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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The long stern of the necessary

Wednesday morning, middle of the traditional work work, Mr. Malleable to me. There was just enough faint light seeping upward from beyond the horizon to see that the sky overhead was clear. Or maybe solid, monotone, unbroken, high level cloud cover, but it looked more like dark clear to me. So, the top stayed down for the drive in.

This is the top down season I think I look forward to the most. Cap required to keep my balding head from getting too cold, windbreaker on, heater up, and top and side windows down. I slice through the morning crispness and pass through a multitude of scent fogs. Wood smoke from a fireplace (yep, fall is certainly here now!), bacon-ish breakfast smells past those houses, composting leaves as I pass the remaining copses of trees (one smelled more of composting lawn clippings, so someone must be dumping their cuttings in there), a strong marijuana-like smell (always) just before I pass the copper domed church, and cigarette smoke from some of the cars I follow.

Returning to the office after another chunk of time away means cutting through the brambles of overgrown tasks and duties. No matter how well I position myself before leaving, I return to a pile of fresh undone things.

This Wednesday morning I strongly feel Jorie Graham's frustration and exhortation in the poem, The Guardian Angel of the Private Life when she says:
the heart—there at the core of the drafting leaves—wet and warm at the zero of
the bright mock-stairwaying-up of the posthumous leaves—the heart,
formulating its alleyways of discovery,
fussing about the integrity of the whole,
the heart trying to make time and place seem small,
sliding its slim tears into the deep wallet of each new event on the list
then checking it off—oh the satisfaction—each check a small kiss,
an echo of the previous one, off off it goes the dry high-ceilinged obligation,
checked-off by the fingertips, by the small gust called done that swipes
the unfinishable’s gold hem aside, revealing
what might have been, peeling away what should ...
There are flowerpots at their feet.
There is fortune-telling in the air they breathe.

And also:
Oh look at you.
What is it you hold back? What piece of time is it the list
won’t cover? You down there, in the theater of
operations—you, throat of the world—so diacritical—
(are we all waiting for the phone to ring?)—
(what will you say? are you home? are you expected soon?)—
oh wanderer back from break, all your attention focused
—as if the thinking were an oar, this ship the last of some
original fleet, the captains gone but some of us
who saw the plan drawn out
still here—who saw the thinking clot-up in the bodies of the greater men,
who saw them sit in silence while the voices in the other room
lit up with passion, itchings, dreams of landings,
while the solitary ones,
heads in their hands, so still,
the idea barely forming
at the base of that stillness,

Really, it is tempting to simply quote the entire poem here, because it speaks so strongly to this (my) Wednesday morning. If you have not discovered this poem before now, I encourage you to follow the linked title above and read it now. Read it before you check another thing off your to-do list for the day, or add this to your list, if you must. I do not think you will regret the time.

As for me, I look at my email inbox, my calendar, my list of projects, and roll around the as-yet-unrecorded tasks inside my memory, and.... "All this was written on the next day’s list. On which the busyness unfurled its cursive roots, pale but effective, and the long stern of the necessary, the sum of events, built-up its tiniest cathedral ...(Or is it the sum of what takes place?)" ....I start working.

- Posted via Hermes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

In the heart of the dot on a Sunday morning

It has been a different, though far too familiar, commute the last couple of mornings. For one thing, it has been a weekend commute so far, though I am certain it will bleed into this next week, too. For another, it is to downtown Seattle instead of my local community college.

Mom has been back in the hospital with heart problems, and it looks like today will see a third attempt to get a working stint installed. She is currently in the cath lab, so I am sitting in a bed-less hospital room awaiting her return.

The weather has been fussy. It manages to rain or seriously threaten rain during the morning and evening drive, then goes all clear and sunny while I'm sitting looking out of the hospital room window. I'd stick my tongue back out at the weather, but anyone looking across from any of the many little windows in the surrounding buildings might take it personally.

Driving in late Friday night, with the city lit up against the blackness of the night (does anyone else marvel at how most windows in most buildings remain lit up all night long?), I was struck by the notion that Seattle is a city you can really feel you are driving into. More than most large cities, there is a clear demarcation, especially coming in from the north on I-5. You are approaching the downtown, approaching, approaching, and then — wham — you are at the vertical wall of the city and now you are in the city.

This illusion is helped by the fact that almost as soon as you hit that sense of the city's vertical wall of perimeter the freeway slides you underneath the Convention Center and you really are suddenly both in and under the city.

By morning light this illusion is still present, though the vertical demarcation lines are softer against the grey/blue skies. No doubt Seattle's relatively small size, distinct and compact downtown core, and the fact that most of the surrounding sprawl is suburban, combine to create this impression. Seattle is not a city you fly over for 30 minutes before landing, it can't spread beyond the Sound on one side and the lake on the other. Seattle is much more like it's representative round dot on a large map than many other major cities.


Sitting here in the heart of that dot, blue skies glinting off the towering windows around me, sirens frequently screaming self-importantly past in the streets nine floors below, I am glad Seattle is as embraceable and accessible as it is. Scale portends familiarity, and comfort is often found in the familiar.

Speaking of comfort, the last few days' soundtrack has been Sigur Rós. Familiar, soothing, evocative, and not in the least demanding (I couldn't sing along even if I wanted to).

- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Emblem and sustenance

This Monday brings grey cloud cover after a gloriously hot and sun-filled weekend. Monday is already a sad fellow to run into after a weekend like this past one, did he also have to wear that depressingly monotone grey pullover? The weather seer tells us the sun will break through later today, but this week will see gradual cooling until the rain returns by the coming weekend.

Still, I kept the top down on the Miata. It's not cold out, just overcast. I waited, at one unmarked intersection, to allow a jogger to run across my path. He paused just long enough to say thanks, I wished him a good run. Dropping the top leaves me exposed to the people around me, accessible. I can hear, as I slowly roll by at 20 MPH, the kids talking as they wait for the bus, a dog barking as I pass, birds calling as they fly overhead. I like this.

Monday also brings a week of flying solo. My wife heads over the pass to visit her sister at their vineyard in Eastern Oregon for the week. The boys and I will have to make do on our own. No doubt Fred & George will take over the couch, with no one there to see (they're always amazed that I can tell they have been up there, but the rearranged and flattened pillows and shed dog hair are a dead giveaway) and Robie will curl up somewhere the dogs can't reach him, until he wants to play. We have our routine when "mom" is away, but it's really just counting down the days until she's back with us. Travel safely, my love, and have a great time! I will be with you in your heart.
To take your lovers on the road with you, for all that you leave them behind you,
To know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls.

All parts away for the progress of souls,
All religion, all solid things, arts, governments—all that was or is apparent upon this globe or any globe, falls into niches and corners before the procession of souls along the grand roads of the universe.

Of the progress of the souls of men and women along the grand roads of the universe, all other progress is the needed emblem and sustenance.

- Walt Whitman, Song Of The Open Road

This Monday is also the start of "Kick Off Week" at the college. It used to be called "Return Week," because it signaled the return of faculty from the summer break, but that descriptor left out all of us who were here working during that period of time, so now we speak to the kicking-off of fall quarter. All that hasn't been paid attention to this summer will now be crammed urgently into these next few days, some will be upset to find decisions got made and life carried on while they we away, others will fold effortlessly back into the rhythms of the autumnal campus. This will be a week of such "emblem and sustenance" as Whitman ascribes to these critical but lessor activities of progress.

The iPod was dialed into a Sigur Rós EP this morning, Ny Battery. I left it there. It seemed to speak perfectly to Monday's grey skies.

Today's playlist:
- Bíum Bíum Bambaló
- RAmagniõ Búiõ
- Ny Battery


- Posted via Hermes.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The last Friday before the fall and frost

The popular dude is back in town, with his smug self-confident swagger, leaning against the office door frame or cubicle wall, "Hey, watcha gonna to do this weekend?" Always welcome is Friday, and he knows it.

It's been quite a while since I have had a Friday morning post. The college goes into a half-day Fridays schedule over the summer and I take Fridays off as vacation and pretend each three day weekend really was a vacation. Today marks the return to the normal weekly schedule. Thursday got a short run at being the popular dude, now is recast in his normal role of The Pretender.

This last week of summer break, while intensely busy with students registering, paying, advising, orienting, before the start of fall quarter is also, in many parts of campus, the quietest of times. Faculty return next week, then classes start the following week.

Like an agrarian community laying in a harvest before the first frosts of fall, getting ready for the winter coming, these are weeks of preparation and laying down direction for the coming year. Deer paths flattened through the tall dew-damp grass.

Technically, each academic year starts with summer quarter, but fall quarter is when the year starts in earnest, in our hearts and minds. Fall is the real communal coming together, articulation of vision statements, the kick-off of projects and goals. Summer quarter is a trial balloon, floated tentatively to test the winds.

But I digress. Friday mornings are also, more than most other mornings, at least for me, poetry mornings. Today's discovery is a poem by Tim Bowling, The Last Days Of Summer Before The First Frost. It starts:
Here at the wolf’s throat, at the egress of the howl,
all along the avenue of deer-blink and salmon-kick
where the spider lets its microphone down
into the cave of the blackberry bush—earth echo,
absence of the human voice—wait here
with a bee on your wrist and a fly on your cheek,
the tiny sun and tiny eclipse.

Today's playlist:
- Céu: Roda (Bombay Dub Orchestra's Grateful Dub Radio Mix)
- Doves Ambition
- Kurt Ellington: The Best things Happen While You're Dancing
- Mark Knopfler: The Car Was The One
- Nancy Griffith: Trouble in the Fields



- Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gulag meetings

Thursday, for those not already keeping track of such things, and more blue skies. So, what is the best way to spend a beautiful day of gloriously warm sunshine? Hmmm... how about...

A long day chock-a-block full of meetings, many of those being long meetings. First meeting kicks off at 8:00 AM and the last (Board meeting) is scheduled to wrap up at 7:00 PM. Taking notes during a meeting earlier this week, using my iPad, I fat-fingered the phrase "regular meetings" and the iPad corrected it for me into "gulag meetings." The iPad is apparently smarter than I am.

A short commute playlist of long tunes, with the first (by Eugene Maslov) clocking in at over eight minutes and the second (John Hassell) at over 13 minutes. Both jazz, the latter having that particularly ECM-ambient quality to it. I love the title of the John Hassell album: Last Night The Moon Came Dropping It's Clothes In The Street. Wonderful imagery for a powerfully evocative album.

The full (such as it is) playlist:
- Eugene Maslov: Dream Of Dreams
- John Hassell: Abu Gil (Live)


- Posted via Hermes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My iPod is winking at me

Wednesday, already mid-week and it still feels like we're only getting started. Top down, blue skies unbroken, should hit the mid-eighties today. Pretty definite stuff for a normally malleable mid-week day.

I have an event on my calendar today, or at least I think I do, that is behaving strangely. I can see it on the computer and on the iPad, but not on the iPhone (though both iOS devices are subscribed to my office calendar the same way). If a meeting exists only in some versions of the same calendar, does it really exist? What is the sound of one meeting being missed?

Today's playlist was very "easy listening," in one of those oddly thematic iPod random selection patterns. I do wonder if there isn't some element of the shuffle algorithm that attempts to place songs back to back based on some sort of compatibility factor. On the other hand, any device that can place Roger Miller and Akon back to back (which mine did when it selected Akon's Lonely as the next track after I got to my desk) isn't operating strictly on compatibility.

The fact that it tossed a version of the tune Somewhere at me today is another of those "could it really just be coincidence?" moments. It's not a tune that I have many covers of in the iPod, nor one I listen to or even think about very often. Yet just yesterday I mentioned the tune in a discussion with colleagues. So today my iPod just happens to pull up that tune. It's playing with me, isn't it?

The set ended with Roger Miller singing, Walkin' In The Sunshine as I pulled in, parked, and got ready to walk into the building in the morning sunshine. I could almost feel the iPod it winking at me.

The full playlist:
- Terence Blanchard: Footprints
- Squirrel Nut Zippers: Twilight
- Rod Stewart: The Nearness Af You
- Phil Keaggy: Allegria
- Barbara Streisand: Somewhere
- Roger Miller: Walkin' In The Sunshine


- Posted via Hermes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Summer's swan song

Monday slipped quietly in and out under the cloak of the Labor Day holiday, so Tuesday becomes the play yard bully this week, yarding us back from extended weekend mode.

The skies remain clear and blue, though the warmth feels less certain. I left the top down for the drive in this morning, but donned a pullover windbreaker and turned on the heater. Didn't resort to the cloth cap, yet.

Late summer-cum-fall brings my favorite convertible weather. The skies tend to stay clear more often than not, but the weather begins to take on a cool edge, leading into brisk, then chilly. Heater on and cool air sliding over the top of my head, nostrils full of the early-fall smell of fora decomposition, a lot of bird activity overhead. It all works.

This morning's soundtrack was all from the latest Glen Campbell album, Ghost On The Canvas. If you liked the early Glen Campbell of the sixties and early seventies, this latest album will take you back. Surrounded by good musicians, his voice and guitar playing remain as clear as ever, belying his 75 years. It's a swan-song album, to be his last since his diagnosis with Alzheimer's earlier this year. I agree with many of the reviews of the album, he's saved one of his best performances for last.

The full playlist:
- Wish You Were Here
- There's No Me...Without You
- In My Arms
- The Billstown Crossroads
- Nothing But The Whole Wide World

- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Summer garden pizza

I don't normally do foodie posts here, though two of my most-viewed-ever entries have been baking related, so maybe that tells me something.

Today being the Labor Day holiday in the US, it seems especially fitting to dine on the harvest of our fields. In our case, the harvest of our extensive deck-based container gardens augmented by produce from the local fruit and veggie market.

I started off with a ball of Overnight Pizza Dough (from a 2009 Bon Appétit recipe by Tori Ritchie). I like this recipe because it makes six pizza-sized balls of dough, freezes well, and makes a solid crisp crust, especially when pre-baked.

To this I added some fresh red and orange cherry tomatoes, basil, and parsley from the garden.


A good starting point. I roll out out the dough (a bit of rubber non-skid carpet backing keeps the peel from scooting while rolling!) to cover the peel, while pre-heating the oven and pizza stone to 500°F., then brush the pizza with olive oil and rub a couple cloves of roasted garlic across it. Finally, a light sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese, and it's ready for a five minute pre-bake once the oven reaches full temp.



While the pizza pre-bakes, it's time to sauté up a shallot.



Then, pull out the nicely bubbly-browned pizza, ready for toppings.




At this point, the crust is already crisp, but not yet fully done. I layered the sautéd shallots, sliced mushrooms, sliced cherry tomatoes, chopped basil and parsley, a bit of feta cheese and a light dusting of shredded Beecher's Flagship cheese. Here's what that looks like before it goes into the oven:




And here's what it looks like when it comes out about 10 minutes later:




Quick (especially since the pizza dough was already made and all I had to do was pull a ball out of the freezer an hour or so before making the pizza) and delicious. Not very many minutes after it came out of the oven, we were down to this:




And that piece didn't last much longer. Just the right amount of pizza for two.

- Posted via Hermes.