Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Where We're From , III: Sicily/Milwaukee

[click on photos to view larger]
Rosaria De Nicola (1900-1996), my father's mother, born in Sicily.
Here she is in Milwaukee with the first 3 of her 10 children: Marianna, Carmella, and Michael (I knew them as Auntie Mary, Auntie Ella, and Uncle Mike), about 1925.

We called her Ama. When I look at this picture, I regret I never asked her to teach me her needle arts.
Her family were tailors. Her husband, my grandfather Vincenzo, was a shoemaker.

I've already posted her recipes for two kinds of biscotti: SOS cookies (almond and butter) and tu-tu cookies (chocolate and spice.

Here she is in her fifties.

Where We're From, IV: Scotland/Missouri

The old woman in the lower right is my mother's grandmother, Virginia Sutherland Covert, with family on Thanksgiving, 1956.
My mother's family has been in Missouri and thereabouts for so long, many branches have no records of who came to America when.
However, there is a record of Uriah Sutherland coming from Scotland in the 1850s, during the clearance of the crofters in the Scottish Highlands.

The names of my mother's female ancestors enchant me:
Fern and Virginia;
Maude and Pearl;
Meribel and Helen, called Annie;
Olive and Bertha;
Martha and Jewel

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Where We're From, Intro: Harold & Kumar (Movie Moment)

[scroll down for more in the "Where We're From" series]
I don't want to write too much about Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay because you might-should go see it, if you haven't already, and its humor is so simplistic that to say much about it is to give the fun away.

But, I can't resist quoting my favorite line, delivered by Kumar. He is defending the American way of life against the slur that Americans just sit around eating donuts: 
"Fuck off, donuts are awesome!"

On the surface, the movie is far from subtle, but as you might guess from the title, its underlying questions are not so simplistic.
Like: What does it mean to be an American? What unites us, and what divides us? And, where are we from?

These questions cut across classes in America. For instance, I bet most people who see art-house films won't see G-bay and vice-versa, but the actor who plays Kumar, Kal Penn (above, right, with John Cho as Harold), also plays Gogal in the The Namesake, a serious film that raises some of the same questions. Both characters are the American-born sons of Indian immigrants.

As a middle-aged American, many (most?) people I know can name at least one grandparent who came from another country.
Bink recently sent me a photo of her German-born grandfather, which I'll post, below.
A while back, I posted a photo of Maura's Lebanon-born grandmother... Maybe I could start a series. (Send me yours!)

Where We're From, I: Germany/Montana

[click photo to enlarge]
Bink's grandfather Carl (the officials at Ellis Island changed his name from "Karl") Wilken, pictured here, came to the USA in 1923, aged 19.
He'd worked through high school to earn money to emigrate, but all the money he'd saved became worthless in the German depression. So he came as an indentured servant to a farmer in the Dakotas.

After he got free, he moved to Montana and bought his own farm. There he married Caroline, a German woman who was either born in Russia or on the boat coming over, according to family she qualifies as an immigrant too.

Because the couple spoke different kinds of German, they only spoke English to each other and their children, including Bink's mother.

Here is Carl with the daughters of a friend and neighbor, Lorraine, Alice, and unknown sister, circa 1930 (?).
[more of Carl's story from Bink in comments]

Where We're From, II: Lebanon/New York

This is Maura's Lebanese grandmother Josephine, in 1920. Josephine always made much of her Phoenician heritage. The Phoenicians were intrepid Mediterranean explorers and traders, and you can see Josephine was starship-grade material.
She died in 2007, shortly before her 103rd birthday.
Maura inherited some of her grandmother's directness and sparkle––and her recipe for baba ganoush [to follow, I hope]. Maura blogs on helloWorld:

Monday, April 28, 2008

Body Geography

[all photos by Fresca]

“Take bubble baths.”
--From a list of tips for girls with anorexia about how to feel better about their bodies and stop starving themselves to death

I suggest, on the contrary, that if we are de-, re-, op-, or otherwise- pressed by a culture that has colonized the human desire for beauty and health in order to gain money and power, then, in fact, bubble baths will not save us.

Body-image advice for American women often sounds like advice to colonized people on how to assimilate better into the master culture:
work harder to please, and you will be rewarded.

And so we will, but it will take our valuable energy, and it will not be on our terms. That is a recipe for domestication, not liberation.

French rule in Algeria, for instance, offered full French citizenship to native Algerians. But only to those who would give up their religion and language. Those who did benefited, but remained, of course, second-class citizens no matter how fluent their French.
(Watch the fantastic French thriller Caché (Hidden), by director Michael Haneke, for a take on the mix-up of guilt and responsibility in such situations.)

Like the nationalists in Algeria under the French, I don’t want the ruling system to determine whether I am acceptable, and on what terms.
I claim self-rule and self-determination.

In terms of body image, I don’t accept that feeling bad or ashamed about my body is a natural or inevitable state. It is learned. It is software. Software can be rewritten.
If I want to do that in the bathtub, then, sure, bubble baths are nice.

What language do I speak? What language do I hide?

To whom and to what do I listen?

My body is my land.

Who determines my beauty? my worth? my future?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pray for Zimbabwe, Sunday, April 27, 2008

World Day of Prayer for Zimbabwe
“It is by making the truth publicly known that we recommend ourselves to the honest judgment of mankind in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2)

Now, that is guerrilla geography.

Frizzy Logic has an astonishing post built around this illustration, left, which leaves me speechless with awe: "Louis Vuitton and a Modest Proposal to End the Crisis in Darfur".

"Simple Living" is by Danish artist Nadia Plesner, who says it was "inspired by the medias constant cover of completely meaningless things. My thought was: Since doing nothing but wearing designerbags and small ugly dogs appearantly is enough to get you on a magasine cover, maybe it is worth a try for people who actually deserves and needs attention."

Plesner started her Simple Living campaign (buy a T-shirt or poster here) "to raise awareness of the ongoing genocide in Darfur and to raise money for the helping organization "Divest for Darfur"."

The handbag manufacturer Louis Vuitton is now suing her to end the campaign immediately, "as they believe one of their products is being portrayed in the art piece."

Pictured at right: Star of the TV series The Simple Life, Paris Hilton, who is not suing Nadia Plesner, so far as I know, even though I, for one, think Plesner was mean to imply that her chihuahuas are ugly. Maybe Paris's dog Tinkerbell should sue.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My First LOLcat!

This is a real picture of Henry, off Barrett's desktop! And I'm pretty sure it's his real sentiment too, for all the trouble he put me through (see below).
You can make your own LOLcat at I Can Has Cheezburger's LOL Builder.

In Which I Clutch My Head

Remember how I took a picture of this flame sculpture yesterday in the rain? And I said I was glad because it wasn't snowing?
This morning, it's snowing.
I do not know why this sculpture is called "P.S. Wish You Were Here," unless it's an ironic commentary on how misery loves company.

I was plenty miserable last night, for a while.
About 10 p.m. I realized I hadn't seen Barrett's favorite cat, Henry, whom I'm cat-sitting over the weekend, for many hours. I idly looked around. There was the other cat, Carrington, but no Henry.
So I started to look more seriously.
I shook the bag of greenie treats and climbed under the beds. No cat.
Pretty soon I was moving furniture. No luck.
I couldn't imagine how he could possibly have snuck out of the apartment, but I put on my raincoat and walked around the block, twice, calling for him. Nothing.
Then I called a neighbor to ask her to keep an eye out for Henry, and I put a "Lost Cat" sign up in the hall.
Not wanting to bother Barrett in Tucson, I went to bed to read, feeling sick with dread.

About twenty minutes later, Henry appeared in the bedroom doorway. He gave me a disgusted LOLcat look, reading, "U R NOT MOM," and turned and walked away.

Reprieved from having to throw myself into the Mississippi (just across the street!) but too wired to sleep, I was up late reading The Quest for Proust (1950), by André Maurois.
Lee and I've been e-mailing about the anxiety of writing things that are probably unpublishable, so I copied out the following bit for him about Proust's hard time with publishers. I especially liked it because I have the same feeling as the quoted publisher when I've tried to read Proust. Also when I've tried to find a large but invisible orange cat.
I may never have gotten past the first thirty pages of Proust, but I'm greatly enjoying reading Maurois on him:

Round about 1911, believing himself to be within sight of the end of his great book, Marcel Proust must have been ruefully wondering whether any publisher would ever be willing to undertake it.

If [he] had found it difficult to get a few essays …published, how much more difficult would it be for him to find a publisher willing to undertake a long work…running to twelve or fifteen hundred pages… the fashion at that time was for short novels….

[A publisher] wrote:
"Dear friend:
I may be thicker skinned than most, but I just can’t understand why anyone should take thirty pages to describe how he tosses about in bed because he can’t get to sleep.
I clutched my head…."

Friday, April 25, 2008

I didn't know you could still find chop suey like this.

Lunch special: $4.25 + tax
(One of the benefits of housesitting: exploring less familiar neighborhoods.)

The Peacock

Kellie and I talked about blogging last night, over Guinness at the British Isles Pub (also conveniently near where I'm housesitting), including whether or not blogging makes us less attentive readers--and therefore less deep thinkers.
Since I've found more and more blogs I like, it's true I've started to skim a lot more.

Fair enough--skimming is a good way to choose among all the good stuff out there.
But here's the thing: I find myself skimming even when I arrive at an interesting post.
It's like eating so fast I swallow without chewing, and it's not good for my intellectual digestive tract.

I don't like that. I'm also afraid I might start to write only fluff posts, thinking that's all people will want to read.
Even if that is what many people want to read, it's not what I want to write, at least not all I want to write.

So, this morning I decided to slow down and chew my food.
I was rewarded by Cocktail Party Physics' post Let Me Explain.
CCP (Jennifer Ouellette) writes in response to Rebecca Solnit's Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times, "Men Who Explain Things," about men who patronize women by telling them things, with "over-weening confidence in their own authority ...whether or not they know what they're talking about....."

I'd like to know, do men do this to each other? I doubt other men would stand for it the way women do.

It's not just gender that turns a human into someone who Tells You Things--certain professions, many of which start with "p," also encourage the don't-let-ignorance-of-the-facts-stand-in-the-way-of-appearing-to-know-everything phenomenon.

Growing up with a professor for a father, I got a double-whammy. As a kid, it never occurred to me that my father didn't know everything. He never ever answered any question of mine with, "I don't know."
I didn't realize he made answers up until I was well into adulthood.

I've gotten pretty good at avoiding pompous individuals, but I got sideswiped last spring in Sicily:
One morning Bink and I had breakfast at the hotel with an American couple, who were leaving town later that day. They were very interesting--she was in publishing and he was a retired professor of physics. He also was of Italian descent, so, shades of my father.

They told us about the best restaurant in town: Il Pavone.
"What does that name mean?" I asked the man, since he'd said he spoke some Italian.
"It doesn't mean anything," he declared.

That seemed a bit odd, but I didn't think anything of it until I walked into the restaurant that evening and every possible surface was covered with images of peacocks.
Gee, I thought, I bet il pavone means "peacock."
Of course it does.
I was torn between regret that the couple had gone so I couldn't get mine back, and relief because there's something pathetic about seeing a peacock with a bedraggled tail.

The lesson people who lack confidence (not just women) can learn from this behavior is to adopt a bit of it ourselves!
Not to the point of cornering people at parties and pontificating at them, but to the extent that we quit qualifying or apologizing when we speak.
But I'm sorry if I'm wrong about that, I really don't know for sure.

Where I'm Working: Outside, Inside

Once again, I am housesitting. Barrett's cats Henry and Carrington this time, while she visits her daughter in Tucson. Barrett's apartment is a hobbit-hole, tucked into the hill across from the Mississippi River.
And in the other direction--a coffee shop with wi-fi! So I am all set for a long weekend.

Left is the view from the coffee shop's big glass windows. The sculpture "P.S. Wish You Were Here" (2004) is by Andrea Myklebust and Stanton Sears.
I ran outside in the rain to read the plaque so I could tell you this. Which shows that blogging isn't necessarily a barrier to experience (one of the concerns people express about blogging) but can be a push out into it.

I'm happy it's raining because
1) it's not snow!
2) it feels like spring, and
3) I get to use my new Rousseau's monkey jungle umbrella, pictured below.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Me 'n' My Towel, on Camino

Here, I am sitting in the evening outside an albergue in northern Spain, a hostel for people walking the 500-mile medieval pilgrimage trail from the French border almost to the Atlantic Ocean: el Camino de Santiago de Compostela (the Way of Saint James of the Milky Way).

Draped around my neck, the piece of Indian fabric was technically a scarf, which Barrett had given me for the trip, but it met most of the same needs as Douglas Adams's "massively useful" Towel, in the summer of 2001.

Bink is the shadow on the left, taking my photo with the one-use camera I bought on the last week of the five-week walk.
I am cutting into a kiwi. The rest of dinner was to be that carton of rice pudding in front of me and a bottle of beer. Bink had a glass of white wine, which another peregrina (pilgrim) had given us.

This is my favorite photo of myself.
I started out on Camino secretly hoping it would make me a better person--and more or less right away. Instead, it gave me blisters. Huge honking ones that hurt like I'd never imagined. By the time this picture was taken, toward the end of the walk, I had jettisoned every extraneous item I was carrying, including this deluded hope.
So what you see here is just me--and my towel.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Litany for Survival"

Jenny 12 Frogs reminded me of another "Shouldn't Be Dead" author--the poet Audre Lorde (1934-1992). Lorde called herself a "black-lesbian feminist mother lover poet" and "warrior."

And librarian!
I should start a list of amazing people who were librarians. (Jorge Luis Borges is another.)

I saw Lorde read this poem when I was young, and I've tried to be brave by its light, or at least to hold on to the idea of it.

A Litany for Survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children's mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother's milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive

- Audre Lorde, from the collection The Black Unicorn

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Authors Who Shouldn't Be Dead, but Are: Douglas Adams

Photo of Douglas Adams's grave in Highgate Cemetery, London, by Neha Viswanathan, from Nehavish's Flickr site *

Listing Favorite Books on my blogger profile flummoxes me. The first and most obvious problem is Big Picture Paralysis. Say that I've read something like 100 books per year, since I was ten. That's 3,700 books. Faced with the blank blogger box, I can't think of one.

Once I do think of something, there's the paralyzing awareness that one's choices display an inventory of one's psyche. I second-guess all sorts of neuroses my choices might give away.

Then, I'm afraid of creating a misleading list. I don't want to name authors who don't really represent me, even though I'm not at all worried about what loving them says about me.
Douglas Adams, for instance.

Adams is most famous for his five-part trilogy, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and that's not the writing I like him for. (Though I did like the 2005 movie version pretty well, especially the brilliant Bill Nighy as Slarti-"I'd rather be happy than right"-bartfast, the guy whose job it is to create the "fiddly bits" around the coastlines of planets.)

I only love Adams's book Last Chance to See, written with scientist Mark Carwardine. It follows the journey of the two men around the world as they visit animals on the brink of extinction. Species like the kakapo, New Zealand's flightless parrot, the world's fattest parrot, of which 86 remain on Earth. [Photo, right, from NZ's Kakapo Recovery Programme.] Adams blends quirky amusement with heartbroken dismay like nobody else.
I love Last Chance so much, it would make my top-100 list.

As I write this, I realize I should put the book but not the author on my list. Easy. I don't know why I didn't already think of this before--I did that very thing with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Though it's one of my favorite books, I haven't cared much for anything else by the author, Jeannette Winterson, so I didn't name her.

Getting around to the title of this post, finally, I mean to say that there's a group of authors who shouldn't have died when they did. Naturally we want all our favorite authors to be alive and writing. I don't mean that. I mean, there are some author-deaths that surely were Cosmic Mistakes. I've already mentioned Algeria's Tahar Djaout, Zimbabwe's Yvonne Vera, and Texas's Molly Ivins.
Further, if authors of this "authors who shouldn't be dead, but are" group hadn't died, they'd still be alive, not like Charlotte Bronte, whose death was also a Cosmic Mistake but would be dead by now anyway.
I really want these contemporaries of mine to be alive, because I need their help. I want to know what they'd say about All This Mess.

But these lovelies did die, so we just have to hold on to our towels and take Douglas Adams's advice, applicable in all situations, anytime, anywhere:
Don't panic!
And say to ourselves, as Adams wrote he wanted to say to the kakapo, "everything is going to be alright," even though he knew it probably wouldn't be.

P.S. Did you know May 25 is International Towel Day? Flag (left) from Towel Day 2006, on the German blog Kopftuch Fur Den Herrn. (Explanation in post below, "About the Towel.")

* Neha also blogs on Within / Without about:
"Arbitrary Obsessions. Cities. History. Music. Feminism. Maami-isms. Patterns. Halwa. Identities. Free Verse." She also blogs for Global Voices.

About the Towel

Photo (right) from Daniel Campos of Guarujá SP, Brazil, posted on a site full of pictures people around the world sent in of themselves (and dogs) celebrating Towel Day 2005.

About the towel, mentioned in the post above, just in case you didn't know. (OK, so maybe I should list Douglas Adams on my Blogger profile Favorite Books list.)
From Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy:

Just about the most massively useful thing any interstellar Hitchhiker can carry. For one thing it has great practical value - you can wrap it around you for warmth on the cold moons of Jaglan Beta, sunbathe on it on the marble beaches of Santraginus Five, huddle beneath it for protection from the Arcturan Megagnats as you sleep beneath the stars of Kakrafoon, use it to sail a miniraft down the slpow heavy river Moth, wet it for use in hand to hand combat, wrap it round your head to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, and even dry yourself off with it if it still seems clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Entering Taurus: The Riverbanks

Image of the Pleiades star cluster, (right), or Messier 45 (M45), from SEDS, taken with the 0.9-m Telescope of Kitt Peak National Observatory, in 1975. Credit: AURA/NOAO/NSF

I just can't get enough of these Deep Sky Obejcts, and turns out the constellation of Taurus has two very famous ones: the Crab Nebula and these Pleiades.
The brightest seven of the Pleiades star cluster's more than three thousand stars are known as the Seven Sisters. They are easily visible to the eye (barring light pollution), and were mentioned by Homer and in the Bible, in about 750 B.C.

The zodiac sign Taurus is an Earth sign, symbolized by a bull. It's a fixed sign too, and since Earth also has qualities that you might call fixed, Taurus is the most...well, fixed, of all the signs. You know--loyal and steady and strong.

As a Pisces, I think of Taureans at their best as providing riverbanks to my wandering waters.
I have had some good Taurus friends, but sometimes Earth feels overly confining to Water, and Water can seem foolishly undisciplined to Earth.

My friend Jim, for instance, was a classic Taurus. Tall and handsome, with shoulders fit for a yoke, Jim was a earthy, sensual man. And fixed to the point of rigidity, when he was young.

One evening Bink, Jim, and I played Monopoly together. Everything went well, until Jim realized that I was cheating. I wasn't hiding it--I always thought you were supposed to cheat at Monopoly. I mean, otherwise, it's just a boring, predictable game. What's the point?

But Jim was horrified.
No matter what I said, he didn't think it was funny at all. He took it as an assault upon All Good Things. Did I mention Tauruses are truthful? Jim was so upset with me for "lying," as he called it, and I was so clueless as to what the big deal was, we had to stop playing.

Because he was Bink's best friend, he and I tried to tolerate each other, but we weren't friends.
All zodiac signs are changeable to some extent, however, even the most fixed, under certain conditions. When Jim's conditions changed, so did our relationship.

Jim and his lover Bruce were caught in that early wave of HIV/AIDS, before anyone really knew what was going on, much less had medicine for it. Bruce died within a few months of being diagnosed. Bink and I stayed with Jim for the weekend of the funeral, and it was then he and I started to become friends. I didn't know it at the time, but I know now that just being there after a death is enough.

Jim lived with AIDS for five years, and during those years, he loosened up. And I guess I grew up some after Bruce's death and came to appreciate how great it is to know someone who doesn't go away, even if you annoy them. I stopped feeling the riverbanks as constrictions and started to accept them as support.

During this time, I decided to get my driver's license, and once Jim let me practice drive his BMW in a parking lot. I'd always thought he'd bought this boring looking (to me) car because it was a status symbol. Up until then, I'd mostly been practicing on a Ford Escort Pony, and as a new driver, I thought that little squib of a car was a big rush.
When I drove Jim's BMW, though, I had a revelation: people don't drive these cars just because they're status symbols. They drive them because they are powerful, smooth, calm, dependable, sexy.
And close to the earth.

Actually, my father was a metrosexual.

There's a giant new ad on a bus shelter downtown that reads:
The photo is of a white Lutheran-y kind of dad guy with some guy-pals in a boat, being manly killers of fish.
(The bus went by too quickly for me to see what the ad was for.)
[pingback: view ad here.]

I'm sure this funny juxtaposition works for many Midwestern Americans, but it doesn't apply to me. My father wasn't exactly a metrosexual--which for his generation would've been someone like Cary Grant--but he sure wasn't Mr. Cleaver or Opie's dad. He was sorta more like Jack Kerouac meets the Godfather, grows a beard, and works for civil rights. Something like that.

He even wrote a poem (!) about how the one time he brought a fish home when he was a boy, his mother didn't believe he had caught it. Did this emasculating experience push him into being an... intellectual?

The photo of my father, here, is from the late 1960s, I think. He's standing in his office (I recognize the poster of caricatures of American presidents behind him--he taught poli-sci), with a drawing someone made of him. I'll have to ask him what the scoop is.

[He writes: "The photo of me looking at me was done when I ran the Upward Bound program (for poor urban black teens) in 1966. There was a student program and one of the kids made that drawing of me!! Pretty good likeness."]

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Le Blogging Stress, 2 (Fresca)

Fresca, left, contemplating the writer's life, in front of the Dante Bookstore in Palermo, Sicily, April 2007. Photo by bink.
The sign in the window"Libri, Libri. Tutta un'altra storia" means, "Books, Books," and "that's another story altogether."

After I had a blogging anxiety attack over dinner the other night with Donna, she went and translated for me most of an entry [separate post, below] about blogging stress, from one of the most-read blogs in France, Embruns, by Laurent Gloaguen, alias “le capitaine.” (Captains, captains, everywhere).

My recent meltdown about blogging came mostly from a simple biological source, turns out. I'd been getting jumpier and jumpier about everything over the past couple weeks. I finally decided to cut out coffee one morning, and by the afternoon I felt calm again. Calm, with a crushing headache.
I realized that when I blog I always have something to sip next to me. Since I'd had a run of intense blogging, I was sipping on coffee for far longer than usual every day.

M. Gloaguen is right: blogging on herbal tea is less stressful. (Right now I'm drinking lime fizzy water with a shot of Torino pomegranate syrup).
But noncaffeinated drinks are not enough to cut out all blogging worries, not for me, anyway.

I don't suffer from the stress of fame like Gloaguen does, but the exposure of blogging can still be tough. On my blog of almost four years ago, I got some hateful comments, which freaked me out. I also discovered that a former boyfriend was lurking, which really creeped me out. Both of these things were among the reasons I eventually shut down that blog, and didn't blog for two years.

When I started GuGeo last October, I was better emotionally prepared, all round. Luckily I haven't had any nasty comments at all. But if/when I do, I think (I think) they wouldn't throw me as much. And as long as I don't know who's lurking, I'm going to assume no one is.
If readers don't want to enter into a conversation of some sort (and I wish more would want to), then, unlike some bloggers, I don't even want to know who all's reading, or how many are--it just makes me nervous. Anonymity, even the illusion of anonymity, is comforting.

And then there's the opposite of nasty comments: silence. (Naturally, Gloaguen doesn't mention this, as the stress of trying to decipher silence is not one of his problems.) Why do some posts elicit several comments and others none?

I don't know, but I've learned that silence isn't a good indicator of whether or not a post is interesting, or even popular. Sometimes I hear later--in person or on e-mail--that people liked something I wrote, they just didn't want to comment for whatever reason. Really, blogging is often an act of faith, in the dark.

So, given the stress, why blog?
Like the answer to the question, Why do women write slash? I believe people write because at root it's fun, surely, or at least somehow pleasureable, not because bloggers are deviant or alienated--or not more than the general populace anyway. (Maybe less, because we have an outlet? Naw, probably not.)

"It's fun" might seem like a cop-out answer, but actually I mean it seriously.
My first semester in college, a botany teacher assigned us to go home and stand naked in front of a mirror and ask ourselves about each body part, "How might the process of evolution have selected this feature? What advantage could it offer?" ("Fun" is not an answer to be ruled out here.)
It's interesting to ask ourselves that about our behavior too.

Fun is not a small motivator for humans. It must serve some purpose, like the fun play of puppies (puppies!) helps them establish social hierarchy, hunting skills, etc.
In the blogging brain, I believe, fun helps override the stress of blogging.
And blogging is evolutionarily advantageous to a species that relies on communications to survive.
Since human evolution has gone down the soft-skinned, need-others-to-survive road, not the sharp-teethed, happier-on-my-own road, communication is an important adaptation. Writing is a fairly recent adaptation of communication. And blogging of writing.

Could it be, natural selection will favor bloggers?

Hmmm...maybe not as individuals (you can't share genetic material on the Internet, not yet); but some scientists think that human behavior doesn't always favor an individual's genetic continuation but favors instead the survival of the group. For instance, in the case of the willingness of individuals to sacrifice their life for others--obviously an individual who does this will cut short their ability to pass along their genetic material. But they increase their group's chances of survival.
And it occurs to me that their life "material" is passed along not biologically but in story.
Bloggers are part of that evolutionary branch that passes along the story.

Well, I have no idea if my musings on evolution have any bearing whatsoever on reality, but I had fun making them up. And blogging them. But it's not inconceivable that I will wake up at 3 a.m. all stressed out about how deeply uninformed I am about science and evolution and all that.

And the solution to that stress?
Blog more! Keep piling on the posts!
No one reads the old ones.

Le Blogging Stress, 1 (Laurent G.)

Photo, left, from post André Zucca, Reporter Photographe, (1897-1973), French photographer during WWII, on the blog Embruns, by Laurent Gloaguen.

Donna translated out of French selections of this funny/serious entry about blogging stress, from Embruns (click on link above), one of the most-read blogs in France, .

N.b. Guillemette Faure is a French blogger who writes about the stress of blogging. The embruns piece below seems to be part of a conversation between her and Laurent Embruns on their blogs.

The Stress of the Blogger

Yes, yes, blogging can be stressful, sometimes even very stressful!

There are external causes, mainly the comments, whether it’s the number of them or their quality. You have to have a tough skin to put up with certain galling and even really hateful comments. Reactions from the commentators can go really far, even including death threats. I’ve had the experience myself. That can ruin your sleep a little, and I’m not talking about the notes from threatening lawyers…

There’s also this sort of state-of-emergency that descends when you collapse under the comments that follow an entry. To sum it up, psychologically speaking, blogging can be tough.

There are also internal causes, where you stress yourself out – for example, heavens, someone says something stupid on the Internet, I must react immediately! Or when you don’t want to miss the breaking news, you want to be the first to talk about something, etc. And let’s not forget the agony when you can’t find anything to blog about, you’re not inspired.

And the emails, the twits, the entire technological environment that encourages you to over-activity and distraction. Intense blogging encourages compulsive behavior, outrageous procrastination and supports a state of permanent stress. Definitely discouraged for those with a fragile constitution!

I’m convinced that my depression of two years ago was mainly due to blogging. To say that blogging kills is maybe a bit exaggerated, but it can certainly contribute.

Guillemette Faure, however, knows of other boggers who claim, either to look good or because they’re sincere about it, that they aren’t the least bit stressed. All the better for them. It’s true that blogging with herbal teas must be less demanding.

Sometimes I write an entry late at night, when I’ve come home from a long night out. I unwind, I weigh everything that I’ve accumulated (experienced) during the day; it’s a catharsis. The next morning, I sit nervously in front of my screen and I discover with dismay what I’ve written the night before. Sometimes I leave the entry as it is, even though I no longer agree with myself. Other times, overcome with shame, I delete the entry.

--- Laurent Gloaguen

[Donna wrote to point out that the French photographer André Zucca, one of whose photos I featured two post below, worked for a German-run newspaper (Signal) in occupied France during WWII.
She says the Germans provided Zucca with color film, which was still new then, for his fancy Leica camera.
It makes the photos a bit creepy, since he wasn’t taking them as a completely free agent.
The photographs that le Capitaine is posting on Embruns are part of a larger series (?) he’s doing about the occupation and French collaboration during the war.

And Fresca replies: that's what I get for never going on with French after high school--I missed all that, since Embruns is all in French.

DONNA: Okay, so I went back and doublechecked my facts: the German-run newspaper in France during the occupation was called "Signal" (not Le Journal), and though it doesn't actually say where Zucca got his camera, it does say that he got the rare color film from his German employers.]

Friday, April 18, 2008

Umberto Eco and the Rainy Day

It's raining this afternoon.
I was hurrying through the brick alley leading to the publishing house where I was going to pick up a manuscript, when around the corner came a former coworker. We were both hunched, umbrellaless, against the rain, and as he passed me, we exchanged a quick glance of mutual dismay.
Because this guy has always been almost diagnosably noninteractive, this flicker of shared humanness was a bit startling, and nice.

It reminds me of something Umberto Eco said in an essay whose name I forgot.
He was responding to the question: On what do you base ethics and morality if not on God?
His answer is, we don't need God as a base. We can start with our basic biology--with the shared experience of having bodies.
For instance, he said, I know that I would not like to be hung upside down. So I can use that as a basis of an ethical system about how to treat other people.

Bruce Springsteen said something similar during an audience Q&A session, on PBS "Storytellers." Someone asked him where he got his sense of racial justice, which he shows on songs like "American Skin (41 Shots)".
He looked a little baffled by the question and said that he guessed it came from how he felt as a kid. The people in his life mostly ignored him and he felt invisible. He didn't like that feeling and figured other people wouldn''t like it either.

So, that's three things we know.
1. People don't like to be at the mercy of the elements.
2. People don't like other people to be mean to them.
3. Bruce Springsteen had an unhappy childhood.

Seems enough to base a philosophy on... or at least a foreign policy.

(Painting, top, "Beside the Sea," by Degas, 1869, at the MIA)

Barrett's Blogging Ditty

Barrett wrote this hortatory poem when I was torn between taxes and blogging:

Oh blog, blog, blog away the day:
blog so hard your eyeballs droop,
research so long your brain turns to soup!
Proust and Firefly, Star Trek, Job Ramble;
what in life's not a gamble?
So blog today, blog tomorrow,
when you run out of money...
you can beg, steal and borrow!
Keep on blogging, don't finish those taxes,
the world still will turn on its axis,
and no one will wonder if you're under hypnosis,
or suffer the blogger's brand of psychosis!
Whatever the verdict, just reach up higher,
always paying attention to all you desire.

But now I have accepted several short proofing/indexing projects and won't be able to follow her excellent advice.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

hurt/comfort: the praxis of transgressive connectivity in Star Trek (prize inside: puppies!)

somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence

---e.e. cummings

If I made a "Stuff I Like" list, in my Top Ten would be the way that seemingly unrelated things crisscross, forming new patterns. Right next to Capt. Kirk with a box of puppies. [puppies, right, from Prairie Dog Canine Rescue]

Here's a crisscross (or several) I tripped over today:

Recently, I posted Sheenah Pugh's poem "Sometimes" (in connection with Zimbabwe, but that doesn't come into this here).

I didn't know anything about the poet, so I googled her and came across the text of a talk she gave about slash fiction in 2006: The Erotic Space: A genre of subtexts and possibilities.
Because I adore double-barreled academic-y titles (they might even make my list), not to mention being curious about slash (erotic fanfiction, usually written by and for women, pairing two male characters), I cut-and-pasted Pugh's talk to read later.

Which I just did--a reward for having finished my taxes.
And, ta-da!, there was another key to my befuddlement about BDSM (bondage, discipline/dominance, submission/sadism, and masochism) in Star Trek, which I've muddled on about here and here. (That is, I wonder what purpose it serves that Kirk is always getting tied up and beaten.) The key Pugh gave me, which I'd never known of before, was the phenomenon of hurt/comfort fanfiction.

Hurt/comfort, or h/c, is fanfiction in which a character is hurt, either physically or mentally (sometimes called angst fiction), and then comforted/healed/rescued by another character.

[puppies from bichonbarn]

Pugh says that slash has changed a lot since the early days of K/S--Kirk[slash]Spock being one of the earliest 20th cent. slash pairings--when gay characters on TV were unthinkable. (Pugh barely considers K/S, however, being far more interested in Man from U.N.C.L.E.'s Illya and Solo).
She says, nevertheless, "one thing that still seems crucial to me is the element of characters metaphorically travelling somewhere they have never been, beyond any experience they have previously had" where they "find out new things about themselves...."

She points out that the challenge to a writer is figuring out how to get her characters to transgress the expected norms, which in slash means moving the story beyond the default male/female connection.

(Pugh also has a funny bit about the problem of pronouns in slash, as all the he/his/him pronouns can make it hard to tell who is doing what to whom. One of the great things about Pugh's talk is that she approaches slash as literature not as a psychological conundrum.)

Hurt/comfort is one possible solution to moving characters out of predictable interactions: having a male comfort another male (like the Greek vase painting of Achilles tenderly caring for wounded Patrocles) opens up the possibilities of emotional and sexual connection previously unthinkable. And it appeals to females who project themselves into one of the roles--the wounded or the tender loved one.
I would also say that hurting a powerful person like a captain reverses the magnetic power fields around him. [science alert--is that a viable metaphor?] The vulnerability of the powerful is always sexy, as long as it's temporary.

H/c is such a common device, in fact, I found it on the Big List of K/S Cliches. This very funny list saves you the trouble of reading any actual K/S fanfiction, as the compiler pretty much covers all possible plot variations. I myself don't read slash, I just like to read about it. (What an admission: I really should be an academic, don't you think?)

But, you might say, the Star Trek show wasn't written by fans. Not entirely true. One of the most gratuitous Kirk bondage scenes in Star Trek occurs in "The Empath," an episode that actually was written by a female fan.
Anyway, Pugh says she finds it hard not to conclude that TV writers knew perfectly well what they were implying in the way they handled their male/male connections. (Though it's possible that as a writer, she is giving her fellow writers too much credit.)

Whether consciously employed or not, there are only so many ways a writer can push characters into places they have never gone before, and I think that BDSM, which leaves a character hurt and in need of comfort, was one of the shorthand solutions available to writers trying to move a 50 minute TV show into new frontiers.
Aliens and plant spores and demented children messing with the characters' minds and time travel were others. Such is the arsenal of the sci-fi writer.

[puppies from dog-sled]

Pugh ends by discussing whether or not females writing about all-male pairings is antifeminist, as some people claim. She says it's quite the opposite:
"The most important character in any story is the writer, whether overtly present or buried; he or she is the puppeteer, as Thackeray put it, who chooses the characters and decides how they shall move."

I agree. Slash is all about female power and desire and, as such, is itself transgressive. Not to mention it's almost as much fun as a boxful--or even a basketful--of puppies comforting a hurt captain. Or vice-versa. Whatever takes you where you want to go.
Or where you didn't want to go but were glad to be when you got there.

Sign a Petition for Democracy in Zimbabwe

This Is Zimbabwe posted a link where you can sign an AVAAZ petition for democracy in Zimbabwe, to "be delivered through diplomatic channels, media--and an event on Wednesday, April 16, when Mbeki travels to the United Nations to chair a special meeting of the UN Security Council."

I'd never heard of Avaaz, but here is a youTube Intro to Avaaz from Ricken Patel, and here's another Avaaz video Stop the Clash of Civilizations.
(I've had some problems embedding youTube videos, so I'm just putting in links for now.)

“Avaaz” means “Voice” in many Asian, Middle Eastern and Eastern European languages. says it "is a new global web movement with a simple democratic mission: to close the gap between the world we have, and the world most people everywhere want."

From AVAAZ's site:

Robert Mugabe's government has withheld the results of the national elections--and threatens to use violence and fraud to hold on to power.

Mugabe has resisted international pressure--but South Africa's president Thabo Mbeki, who has Mugabe's ear, might listen. A global outcry is needed to ensure that Mbeki knows his status as a global and regional leader is on the line: the world is turning to him to help bring justice for the people of Zimbabwe.

Petition to Robert Mugabe, Thabo Mbeki, and world leaders:
We sign to support the democratic and human rights of the people of Zimbabwe. Election results must be released immediately, verified independently, and--if approved as legitimate--accepted by all parties. If a run-off is required, it should be monitored by international observers and be kept free of violence, fraud, and intimidation. World leaders, including South African President Thabo Mbeki, should do all they can to ensure a just result.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Madeleines: Make Your Own Memories

Left are examples of madeleine tins. The tea cakes, or plump, airy cookies, baked in them come out shaped like scallop shells.
The photo of them by Rod Mann, below, is from the blog Madeleine Moments: Time Lost, Time Regained.

(Guerrilla secret: you can bake these in muffin tins instead. They will come out shaped like a thing in nature that is round.)

Since I wrote about Proust and his madeleines, below, I figured I'd better post a recipe so you can lay down the memories for your own madeleine-triggered Proustian moments in the future, if you haven't already.
I adapted a couple recipes to get one I like. If you prefer, susbtitue 1 teaspoon of vanilla for the lemon zest.

Madeleine Recipe


1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled (+ butter for tins)

1 1/2 cup (210 grams) flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

4 large eggs, room temperature

2/3 cup (133 grams) sugar

zest (grated outer peel) of 1 large lemon

powdered sugar, for dusting tops


1. Mix flour and baking soda in small bowl. Set aside.

2. In large bowl, beat eggs and sugar with electric mixer until they triple in size and form a deep yellow, thick ribbon when you lift the beaters, about 5 minutes. (You can do this by hand if you have cybernetic forearms.)

3. Gently stir in lemon zest (or vanilla). Use a rubber spatula. (You don't want to deflate the whipped eggs.)

4. Gently fold flour mixture into eggs.

5. Fold butter into batter, a little at a time.

6. Refigerate batter to firm it up, at least 30 min. (Optional.)

7. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).

8. Butter madeleine molds generously, and dust with flour. (Turn molds upside-down and knock against sink to remove excess flour.)

9. Plop spoonful of batter into center of each mold. Do not spread: they're supposed to have a mound in the center.

10. Bake madeleines for 10-12 minutes at 375°F (190°C), until edges brown.

11. Knock pan to unmold madeleines right away. Cool on wire rack.

12. Before serving, dust madeleines with powdered sugar.

Serve madeleines with tea, on the same day you baked them, to "invade the senses with exquisite pleasure," as Marcel Proust says.

Stuff White People Like

Jeanne's blog Social Class and Quakers turned me on to this satirical (?) blog Stuff White People Like.
Top posts include
#1 Coffee
#2 Religions that their parents don't belong to
#88 Having Gay Friends
#87 Outdoor Performance Clothes

The first one that totally made me LOL was White Problems: Poorly Read Partners which "examines the issue: Can you date someone who is not well read?"

This is a very tricky question to answer because there are so many possible permutations.
For instance, I might happily date someone who didn't know who Nabokov was (or even--gasp--as the post offers as a reason to answer "no," someone who liked The Da Vinci Code) if, say, they were a brilliant physicist--or even an unbrilliant physicist.
(But would a physicist date someone who could barely count???)

This all reminds me of a story about my sister, who is white and well read... in French. (Paris is a top "White Spot," according to the blog.) And she's a great cook.

Many years ago, aglow with all things French after her junior year abroad, my sister went to the fancy cooking section of a large department store to buy madeleine pans. The clerk not only informed her that they didn't carry those but further that he had no idea what madeleines were.
She looked at him in disbelief and said, "But haven't you read Proust?" *

OK, and now I am, I am, I AM going to finish my taxes. So don't say anything funny or interesting to me until tomorrow. [Just kidding. Please do.]

* Not to assume you are not intimately familiar with this reference, dear reader, but just in case:
Marcel Proust (1871-1922) was a lily-white gay French fruitcake who wrote millions of exquisite words about the sort of things you think about when you are a rich hysteric who hates to leave his cork-lined bedroom.
Like memory.
And things that trigger it.
In the original passage that led to the phrase "Proustian moment,"--those moments when some little sensory thing will open the floodgates of memory--Proust describes how eating a madeleline (a shell-shaped tea cake) as an adult catapults him to...
Remembrance of Things Past:

"The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it.... [but] as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me .... immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents."

I haven't looked into this, but I expect that Proustian moments would rank high as one of the things White People Like. They're high on my list anyway.

I found the image of the Proust book on the blog Madeleine Moments: Time Lost, Time Regained. The blogger also provides this to-die-for quote from Guermantes Way (one of the volumes of Remembrance):
“Everything great in our world comes from neurotics."
World without end. Amen.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Firefly" (Catholics without God)

Well now, that's more like it.
I've been casting about for a follow-up to classic Star Trek and not coming up with much. Some people have recommended the continuing Trek series to me. Each is interesting in its way, but none have the raunchy, rambunctious energy I love in the original.

I started to notice, however, that other people pointed me in a different direction. Toward Buffy.
Buffy?!? I thought. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer? You've got to be kidding.
Then a couple guys told me, yes Buffy, but since you like outer space, maybe you should start with the series Firefly, created in 2002 by Joss Whedon, the same guy who did Buffy.

Is it significant that the two men who recommended Firefly are Catholics? In fact, one is a priest.
I don't know, but after watching the first 5 of 14 episodes, I can say it's a very Catholic show. Mal ("evil"), short for Malcom, Reynolds (above left, looking rather more like Sydney Carton than he does on TV) is the show's hero. Whedon establishes in the first few minutes of the show's pilot that Mal is Catholic, when he kisses the crucifix he wears. (If there are others besides Catholics who do this, you can assign me penance for faulty assumptions). And a few minutes later, Mal loses his faith when everything he loves is ripped from him.
So he's a Catholic without God.
Like me. (But different.)

Briefly, Firefly is a space western, set 500 years in the future. Malcolm Reynolds starts out as a brave rebel soldier on the losing side of a civil war against a soulless government conglomeration, the Alliance.

Six years later, we find him disillusioned, captaining a beat-up "firefly-class" spaceship (right, its rear lights up like a lightning bug) with his ragged band of misfits. They scrape a living out of semi-legal activities on the border planets, avoiding both the Halliburton-like Alliance and cannibalistic "reavers," who seem to be extreme mutations of the murderous scroungers of the American civil war era.

I've avoided learning too much about the series yet because I want to experience it fresh, but I did find out that Whedon's creation was inspired by him reading about the American civil war and also about Jewish resistance fighters during WWII.

Captain Reynolds is a bit like Huckleberry Finn might have become, after Mark Twain has him light out for Western lands. Except the captain's Catholic, even if he has lost his faith. So unlike Shane, the Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood's character in the spaghetti westerns), and other Western heroes, Mal doesn't go it alone, he is loyal unto death to his faith community, his crew. He doesn't have faith in God, much less the government, but he has faith in a code of human decency, like not stealing medicine from sick people and not betraying your friends. (The crew varies in their beliefs, and one of them is a preacher.)

I wrote recently about being a Catholic who doesn't believe in God, in "Humanist Catholic". I get the sense that Mal Reynolds doesn't not-believe in God so much as he denies God because he's angry and disgusted; but it's a related thing. So it fascinates me to watch this show that wrestles with the question of how to be good without God.

Unlike in certain fundamentalist religions, you can function as a Catholic to a large extent whether you believe in God or not. If a fundamentalist believes you are saved by faith in God alone (alone!), then for you to deny God is a very big deal.
Catholics, however, believe you are saved by works and by faith, and that in fact the two are more or less inextricably combined.

A Catholic friend recently insisted, for instance, that basically I do believe in God, even though I say I don't, because I believe in what Jesus said:
Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the vulnerable... and, "Whatever you do for the least of mine, you do for me." (cf. Matthew 25)

I accept that, so far as it goes. It's a basic syllogism:
If a = b; and b = c; then a = c.
So if God is love (1 John 4:7-21); and I believe in love; then I believe in God.
I'll go that far, but that's far from all that most Catholics and other Christians mean by "God."

Still, that definition is the heart of the matter, and as bitter and bad as Captain Reynolds has become, Firefly, at least so far I've seen, is about him trying to hold onto love in a rotten universe.
All the while swaggering about in tight pants, like Capt. Kirk, breaking all the rules.

So, now I guess I have to try Buffy.
[Yikes, 12 frogs left a comment saying Buffy's 7 seasons long--does anyone have an opinion on where I should start? Or do I have to watch from the beginning?]

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Waking the Tyger, Turning the Starfish

I drew this picture (left), inspired by the Blake line "Tyger, tyger burning bright," when I was thirty-one. It illustrates what used to be my natural state--not bloodthirsty, but very awake. Lately I've been feeling this way again, and that's great, but it's a bit discombobulating after having gotten used to being asleep.

This morning I feel overwhelmed with life, not in a bad way but like Dorothy stepping out of B&W Kansas into full-color Oz. To being with, I spent yesterday afternoon in intense conversation with the wonderful career counselor Laurie Mattila.

I talked about wanting to find ways to push on as a writer, and to find ways to be paid for it (since I have to be paid for something, it may as well be that). I also talked about further exploring the world of web publishing (online journals, etc.). After all, we're living in a time like Gutenberg's, when the world of words blew open.
I talked a little about somehow incorporating my call to priesthood into my work, whatever that might mean, given that I don't believe in God, and that I am nonetheless Catholic, a religion which does not ordain women anyway.
And I said I was entirely unsure of how to proceed with all of this.

Toward the end of our talk, Laurie reflected that it was perfectly clear that I knew what I loved and wanted to do, which was reassuring to hear from a respected stranger. We came up with a plan: basically that I would start. Start here, where I am, and go from there.

Laurie also suggested that I was ready to step up to a leadership role in my life. Other people have suggested this, and it always makes me extremely uncomfortable. I hear "leader" as "bully" or "egomaniac." She pointed out that my heroes--people like Molly Ivins--are leaders without being bullies. Other people follow their work because it speaks to them, not because they are compelled to. I said I'd think about it.

"What Can Little-I Do?"

A few hours later, I went to see one of my heroes, the leader Bishop Desmond Tutu (right, photo by Bink). Or is he a servant? He's in town for PeaceJam, sponsored by Youthrive. Maura had tickets but couldn't go, so I got to take her place with Bink. Because Maura is a Youthrive donor, we got to hear Tutu speak at a reception as well as in the huge auditorium afterward.

As it happened, sitting at our reception table was a woman who told me that she practices a kind of ministry on her blog The Good Raised Up: "A Quaker woman's journey to be faithful in the face of her and others' humanness."
Then in the big auditorium, I sat next to the university's Big Cheese Fundraiser. When I told him about my self-granted sabbatical, he told me that he too had taken a midlife sabbatical and gone from working in the auto industry to the nonprofits. He told me that as a writer, I should look to the Internet.

This often happens to me: I fumble my way into something that feels rather shaky--this can take years--and up pop two or three people to firm it up.
In this case, four people (in one day, no wonder I'm exhausted):
Tutu capped it all, last night.
He is not well, you know, living with cancer, and he didn't speak long, but everything he said was on target.

Tutu said at the reception that we often feel overwhelmed by the amount of evil in the world, and we ask,
"What can little I do?"
He replied with his story about turning over starfish. He tells this often, so you may have heard it before. Here's my version:

Late one night a huge storm washed many sea creatures onto a beach. Thousands and thousands of starfish were left stranded, upside down.
A little girl came along early in the morning, and she started to turn the starfish right-side up so they could skedaddle back to the sea.
A man walking by stopped and said, "Girl, what are you doing? Why are you bothering to turn these starfish over? Can't you see there are too many of them to save? What you're doing won't make any difference."
And the girl said, "Sir, to the ones I turn over, it makes all the difference."

If I read that in Reader's Digest, I'd dismiss it as sentimental. But when it's told by someone who knows up-close the evil we do, someone who's been through hell and South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation committee, I buy it.

Tutu added, "There's only one way of eating an elephant: one piece at a time. Your contribution is indispensible. Do the good you can, where you can."

Start here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Tribble-ous Shaenon Garrity

Glory be!
Edward Gorey's black humor meets Star Trek's bit of fluff in Shaenon K. Garrity's inspired comic (left), Edward Gorey's "The Trouble with Tribbles".

Thank you, Kellie, for turning me on to this work of webcomic genius!

(Being a bit of a slow bear about these things, it took me a while to figure out how to "turn" the pages, so I'll tell you: once you've clicked onto the Tribble site, click on the drawing and the next one will appear.)

Oh, or click here for a scroll-down version of Shaenon's comic, which starts with an article about Gorey, including this clipping (right) from 1977.

And here's a link to a search of Shaenon's Drunk and Watchin' Star Trek series, about ST: TNG.

Star Trek's bubbly "Tribbles" episode never enamored me, but it seems to work like club soda: it makes a great mixer. Not only does it mix well with Gorey, it mixes well with Star Trek: Deep Space 9. I'm not a huge fan of computerized special effects, but I must say, the computer work in the DS9 episode "Trials and Tribble-ations" is magic.

In the episode, DS9 Captain Sisko & friends go undercover, back in time to the 23rd century (exactly 105 years, 1 month, and 12 days earlier--a Friday), on Capt. Kirk's Enterprise, in order to set things right during the original tribble troubles.
(In real-time, the original episode aired in 1967; the DS9 episode almost thirty years later, in 1996. I saw it last week, in 2008, 12 years after it first aired.)

Ah, here is part of the episode on youTube
It's a hoot to see the DS9 crew seamlessly inserted into some of the old episode's scenes. In the photo at left, you can see Sisko (center, left, bald guy from New Orleans) and Dax (center, right, gal who is hiding her spotted skin with makeup and is actually a Trill, not a human) behind Kirk (white guy from Iowa, far left) and Spock (in blue shirt). 

(Fun note: Of course the first Enterprise crew is famous in DS9 times, and here Dax is giving Spock the eye and commenting on how surprisingly attractive he is in person. )

My favorite scene, though, is when the DS9 crew are changing into the "old" Starfleet uniforms of Kirk & Spock's time. It made me nostalgic for something that never even happened. Or is that, nostalgic for something that hasn't happened yet?

[For another take-off, see also Trouble with Tribbles in LOLcat/Trek.]

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Zim: "Strong Hearts and Sturdy Backs"

The election debacle in Zimbabwe continues.
[Protest pictured to left is in London, UK.]
My British friend Anna sent me this link to the Guardian's
update on Zimbabwe.

Anna writes: " I don't know if you knew, but the BBC are banned from Zimbabwe b/c of their 'unfavourable' reporting of Mugabe over the years...long before anyone in the rest of the world cared. The BBC have always to their credit covered the news there, regardless of access."

The elections in Zimbabwe may creepily remind us in the U.S. of our own 2000 elections: the party that won the most votes is struggling to get their victory validated. May they achieve a better result than the Democrats did.
The leader of the opposition party, Morgan Tsvangirai writes:
"Democracy is an orphan in Zimbabwe.
"Once again, Robert Mugabe and his cronies are attempting to maintain their grip on power in Zimbabwe. While disheartening, this act of political thuggery does not diminish the victory of democracy over dictatorship in a country ravaged by misrule and ignorance. Ultimately, this is a victory for the strong hearts and sturdy backs that have carried us here: a victory for all Zimbabweans."

Monday, April 7, 2008

How We Grow

I wrote [2 posts below] that some of us may grow, psychologically, like corkscrews. In the botanical world, the stems of some water lilies twist up through water this way. But actually, I've always related more to fiddlehead ferns (left). Their growing tips start off so tightly clenched, each seems to be a solid disc; but they unfurl into frothy fronds.

In spring, fiddleheads turn up in specialty food markets, where they're very expensive (or you can pick them yourself, if you live in Maine or thereabouts). I bought some once and sauteed them in butter. They tasted woodsy and green.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Laughing in the Afternoon, over Drinks

I am sitting at the local Irish pub with Stefanie, and we are engaging in B.A.B. (biologically advantageous behavior; see post below): laughter. Over martinis.

Stefanie has a thought:
We are together over martinis--yes--except mine is really a Bloody Mary--which is my pragmatic health nut mom way of justifying alcohol consumption--it's like a meal or a good nosh in itself--what with the tomato juice, the celery salts, the pickled wonderments on a stick--(even if it's a campy plastic sword!)--and, being as they're on a stick, though not deep-fried--it puts me in touch with my adult Minnesotan roots.

So, since alcohol and pickled things are on my list of foods to avoid with my eat-for-your-blood-type diet--(I'm O!)--it involves much justifying to jump on the Bloody Mary "wagon", but not inordinate amounts of persuasion. And besides, as a womynist social lubricant, it is a key to B.A.B.!!

And Fresca adds:
Right, and the lemon rind in my martini makes this a Vitamin-C delight.

P.S. Heavens! Our barmaid just came over and saw our Martini wench image, and told us that she is a burlesque performer! She performs with Lili's Burlesque.

A Sadness Not My Own

Psychologist Dr. Marian Radke-Yarrow for 23 years documented the effects of maternal depression "as they wreathe through the lives of the children who mature in a sadness not their own."*

I am such a one; a daughter who bore "the weight of her mother's moods," and who tried to help her mother to "mother against the odds."

One of the effects of growing up in the shade of my mother's depression was that, despite my naturally sunny disposition, I developed an ambiguous relationship with happiness.
My mother was like the bumper sticker that reads, "No One Is Truly Free When Others Are Enslaved," except read "happy" for "free," and "sad" for "enslaved."

She, otherwise a brilliant woman, encouraged the twinning of our emotions.
Her favored model from history to teach me, her child, was the Holocaust, which I believe reflected how she felt, like a woman persecuted with emotional pain for nothing she had done.
The Holocaust displayed human nature at its roots, she implied; the world is a concentration camp, and you are either innocent or you are guilty. My child mind came to associate sadness with innocence, or with being on the side of the victims. Happiness was suspect, indicating guilt or at least a lightweight approach to life.

My sunny nature weathered all this, more or less. As an adult, I intellectually reject my childhood equations--to start, suffering is no indicator of innocence--but sometimes I still feel guilty for being happy, as if it means I've gone over to the dark side.

Radke-Yarrow's research was on my mind the other day, when I spent an afternoon with a friend and her 7 month-old baby, Kira.

My friend, a first-time mother, mused about how she has learned to communicate with her daughter. She told me that Kira expresses her basic needs really clearly, with a distinct cry for hunger and another one for sleepiness, and so forth.
Kira is a pumpkin-headed happy baby, who burst into laughter, over and over, when I played peek-a-boo with her.
I said that laughter also seems to be part of the baby's basic communication.
My friend agreed, as if it were the most natural thing in the world:
of course babies laugh before they can talk or think in words, unless something's wrong.

I suppose that's obvious, and I already knew it; but it struck me in a new way, as if the universe had given me a replacement bumper sticker reading "Being happy predates moral choice."

In fact, if little babies express happiness, it's probably somehow to our biological advantage to be happy. Next time I feel especially happy, I will try to remember to think,
"This is an evolutionary development, not a moral failing."

That may seem pretty convoluted, but when you grow up in the shade, sometimes you take corkscrew turns to reach the light.

*Lauren Slater, "Marian Radke-Yarrow: The Anthropological Psychologist," New York Times Magazine, December 30, 2007, 32. This article is a brief overview of R-Y's methodology, from 1979 to 2002, more than a presentation of her conclusions.

[The smile pictured is mine.]