Friday poem (Saturday): The Road Not Taken

29 05 2010

Robert Frost is blowin’ up!

Y’know, that whole ‘Fences’ thing? With La Palin, and McGinness and Twitter and ‘good fences make good neighbors’ and all that? And is Frost pro- or anti-fence? ironic about fences? talkin’ about something besides fences and neighborliness and all that?

Well, I don’t care. I don’t care about the half-guv and the journalist beyond that cheap thrill gossip, and barely even that. Yeah, Sullivan may have a point about paying attention to her if she does decide to run for Prez in 2012, but until that happens, I’m happy to leave Sully to it.

I’ve got other things on my mind, like, how do I support myself after my current job ends? How do I want to support myself after my current job ends?

This job isn’t terrible. The other temp and I get along, and the people we report to are smart and kind and utterly reasonable. The main task we have to perform—calling people who don’t necessarily want to talk to us—sucks, but, again, the working conditions are congenial enough. And, unusual for a temp job, we get vacation, personal, and sick days, as well as paid holidays.

Not a bad gig.

But: this not-bad gig has simply reinforced my antipathy for 9-5 work. I don’t like being in the office just because I have to be in the office, getting paid by the clock rather than the task. There’s a stability there which, honestly, is nice, but blecch, nice has never really been my thing.

So a long conversation with my friend L. in Seattle got me a-thinkin’ about other ways to support myself besides a regular 40h workweek. I’m not sure where I’m going to go with this, but as she noted about both her and her girlfriend, it is possible to cobble together a decent work-life based about the work itself, rather than around a regular schedule.

And, in fact, I have done that, more and less successfully, since I left Montreal, although I’ve felt more that I’ve been flailing about rather than freestyling.

Maybe I need a change in attitude toward all of this, to remind myself that I am still afloat, still moving—waving, not drowning—even if I am still at sea.

With that in mind, then, another Frost poem, another poem which is more ambiguous than it appears, more ambivalent than it ends.

Tricky man, that Frost.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.



Prob’ly die in a small town

28 05 2010

What a nightmare.

I was in a room that was sunny and empty, inspecting an empty closet full of my stuff. The place had been packed up and I’d only just started packing. The movers were coming this morning only it was the night before and it was  4:00 in the afternoon and I hadn’t yet reserved a moving company.

I had to move by the next day and I probably wouldn’t get my deposit back because the lease ran through the summer.

It was like the back corner bedroom in my apartment on Madison that I shared with three friends and in which I lived alone.

I was moving back to SmallTown and in with my parents it was normal and I thought I could visit Madison and I sat down and said What am I doing?

. . . . And then the alarm went off.


No comment

27 05 2010

A woman’s life is threatened by her pregnancy. An ethics committee at a Catholic hospital, as part of consultative group including the woman, her family, and her doctors, approves a therapeutic abortion.

The result?  Sister Margaret McBride, who sat on the Ethics Committee, is excommunicated.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix initially stated

“We always must remember that when a difficult medical situation involves a pregnant woman, there are two patients in need of treatment and care; not merely one. The unborn child’s life is just as sacred as the mother’s life, and neither life can be preferred over the other. A woman is rightly called ‘mother’ upon the moment of conception and throughout her entire pregnancy is considered to be ‘with child.’

“The direct killing of an unborn child is always immoral, no matter the circumstances, and it cannot be permitted in any institution that claims to be authentically Catholic. . . .” [emphasis added]

The diocese then chose to follow up that statement with this press release, in which they elaborated:

First, a physician cannot be 100% certain that a mother would die if she continued the pregnancy.

Second, the mother’s life cannot be preferred over the child. Both lives are equal, both have an eternal soul and both are created by God. No one has the right to directly kill an innocent life, no matter what stage of their existence.

It is not better to save one life while murdering another. It is not better for the mother to live the rest of her existence having had her child killed. [emphasis added]

The Bishop is apparently considering also excommunicating St Joseph’s for its participation in this ‘evil action.’

(H/t Nicholas Kristof;; and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix)

Everything! Everything! Everything!

25 05 2010

Blows my mind how little I know. That is most excellent.

I’m not kidding: However much I wish I knew, mm, everything, that there is so much more out there to discover keeps me keepin’ on.

Consider my medieval Euro-history project: I recently finished Charles Freeman’s The Closing of the Western Mind (which is about the transition from the pagan to the Christian era), and man! what a jumble early Christian history is!

I did know that it took awhile for Christianity to gel as an institutional movement, but thought that after the Council of Nicaea in 325 everything was all sewn up until the Great Schism of 1054, and even then, it wasn’t until Luther and Calvin that the [western] Christian fabric was truly rent.

Only I didn’t know what the Council of Nicaea actually accomplished (something to do with the Trinity, maybe? And that Nicene Creed, right?), didn’t know that very little was settled at Nicaea, that the splits between the Eastern and Western churches were evident within a century of Christ’s death, and never knew, frankly, how the Copts fit into all this.


I still don’t know, frankly, but slowly, slowly, this is all seeping in.

This is how I learn something new.

My approach  is to read promiscuously, trusting that with enough exposure I’ll be able to piece together a particular phenomenon. And I don’t need to dive into deep scholarship at the outset either; solid popular books (like Freeman’s) give me the chance to train my sights, as well as offer a decent bib I can crib. I do prefer that what I read be, you know, good, but even the junk can sometimes be useful, if only as a kind of astringent for my thoughts.

Anyway, that’s how this political theorist began her work with genetics: Snatching every book with the word ‘gene’ in the title and gulping them down, then more slowly working my way toward what, for my purposes, were the most important (or delectable, to continue the metaphor) platters on the table.

I’m still in the gorge phase of my research, slurping up commentary on how orthodoxy was invented and how intertwined it all was with empire; how faith, political power, and obedience to god and man never quite fit together; how misogyny was built into early belief; how anti-Judaism became anti-semitism; and how time itself was changed.

And that’s just the beginning.

A colleague asked where I was going with all of this. I don’t know, I told him. I know there’s something there, but I don’t yet know what it is.

Now that, my friends, is one of the best feelings in the world.

There’s nothing you can’t do

23 05 2010

New York City is a pain in my ass.

For example, late last night AND earlier today, a local island combo was playing their version of ‘Dancing Queen.’ Great: take two irritants (steel drums and ABBA) and put them together and what do you get?

Closed windows on a warm day, that’s what you get.

Did I mention that the only other tune they seemed to know was ‘Amazing Grace’?


But this is also my city, full stop. I was watching the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys (honey, what’s going on with that hair?)  vid ‘Empire State of Mind’ for the first time (!) last night, and even though the only really good thing about that song is the refrain, honest-to-god, I welled up.

I gave myself over to the song, to the city.

This is it.

Which is not to say that this is all there is. I read a piece in the Times today about a woman who opened a series of hotels in Austin, and the accompanying slide show offered glimpses of local shops and local characters and I thought, Oh, they don’t have that here. And I was wistful, because I knew that as much as I like those local shops and local characters and ways of life which are decidedly not available in New York, I wouldn’t leave New York to live in those other places.

I was wistful because for the first time in my life I knew I would stay.

SmallTown? Great place to be a kid, but once I hit double-digits I knew I was on my out. Madison—loved it. A quarter of a million people and it felt like a big city to me. My world opened up in ways I hadn’t even thought to expect, so what else was there for me to do but go through that opening?

Minneapolis, mm, not so much, but that was largely due to my displeasure with grad school. There actually are charming neighborhoods and funky shops and I still miss my troika of used book stores near Hennepin and Lake, but: No.

Albuquerque is charming in a charmless sort of way, a bit ramshackle and easy and full of the western wide open blue,  but too hot, too sunny, and not enough water. (Still, ABQ, like Madison, is one of the major settings of my second novel.)

Montreal was wonderful, and the only other city which gives, for me, New York a run for its money. If it weren’t for New York, in fact, I might have emigrated just to live in that city.

Somerville? Great apartment, great upstairs and downstairs neighbors. That’s it.

All of this is my belated response to a series of recent posts in the blogosphere about the the absolute and relative worth of New York. Eh, I think, it’s not for everyone—and that’s not a criticism of those not-fors, but a recognition that no place is the absolute Best Place: it’s all relative to who and how each of us is.

I didn’t know that New York would take when I moved here, and, frankly, my first year here sucked: money, work, money, apartment, money money money. I still worry about money, still don’t have enough of it in a city which feeds on it.

Do you need the litany of problems with this joint? The dirt and the crowds and the cutbacks and the roaches and rats and no charm, no quiet, no ease, no let up to the hustle. Nothing is as good as it was and nothing will change the ceaseless changes. This city does not care about me, does not need me, will not notice when I am gone.

But it allows me to be. I have been restless for over thirty years, and will be restless evermore, but in this city my restlessness can roam and I can remain

Waiting for Armageddon

19 05 2010

I do loves me some apocalypse—fictionally.

But actual death and destruction does not make my heart go pitter-pat, unless by ‘pitter-pat’ one means racing-with-anxiety-and-despair-not-joy.

Yeah, I have my moments of ‘fuck ’em all’ and ‘people suck’, but I have no real sense that all humans should perish, or that by large numbers of us perishing the survivors will be redeemed. I don’t think we can be made clean or whole or without all the crap that led us to the apocalypse in the first place. Maybe the survivors would  chomp on one another, a la Cormac McCarthy, or maybe they’d*separate themselves into chosen communities and live-and-let-live; either way, it’s not at all clear to me how this is in any way ‘better’.

(‘*They’, not ‘we’: I have a chronic disease which requires daily treatment; absent that treatment, I die. It’s possible that I could manage to stockpile the thousands of pills necessary to keep me going for years, but I doubt it. The apocalypse will have to go on without me.)

C. and I had a conversation about this the other night, and while I’ll desist saying much about her position beyond noting that she’s more optimistic about post-apoc possibilities than I, I will admit that I was a bit startled by her, mm, cheer.

I am not cheerful about humans, pre- or post-apocalypse. We’re greedy and self-centered and violent and far too willing to use one another for our ends. Sure, we have our good qualities—I happen to like that we figured out how to make wine, chocolate, and a comfy pair of slippers—but we’re not all that.

We are, however, all that we have.

Now, the godly among us might disagree, but except for the  world-hating of the god-believers, most of  the faithful admit there can be joy in the world.

In any case, this is our world: beat-up and weird and so, so complicated and ours. This world is ours, and we are who we are in this world. If this world ends, so do we.

And I think that would be a damned shame—again, not because we’re so great, but because we’re not, because we don’t have to be, because we can be beat-up and weird and so, so complicated. I’m pissed that we’re fucking our world over because in so doing we’re making it increasingly difficult to find out just how we can be human in the world. The possibilities we’re foreclosing. . . .

There are some among us, of course, who do revel in the foreclosure. Some may be secular (extremist environmentalists, for example), but it’s that minority of the godly who look forward to the end-times who grab the bulk of the attention.

Which brings us, belatedly, to Waiting for Armageddon. This short documentary, now streaming on Netflix, follows a group of dispensationalists who are straining at the confines of the world and looking forward to its end—an end which begins in Jerusalem.

It’s basic Bible-prophecy stuff: The in-gathering of the Jews in Israel is foretold in scripture, as is the rebuilding of the Temple, one-world government headed by the anti-Christ (and, for some pre-tribulationists, the early return of Christ), the rapture of the faithful, the tribulation (think ‘great wailing and gnashing of teeth’, ‘four horsemen’, etc.), and the millennial reign of Christ on earth. One hundred forty-four thousand Jews will convert and be saved, while the rest will perish, (along with almost everyone else), all as a prelude to the great cleansing and the springing forth of heaven on earth.

Great, huh? One guy said it was going to be a lot of ‘fun’. Well, y’know, he said, maybe not fun-fun, seeing as how so many will suffer and die horrible, horrible, deaths, but fun in that I was-right-and-I-get-to-watch kind of way.

Whoo-hoo! Totally not at all like the crowds cheering the lions ripping apart the Christians in the Coliseum.

Some of the folks at least managed to be chagrined at the thought of so much death, and most preferred not to dwell on how exactly the Al-Aqsa mosque and al-Haram ash-Sharif complex will be removed without utterly destroying the site of the putative third Temple—but hey, God will take care of all that.

What matters most of all of that these people are right, and if it takes the destruction of the world to prove them in their right[eous]ness, so be it.

Of course, they’d say it’s not about them, it’s about God, that they’re just following the Word. But they’re so God-damned happy about all of this, so God-damned sure that this is The Way, that it’s difficult not to conclude that this is less about God and more about them.

They don’t like the world, and they want to see it end.

Not coincidentally, those who are younger are less avid for The End. They want to marry and have kids and then maybe the end could come, as one young woman said, ‘When I’m 85,’ i.e., when she would end anyway. She doesn’t despise the world quite enough for it to end before she’s had a chance to enjoy it.

These dispensationalists are a minority even among evangelicals, who are themselves not representative of all of Christianity. The film was too short fully to engage cross-Christian talk on The End, nor even those who believe that we are in End Times and are pained by the prospect of the extermination of billions of people.

Instead, we are left with the smiling faces of those who want to see us all end.

Olé! Olé!

13 05 2010

To the Stanley Cup!

Go Habs!

(Update: Okay, so I jumped the gun a bit: they’re only in the conference, not the league, finals. Still. Go Habs!)

Lena Horne, 1917-2010

10 05 2010

A grande dame has died.

This, of course, is the song for which she was most famous, but I fell for Lena Horne when she was on Broadway with her show ‘The Lady and Her Music”:

I was in high school at the time and don’t recall at all how I zoomed in on this show—perhaps it was because I was theatre-mad—but I damned sure couldn’t understand all that went into that performance. The earlier version is sweet, wistful, but the later one? That required some living.

No way did a small-town teenager understand. But as much as it scared me, I wanted to.

Of course, there’s also the Ed Bradley interview—the one he said that when he gets to the gates of heaven and asked what he’d done to deserve heaven, he’d say, Check out my interview with Lena Horne.

He ain’t kidding; I can’t find the whole interview, but here’s a smidgen.

(This isn’t working as an embedded vid, but the link should work—and you should definitely click on it, because it’s the best of the three links.)

I give the last word to the woman herself, from an interview twelve years ago:

“My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”

(Credits: 20th Century Fox; Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music; CBS; New York Times)


9 05 2010

Is it really too much to expect, when I pop a DVD into the computer, that the movie actually be watchable?

Jesus Christ, it’s been over an hour, and I’m still nauseous—and no, not in a French New Wave-existentialist way.

The lion sleeps tonight: one year later

2 05 2010

Chelsea. It’s a year to the day.


The mourning has not gone well. I’ve grieved, and not. I’ve handled it, and not.

I can think of her without tears, but only rarely; because of this, I only rarely think of her.

She does help me with Bean, in trying to do better in recognizing and responding to her needs. I’m patient with Bean in a way I was not always with Chelsea.

I couldn’t see that she was dying, couldn’t see her.

I still can’t, in so many ways.

My sweet Chelsea still has something more to teach me. Perhaps by next year, I can finally let her rest.