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Monday, July 23, 2012

Monsters under the bed

How does the tune by The Mamas & The Papas go?
Monday Monday, can't trust that day,
Monday Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way
Oh Monday morning, you gave me no warning of what was to be
In a sense, that's true. There is often no telling what Monday is going to be, coming in fresh off the weekend. It can be a whirlwind of pent up needs and demands that were impatiently waiting for the weekend to end and me to get back into the office to address them all, or a relatively quiet morning as people stumble in and slowly relearn their work-week routines, getting gradually back into the productivity groove.

Check the calendar, check the inbox and voicemail, look back at the projects list to see where I left off and what deadlines are approaching, then the day starts to take shape. At least until most of the rest of the campus arrives (a perk of being an early morning person is the hour or two of quiet work time each morning before many others come in), when things can change again quickly.

Changing quickly: how precious is this thing called life when it can be snatched away in an unthought moment, as we saw again this past Friday in Colorado. The above-quoted lyric also notes:
Oh Monday morning, Monday morning couldn't guarantee
That Monday evening you would still be here with me.
Sometimes writing, including blogging, is about chasing the ghosts away, shining a light under the bed to prove (we dare to hope) there really are no monsters hiding under there. We can lie on the bed, afraid to move because of all the things we fear may be growling and slithering under us, or move and risk the monsters, if only to resolve our uncertainty, whether moving proves or disproves they exist. It's better to know.

In my case, I don't mean my life, our family, our campus, our community; all of that is clicking along well to reasonably well at present (though for others, any of these circles may be where monsters dwell). No, for me all is well at the micro level, it's the macro that depresses. The larger world outside of my community is being torn in so many ways, approaching flood-stage.

I can't escape a sense that things larger than my immediate sphere of influence are moving toward crisis and I am powerless to shift them, like the storm-tossed voice in John Donne's poem, The Calm:
What are we then? How little more, alas,
Is man now, than before he was? He was
Nothing; for us, we are for nothing fit;
Chance, or ourselves, still disproportion it.
We have no power, no will, no sense; I lie,
I should not then thus feel this misery.
Very much like Dean Young's poem, The New Optimism (do follow this link and and read the whole thing!):
The young who knew everything
was new made babies who unforeseeably
would one day present their complaint.
Enough blame to go around but the new
optimism didn’t stop, helped one
pick up a brush, another a spatula
even as the last polar bear sat
on his shrinking berg thinking,
I have been vicious but my soul is pure.
I wonder, for example, if it can still be called a democratic election when both the message and the dialog is bought and when we cannot get enough people to turn off the television, step away from the programmed programming, and return to honest discussion and dialog. I wonder how democracy operates when "the people" are simply objects to be manipulated by messages (or does history tell us otherwise?). Maybe we do have the right to bear arms, but does that really include urban assault weapons and mail-order bombs? Really? Or can we really do anything about climate change so long as there are still minerals to extract and profits to be made from the old fuel paradigms? Or...?

There is only one way to be certain of my fears, and that is to purpose to take action. The bed isn't really any safer than the rest of the room, if
there are truly monsters underneath it. Monsters never play by rules, and they don't honor the notion that the bed is a safe zone so long as you never move from it during the hours of darkness. We prove our fears justified or silly by summoning the courage to get off the bed, dashing for the light switch, whirling around and looking to see what, if anything, is coming toward us. In so doing we can separate our fears from whatever we really do face, and then we can at least take informed action.

What is certain, then? Only that we move through a complex world interconnected with the lives, passions, and needs of many others. Beyond that, every day brings micro and macro uncertainty. The trick is not to let our fear of uncertainty keep us from living and loving and effecting such change as we can.

Today's playlist:
- Chicago: Wishin' You Were Here
- Sam Baker: Sweetly Undone
- Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia: That's All Right, Mama
- Madeleine Payroux: Don't wait too long
- John Mayer: Slow Dancing In a Burning Room

- Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Strangely together

Thursday, threatening sun, but still cloudy on the drive in this morning. Thursday, the great pretender, pulls the ultimate Agatha Christie surprise ending this week and, in the final scene of the play, reveals he really is Friday after all. The pretense was itself pretense.

Things at the college ramp down a bit over the summer, and I try to summer schedule Fridays off as vacation days. Summer is when I work a little harder at the elusive notion of work/life balance (which, I suppose, is irony). Irony or not, today is Thursday and also Friday for me.

A million years ago (or maybe just two years ago this month) I made the decision to start this blog. I decided to use my morning commute's iPod-shuffled playlist as the daily melody line and riff around that as best I could. I also gave myself a couple of rules I would try to follow: write a blog entry for every working weekday for a full year (or as close to that as possible), and to never skip a tune when it was shuffled up. No matter what came up, I would dutifully record it, from the current and cred-worthy to the dated and laughable.

That year went by surprisingly fast, and I did a pretty good job of meeting those self-imposed goals. Nowadays, this blog is more relaxed and more sporadic, though I try to post a couple times each week.

From the first post to this one, one question remains essentially unanswered: why blog? More specifically, why do I blog? I am not trying to build a media presence, I don't blog to represent my college or any products or services, I'm not a famous personality with fans anxiously looking for anything I produce, I'm not monetizing my blog in any way, and I'm not serializing my first great novel to build up a fan base.

My best possible answer: I came to enjoy the quiet exercise of this form of writing, for me, early in the morning. Having the blog simply gives me someplace to put that writing, and affords the slight chance someone else might read it. The latter possibility keeps the pressure on to write as well as I can, to not post something I will be embarrassed to have my name associated with later.

If you are not me and are reading these posts, then I have connected with others (nearly 6000 views in two years), if only for a brief few virtual minutes, and there is value in making connections as we pass through our world. I'm not talking about the deep mystical connection of, say Donne's flea dining on two frustrated lovers, but something more akin to the accidental and momentary connections of people sharing a sidewalk.

I had a professor who rather dramatically swept into the first day of class, wearing a long black overcoat, and wrote on the chalkboard (yes, it was that long ago, now) the single word, "Strangely." He then turned around and said, slowly and clearly, "Strangely!". Turning back to the board he added the word, "together," then turned back to us and said, "Strangely together..."

He repeated this process as he added each word to the sentence he was writing and speaking until he had the full sentence: Strangely together in a world which speaks.

He then proceeded to describe a world in which verbal and non-verbal communications swirls around us, and used the example of people walking toward each other on a crowded sidewalk. Nobody has to declare their path, and yet everyone (mostly) adjusts their path forward dynamically and we don't (mostly) run into each other. At least, not when our attention is focused on those brief quiet connections we constantly make with the people around us. I wonder if his sidewalk example would still work in our current heads-down-eyes-on-smartphone-screen disconnected world?

Well, if your eyes are on this (or any other) blog as you walk down a crowded sidewalk, I guess it isn't as disconnected as it might seem. It's just being selective about which momentary connections we are engaging. Maybe.

Today's playlist was as good as it gets:

- Bruce Cockburn: The Coldest Night Of The Year (x2 because it's so good!)
- John Lennon: Imagine
- The Carpenters: I'll Never Fall In Love Again
- Gordon Lightfoot: Sundown

- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, July 9, 2012

I hear the rolling, amazed, agonized thunder

Monday wakes slowly to another beautiful sunny day here in the northwest corner of the U.S., with only a thin layer of overcast cloud-haze to shed. Like a lace cotton shawl over a bright blue gown, it is taken off and tossed over a chair back as Monday enters the room. When the Pacific Northwest
does do summer (and it is always a limited engagement), it does it perfectly. Temperatures in the low 20's (mid 70's, F), a light marine breeze to cool things off in the evening, and usually a light cloud ceiling to burn through first thing each morning.

Perfect weather for plants, too, as evidenced by the floral exclamations in our yard:

Very early this morning, though, was another matter altogether. I was woken about 3:00 AM to persistent distant (sounding) thunder. One roll crashing over another like steady surf on a rocky coastline. We don't normally get rolling thunder of that sort around here, and the night had been clear with no sign of coming storms, so I couldn't reconcile what I was hearing with normal and had to get up to see what was really happening.

It was thunder, alright. Regular flashes of what looked like sheet lightening back-lit the night sky, which was glowing a dusky orange even between the flashes. Aren't we supposed to count the seconds between the lightning flash and the thunder clap to estimate the distance of the storm? That didn't work last night because the flash always came immediately after the thunder rumbled.
It approaches from the sea, too small
For thunder and lightning
But ominous as a closed fist
And what it will bring
(Dick Allen, Cloud No Bigger Than A Man's Hand)

No, that's not quite right. This was more unbroken cloud cover than isolated (large or small) thunder clouds. There is a touch of Swift's humor in the unusual nature of this spate of nature noise:
Careful observers may foretell the hour
(By sure prognostics) when to dread a shower:
While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o’er
Her frolics, and pursues her tail no more.
Meanwhile the South, rising with dabbled wings,
A sable cloud athwart the welkin flings,
That swilled more liquor than it could contain,
And, like a drunkard, gives it up again.
A Description of a City Shower.

And yet, there was no shower (that I could discern looking out my window into the dark of early morning), so Swift isn't quite the right fit either.

Maybe the best fit is in the sense, less than the literal, evoked in the poem So It Goes, by W. S. Di Piero:
That marsh hawk,
its blown-leaf flight
across Tomales Bay fog,
summer’s abraded light,
the Pacific tide pressuring
and squeezing wave on wave
into the bay’s pinched inlet. . .
We feel somehow between us
still water crushed by that sea,
so constant it seems not to be.
The hawk, a circus, tumbles,
stops, stands upon the air,
beats its wings as if to shoo
the sun’s drenched veils,
and its clapping wings stop
our unstoppable argument,
that love goes, who knows why,
and delivers us from pain
to pain, air with teeth
that seems to eat more air.
Northern harrier, owl face,
they sea-changed your name,
who listens with your face
and shows not love but want,
speed, life in flight
toward, forever toward,
pausing at every chance
to use what ocean-born
bayside air sustains you
by resisting you. We thank
your sunken head bones
and wild close-to-water seeking
that somehow speaks to us,
delivers us
to another amazed
agonized place.
Amazed and agonized, indeed. At any rate, we had thunder, lightening, and an overcast glowing sky at 3:00 AM this morning, and now we have beautiful blue skies and a warming rising sun to look forward to.

Today's full playlist:
- Lyle Mays: The Imperative
- Fountains of Wayne: Hotel Majestic
- Phil Keaggy: The great escape
- David Gray: The One I Love

- Posted via Hermes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Boom! Celebrating a work in progress

Tuesday is confused. Is he Monday's hangover (his usual self) or is he Friday's understudy in this unusual holiday-bifurcated week? Tomorrow is the Fourth of July holiday here in the U.S., our annual flag-waving, pyrotechnic, day of misty-eyed patriotism.

We have much to celebrate, much that is right. Mostly, things work reasonably well here for most folks, though that is not the same as saying things work reasonably. We also have much that isn't right, and that we still need to own and address. We celebrate our national tension between the rights of the individual and the good of the community. Depending on which of those two faiths you embrace, we are great or we are failing. Either way, we celebrate our nation and whatever it is currently, but mostly what we believe it will be, can be, in the future.

Politicians will wrap themselves in red, white, and blue and each will stage many enthusiastic photo-ops showcasing them as paragons of national pride. They will emulate through their marketing our cultural myths about the self-made man, the perfectly assimilated immigrant, manifest destiny, and a society that affords equal opportunity to one and all.

Are we more Hutch, by Atsuro Riley:
From back when it was Nam time I tell you what.
Them days men boys gone dark groves rose like Vietnam bamboo.
Aftergrowth something awful.
Green have mercy souls here seen camouflage everlasting.
Nary a one of the brung-homes brung home whole.


Remembering the Garner twins Carl and Charlie come home mute.
Cherry-bombs 4th of July them both belly-scuttling under the house.
Their crave of pent-places ditchpipes.
Mongst tar-pines come upon this box-thing worked from scrapwood.
From back when it was Nam time I tell you what.
Or are we more To The King On His Navy by Edmund Waller:
Where’er thy navy spreads her canvas wings,
Homage to thee, and peace to all, she brings:


The world’s restorer once could not endure,
That finish’d Babel should those men secure,
Whose pride design’d that fabric to have stood
Above the reach of any second flood:
To thee His chosen, more indulgent, He
Dares trust such power with so much piety.
We are, of course, a complex weave of both (and of much that lies between). It is our work in progress we honor on this holiday.

Our neighborhood will take on something of the war zone sound and appearance, from midday until well into the morning of the 5th, as fireworks explode brightly and loudly. Families will celebrate the holiday in spontaneous neighborhood gatherings, sharing fireworks in thousands of small collective shows. The air will be tangy with the after-burn of sulfur and other chemicals, and the spent cardboard shells and wrappings of left-over fireworks will swirl around the street edges with whatever breeze passes through the next morning. Then it will be Thursday.

For the last couple of days I have been listening to a Pandora station based on Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. Complete nostalgia stuff from an era when album covers were sexist and campy, South American rhythms were all the rage, and there was no such thing as too much brass in popular music. Fun stuff, really.

Today's full playlist:
- Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass: Bittersweet Samba
- Gal Costa: Corcovado (Live)
- Chet Atkins: I'll See You In My Dreams (feat. Mark Knopfler)
- Bert Kaempfert: L-O-V-E (Love)
- Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass: So What's New
- Elsa Soares: Say No More
- Nara Leão: Garota De Ipanema
- Posted via Hermes.