Thursday, November 11, 2010

A bunch of things

I can't be bothered with daily postings, or even monthly ones, I guess. NaBloPoMo is nagging me though, so I'll try to answer a few of their prompts.

One: Something You Hate About Yourself
I am really very lazy.

Two: Something you love about yourself.
I love that I am a constant in many people's lives. I don't quit.

Three: Something you have to forgive yourself for.
I guess I had better forgive myself for telling the internet that I am lazy.

Four: Something you have to forgive someone for.
Most of the things that I have to forgive have already been forgotten. I guess I do that because I'm lazy.

Five: Something you hope to do in your life.
I want to be an artist. I hope I'm not too lazy.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Going downtown

We collected our allowance and walked downtown. Past the stone house that was the oldest house in town - the old land office. Past the house where my old teacher lived. All the way to our church - perhaps we'd make a quick detour and go up the side street where the playground was. That playground had the most unusual merry-go-round... instead of the usual wooden platform that spun a few inches off the ground, this one rested atop a five-foot high metal pole. There were chains attaching the platform to the top of the pole. If you were tall enough, you could spin the platform, then grab ahold and haul yourself up to the spinning ledge. Or more scary yet, you could hang from the chain as the thing spun like crazy. I was never tall enough to reach it, but watched in awe as the older kids dangerously careened around and around, feet kicking and voices hollering.

Then back to Main Street and over the bridge. The bridge had white concrete walls, over which you could peer down at the dam and the waterfall. Along the sidewalk, there were small holes in the wall, for drainage I suppose. I was afraid that I might slip through one of these holes. What would happen if you fell into that green water below? Especially if it was winter, when the bridge was particularly slippery. The dam was encrusted with snow and ice, and the creek was nearly solid. But even in mid-winter, you could hear the sound of water running below the icy surface, especially under the bridge.

The bridge safely crossed, we had arrived downtown. Shelby's jewelry store on the corner, and down from that, the Italian restaurant where you could get fried clams every Friday. The 5 and 10, with its large windows and funky smell of goldfish and hamsters in the back. In there, they sold outfits for Barbie and Tinkertoys and sleds as well as undergarments and tools. There was a counter where the town folks could enjoy coffee and gossip. The front of the store had large glass counters to peer into. I can see the collection of combs and hair decorations, and a rack of hairnets.

Next to the movie theater was the soda fountain place. A glorious place of high red-topped stools along a marble counter, with large phosphate dispensers that had huge handles. Large colorful bottles of syrup lined the back counter below the big mirrors.  Once you climbed up onto one of the stools, you could see your face reflected back to you, a bit faded or warped, but looking you directly into your eyes. There were booths in the dim store, with cracked red leather banquettes and crowds of teens giggling and sipping.

On to the main event! the Saturday matinee. Kids ran in and out of the lobby. Here we bought our ticket from the musty man in the threadbare suit. We pushed our way to the candy counter, if we were lucky enough to have an extra dime or two for Snoballs or Malted Milk candy. If not, we rushed into the auditorium and found empty seats, where we flopped down and tore off our coats and hats. The room was never dimmed until the main feature started. Cartoons and newsreels played non-stop. Sometimes a man dressed as a clown would come and make balloon animals, or chase kids around the aisles. If it was a holiday, there would be little presents of candy or penny-whistles or tops.

I remember counting down the days until Mary Poppins came to our town. I had a calendar and, with a red crayon, I made a big X each evening on the date that we had achieved. Several months went by before the big day finally arrived. I can't remember if I knew the story from having read it, or if I was hyped up from the advertising that they no doubt ran every Sunday night on the weekly Wonderful World of Disney tv show. The movie did not disappoint. I will never forget magical moment when Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke jumped into the chalk drawing on the sidewalk. I think it has given me a lifelong appreciation of magical realism and the permeability of seemingly concrete objects.

The seats were rough and cracked and the cushions were long since collapsed. When the seats were up, you could see the thick layer of gum that had been smashed there by generations of children. The gum was grayish pink and had a sickly smell. It was hard as a rock and on some seats, looked like lava, all pitted and encrusted with dirt.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Two Points for writing

Shall I continue this experiment, or leave it be with two points for writing just one day in the month of May? Two measly points - it doesn't seem like much... it seems connected with basketball, but actually any contest can be decided not only by a two point margin, but with one teeny tiny point. While in sports, the point difference is made by the effort and result of that effort by the players. In adjudicated contests, the point is given by the judges - that point could indicate the total of all the judges individual scores, or it could (I suppose) be added on as a flourish, to the competitor who truly seems to be the best of the group.

This could have been the case during the winter Olympics ice skating contest. Johnny Weir, the seemingly queer and definitely flamboyant, feather- and fur-wearing black sheep of the skating world, was up against the manly jet-black haired hetero champ, Evan Lysecek. (It's true that after the Games were over, Evan appeared on Dancing with the Stars, which is not exactly gay, but could be construed as such - despite his tough-guy attitude and Brill-Creemed hair.) Johnny was, by my judgment, the best by far - he may not have the exact angle of skate to ice needed by the rule book, but his grace and bravery and artistry, both in his movements and his costume, were off the charts. However, it's the rule book that rules. And Evan's muscular, fortified jumps took home the gold.

I'm sure I've written about this before, but what if singing competition were judged mechanically? What if the digitally recorded sound could be run through mechanical ears and measured for clarity of tone and perfect pitch? Each chord could be seen as it lined up or didn't, and overtone monitors could capture the wave lengths of each note as they passed through the microphones. In a perfect world, that would leave the human judges to act only as humans - to observe their own emotions as they listen to the music, to feel the hairs raise on their arms or wipe the sweat from their brows. The humans provide feedback about the poetry of the song, the beauty of the lyrics, the passion of the singers. When you watch a performance, you know it's good when you become the singer, you empathically become them as they take you up and down on the ride. You remember your own story, but you are prompted by them to do so. You travel along the notes to the deep part of a story that you know but yet do not know. You hear your story amplified and shared with a crowd. You have an emotion or two as a result. No machine can measure this.

If a machine could measure this, what kind of machine would it be? A computer with millions of blog entries and novels and every story of every kind. The words of the lyrics would be compared with those stories. The lyric words would not need to match, but share certain algorithms with the story words: shared meaning, matching emotional tags. Perhaps "moon" in a lyric would match up with "midnight"; "love"; "space"; maybe even "vampire". In this way you could count how many lyrical words or phrases matched the most stories in the database. This takes care of resonance of theme and sharing of the common thread of the song. But to measure the emotional response we might have to have machines attached to human receptors - our judging panel now is wearing heart monitors and skin patches with wires attached. Do the panel members' hearts beat together? Do the heartbeats all speed up at the same time? Do the brainwaves get in synch? In fact, which portion of the brain is most stimulated by this song? Moving further into science fiction and the possible future, could we manufacture a body part in a laboratory that could capture the feel of music? They are just now starting to grow human organs in a lab. Which organ is this one? A heart, a brain, a skin, an eye, a soul, a memory, a face, love?

It looks like I may achieve my two points, after all. The grand total will be four - two points gained per day of writing. This system must have been designed by a competitive type person - and what reward will there be for attaining these points?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

There seems to be a problem

There seems to be a problem. It's a disconnect. Lyrics will not register in my brain. Notes, yes. Melodies, sometimes. Accompaniment, yes. Feelings swirl amid the notes and ricochet off the time signature and bounce against the treble clef sign. The words, however, those language elements, the elements that are so dear to my heart, will not stay stuck. I can look at printed lyrics and think, I have never sung this song... even if I know for a fact that I have once sung it every day for a year or more.

I hear a song on the radio. I enjoy it. I hear it again. I learn the ins and outs. I recognize the singer's voice. I hum along in harmony. I request it on the station. I purchase the cd or download the song to my ipod. The following week, we hear it together. She sings along with the singer, knowing each word. I realize that I have never, ever, thought about the words to the song, despite my obsession with it. I am amazed to hear that the topic is thus-and-so.

The song that sounds like a happy sunlit day turns out to be an ironic tale of love gone wrong. The bouncy melody that brings to mind a trip on a train in a foreign country is instead, in the stark lyrics, a nyah-nyah romp of "I told you so". Why are so many songs about loss? I'm thinking that the pop music formula must be this: make it sound one way and make it read the opposite.

On the flip side of this problem is that lyrics I learned by reading never leave my memory. We used to get the lyrics delivered to us, in a largish font size, on the liners and insides and backs of long-playing album covers. I would sit by the stereo, pouring over each word as the songs played repeatedly. Using that method, the lyrics stuck. In fact, I can picture Joni Mitchell's songs in the exact typeface that was used, and with the poetic line breaks intact. This memory must be at least 40 years old.

But when I need to learn a new song that I want to sing, the fastest way is to listen to a recording over and over. This solidifies the notes. I can listen to a recording a number of times without looking at the sheet music, and the next morning, I will awake with the song running through my head. Then I can open my mouth and sing the notes. The words however, are not necessarily there. They will follow later, delinquent and stubborn, until I read the written text enough times.

What parts of my brain are being accessed here? They say that lyrics learned will not vanish despite damage to the part of the brain that controls language. Does that same part of the brain control note memorization? Seems possible but doesn't feel the same.

In other areas of my comprehension of the world around me, my eyes do not play such a vital part. I am sure that, because I came into the world with my eyesight impaired, I never completely relied upon it to bring me the important news of perception. I rely upon my ears and my ESP, for lack of a better term, to recognize a person. I know their voice, I know their essential quality of BEING. I pick up their vibe. I scent their odor. I have been known to completely reject someone based on the pitch of their voice or the terrified smell of their sweat.

We visited a bakery every day for a year or so. The regular man behind the counter was jocular and friendly, serving us muffins and coffee. The other worker in the shop was equally young, brown-haired and slouchy, but was not always there. He would come by to clear the tables and had a jangly, plate-crashing attitude. One day, he took over at the counter and for the days that followed, made our visits there just a little less pleasant. I commented to my partner that I wished the other guy would come back. What followed was a complete shock to me - she insisted that there was only one guy that worked in the bakery. The same guy sometimes was pleasant, sometimes wasn't.. but there was only one guy. Her theory was that this one guy's vibe varied so that I distrusted the evidence that his hair and clothes were the same.

We continued to argue this point until I became convinced that my ESP had failed me. One day we came in for our muffins, and behind the counter stood TWO guys. They looked like brothers. She had to admit that I had been right all along - that the personality difference made them, to me, as different as two guys could be.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


These days, if I am actually mailing a letter through the post, I make an educated guess about the weight of it and stick an extra stamp on or two for good measure. After all, stamps cost less than a dollar each .. I use the kind that never expire, so I'm not even sure how much they cost individually any more. I buy them at the ATM on sheets the size of twenty dollar bills.

But in my youth, which after all was quite a while ago but not so long ago as all that, it was ever so important that one never put on even an extra penny's worth of postage. We had postage scales at home, or always conferred with the grumpy people at the post office. If you accidentally sent a letter that lacked a penny or two in postage, the letter would arrive "C.O.D." and the mailman would ask the recipient to pay up. There was actually a form for this. I remember taping pennies to the form and handing to the carrier.We cared about pennies! Waste not, want not!

Sending a letter overseas could not have been that expensive. But maybe it was? because we always took great care to avoid using heavy paper or regular envelopes when sending a note abroad. Aerogrammes, as thin as toilet paper and nearly transparent, were single sheets that could be folded up carefully and glued around the edges, making an envelope obsolete.If the aerogramme got wet or if you tried to open it with oily fingers, most of the writing could be destroyed. It was also hard to open one without ripping away parts of sentences.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Excepts from a 1977 journal

1. Memories. That first bright night stepping off the bus, walking excitedly in the tracks, deep snow lightly dusting our noses. Streetlamp beams burning with the whiteness falling falling. The low sky reflected..snow..look up, a heavy blanket. Catching flakes on our tongues - the ritual of first snows. Tossing clumps at passing winter worshipers. On the campus, echoing dully, yells of snow battles and conquering rites. I follow her because I have never been on this street before. We have shared many secrets on the bus, and she invited me to her room , to smoke some dope, she said.The dorm is a maze with wet footmarks. I am lost immediately. Her barren room her black light her little steel pipe. The heat is stuffy. Outside, diamonds sparkle. For hours we listen to Joni Mitchell and gaze at the snow, still falling. It falls all night. She has an amazing capacity for smoking dope. I keep taking the pipe because it seems to be the right thing to do. I'm so concerned with conventions, that night. Later I am so burnt out I give up waiting for her advance and go to lie down on the other bed, disappointed. She comes over to me gently and tells me I can't go to sleep.

2. In a ryokan, Japanese-style hotel. Awoke surprisingly early, I think, for I was up 22 hours. Mr. Satori found me paging him at the info desk. We rushed off to the bus, then the train, two hours to Hamamatsu. he is very pleasant and even while laying on an authority trip, managed to stay likeable. Tokyo was very dull-looking, at night. The buildings were no bigger than Rochester - didn't see any crowds. Hamamatsu looks very Asian - like Hong Kong movies - we drove (on the right!) to this hotel after eating in a typical restaurant. It was just a bar arrangement with a counter and five cooks behind a half wall, silently cooking and rushing around a tiny kitchen. We had tempura, but first there was cold octopus, then raw fish (good), then pickled veggies, then the delicate tempura. There was ebi (shrimp), fish, and veggies in batter. I didn't think I was hungry but it was great. Also there was bean soup, tea and a huge bowl of rice. Anyway, the streets weave all around and there are strange looking shops - open front - among the big department stores and the banks and motorcycle shops. drove past the English Center. Today we're going to look at houses. Tomorrow I'll meet my classes, be introduced, etc. On Wed & Thurs, I'll teach! I don't know if I should wait up here for him or go downstairs. The bed is luscious. Last night, I took a hot bath and then collapsed. I guess I'll wait up here because I'm not lugging all my stuff down three flights alone. Out my window is fascinating. So much to see!

3. The file theory for language and life (conceived of during my senior year of college)
The basic concept of this theory begins with the image of the mind as a complex filing system, with the ability to mark and file bits of information for use. This brain/file is seen in action when we use language. The "marked features" of so many linguistic theories are the best way of imaging our mental file cards:
-meat eater
+weirdo (or a positive reaction)
Each feature has is own file as well. Someone offers me a hot dog. I say, "no thanks, I don't eat meat." There is a pause while the files shuffle.. (meat, meat, don't eat), "oh, you're a vegetarian?" The final feature (weirdo or whatever) determines the tone of voice the question is asked in.
If a concept, word , or memory of an event is not too well known, or rare, there are fewer cross references in the file. Perhaps you once heard of the place "Torremolinos" in a conversation about Spain. It would be only featured in your Spanish file. But if you had read Michener's book "The Drifters", with his detailed descriptions of the town, there would be many references in your file. Each story you tell is afterwards marked as to who you told it to, and when or where. Some of us are more meticulous in our file systems - others have no marker for story telling, and may repeat an event many times in your hearing.
The most personal and intimate part of a person is the way in which she orders her file system. the better you know someone, the more you learn about how the file works. Perhaps you have known someone well enough to feel you know what they were about to say, or how they would respond to anything. This is knowing what concepts and feelings (that are marked) are the most prevalent and what triggers file cards to be drawn. No one can ever know all of your file, and no one can know how it is arranged except you. If you want to learn your own system, you have to start with minute details like slips of the tongue and ways you mispronounce words. Or you might listen to your thoughts as you define each term you hear - and jot down the features that come to mind immediately.The better you know your own filing methods, the easier it is to store ideas and to recall them.
As to memory, the files are divided for convenience sake, into long and short term. When a card has not been used for some time (of course, the time and the choice depends on your own system), it is filed more obscurely. There may be a key word that will call it forward, but sometimes you never dredge it up. Or it may be attainable only through a complex set of cross-references.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


This morning, the coffee was named "Ambrosia". I had to look up the definition, out of curiosity for such a Greek-sounding word.

Definitions of ambrosial
* extremely pleasing to the taste; sweet and fragrant; "a nectarous drink"; "ambrosial food"
* worthy of the gods

In ancient Greek mythology, ambrosia (Greek: ἀμβροσία) is sometimes the food, sometimes the drink, of the Greek gods (or demigods).  It was brought to the gods in Olympus  by doves, so may have been thought of in the Homeric tradition as a kind of divine exhalation of the Earth.

Additionally, some modern ethnomycologists, such as Danny Staples, identify ambrosia with the untameable hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria: "it was the food of the gods, their ambrosia, and nectar was the pressed sap of its juices", Staples asserts.

The wikipedia entry goes on to talk about how it may have been as lowly of a substance as honey or mead, the drink made from honey. But I like the thought of my morning coffee being laced with some kind of magic mushroom.

We used to eat our mushrooms chopped up very finely and mixed with peanut butter or gagged down with orange juice. They imparted a bitter aftertaste on anything they were mixed with. After taking them, you had just a short while to get where you wanted to be until the buzz started coming on. I remember living in the Haight, eating the stash, and then boarding the bus to get out to Lands End. The group of us transferred from on bus to another and then once again, eager and urgent to get out into the open before the trip would begin. There was always a bit of doubt, a worry that this time, I wouldn't get high, that this time, the mushrooms might not be strong enough. Were they tinged with enough blue? Had they been in the freezer too long? Had the shrinkwrap leaked air in and sucked the potency out of the plant?

As I stepped off the last bus at the end of California street, the pavement waggled below me. The street lights wavered just a little, and the green lawn of the golf course glowed intensely as if the blades were spiked with neon. Perfect timing! we had arrived at the intended destination, and like clockwork, forty-five minutes after consumption, the world was about to become more visible. The thing about enhanced perception - when it's there, it's so obvious! And when the drug wears off and the windows of the mind close, you can't force them back open. Gradually, on mushrooms, the vibrations of the world become something that you can sense and see. The space between atoms, the motion of particles, the open space between the pore of one's skin - all that movement is visible, all the vacuums are filled with light. The walls or ceilings move with an undulating pulse. Body parts breath and sigh in the tempo of the heartbeat. The sky vibrates with wind and heat and moisture.

There is also the mundane to deal with - the slight nausea brought on by eating the fungus, and the thirst, and the dizziness that comes in waves. These are minor compared with the elation and thrill of seeing the world again with eyes that are bigger, as big as teacups, as wide as movie screens, as deep as the moon.

We climb past the golf course and gawk at the white-panted men driving miniature cars across the greens. We laugh and sigh and hoot and holler. We run up to the edge of the cliff and are blown back by the ocean wind and the sight of the enormous Golden Gate Bridge, which must have been strung across the gap by giants with engineering degrees. How could they have begun this project? How could they have set those pillars into the water? Climbed those towers and hung the wires? The bridge floats, suspended from itself, a magical construction. The color, burnt vermillion, against the brilliant azure of the water (tipped with white) and the golden honey brown of the hills on the far side.  What world is this? The only green in sight is the chemically treated, falsely trimmed artificiality of the golf course, where clowns drive their clown cars and take aim at tiny balls with their oddly shaped sticks. The rest of the world is toasted wheat. Every blade of grass is crisp and sharp.

We stand wobbly and gleeful at the sight of this wonder-touched world.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Studio and Art

Our 2010 resolution is to create more art. Carving out a time for this is the essential thing. It's not that we don't have the time - we just don't have the habit. So if we make a timeslot, then it's possible. Sunday afternoons - no web browsing, no newspaper, no crosswords.. we call it Sunday Studio.

Last week I was on fire, worked on my painting/collage work, wrote up some things. This week, I am in the kitchen (culinary art? does it count?) trying to make a Martha Stewart cookie recipe. Hmm, harder than you can imagine. Also, I'm blogging. Is blogging an art? The eternal question: what is art? As long as the creative juices are flowing, and there is some passion involved in making it: that's my definition.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Virtual travel leads to actual trip

I'd like to get this blog going again - this year, Facebook took over my time & attention, and although I do love reading about friends new and old, somehow knowing WHO is reading my updates makes me less free to write what I want to. I think I write better with an anonymous (or in this blog's case, a nearly non-existent) audience. Of course I know this blog is public, too, but there is a disconnectedness to the real world that somehow makes me feel more free.

When I look back at 2009, one experience stands out as something that not only was new to me, but also employs relatively new technology and therefore worth noting as iconic for the times. It has to do with my preparation for the trip to Provence that we took last fall. I used Google Earth extensively for the trip planning. We had bought a guide book or two, and I read online about hotels and restaurants in the area, but Google Earth took the planning to a different level. I felt like a futuristic voyeur as I entered what I came to call "the bubble".

I started out looking at Nice, a city I had never been to before. I needed to choose a hotel, and couldn't really tell from the map which part of town would be attractive to us. Sometimes it's best to be near the train station, but some places, it's not - it can be seedy or inconvenient to the spots you want to see. So I opened Google Earth and took a look. What I discovered is that the street view in GE is quite extensive. As you zoom in close to a street, you start to see bubble-like orbs floating above the streets.

Click on a bubble, and you move in, like Glinda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz, passing through a fuzzy out of focus moment, until you are vitually standing in the center of that very street.

This particular view is of a street where a highly recommended hotel was located. As I rotated my vantage point and looked at the neighboring buildings, the traffic, the people loitering by the entrance, I could tell that this was not the hotel for us. For one thing, there were no nearby cafes. There was a large parking lot next door that was filled with mostly motorcycles - imagine the roar that might awake us in the morning!

I found that many of the hotels in the guide book were all in one neighborhood with little character. As I rode my vitual helicopter above Nice, I noticed an area of buildings which were much more dense, with streets that meandered circuitously, rather than fitting into a grid. Could this be the old city?

I zoomed closer and found that the street view bubbles were not available in this part of town! The street must be too tightly spaced to allow the Google photo vehicle access. However, in certain places, Google Earth has a red dot with 360 on it. These are 360 degree photographs, taken by aficionados and uploaded. Clicking on one of these in the old city sent me over the edge of excitement - I couldn't wait to get to this place and start exploring! I did a search right on this screen to find the hotels closest to this neighborhood. We ended up staying in one just a couple blocks outside Old Nice, which was perfect in every way.

 I spent so much time exploring virtual Nice that by the time we arrived, it felt familiar, like somewhere I had visited in my dreams.