture of a gravestone from a cemetery in Cobh (Cove), Ireland, where the victims of the Lusitania are buried. I just loved the lettering on this headstone. I think there is a typo (Stepen? should be Stephen, wouldn't you think?) Sort of the ultimate irony...a typo on your headstone! It seemed appropriate for this posting:

Here's an interesting quiz...What's Your World View?

My results scored me as an Existentialist. I am surprised about the Postmodernist part...I don't feel that cynical. Although there might be a certain joy in obsessive maximalism...postmodernism IS sort of baroque, don't you think? I would have thought I'd be more of a Romantic, actually. The feminist sort... the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley sort, sort of. Although I guess Frankenstein is the ultimate postmodernist/existentialist symbol, really! Patched together from leftovers of a fallen world, creating new life. Read on:

This is what they said of me:

Existentialism emphasizes human capability. There is no greater power interfering with life and thus it is up to us to make things happen. Sometimes considered a negative and depressing world view, your optimism towards human accomplishment is immense. Mankind is condemned to be free and must accept the responsibility.

Existentialist 94%

Postmodernist 88%

Cultural Creative 81%

Modernist 63%

Materialist 56%

Romanticist 44%

Idealist 38%

Fundamentalist 13%

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Miss Lonelyhearts Attends a Party, or, on a different subject altogether



If I were single, this is exactly the sort of thing I'd be into, in a sick, half rubbernecking, half serious sort of way. You have to read the article above ... The London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury (wandered in there this summer) is indeed clean and well-lighted, except, perhaps on the night in question, when a little low wattage might have come in handy to deemphasize the negative, as it were.

I’ve had three poems in there, but only two will be in the book, because my cranky friend/editor and the only one I trust, really, axed the other one. And rightly so, I suppose. I’m too damned sentimental about these things. This is what I’m obsessed with these days, and I guess this is the only place I can actually talk about it... the book, not the singles party. The fear is that it (being a first book) is very much no good – not dissimilar to a Miss Lonelyhearts party at the LRB bookshop. I'm not whining here (okay, so I am, it's my party and I'll cry if I want to). Some of the poems are passable on an individual basis, but a whole room of them?

Aach, aye.

The deed is done now. Hopefully nobody will actually read it. Or anyone whose ethos it is to think about these things…and review or respond. I’m sweating just thinking about it. On the other hand, damn. This is what I’ve spent the last ten years of my life doing, and there you go. It will be out there, on very few shelves with all the other unnecessary books, languishing in blissful dustiness. Bob’s your uncle.

Things I’m embarrassed to admit (today, anyway): I happened to be listening to the radio while driving over the Ballard bridge in the pouring rain yesterday, and heard the writer’s almanac where GK quoted (this, the embarrassing part) Robert Bly as saying something like ‘poets are people who spend their lives in confusion…’ and then quoted his poem “There are more like us. All over the world/There are confused people…” not a great poem, but at the moment it struck me. Of course,I know it isn’t just poets. Artists in general. People in general. Some just admit it more readily than others. But in a sense, this is the essential, the only thing that drives creativity, yes? Comfort, satisfaction might be the most truly terrifying state of being.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Eyes of the Consumer Soul




I have two more pictures of windows from Fortnum & Mason. I love that they go to all this trouble and expense just to show off a few bottles of jam or whatever, when you really don't even see the product they are trying to highlight. I remember the Christmas windows in The Crescent in Spokane when I was a kid -- it was a huge deal to go down and see these windows at Christmas -- the train and the moving elves and all the velvet and fake snow, etc. I know it was a small version of what went on in larger cities. In Seattle, they have one at the new Macy's (used to be Frederick & Nelson, used to be the Bon Marche, used to be "The Bon") where the kids have to touch a pad on the outside of the window to make the train move. Not sure I like this idea -- they probably save energey that way, instead of having the thing move all the time. I suppose it empowers the kid in some way, but I liked the idea that it moved by itself -- it was a true, tiny fantasy world that I could only watch. This reminds me of a GREAT book called On Longing by the poet Susan Stewart. I think the subtitle is something like Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection and it talks about how comforting the miniature is to us as children (a la Barthes), giving them power over a little world. Perhaps that is why we like animals, and little animals at that...the fantasy of control over something. These windows just seem so frivolous. I love that.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Vertigo and Semiotics














(a window display from a recent trip to London -- Fortnum & Mason department store. It seems appropriate...)

In the emergency room, I TOLD them if I opened my eyes, I’d vomit. And sure enough. The guy tells me to open my eyes so he can see my pupils, and I wretched right into the aluminum tray provided for just such a purpose.

This happened three years ago, and I’m just writing about this, but it was a damn weird experience, out of nowhere. I was experiencing Benign Positional Paroxysmal Vertigo.

I try to trace it back. Too much wine at Vito’s? A rogue shrimp? The night before it happened, an old man read my stars. Rising sign Capricorn. Moon sign something dangerous, I’m sure. Dinner, then sleep. That was it.

I’m not sure what happened, but when I woke at dawn, skyscrapers looking in on me with their green, flat, flylike eyes, everything stopped for a second.

Then spun. And spun and spun and didn’t stop.

I spent the whole morning jerking between the square slab of my queen bed, and the round mouth of the porcelain throne. Back and forth. I must have thrown up twenty times. If I kept my eyes closed, things slowed. But open them, and, like a fan switched on, the room blurred and suddenly every circle – bowl, watch, glass, bulb, table, chair, swirled, while my stomach stayed in the same place.

That’s where it started. My brother came over at noon and said if it didn’t stop, he’d take me to the ER when he got off work. It didn’t stop, believe me. Three years later, and neither one of us can remember which hospital I went to – there are three in the area. I had my eyes closed during the whole ride.

They threw some meclazine at me, which I don’t really think did anything, and sent me home. I was in bed for three days. Good way to lose weight. Finally, slowly, I could open my eyes without them rolling back in my head…And it took me a few weeks after the visit to the emergency room to let my eyes adjust. Still, three years later, I have to make sure I don’t lay my head down flat, or hang upside down or anything like that. I need two pillows at night to keep my head up. Weird. It’s like my balance sloshes around in there, and runs out my ears when my head’s level…

Come to find out, somewhere inside my ear, something went wrong, suddenly. Usually brought on by a sharp blow, which I don’t remember experiencing. Even further in, past the stirrup in my middle ear, deeper into my internal ear, a chip of calcite plaque broke off from the wall of the cochlea and swirled around in the internal ear's liquid, then collided into the tiny grasses of my nerve of balance, lining the cochlear labyrinth. Sort of like a shipwreck hitting the silent bottom of the ocean, destroying the delicate ecosystem there. "I'd like to be, under the sea, in an octopuses garden, in the shade." So everything suddenly shuffled between my nerve of balance and my brain, a shark moving through the wreck.

The thing is, since then, I’ve often felt that perhaps this is the normal state of the world, that we are in a constant state of flux, movement, and our eyes have trained us to think the world is still. Our eyes make a table level. Our eyes make a road straight. Our eyes keep the room in one place. So now my eyes are out of whack with my brain, like the nerve of balance is the string that holds them together.

So my eyes had to relearn where things are. Remember not to vortex out.

And it seems to me like the way language works. Like how, in books, we keep language in rows, words in sentences, one word after another until the end of a sentence, where only then will a meaning become clear. This was one of Jacques Derrida’s theories. But when we apply it to real life, as in when we speak, do words work this way? Or blogs? Don’t they roll, don’t they swirl around? Through satellites and screens, through the ear’s rose, a bee reveling in velvet petals? And words in a room are like vertigo's effect, balance tossed out into the air, to fly or float, to turn back on themselves. To fugue, to repeat in another’s ear, to land, thunk! on the mind’s table like a piece of raw meat. Red and bloody, and waiting for us to cook up meaning.

The whole thing tweaked my perspective, and in some ways, I think I'll never be the same. I'm more fatalistic, I think, like I'm not sure what anything means, not sure of the meaning of anything, or how it will land.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The 25-foot Lounge


Last Thursday at midnight, a smoking ban went into effect for the whole state of Washington. Not only can't you light up in bars, but you can't smoke within 25 feet of the ENtrance to any business. In Fremont, my next-door neighborhood, known to some as 'the center of the universe' according to at least one sign, a few lost souls found a way. The weather was chilly and clear all last week. Dry. Four or five locals hauled a tattered old pink couch out into the little triangular median just across the street from the Triangle Tavern and near the statue of Lenin (Julie has one near her place on the lower east side, too!). They set up a little tiny white picket fence, sat down with their cups of strong coffee and their cigarettes...and smoked. From now on, this little pie-slice of Fremont will be known as the 25-foot Lounge, believe me. When your neighborhood begins to be threatened by development and changes, you tend to hold onto the little things like diminutive place names -- the Center of the Universe, the Rocket, Lenin Square, The 25-Foot Lounge. Although, of course, the COTU is now being exploited by condo developers, too, which pisses a lot of people off...this little hippie hold out has changed, in the past years, when the Still Life Cafe changed to the 35th St. Bistro it was a big blow; when all the bars down 36th started attracting a frat boy crowd like unto the J&M in Pioneer Square...but it is heartening that there's still an attitude of individualism and rebellion that continues...

In the morning when I drove past, there were orange cones surrounding the place like it was a crime scene. The couch was gone, but the picket fence was still there, fallen. All the more reason for the proprietors to set up shop, as I'm sure will happen on a regular basis, and we'll inherit at least one new officer in the neighborhood to kick people off, back across the lanes of speeding traffic, into the land of law and order.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Wine Dinner Theatre

Last night I went to a wine dinner at a beautiful local restaurant with an incredible view of the Seattle skyline. "Wine dinner" usually means the food is all paired with wines from a specific winery and the winemaker comes and talks about the wines with each course. It's sort of a production, not unlike theatre, but the plot goes down your gullet. Dramatic irony takes on new meaning in that the audience knows the players will die when the play starts. Or rather, the players (i.e. the plate of Full Circle Farms organic mizuna, Laura Chenel fresh chevre and grassfed lambchop) have already been killed off, but their demise is proclaimed and their lives dramatized bite by bite by the chef, even as we chew.

And we wash it all down with a 1990 chateau de chassely whatever. In this case it was 2004 riesling (prounouced REECE-ling, come to find out!). Huge difference, I know. A famous German winemaker (following a new tradition of the past 15 or so years) has come over to the states to work with a US winemaker to create US riesling, cum Robert Mondavi and Baron Rothchild. Damn good stuff, too. Or as I heard descriptors flying around the room -- white peach (not too ripe, which would make our hero FLABBY); lime zest, and a touch of PETROL (too much in a young wine of this riesling characteristic would mean the wine would age badly).

So the petrol fuels the fire of conversation at my table, and the German uses the word 'shit' a lot (not that there's anything wrong with that). He talks about how riesling is such an underrated grape in the New World, true, and that even 10 years ago he would tour England giving tastings, and two or three little old ladies would be there, sipping a sweet riesling and saying "jolly good, old chap." You could feel the tension in this room, as the population was decidedly tipped toward LOLs, and little old men, trying to masticate the lamb chop (albeit a tender one).

On this stage, there's the US winemaker, (henceforth known as 'the American') who has learned a bunch from the German. But at the same time, the American is working for a big(ish) evil American wine company that consciously makes wine for the masses, religiously sending out its wine for auditions for the Robert Parker show. This means making wines that are big, fruity, fruity, big fruit bombs. Bombshells, as it were. The kind simple men fall in love with -- the leggy redhead with red lips and a red dress that you think you could love, but turns on you in the end. Or you turn on her. You like to look, as the German proclaims, flipping his long curly hair back, 'but people don't want to drink it!" It ends up a wallflower at the dinner table, and you take the plain girl home.

The German, and pretty much everyone at the table, including the American, agree with the German's diatribe, that US wines (and increasingly, sadly, European wines) follow Robert Parker like Star Wars fans follow George Lucas. Blindly, and with bad costumes. We all want wines that are more delicate, elegant, subtle, earthy, leathery, mineraly, mushroomy, petrol-y. etc. etc. but the market buys into the big wine thing so fully...So, the American roams the tables and talks to the blue hairs about how many barrels a year he makes, etc. etc. and the German takes the stage at our table -- we should create reputations for our appellations, like Oregon has with pinot noir, Bordeaux with cabernet; we need an identity. Devil's advocate, i tell him that the wine industry is so young, we're still sowing our oats, finding what works and what doesn't, experimenting. Europe is an intellectual exercise, America is a visceral one, one of the writers points out. Too true.

So the writers at the table are scribbling down what the German says, between bites of filet mignon, and his time is being monopolized by yours truly (i heard later). All i did was ask the man one question, and off he goes. But damn, it was like the Algonquin Round Table. Nice to be around complete geeks and not feel like the queen geek.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

If Someone Says They Were Born on October 5, 1582, Don’t Believe Them


Besides the fact that they would have been dead for a few hundred years by now. But the real reason is that that date does not exist. Since the Julian calendar was changed to the Gregorian Calendar (adjusted by 10 days), the day after October 4, 1582 was October 15, 1582. Quel dommage if your birthday really was during those missing 10 days! You’d be a lost soul.

So these are the things I’ve been pondering as one of my favorite holidays approaches – Winter Solstice. Since I’m an urbanite, considering myself a pagan would be hypocritical, but if I had a religion, that’s probably what it would be. (Hence the circle fort picture--visited this this summer in Ireland...thought it appropriate) Maybe its my Scottish/Scandinavian roots, but the idea of staying up all night to sauna and jump into snowbanks (not to mention smorgasbords and whisky and eau de vie) makes me very sentimental.

It's the waiting I hate.

All these long, long, LONG dark nights, when you go home and it is midnight at 5 p.m. I feel like a fool for not being able to play the bagpipes or the bodhran or something. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about happy hour, but with all those hours to drink, one can get oneself into a pickle periodically. So I'm trying to find other outlets. I know, read a book. Write a poem. Paint a picture. Take a cooking class. Have children. Get yourself a charity. I'm doing some of those (nix on the children), but still ...

AND, the Earth is actually nearer the sun in winter than it is in June -- by three million miles. Pretty much irrelevant to our planet, sure. Except for the fact that any time I feel completely crazy, I usually find out later (ha, ha very funny) that Mercury is in retrograde, the Earth is nearer the sun, etc. etc. So let’s review: I got three months of no sun, too much booze, no new romance, Earth too close to the sun, general hibernation of the brain and lack of imagination. Suggestions? My friend's website has some suggestions, but i'm still beneath the bumbershoot of ennui.

All I can say is Winter Solstice for 2005 will occur at 10:35 am PST on December 21. Set your clocks, stay up all night, down eau de vie, jump into a snow bank while reciting Beowulf in Anglo Saxon -- and let’s get this party started!

(and over with)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Perspective

I have two old friends from college that have blogs, and I read them all the time. One lives on the Lower East Side in NYC, with two little girls. One lives in Sonoma and rides her bike a lot. And another, is single and lives in NYC, teaching science at a community college -- she is a brilliant ornithologist. These amazing women inspired me to start a blog last June, but for some reason, I couldn't bring myself to post anything after the first installment. I guess I didn't feel like anyone would want to read about my life, although I love to read about theirs, all the details and emotions, anxieties and fears. Why? It sounds so hokey, but it really makes me feel like I'm less alone -- it connects me. Not that I don't have friends here, because I do, but I often feel very isolated, because I don't want to go whining to my friends all the time...so I'll whine here for a bit.
At first I thought it would be a place to put real essays, ones that I'd worked on and thought about, but since I haven't posted those -- I have about 3-4 that fit that category, but they're not ready yet -- I think it might do me some good just to have a place to write that I know that at least there's the possiBILity that someone might run across and read. I'm sitting in front of a fire in my living room, with a bunch of candles burning down, and I feel some peace. But there is so much time in my life when I'm filled with anxiety, unable to sleep, wanting to run away, even though I know I have a great life, relatively! I feel selfish, like I just focus on myself too much -- Tina calls it dukka, the Buddhist term for dissatisfaction, the feeling that something is wrong. The theory is that this comes from being disconnected to your essential goodness. That just hit home so strongly with me, that I felt like I had to start writing, that although I don't really want to reveal my life, that it might help me to just get some perspective...we'll see.