Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Review: Some of My Pix

Happy New Year, everybody!

[Kirk/Spock New Yorker photo manip by me; original here]

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 in Review: Three (+1) Books, and a preview

Three +1 Books I Liked in 2013  
(There were going to be more than three, but it took me so long to put the three together, that'll have to do.)

1.  Roger Scruton's Dictionary of Political Thought (the original 1982 ed.; I should get the 2007 update), which lives in my bathroom and often keeps me there, reading. 

I am loving reading the dictionary for its insight and humor (unintentional? surely not).
 I wish I'd known Scruton's book back when I was writing geography books for teens and despairing of how to explain political concepts clearly, and in a small space. 
To sum them up well, you really need to understand them in all their complexities, which I don't, or you need to borrow from someone who does. 
This is who I needed.

Here's an example, about the defense of the "uselessness" of liberal education (the last line is my favorite):
"The idea has traditionally been that uselessness is an essential precondition of culture, which is essential both to rhetoric and to social grace, which are in turn essential to government. Hence uselessness in education is the greatest utility in public life. None of those conceptions is now very fashionable."
 2. The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, by Steven Johnson (2006), which I read when I was researching sanitation. 

Reading about how sewage kills people (via cholera, etc., not to mention drowning in the stuff) shouldn't be so... fun, but for some [biologically advantageous?] reason, disgusting stuff attracts as well as repels, and Johnson uses that to lure the reader into caring about what could be dull topics such as civil engineering and epidemiological research. 

This book further expanded my view of history––invisible infrastrucutre matters!–– and it added to my list of heroes the folks who brought us sewers (Joseph Bazalgette, et al.).

Further, I love that someone wanted to tell this story and share their enthusiasm: 
"Look, everybody! Puboic health is sooooooo interesting. No, really, it is! Here, let me entice you with some body fluids..."

Speaking of fluids, I spilled wine on the library copy (above), so I ordered a copy online and cut-and-pasted the library labels onto it, to avoid the extra fine you have to pay for replacing a book. 
(The library says you can't do this, but I worked in libraries and I'm sure I did it right--got the same edition and everything.)

3. The Hare with  Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal (2010)

No photo of my copy, because I lent the one I'd picked up from a Little Free Library. 

Do you have Little Free Libraries in your city? 
They look like giant stand-alone birdhouses, or empty dollhouses mounted on stakes, where people can leave books for other people to take. I use them a lot.

Instead, here's a photo of a sign on the Little Free Library some homeowners put up on their lakeside property:
it's a perfect example of what Minneapolis can be like, a passive-aggressive stew of high minds and tight asses.
* * * Forgodsake, why didn't they just say,
"Limit of 5 books per person, please"

Mz says it feels like they're restraining themselves from adding,
"Our intention is for all citizens of our city 
to enjoy Public Radio."

This sign could illustrate some entry in Scruton's dictionary about how attempts to create and maintain free, open, share-and-share alike institutions have to take into account 
1. some people will take advantage of the free system

2.  other people will adopt a Big Brother attitude, to police the (no-longer-so) free system

And here's a photo (right) of the 1.5 inch  amber-eyed "Hare with Raised Paw" itself, from the gallery at EdW's site.

The book is about how Edmund inherited 264 of these little netsuke and went looking into how they came to him.

I liked the book because, like Ghost Map, the author tells a good nonfiction story about something I care about. In this case, the way material objects (like the china plate with the tea leaf pattern I have from my grandmother) can carry and illuminate family history, and how family history is shot through with strands of political and cultural history too.
Oh--one more. 

Speaking of good nonfiction stories about political ideology made real:
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Barnara Demick (2009)

I guess all these books make me think about how we accept our everyday situations as more or less normal, and how really interesting it can be to see them as history on the hoof and to recognize ourselves as characters in that history, agents of political concepts, and makers of artifacts, all the while at the mercy of our biology.

And while they all are disturbing in parts, all 4 of these books are also plain old fun to read. (I think.)
Preview of a book I intend to love in 2014, a Christmas present from A. in Sweden:

Swedish Cakes and Cookies, 
a modern version of a book published just after World War II.

Come over for some cardamom cake? 
Karl XV's Wreath cookies? (Ingredients: butter, whipping cream, and flour)
Below, right: Mz, fallen asleep reading

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Present

MauraKL gave me these monkey-footed p.j.s. on Christmas Eve. Marz also tried them on, while wearing her Christmas cracker crown.

Friday, December 27, 2013

I finished posting the series of postcards bink & I made & mailed to each other in 1991-1992: 
Click to see all 22 postcards

Thursday, December 26, 2013

It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

Back from a little jog outside (it's a beautiful 26º), with the day-after-Christmas mail: the UK ed (Penguin Classic, no less) of Morrissey's Autobiography I ordered for Mz has arrived!

She randomly opens the book, at my request, and reads me a sentence. 
"Thursday May 11 at Blackburn and I am heckled." 

Of course it's glum.

Postcard #1: "You Have Places to Go" (Fresca)

At Christmas 2013, Bink scanned for me this long-lost series of "educational" postcards that we had made and sent each other in 1991-1992.

Postcard #1, me to bink
 You Have Places to Go
Dec. 3 1991

Postcards #2: "Tourists who figured the world was flat..." (bink)

Postcard #2, bink to me
Tourists who figured the world was flat...
Dec. 12, 1991 

At Christmas 2013, bink scanned for me this long-lost series of postcards we sent each other in 1991-1992.
Click to see all 22 postcards

Postcards #3: "I'll Be Seeing You..." (Fresca)

Postcard #3, me to bink
"I'll Be Seeing You..."
Dec. 17, 1991 

At Christmas 2013, bink found and scanned for me this long-lost series of postcards we sent each other in 1991-1992.  

Click to see all 22 postcards

Postcard #5: "Sel & Poivre" (Fresca)

Postcard #5, me to bink
 Sel & Poivre
January 3, 1992 [In my jet lag, I wrote 1991]

At Christmas 2013, bink found and scanned for me this long-lost series of postcards we sent each other in 1991-1992.  

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve, Part 1: The Lighter Side of Family

I've been dwelling on the dark side of my Sicilian heritage lately, so it was truly a gift in itself when my father (almost 83 y.o.) & sister came over this morning and reminded of how silly and fun and loving that side of my family can be (& me, too!).

My father gave me wine (for dinner w/ friends tonite) & Grand Marnier; 
his mother always used to say, "The cheapest wine is the best,
so this wine will probably be very bad indeed...
...and I gave him a red rooster hat.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Was Jesus a Dog Person?

macro by bink

"If We Make It Through December"

Darn. Below zero again this morning, after a heat wave of temps in the teens. Luckily I just have a few errands to go out and do, and then it's cleaning the house for Christmas Eve with the oven on, for baking (and warmth).

Marz's drawing, below, of Merle Haggard, singer-songwriter responsible for "If We Make It Through December" ...we'll be fine (with an implied "I guess").

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Presents Wrapped, Tree Decorated

I can hardly remember the last time I had a full-size tree. I guess it was when I lived with bink, some 15 Christmases ago? It's nice! 
We decorated the tree mostly with toys and trinkets from around the house.
 Above, L to R: 
Felt Star Trek pin made by Art Sparker for me 
when I went to the Las Vegas ST Con in 2008
White bunny that used to squawk "I LOVE YOU" when you pushed its tummy. Bought from a peddlar on my last night in Sicily,
 after drinking too many negronis (gin, vermouth, Campari).
"Man of Sorrows" Mz cut out of a museum postcard. 
She says he looks sad; I think he looks like, "Oy, humans..."
Jeweled pomegranate from my auntie
Portrait by Marsden Hartley, cut out by Mz

Above, L to R:
Costume jewelry pin from my mother
Blue bear, from the Mold-A-Rama  at the zoo
Flying Santa, from Mz's mom, looking askance at...
Squeezey pop-eye rhino I got at the Circus Museum this summer,
 named Fred Meyer (after the Oregon grocery store)
Star Trek insignia, stitched by Eeva and given to us at Finisterre, 
the endmost point of Camino 2011

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Solstice: “The Light is creating intensities of experience.”

Maybe my favorite photo ^ of all the many I took this year for the upcoming 2014 community garden calendar.

“The Light is not a single clear and neutral entity.... The Light is creating intensities of experience.”
--Dr. A. Jones, from Prehistories blog

The Godfather, Prizzi, Moonstruck, and Me

In a poll, 1 out of 3 people admitted they've lied about having seen the Godfather

Casablanca and Taxi Driver came next in the list of movies people say they've seen when they haven't. I get the first two; they're iconic American films, and people have probably at least seen clips from them. 
But Taxi Driver? I don't think of that as so iconic.
Hm. Except for the phrase, "You talkin' to me?" So maybe that's it.

I confess, I have never seen the Godfather. 
Going to see Godfather II (1974) with my father was bad enough, I can't bring myself to watch the others. 

But I was wrong to imply in yesterday's post that my father's family is much like the Godfather's. To begin with, they were never in the Mafia. Nobody killed anybody or got killed, no severed horse heads, nothing like that.

But, yeah ––like the Sicilians in that movie and like people everywhere who don't have much to lose–– 

they, the men (like my grandfather, right), were super touchy about their "honor", and you'd better not even be perceived as stepping on it.

[In his excellent NY Times article from 2013,  "Beyond the Code of the Streets," Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about how this works for black men who came up the hard way, and how hard it is to shake, even when it no longer serves you, even when it's killing you. Tell me about it.] 

So, the men displayed a kind of overt physical power. 
My grandfather, for instance, was a  so-called proud man who beat his wife and children. 

The women utilized the tricks the least powerful people often resort to: emotional manipulation, passive resistance.  
When my grandfather brought his cronies home for coffee, for instance, my grandmother would have "accidentally" put salt in the sugar bowl. Or, she would starch his underwear. Stuff like that.

I only saw the one Godfather movie all the way through, but I can see that they are all dark and dramatic, with ennobling theme music. 

The reality for families like my father's was far more tawdry, their theme song something thin and tinny from an organ grinder.

The movie that catches that so well is the dark comedy Prizzi's Honor (1985). You might want to be Marlon Brando's Godfather or his son Michael (Al Pacino). You probably don't want to be Charlie, the dim hit man Jack Nicholson plays in Prizzi's Honor.

And, oh man, does Angelica Huston nail the way women in this patriarchal set up may get and hold a kind of behind-the-scenes power (potentially even calling the shots).

Here's the hilarious/horrifying scene where she, a beautiful woman, makes herself up to appear haggard to her father---all part of her [ultimately successful] plot to get revenge.

On the other hand, the hand that holds the sweets, the other movie that reminds me powerfully of my father's family is the romanticized but still real-feeling Moonstruck (1987), with its celebration of human imperfection.
Happier times: my father, on couch, with 3 of his 9 siblings
This is the side of the family reflected in my grandmother's theology: God loves everybody
She said that all the time.
She lived it too,  when she repeatedly went down to the police station, for example, to bail out her gay son, my Uncle Tony, who'd get rounded up in police raids on gay bars in the '50s. 

Even my father, who never spoke to his father for the last 15 or so years of his father's life, says that this brutal man would have been, could have been, a loving man if he hadn't felt so emasculated (the worst sin in his culture) by the Great Depression, which forced him to accept relief to feed and clothe his ten children.

Money matters.
Everyone in Moonstruck is doing at least OK financially. The father is a successful plumber--his wealth is even remarked upon. Maybe that's why the movie feels real to me---it's what my grandparents might have been, with money, education, respect...

So, I feel I'm left with a muddle of an inheritance from my father's side:
love, acceptance, forgiveness on the one hand;

domination, brutality, and toxic resentment on the other.

Amidst all that, I try to practice some sort of sustainable kindness (a term Poodle reminded me that I made up).

I should do a movie version for my mother's family too. I always say my parent's marriage was like the Godfather meets Scarlett O'Hara.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Utah too??? Utah too!!!

Sometimes the law is so romantic, standing up for the best of humanity, it gives me hope for our future. 
"The [UTAH!] state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing,  
demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason," 
wrote U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby.  
"Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional."

and .. .. .. .. .. OTHER GOOD NEWS

I was going to write "Other Excellent News" but it's fundamentally horrible news for a lot of people:
hackers stole millions of credit card #s from Target department store, where I frequently shop. 

My good news is, I checked my account this afternoon and learned that I had used my card there exactly one day (1!) after the end of the hacker attack.

To think I almost screwed up my electronic finances by buying Justin Bieber wrapping paper...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Making the Worst of a Bad Situation

Seven-year-old me (in brown--why did my mother have (or let) me wear this too-short dress?), with my father's family at a wedding.
The groom in the wheelchair is my father's brother: he fell down the steps during his wedding rehearsal and broke both ankles.
That's my father behind me; my mother & sister are on my left; 
in the light-blue dress is my Ama, who came from Sicily as a girl.

My uncle married a WASP, like my father did too, and like Al Pacino married Diane Keaton in Godfather II. When I saw that movie as a teenager, I told my father it reminded me of him.

He said, "You will never say that to me again."

You can imagine, his response totally convinced me of how wrong I was... [cough, cough]

I feel I inherit my ability to hold a grudge from this side of the family. Bad feelings twine like invisible wires around various people in this photo, not to mention the missing family members.

Resentment seems sort of Sicilian, doesn't it?  Plants and animals have to be tenacious and self-protective to survive the harsh island, saltwater, and sun. They grow spikes and tough skins and they eat rocks.

Not that my mother came from a family of sweeties. But they were polite society folks, who were more likely to secretly shame you than to stab you with their eyes.

I want to make clear that both families had wonderful qualities too. My gold-hatted auntie (above), for instance, now 88 years old, took up painting this year and has basically turned her little living room into an art studio.

And my uncle Tony––in the tuxedo between my mother & my auntie––is the one who paid for me and bink to visit Sicily a few years ago, and then amazingly left us in his will too.
It surprised me because I didn't know him well, though I always thought he was super cool, the way he drank whiskey on ice and smoked Camel cigarettes. (He died of emphysema, but he did make it almost to 85.) Of course an adult could form a lifelong (and accurate) opinion of a young child that the child wouldn't necessarily know.

And my mother's side? They could sit on a porch on hot Missouri evenings and tell stories like nobody's business. And they had quite a flare for arranging china plates.

Anyway, this year my resentment flared up toward a couple people in a way that disturbs me, but that I can't see any easy or obvious way around. Both instances had to do with my mother's death--me feeling sensitive about it, naturally enough, but also feeling really stuck in resenting people who trod on those feelings (carelessly, but firmly).

I don't think I should just snap out it, exactly, and just put away my tender feelings and forget.
If people can't be careful of your tenderest feelings, after all, maybe it's a good idea to adjust the amount of space between you.
But in these two cases, out of my resentment I was actively unkind, which I regret.

I wish I had been able to ... what?
I don't know, because they were bad situations in both cases, already well progressed. I just know I made them worse. Nothing so bad as in the Godfather, though. Maybe I should count my blessings....

Monday, December 16, 2013

In a Better Place

 by the excellent rabittooth.com

R.i.p., Peter O'Toole

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bringing Home the Tree

To make room for a tree in our small place, I put both beds in Mz's bedroom. (There's only the two rooms; I sleep in the main room).

There'll be seven of us at Christmas Eve dinner. I like dinner parties where everyone stays at the table and talks for hours. In this case, people will have to remain at the table because there won't be anywhere else to sit.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Today is eleventh anniversary of my mother's death by shooting (by her own hand).

In recent years, I've sometimes passed this day, even this whole season, without much thought, or grief, or sense of horror, but this year I've been rummaging around in my memory, watercoloring bits and pieces she left behind, and the tender parts that had toughened up feel tenderized again.

That kitchen tool used to bludgeon meat, to tenderize it, comes to mind.
(Ah, I looked it up. It's called a meat mallet. Perfect.)

As these things tend to go, those tender spots got bumped and started throbbing. I went to bed sore last night at 6 PM and slept 14 hours.

I woke up this morning thinking of my mother in Heaven.
I don't believe in a literal Heaven, but there they all were, like the cast of a play, backstage--my aunts and uncles, my friends, my pets... (Bop the dog!)

And I got the feeling I could ask my mother for help.

That's not something I was able to do much during her lifetime, especially in the last dozen years of her life, as she was pulled closer and closer toward a black hole.

Pain can make people selfish, narcissistic. Like, how much can you actually care about the next guy when you have stomach flu? Maybe pain only makes us more empathetic once it has abated?

Anyway, as my mother's emotional pain increased, she pushed people away––even actually turning friends away from her door.

I sometimes say she died of self-imposed loneliness, sort of like an anorexic dies of hunger, sick with refusal of life-giving sustenance. (In a cruel feedback loop, the refusal is both a symptom and also a kind of cause of the sickness.)

David Foster Wallace, whose own depression drove him to suicide, captures the way terrible and unceasing emotional pain can create monstrous narcissism in his short story, "The Depressed Person."
(Read it here, or don't, if you're feeling vulnerable---he's merciless).

I was 41 when my mother died, and I hadn't asked for or expected much help from her for most of my 30s.
Increasingly, I also didn't (felt like couldn't) offer her much help, after practically wringing myself out for her.

 I loved my mother as much as I've ever loved anyone, and more than most, and she loved me deeply too. I know she would have always helped me if she could. The deterioration of our ability to help each other was one of the cruelest parts of her decline.

So, waking up feeling the possibility of asking her for help...
This is nice.

It feels like I could somehow help her this way, too; it restores her to being the person who was able to answer her door.

My mother took me to see the Beatles movie Help! when I was eleven. 

For more info on suicide prevention or help if you are struggling:
"The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals."
Outside of the United States, please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wrapped Up

The windows in this old apartment are leaky and the place is cold, though I plastic-wrapped the windows a couple weeks ago (below). 
I put off doing that as long as possible every winter, partly because I'm a procrastinator, but also because once it's done, you really feel sealed in.

 I went swimming at the YW today: it feels so wonderful to move freely, without 4 layers of clothing. Even at home, I am all wrapped up. I got this cashmere sweater last year at a rummage sale, and I wear it pretty much every day.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Purple Sweet Potato

This is an unretouched photo of mashed 'taters Marz made with purple sweet potatoes she brought home from the co-op. They taste just like regular sweet potatoes.
But don't they look like something Captain Kirk would eat?
Both of him?