Monthly Archives: December 2008

Poem: “Purpose of time” by X.J. Kennedy

Poetry/picture interlude for a miserable winter day.


Cotoneaster’s last leaves and berries on my fence (12/4/08).

The Purpose of Time is to Prevent Everything from Happening at Once
by X.J. Kennedy, from The Lords of Misrule.

Suppose your life a folded telescope
Durationless, collapsed in just a flash
As from your mother’s womb you, bawling, drop
Into a nursing home. Suppose you crash
Your car, your marriage—toddler laying waste
A field of daisies, schoolkid, zit-faced teen
With lover zipping up your pants in haste
Hearing your parents’ tread downstairs—all one.

Einstein was right. That would be too intense.
You need a chance to preen, to give a dull
Recital before an indifferent audience
Equally slow in jeering you and clapping.
Time takes its time unraveling. But, still,
You’ll wonder when your life ends: Huh? What happened?

Progeny Pride: my son the blogging designer

Progeny: n. children, descendants, offspring

Pride:  n. the quality or state of being proud, holding in high esteem.

My son just put up his second essay at Huffington Post (in the Style section) and he’s a damn fine writer, that boy is. Better than I was at his age, thatsa fo’ sure.  So much talent in one package… but then, the other ingredient he has in spades is perseverance (perennial favorite issue for me – just check the tag cloud for samples).

His first post was about how the recession could provide new opportunities for connection. His topic today is slow living… from slow food to slow blogging to slow sex.

As a person without a partner, I can’t speak much about slow sex these days. But I will be looking into slow blogging – one of these days.

Slow blogging theory says that if it’s worth saying, it’s worth taking the time to say it well – to think it through, to explore the nooks and crannies of the question. It says:

Slow Blogging is a willingness to remain silent amid the daily outrages and ecstasies that fill nothing more than single moments in time, switching between banality, crushing heartbreak and end-of-the-world psychotic glee in the mere space between headlines. The thing you wished you said in the moment last week can be said next month, or next year, and you’ll only look all the smarter.

Dang it.  (Conservatively) 75% of my posts would probably have been better left unwritten.

But quality was never my goal. The purpose of this blog was to create a daily writing practice – quantity – to crank out words in the hopes that with practice, quality would be more frequent.

There’s an old Yiddish story about a tailor who was a shoddy workman, but cheap. When customers would complain about a jacket he’d just made, he’d say, “Never mind the quality, feel the width.” (Later it was the title of a 1970s British sitcom.)

This is my 280th post since I started in April.   Feel the width!

Best Buddies won’t desert Obama

Best: adj. superlative of good, excelling all others

Buddy: n. companion, friend, partner

[Quick update/apology: I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote this yesterday. Neither Best nor Buddies begins with P. I guess I’ve been in an alliterative frame of mind and mistook B for P. Oh well. I’m leaving it up because I like the sentiment.]

My heart warmed to read today that the Obamas have a group of Chicago friends that they’ve been close to for years – friends who were neighbors, parenting buddies, friends to hang out with regularly, to play scrabble with, eat with, take vacations with – and most recently to be campaign helpers.  These friends will be stuck in Chicago when the Obamas leave, and they’re trying to figure out how to maintain the connections at such distance.

It made me wonder why we never heard about the Bush’s friends. Did they have any? (I mean social, not politicos like Karl Rove). For that matter, did they have much of a relationship with their twin daughters?  Maybe Laura did, but I had no sense of that with GW.

You learn a lot about a person by looking at his social circle, such as it is.

Last summer Maureen Dowd wrote a great column about Father Pat Connor who’s been  giving a lecture — “Whom Not to Marry” – to high school seniors for about 40 years. I picked out some of Connor’s points because Obama embodies them in many ways.

“Never marry a man who has no friends,” he starts. “This usually means that he will be incapable of the intimacy that marriage demands. I am always amazed at the number of men I have counseled who have no friends. Since, as the Hebrew Scriptures say, ‘Iron shapes iron and friend shapes friend,’ what are his friends like? …

“Does he use money responsibly? Is he stingy? Most marriages that founder do so because of money — she’s thrifty, he’s on his 10th credit card.

“Don’t marry a problem character thinking you will change him. He’s a heavy drinker, or some other kind of addict, but if he marries a good woman, he’ll settle down. People are the same after marriage as before, only more so.

“Take a good, unsentimental look at his family — you’ll learn a lot about him and his attitude towards women.  Is there … an atmosphere of racism, sexism or prejudice in his home? Are his goals and deepest beliefs worthy and similar to yours? …

“Finally: Does he possess those character traits that add up to a good human being — the willingness to forgive, praise, be courteous? Or is he inclined to be a fibber, to fits of rage, to be a control freak, to be envious of you, to be secretive?”

It strikes me that a good choice for president would do well to start here. Obviously too few of us gave GW Bush the test.

Prometheus, Epimetheus and Pandora: a tale for dark times

I loved spending the night at Karen Dickovics’ house back in 3rd grade because her dad was a great storyteller. The Greek myths were his specialty.  He’d turn out the lights and spin the fantastic tales of the gods and goddesses up on Mt. Olympus. Better than any soap opera.

I much prefer this creation story to the one about Adam & Eve:

In the earliest days, it is said that the Gods fought constantly.Their fights raged not only on Mt Olympus but all over the earth, which they had turned into a barren wasteland.

Zeus, who was the king of the Gods, thought it was time to do better by Earth and give her some living creatures. He called in two especially creative gods, the brothers, Prometheus and Epimetheus. He said, “OK guys – get down there, find yourselves a nice muddy river bank and use that clay to make some creatures… Oh and while you’re at it, give them some of these…” and he handed them a generous collection of talents and skills and tools – which they were to give to their new earthly creations.

So the two brothers went down from the gods’ home on Mt. Olympus to the Earth. They found themselves a river with excellent clay banks and set about their work. Epimetheus quickly slapped together all kinds of animals – some tiny, some huge, some with feathers, some with scales, some with long necks, some with strong legs.

Prometheus worked much more slowly and carefully because he was modeling men … in the shape of the gods. Because Epimetheus finished his job before Prometheus did, he was first to dip into the bag of gifts Zeus had sent for their creations. Wouldn’t you know, he gave his animals all the best gifts in the bag. Some of the animals got the gift of speed so they could run really fast. He gave others the gift of flying thru the air, some the gift of breathing and swimming underwater. He also gave many of them thick coats to keep them warm in winter.

Prometheus was left with little to give the men he’d made. He felt really bad because they couldn’t run as fast as the animals, nor could they smell or see as well. Worst of all, they were so naked they were freeezing.

He went back to Zeus and asked him if at the least he might be able to share the gods’ sacred fire with his shivering creations. But Zeus said, “No way Jose. Or whatever your name is. If your people get fire they’ll become too powerful.”

Because Prometheus couldn’t bear to see his people suffering, he decided to steal fire, even though he knew he’d get hell from Zeus when he found out.

He went up to Mt. Olympus and while the gods were sleeping, he took a glowing ember from the sacred hearth. He hid it in a hollow fennel stalk, which he pretended was a walking stick and carefully snuck down to earth with it.

The men of earth were so happy – at last they could be warm. They could have light after the sun went down and they could make tools. Instead of ripping at raw meat they could eat barbecued shish-kabob.

Zeus was furious when he first saw the fires on earth – furious with Prometheus and furious with the men below. They already looked like smaller versions of the gods – he didn’t want them to have god-like powers too!

To punish Prometheus Zeus had him chained him to a huge rock way off in the high and lonely Caucasus Mountains for hundreds of years.  But that is a story for another day.

With Prometheus out of the way, Zeus turned his attention to punishing the happy-go-lucky men of the earth.

You remember Epimetheus, Prometheus’s brother? Well, he was now living on earth among men. (I forgot to say that up to now there were no women on earth.)  So Zeus had a beautiful young woman named Pandora created out of clay and brought her down to keep Epimetheus company.

Epimetheus was ecstatic. Life was finally perfect, as far as he was concerned. And for awhile the couple was ever so happy with their perfect life.

But as Zeus had anticipated, Pandora soon got bored with a life in which everything was perfect.

The next time Epimetheus came up for a visit to Mt. Olympus Zeus gave him a gift to bring Pandora. It was a beautiful chest. Perfect for a coffee table; cheaper than Ikea. “Give this to Pandora with my love,”  Zeus said, “but tell her that under NO circumstances should she open the lid.”

Of course, Pandora LOVED the box, and promised Epimetheus never ever to open it. However, she couldn’t help but notice that Zeus had not put a lock on it…  Hmmm. Maybe someday when Epi was out with the guys??

Indeed one day Epimetheus went off to drink mead with his buddies, leaving Pandora alone with the box. And of course we know what she did as soon as Epimetheus was out of sight.

She opened the box.

The instant she lifted the lid, Zeus’s revenge was complete. All the miseries of this human life flew out – all manner of poxes and plagues, pain and poverty, anger and hate, jealousy and sadness.

Pandora was horrified and tried to shut the lid but it was too late. The afflictions were off and gone to the four corners of the Earth and there was no getting them back.  She finally got the lid back down and just sat on the box in abject misery, wondering what to do.

It was then she heard a whimper and a scratching from inside the box, and a voice pleading “Let me out!!”

At this point, she thought, what did one more affliction matter?? So she opened the lid again and lucky for us all, out flew HOPE.

Today, as we face a really dark time in the world, may hope keep us going.

Powell’s in Portland: paradise for book lovers

Powell’s Books: n. a world-famous independent book store in Portland OR, occupying a full city block with a rabbit warren of rooms stuffed with new and used books – plus separate satellite stores for technical books, home and garden, and travel books plus a major online presence. Visitors to Portland MUST go to Powells.

Paradise: n. a place or state of bliss, felicity, or delight

Books are among the things I need to winnow out in this down-sizing project. So a couple of days ago I made a pilgrimage to Powells with three boxes of books I hoped they’d want.

The door to the book-buying room is on a very busy corner and it’s not always possible to park close by, so my son met me at the door and hauled the boxes in while I went to park.

He also helped me unload the boxes onto the counter for the buyer to view. This was a mistake, because I had included some children’s books in the collection. Every few books, he’d grab one with a little cry of delight and place it back in the box:

“Oh, The Woodland Folk! I loved that book. You can’t get rid of that!”

“Hey, Wembley’s Egg! Give me that!”

“Wait a minute! Why Cats Paint!”

This is my very manly 25-year-old son talking, not a nine-year-old. Sigh.

Nevertheless Powell’s bought about half of what I brought and gave me a decent amount of money for them. Immediately we got lost in the aisles, and the money would have gotten spent in a trice if we hadn’t had to be someplace else.

We both agreed that a it would be heavenly just to spend the entire day at Powells, getting lost in the stacks and not even noticing.

A friend of mine was telling me that when her son was turning ten, she was looking for a way to avoid throwing a birthday party for a bunch of rowdy boys. She offered him a day’s adventure anywhere, or a concert or movie or theatre experience. He immediately announced he wanted to go to Powell’s and stay as long as he wanted, maybe even all day. Which they did, and she says he still remembers it as his best birthday ever.

Privation: pain for public radio

Privation: n. : the state of being deprived ; especially, lack of what is needed for existence

Pain: n. acute mental, physical or emotional discomfort or distress

National Public Radio, my constant companion, is feeling the pain of recession as well. Because their corporate funders are feeling down, their contributions have dropped. Interest payments on the big endowment gift from McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc (the only good ever to come out of McDonalds IMHO) have pretty much disappeared as stock values plummeted.  Regular listeners don’t pledge or reduce their pledges – which I did last month with great anguish.

This is how the trickle-down theory really works.  When profits are high at the top, the little people stay afloat (some only just) down below. But when the big guys crumble, everyone all the way down feels the pain – some acutely.

There is so much to treasure about public radio. No commercials! Intelligent reporters, thought-provoking and (usually, relatively) fair reporting, a wide variety of subject matter, weekend shows to make the chores go fast (Prairie Home Companion, Car Talk, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me) because I’m laughing so hard. No commercials!  I invite these folks into my home every day, so they feel like old friends.

NPR will be shutting down two shows in March, and with them letting go of 34 journalists and 30 others. According to their report:

NPR has grown mightily in the past dozen years, thanks to the Kroc bequest but also to sharp rises in listening audiences and corporate underwriting. NPR has expanded beats and added domestic and foreign bureaus at a time when many of its peers and competitors have scaled back their journalistic ambitions. It has been among the few American news organizations to have correspondents based both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This is a hard day for NPR,” said Ellen Weiss, NPR’s senior vice president for news. Despite the bad news on the revenue front, the on-air and online audience for NPR is up significantly, she said. “At many levels, NPR’s best resources are its people. There isn’t a single individual person who isn’t going to feel pain today,” Weiss said.


Profligate propensities: haircut edition

Profligate: adj. wildly extravagant

Propensity: n. an intense preference

We care a LOT about how the dead cells that make up our hairs and nails look, even though however we fix them up they grow out in just a few weeks and have to be done all over again.  The hair and beauty salons bank on this constant growth, and bring $46 billion a year to the American economy. Even in a recession, it’s only down 2% over last year.

I too care about how my hair looks because it’s difficult – fine, short and limpish. A bad haircut can be disastrous.  Over the years however, I’ve found some hair stylists who were really gifted with the scissors, and I paid them well (I thought) to work their magic — up to $65  at a trendy salon in Portland. My current gal in Vancouver, who is every bit as skillful, only charges $35.

I knew prices were high in Manhattan but I had no idea HOW high. Evidently women just fork over the big bucks without a second thought.  But perhaps the recession is beginning to register with some of them?  Groups of friends are now organizing hair-cutting parties where they hire a fancy stylist to bob the group after hours at a discount – paying “under the table”.

Not all stylists find this appealing (hold your hats!):

“I had someone call me last week,” Ted Gibson, who charges $950 a cut, said recently. The potential customer was a guest at the Ritz-Carlton and wanted Mr. Gibson, who boasts a celebrity clientele and owns Ted Gibson Salon in Manhattan, to cut his girlfriend’s hair. “He was trying to negotiate for me to come and do it for $650. I was like, ‘No, I charge double if I go out,’ ” Mr. Gibson said. “Needless to say, they did not book me.”

$950!! For the price of a month’s rent could I get a haircut that was 27 TIMES better than what Gina gives me?
If I lived in New York, I’d just grow my hair out, put it in a pony tail, and call it good.
Ted Gibson can stuff it.