The sweetness follows

29 09 2009


That’s what I thought as I closed Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees. Yes. That was sweet.

Reminded me of Bagdad Cafe. Also sweet. A small movie with CCH Pounder and Marianne Sagebrecht, set in a (surprise!) cafe in (suprise!) Bagdad, Arizona. Sagebrecht’s character (and a suitcase) is dumped on the side of the road by her husband, so, being the good stoic German woman she is, she grabs the suitcase and tromps her way to CCH Pounder’s motel-and-truck stop.

There are gentle laughs at the expense of ethnic stereotypes (angry black woman, hyper-organized German, lazy Indian), and not much happens, beyond the blossoming of friendship and the unfolding of life. Much like in The Bean Trees. Immigration looms around the edges, and there are spikes in each story, but even the desert, the flowers win.

Slight, I guess. I mean, how seriously can one take a piece of art that doesn’t involve blood and misery?

Consider Maira Kalman. She posts a words-and-pictures column monthly at the New York Times (scroll all the way down the link provided, below, for previous installments), and while the columns often take up serious matters (slavery, war), there is a gentleness in her touch.

Whimsical. Yes.

Consider her latest post, For Goodness’ Sake; she offers photos from a sanitation plant in Greenpoint, and notes that After dark, the plant looks like something out of ‘The Arabian Nights,’ thanks to lighting designed by L’Observatoire International.

Makes me want to trek to Greenpoint (the G line!) to see a. . . sanitation plant!

She can’t be serious. Can she?

Small. Slight. Sweet. Whimsical.

That’s not art, is it? If it makes you feel—mm, what’s the word?— good, it can’t be deep. Hardly worthy of attention, right?



Bury me deep

27 09 2009

This is terrifying.

It’s from the head cam of a skier who set off—and was buried in—an avalanche. Over half of the video (total time: ~8 1/2 mins)  is simply a shot of fractured blue, with the skier’s stressed breathing providing the soundtrack.

Sweet Jesus! (said the unbeliever).

I was once buried under snow, albeit for likely less than a minute.

Although we lacked mountains in SmallTown, Wisconsin, we did have snow. One wintry day, when I was very small (4? 5?), I stood with the older kids on our dead-end block and waited for Mr. K. (a neighbor who worked for the city) to pass by where we were standing with the snowplow. The idea was to let the snow knock us over.

Good times.

It’s just possible that the older kids warned me off, or told me to back up, but it doesn’t matter: I stood along side of them as the plow passed.

And was promptly knocked back and buried by the thrown snow.

I do remember screaming. The kids pulled me out lickety-split, and I remember laughter. I think it was meant to reassure me.

Still, I screamed.

I doubt I told my parents. Bad enough to get stuck under a reverse-snowplow-avalanche; who needed yelling or a spanking on top of it?

I haven’t been buried alive since, although I retain my fear of such a possibility to this day. I think it at least partially explains my aversion to spelunking, the unlikeliness I would ever do anything other than open-sea diving, and my mild claustrophobia. Coupled with a near-drowning at 9, it is no surprise that I remain highly protective of my ability to breath at all times.

Guess I can cross back-country downhill skiing off the list, too.

All this chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter

24 09 2009

Confessions of a cranky old broad:

I never think I’ve slept too much. I’m suspicious of the notion of too much sleep.

However. I used to think there was no such thing as too much coffee, garlic, or salt. I no longer do.

Never ever ever tell me I think too much. Never. Ever. NeverEver.


Because I don’t.

Although I do talk too much.

Anyway, my friend B. came up with an insight that I’ve repeated to others over the years: I drink Tab so I can eat more Snickers bars. Unimpeachable, really.

Never tell me what I think—unless you want me to sever your head. If you want to know, ask.

If you don’t, don’t ask.

Tits forward is a fine substitute for balls forward.

I’m not a badass—but I like that I give off that impression. (Now, why is it again that I don’t date?)

I only do things which are a hassle for two reasons: 1) they’re necessary; or 2) I get paid. This explains why I’m not on Facebook.

This may also explain why I don’t date.

Academic journal publishing is a racket. Your competitors—oh, excuse me, your colleagues—review your work, and then, if the piece is published (sometime in the next year), not only only do you not get paid, you have to pay for reprints.

And no one will read the article anyway—possibly including your reviewers.

I’m using a couple of books in my classes which argue for a moral approach to political problems. How about a political approach to  political problems?

I am a fair-weather Packer fan. If, however, I lived in Wisconsin, I would almost certainly hate them.

Still wouldn’t root for the Vikings, tho’.

Bad taste is good if it’s funny.

You can get away with almost anything if you’re funny.

But woe unto you for offending without eliciting a laugh.

A good protest has humor, music, and an end time.

New York is a pit. I kinda like that. Except in August.

I sometimes wonder if I moved to New York because I figured this would be the place to be when the world ends.

You can die in a dream without dying in real life.

I don’t think chocolate is candy. Especially dark chocolate.

Coffee is the elixir of life.

(Another anecdote, this time from Linda Ellerbee: She made note of reporter Andrea Mitchell’s response to the question of what she did to relax. I drink coffee!)

It’s sweet that people think I became a vegetarian for health reasons. As I like to point out, Doritos are vegetarian.

Another bit of wisdom from B.: Tell people you’re 10 years older than you are. They’ll think you look great for your age.

I will steal words and phrases from other people if I can get away with it. Most new slang is off limits, however, since as an old white woman I most definitely cannot get away with it. (Although I’m still trying to work in mad as an adverb or adjective.)

When people tell me I spoil my cats I think, Duh. Why else have ’em if you can’t spoil them?

I look forward to claiming the title of ‘crone’.

But not just yet.

And all the little fishes come a-swimmin’ to me

23 09 2009

This was going to be a post about God.

Or mebbe not so much about God, but about the unease I feel at the sight of those who interpose God between themselves and the world, themselves and other people.

But, criminy, on this humid Wednesday night, how ’bout some photos instead?

A feline representation of my state of mind

A feline representation of my state of mind

Heading uptown. . . .

One of the things I love about the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine’s is that it is so understated. It is the space itself which impresses, not gilt and glitz.

That said, the sculpture at the entrance to the Close is soooo over-the-top, and so not like the rest of the place, that I can’t help but dig it:

The archangel Michael after slaying Satan, cuddling a giraffe (!)

The archangel Michael after slaying Satan, cuddling a giraffe (!)

You really do have to see the whole thing to appreciate it—

More giraffes!

More giraffes!

—but here are some of the, ah, elaborations around the sculpture:

If I had a better camera, I could give you a glimpse of the magnificence of the interior. As it is, I can offer only this, the rosette above the re-installed organ pipes:

And this, from the chapel of St Martin of Tours:

Sculpture of Joan of Arc, above a stone removed from her cell

Sculpture of Joan of Arc, above a stone removed from her cell

Ah, well, if I’m not hauled off to debtor’s prison and manage to get my fiscal unbalance balanced, I’ll splurge on a camera worthy of this place.

And now for a completely misleading shot:

Side by side in perfect harmony. . . ?

Side by side in perfect harmony. . . ?

Actually, not:



This is as close to peace as we get in this household.

Oh, hell, one last shot of the menagerie surrounding the archangel:

I got a weakness for lizards; what can I say?

(inspired by Ms. Blithe’s photos of sandstorms in Queensland)

Oh my love, oh my Antonia

20 09 2009

How could I have left Emmylou Harris off my initial list of duets? Especially since she’s collaborated with so many different singers?

My Antonia is a song she did with Dave Matthews, from her album Red Dirt Girl. I’m not a big Dave Matthews fan, but his gritty tenor binds beautifully with Emmylou’s high alto.

Hm. I wonder what Emmylou would sound like with Eddie Vedder.

Or Emmylou and Bill Withers.

For a completely different sound, would Jello Biafra have deigned to sing with the Violent Femmes?

(Ohp, another thought: Emmylou and Sammy Llanas of the BoDeans. Sorry: Milwaukee on my mind.)

And, of course: Courtney Love and the Sex Pistols. Absolutely—if they didn’t kill each other.

Nick Drake and Hem. Could be really good, or really awful.

Beth Orton and DJ Spooky. Please please please somebody produce this cd.

Lisa Gerrard and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Tricky and Robbie Robertson.

Tricky and Jane Birkin.

Exene Cervenka and John Doe. Oh, wait. . . .

EmilyH suggested Rick Astley and Nirvana. Dunno ’bout that one, Em. (May I call you Em?)

Then again, it would be hard to top Miss Piggy and Peaches, the profane Canadian artist—definitely NSFW, but totally worth any nasty looks from scandalized coworkers.

And fear the silence is the voice of God

19 09 2009

Legos or coins—which are you?

What, you don’t get what I’m referencing? Oh, that’s right, you weren’t in class this past Thursday.

As I’ve mentioned, I teach political science at a CUNY school, an endeavor which doesn’t pay much (or not at all: see previous post), but which I enjoy. Most of what I teach is pretty basic—100- and 200-level stuff (with occasional forays into the 300s)—which means I don’t usually get much of a chance to toss mind-blowing stuff at my students.

Except. . . except for the one lecture near the beginning of this particular 200-level course. I tell the students this will help them make sense of the readings, and I’m not lying, but, honestly, they could get by without this. I spend 60 or 75 minutes on this stuff because I dig it.

I begin by writing on the chalkboard the following:

The Good




(Because I’m html-illiterate, I’m unable to show the arrows running up and down between the levels. Luckily, the chalkboard doesn’t require html.)

I like to explain this spatially: epistemology is deep in the ground, ontology is in the middle layers, the practical-reflective on the surface, and the Good out in the sky.

After the requisite this-would-not-pass-muster-in-a-philosophy-class disclaimer, I dive into epistemology, or, How do you know what you know. The stuff of late night conversations, drug trips, or too many viewings of The Matrix. It’s tricky, I note, not least because any answer you give can be parried with a ‘. . . but how do you know that?’ and lead to endless regress.

Above that is ontology, which I define existentially: as a matter of Being-in-the-world. The key question here, I note, is Who are you? How do you understand yourself, your relationship to others, and to existence itself.

The practical-reflective: this is where most of us live, with the main question What to do? The use of the practical often stands in for pragmatic, but in this case I use it in terms of practice, as in the practices in which we engage, of how we order the doings of our lives. These aren’t merely banal issues: what to do can involve questions of love, work, where to live, whether to have children, etc.—hence, the reflective part. (And, as I tell the class, it’s also the level of politics, of how to arrange ourselves vis-a-vis one another and any authority we choose to install over and above ourselves.)

Before ascending to the Good, I pause and note that at times of crisis the ontological may crack open, and people may question who they are and what they’re doing with their lives. (More rarely, they may tumble into the epistemological abyss, a place more mind-blowing than any intoxicant, and one best scrambled out of as quickly as possible. Voluntary spelunking in the epistemological is to be discouraged, especially if unaccompanied by a guide.) In any case, while most people don’t think of their lives in terms of ontology, the questions which arise from it are not unfamiliar. I then point out that while most of our work for the course will deal with the practical-reflective, we will occasionally bounce down to the ontological—or up to the Good.

Finally, then, the Good. This term is taken from Plato, and denotes an eternal, fixed, reality—the Really Real, the True. Given that most people on the planet are religious, I point out, the Good is often understood in terms of God or gods*. It is that around which people orient themselves, or seek, or toward which they aim. Understandably, then, contemplation of the Good can affect how one approaches the questions at the other levels as well as how one acts.

(*The main secular competitor to god/s may be nationalism, with very strong versions allowing the nation to stand in for the god/s; less common would be an utter devotion to science and methodological naturalism. There are likely other ideological permutations as well.)

At this point, I gesture toward the arrows running along side of this little chart. One happens at one level can affect what happens at other levels, both up and down, but not necessarily so.

And thus, the Lego-vs-coin question.

For some people, the four levels are locked tightly together, as if they were Lego blocks. Knowing the Good can tell you how to act in the world, how to understand yourself in that world, and how you know anything at all. It is a comprehensive vision.

I’ll give at this point the example of the devout Christian who has a very strong sense of God, who tries to live her life according to her understanding of God, who thinks of herself as in this world but not of it, and who knows what she knows because God allows her to know. Even if her understanding is imperfect or she is occasionally confused, she nonetheless allows for very little light between the levels.

For others of us, however, the relationship between the levels is less certain; we have at best partial visions. I’m an epistemological skeptic, I’ll admit, and am not sure if we can know anything, not even, against Descartes, whether we exist. This past Thursday I analogized the levels to lumps in a bag, shifting and bumping against one another, but I think the better analogy is that of coins. Yeah, I can stack them on top of one another, but they don’t lock in, and they can be fairly easily scattered.

I didn’t go so far as to state that followers of the Good are all Lego-folk, and agnostics, coin collectors—and not just because that would  have taken me away from the point of this exercise (which was to tie it all back into political analysis). I think the predisposition to Legos or coins is a temperamental one, and that this temperament has no necessary relation to belief or skepticism.

(Okay, so dogmatic skepticism is difficult to square, but it’s also clear that devout believers may  carry a doubt or a humility great enough to prevent any lockdown. In any case, if it is temperamental, it’s not clear how much it can be changed.)

The students are popping in with questions and comments all throughout this exercise, and when we finish with the Good, usually one student will ask But what if we don’t all have the same Good?

Yesss! This leads rather nicely to a discussion of the theory we’ll be examining for the next month or two, and how it seeks to create framework for development which allows individuals to choose their own versions of the Good, and which discourages the imposition of any, one, version. Onward to politics!

This is all very nice, you might say, but I’m not your student, so why are you telling me this?

Because I’ve been preoccupied of late with matters which, I realize, are related to Legos and coins, and I don’t know that I could have approached them in this blog without sketching out the underpinnings of that approach.

Of course, now that I’ve so sketched them, it’ll probably be awhile before I bother with the matters themselves.

What can I say? My coins have scattered.

It’s a rich man’s world

15 09 2009

The Dean is the problem.

The Dean—who almost certainly doesn’t have to wait until the next pay period to buy an unlimited metro card, or refill his prescription, or hit up Target for some basics—apparently has a chunk of PAFs sitting on his desk, just. . . sitting there, waiting for his signature.

Almost fifty of us won’t get our regular paychecks until October 8. Then, of course, with the tripling of our usual gross pay, we’re at risk for getting taxed as if that 3X paycheck were our regular checks.

Happily, the woman in charge of payroll (who nobody deigned to inform of the problem), told me that I could get an advance on my Sept 10 paycheck this week, and an advance on my Sept 24 paycheck on the 24th. It’s not for the full amount, unfortunately, but it will pump some blood into my bank account.

Furthermore, The Woman in Charge had the right attitude, when I mentioned that the Dean was the source of the problem. If I could halt their direct deposit for a couple of pay periods. . . she muttered.

Then she told me that she’d help me avoid the tax whammy by altering my deductions for the October 8 paycheck, then switching it back to my regular deduction for the next pay period.

I like this woman.

Anything you can do, I can do better

12 09 2009

Who would you like to see together?

Don’t be perverted—not like that! No, more along the lines of Here are two people who I’d love to see do whatever it is they do, together.

I was watching  clip of k.d. lang singing a Leonard Cohen song, and thought, Man, I wonder what she’d sound like with Cassandra Wilson?

Two amazing vocalists and interpreters, together.

So, my first duet: k.d. lang and Cassandra Wilson

Then again, I’d long thought that it would be great to listen in as Hannah Arendt and Edward Said argued.

Thus, the first duel (albeit a friendly one): Arendt and Said.

Who else?

  • Arendt and Rosa Luxemburg
  • Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X
  • Arendt and Malcolm X
  • Malcolm X and Bernard Lazare
  • Janis Joplin and Cass Elliot
  • PJ Harvey and Patti Smith (definitely a duel)
  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Dawn Upshaw (Really. Have you heard her on Golijov’s Ayre? The woman can sing anything.)
  • Eddie Cochran and The Clash
  • Brett Favre (back in the day. . .) and Randy Moss
  • Martina Navratilova (back in the day. . .) and Serena Williams
  • k.d. lang and Lizz Wright
  • Kate Bush and Leonard Cohen (just for the hell of it)
  • Marvin Gaye and Joni Mitchell (hot and cool, together)

Who else?

I can’t be the only one who wastes her time thinking about this kind of thing. . . .

All that is now/All that is gone

12 09 2009

It wasn’t my city then,

Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

but it is now.

Money money money

10 09 2009

I hate worrying about money.

It’s so dull.

Yes, I find money unbearably dull, and only think about it because I have to. It is not an end, to me, but a means to an end: housing, travel, entertainment, etc.

But money for money’s sake? I’d rather have a nap.

Unfortunately, I can’t not think about money, mainly because I don’t have enough of it.

Why not? I work—two jobs, even! But paperwork got screwed up at my main job and what should have been a bump in my bank account is a message from payroll that ‘we don’t have your PAF.’

And there’s not a goddamned thing I can about this. Oh, I mentioned it to the chair, and the secretary got on the phone and left messages, but, really, I’m hosed.

Do what you’re supposed to do. Follow the rules. Fill out the paperwork, sign your name, do the work.

And still, you’re hosed.

I’m not the only one, of course. Anyone whose ever been ‘downsized’ or ‘outsourced,’ the people who paid for insurance only to have discovered when they needed the coverage that, really, the coverage was. . . not. The workers who invested in the pension fund only to find out, too late, it was looted, or built over fraud. Hosed.

I’m lucky, at least. I will, eventually, get paid (tho’ I’ll get nailed in the taxes for a double paycheck), and I do, at least, have work.

(The whole Bank of America thing? I may be well and truly fucked, there. But I’m beyond anxiety on that, and thus utterly unable to talk about it. After. . . .)

Even knowing my monetary anemia is temporary, however, does little to dull that horrific combination of rage and despair, otherwise known as helplessness.

Do what you’re supposed to do. Follow the rules. Fill out the paperwork, sign your name, do the work.

And don’t be surprised if none of it matters.