8.28.2002

Things I often watch outside of my office window:
1. A drifting blimp that reads "Hood," which appears to make daily commutes between invisible points in the sky
2. A hawk who returns to the same utility pole for routine surveys of the land
3. The continuous movement of truck containers by men with forklifts
4. The occasional traffic helicopter
5. Thunderstorms
My grandpa had a bad stroke yesterday in Sikeston, MO. It's the kind of stroke you don't want to recover from, and it doesn't sound like he will. He's been consumed by coma, and cannot breathe on his own. The doctors say there is a lot of brain damage.

He was out shopping with my grandma when it happened. He went into the restroom, and when he didn't come out, she sent an employee in after him, who found him unconscious on the floor. They helicoptered him to St. Francis Hospital in Cape Girardeau, where he lies now, even as my parents and brother drive from one state border to the next on their way to hold him.

He and I share a birthday, and I was lucky enough to spend most of my birthdays with him. He is so kind and loving, with crinkling blue eyes that poured affection whenever I saw him. He fought in WWII, and then he worked in construction his whole life until he retired. When I was little, no one could play with me like he could. But even though I love him dearly, I always spent our two-day drives out there feeling like I was missing out on something by not being around my friends and in my home on my birthday. Instead I was left to wander around in a small farm town in Southeast Missouri that was slowly being overtaken by strip malls and billboards. Amid cicadas and endless corn fields, July 1st stood alone.

But when the day rolled around and together we got cake, gifts, and party hats, I forgot about the idea of isolation. It was easy to forget how close to my heart he was, like the way you forget about breathing because it is so much a part of you. But his joy and warmth was so everpresent that it was ultimately impossible to ignore. And as he aged, his pain was just as palpable. It was something I could feel during each phone call, and it was like a heavy weight.

Last night we tried to imagine what it would be like to have a stroke. The idea of his body shutting down tears at me. But Dan said he thought that things might just turn black, in a soft and painless haze.

I hope so.

8.26.2002

We took one of those drives on Saturday, a long drive under a cool gray sky out to the country. It's the kind of drive people have been doing for a century, in carriages and jalopies, and now with turbo. We drove up to my old college, and walked around the library and the mods (that's short for 'modular housing') and into the social science building and by all my old haunts. We laughed at the socially responsible graffiti ("this used to be a tree" carved into a wooden bench). We walked past the tennis courts and out into the woods, lay in the pine needles together and listened to the quiet. It was nice. I remembered the wild abandon that saturated my first couple of years there, the rush of adrenaline when I simply walked out to those woods with my new friends and some beer. As the years passed, I became more serious and more solitary, and in general, more focused on the idea of consequences: Consequences of television, of technology, of relationships, of reading, of writing, of addiction, of politics, of sex.

On Saturday afternoon, we ran around the Quabbin reservoir like children, climbing on bridges and wading through rivers and drenching our clothes. We trespassed madly. We gazed at long vistas, as loons flew overhead with a deeply echoed cry. The reservoir was a massive public works project completed in 1938 to supply Boston with drinking water, and it feels parental, looming, majestic. But with those long arms comes an inflexibility and inaccessibility that feels dated. That kind of authority is dead, and in my familial history, at least, it died in Vietnam. As soon as the government killed sons needlessly, and ruthlessly, the trust in it was gone. And the right to question authority was the only truthful testament, the crux of every asked question.

The core of postmodernity burned under that angry response, and when it exploded into consciousness, everything changed. Science, government, art, war, technology, and most of all, social relationships.
We drove home, listening to 'Cuyahoga' by R.E.M.

At home in the evening, we watched Risky Business. It was better than I remembered. And, it was also more important than I remembered. I thought it was a sexy movie, and it is. It's probably one of the sexiest movies I've ever seen. But it's about more than sex: it's about what happens because of sex, and what happens when restrictive authority is lifted. What happens to the autonomous self?
It learns to feel.

8.23.2002

This clock is the best thing EVER.
Oh, but speaking of humor, let me show you something that really is funny. Blog stickers. I think my favorite is, "He's not heavy, he's my blogger." But I'm thinking about posting "All Your Blogs Are Belong To Us." (This is a reference to "All Your Base Are Belong to Us," a bizarrely silly joke about a poorly translated video game that got out of control on the Internet. Yes, Internet humor, don't get me started. Here's the short history.)

8.22.2002

OK. This is it for today. I mean it.
But you have to read Jennie and Sara's excellent adventure. I like it partly because it is so unbelievable, and partly because it involves horses (hey, I have to be honest!). Check out the follow-up, too. She's a good writer.
More Route 9 Nature Stories. A huge brown hawk sat outside my window the other day, passing about two and half hours on top of a utility pole. Right across the road from me, and the hawk, is a truck-container storage lot, where men forklift huge truck trailers around a very small lot and stack them precariously on top of one another. It's better than TV. Anyhoo, the name on their sign reads, "The Eagle."

I wonder if the hawk was confused.
Harrumph! For when you're feeling low! [credit goes to blamblog]
Seeking escape from the sea of low flourescents that is my office, I went outside the other day at lunch to a marshy bog behind our parking lot. Frogs leapt out from under my toes as I stumbled around on the side of muddy pond, pushing my way through cattails in my sandals and shorts. I wanted to pick some of the wildflowers that grow out from between the rocks and logs, and bring them back to my office as a reminder that my airconditioned cocoon isn't just a computer graveyard.

First I found some bushes with long strands of wild white miniature daisies. I pulled a few stems off, and then pushed my way through the bramble until I got to the Queen Anne's Lace. I remember picking flowers with my mother when I was little; stopping the car on the side of the highway when we spotted a field of them and the both of us leaping out and running into the tall waves of grass. I remember how she used to laugh and carry them by the armful as we climbed back into the car. We'd bring them home and put them in vases around our little apartment. She always told me that Queen Anne's Lace was named for the doilies and coasters Queen Anne would create from the heads of these flat white flowers. I imagined a castle of blooms.

Next in the marsh was the bright yellow flower that I can't name, though I know it is neither goldenrod nor yarrow. Each stem was sprinkled with sun-colored specks, which is why when I first grabbed for a flower I didn't see the cover of big hungry honeybees. My hands jolted back involuntarily when they hummed madly around my wrists. In the end, I took just one yellow flower, and felt apologetic for it. Lush purple blossoms covered the edge of the marsh, and after pulling a bloom from the bush, I carried my bouquet back inside. Walking across the painted concrete, I felt like a bride.

As I was inside, cutting the stems to fit a paper cup that I found in our kitchenette, a tiny spider with mammoth front pinchers leapt from the bouquet. Before I could do anything, he had scuttled into the sink's drain. My heart sank. I trickled water into the drain so that he would know to get out before it was too late. Instead, he moved toward the water. That poor spider, I thought. This office is a suburban graveyard after all, a darkened box where life goes to end. I looked at the flowers in my hand. For every action, there is a consequence.

But as days passed, the flowers sat in their cup on my desk, blooming and blooming. At night I would leave and they would stay, feeling the moonlight on their leaves through the window. Yesterday, I found that the daisies had released dozens of little seeds on my desk. They lay on the plastic surface, soft drifts of fluff unmoving in the still air. I swept them into my hand and walked downstairs with them, thinking that I could carefully distribute them across the grounds. As I stood outside, I opened my hand to pick them out. Though there was no apparent wind, the seeds lifted from my hand in one cloud, and flew away, dispersing upwards as I stood among the cars and watched the sky fill.

8.19.2002


Molly Ivins strikes again. The sassiest Texan journalist reports on W's most recent economic circle jerk in Mayor Bush of the Potemkin Village of Economyville.
Goo, goo, goo: There's an article today in the Times on the application of the precautionary principle (or go-slower approach) to nanotechnology. Hoping that nanotechnology can infiltrate the economy more smoothly than biotechnology has, skeptics are requesting a thorough investigation into the potential risks of nanotech prior to the mass commercialization of, say, tiny robots in your sunscreen.

It's fascinating how people react to the act of creating something that has consequences that are inconceivable. We gather in groups to protest, we write laws out on paper, we ban it from country to country. Biotechnology seems different from nanotechnology, though. I think cloning is good and scary all at the same time. However, what are we to make of millions of tiny robots that are able to rearrange the very building blocks of life? The Gray Goo problem, in which atom-sized self-replicators cover the entire globe in 75 hours?

I don't know. That could be just scary.

8.15.2002

The Front for the Liberation of Gnomes strikes again.
OK, I bought the new book (see below). For some reason I am drifting through the Internet of disgruntled workers today. Isn't it amazing what this medium has done for the labor force? First it created new jobs. Then it broadcasted the voices of people who were once employed and hopeful, but became fired and angry. And now it's a meeting place for a thoughtful and annoyed labor force. The Internet: an employer's worst nightmare!

NetSlaves has an article today on if the U.S. has yet jumped the shark, and I find myself drawn again to the strange and ethereal Ghost Sites. So much for the voices of the workers, I guess: it only seems fitting that ijustgotfired.com is now a porn site.
What Free Press? I must have this book. I must buy it today.

8.13.2002

Salon has a great article today about the media practice of refraining from noting the names of rape victims. Writing especially about the teenage girls who recently survived a rape and kidnapping in California, Salon writes, "In effect, the girls disappeared twice -- once when abducted, and again when the media erased them."
The worst rains since 1890 are flooding the Czech Republic. I have a very special place in my heart for Eastern Europe, so maybe that's why the Slideshow in this article strikes me as the most beautiful thing on the Internet today. A man watches as the ancient Vltava River presses sandbags, flowing fast under the wide statue-ringed Charles Bridge, which the Dalai Lama once proclaimed "the center of the universe." In Husinec houses are halfway buried in swirling brown water and cars seem only to exist as metal roofs afloat in pools. An aerial view of Golling, Austria, shows a small soaked village surrounded by endless miles of saturated green farmland. People have died in these floods, and the destruction is horrific. But Eastern Europe is so quiet, so slow, and so long-suffering that, in still frames, the movement of water through streets is reassuring, flushing out the traditional August tourists and letting the rivers run.

8.12.2002

I was back in the dusty Midwest last weekend. Endless stretches of traintrack glimmering in the central heat, slow ambles up doublewide streets bouncing a tennis ball, swinging on a childless playground. In deep August, the Chicago suburbs offer a circular ringing of cicadas and the distant hum of air conditioning. Flying into Boston last night on a shaking jet, I found myself glad to see the black ocean, and in my car by midnight I drove home with the windows down.

8.09.2002

In my arms, yesterday, I held an act of love. He fussed and squirmed and sometimes lay there quietly, inquisitively, looking at every corner of the room with dark milk eyes. He is my godson, the child of two people who have been in love for six years, and he is the combined genes of their parents and grandparents. And still he's more. It is amazing what love can do: three days of pain and panic and exhaustion and euphoria between two people surrounded by blood and doctors; and now, a new human, with shoulders, two knees, and a soft head of downy hair.
Waking up in fits last night I would think of the way his mom had to move so slowly because of the pain, how gravely and serenely she looked at him, how luminous she was and filled with love. I thought of the way the setting sun slipped in through the hospital window. His dad in a chair holding his swaddled son, glowing. The baby's open mouth, nursing. The dream kept me awake in spurts.
Rising early, I took a bikeride to Concord this morning, past fields of purple loosestrife, ponds in need of rain, dark trees just coming out of nighttime.
On my way home, a rustle in the bushes revealed a deer. Stopped now and looking closer, I saw a spotted fawn close behind his mom. They froze and looked at me, pensively, the baby close beside his strong mother. I looked into their eyes and saw everything.

8.08.2002

I have gotten word that a red-haired boy is newly in the world. 7 pounds, 6 ounces, after fighting through 36 hours of labor, born finally in the night of August 7, 2002. Welcome, baby.
Nothing is sadder than a silent blog in the face of a Work Tempest. I was running hard for two days, plagued by the Furies, and now at the start of another blue sky day I find myself considering the possibility of a different career, perhaps in a few years.

Story: Since the TV can't be turned on by fewer than twelve remotes, and changing the channels requires another thirty remotes, we gave up on cable and instead signed up for Netflix. This company giddily mails you a steady stream of DVDs you select from their library of 11,000 titles. Thinking in perfect 10s, we reasoned that if we picked the most universally acclaimed movies at MetaCritic (the ultimate movie review website) then we'd see, by default, the absolutely greatest movies of all time. My scientist boyfriend was delighted. "This is the most scientific possible way to choose movies!" he crowed. "We'll never see another bad movie again!"

Our first one arrived in the mail the other day. "Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie." 96 out of a 100, said MetaCritic. Winner of the 1972 Oscar for Best Foreign Film."A Masterpiece!" trumpeted the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Salon raved, "This has to be one of the most completely realized comedies ever made, and, in its odd way, one of the most civilized." Still, I should have known when I read TV Guide's line, "A brilliant surrealistic joke about a group of friends whose attempts to dine are continually thwarted." I've never been one for brilliant surrealistic jokes, myself.

"Discreet Charm" is very French. It was actually directed by a Spanish director, Buñuel. But listen to this: they smoke. They talk. They smoke. They have dreams within dreams. They smoke. By the third dream within a dream, I decided to go to bed. The scientist stayed up to finish it out. He got in bed a half hour later. "That movie sucks ass!" he said.

8.05.2002

I'm petting her, on my old couch, and she crawls up to my neck and presses her kitten face into my hair. She is a cat, really, nine months old now, but she's diminuitive and bright-eyed, with a playful personality. So I think of her as a kitten, and I let her have all the allowances of a baby. As I stroke her long thin back, all browns and amber, and tell her that I love her colors, she burrows deeper into my neck, now covering her whole head with my hair. I know what she's doing. Within seconds, her paws are gently pushing into my neck and she is making a suckling noise. I say her name softly, but she doesn't respond.

"Hazel," I say, raising my voice this time. She suckles harder on nothing, pressing her nose into my neck as she is suddenly back at her mom's breast, a runt squeezed tightly between her five sisters. Finally, though I'm reluctant to break her fantasy, I pull her face away. Her eyes are squeezed tight and her soft black nose pushes upwards a bit, as though pushing fur away from a teat. I kiss her soft eyes and repeat her name. She has stopped moving her mouth, meaning that she knows where she is, but she keeps her eyes closed tightly so that she can stay in her daydream. I hold her face between my hands and rub her forehead gently with my thumbs.

She only does this with me and my old roommate, who currently has primary custody of her. Her two mamas remind her of her first mama, who came in out of the cold when she was a pregnant stray. I know how Hazel feels; like me, she's a dreamer who drifts easily back to the past whenever she gets relaxed enough. I find myself thinking of her often as I sit at my desk during the day, missing her company, which was always available when I worked from home. Now I have a new job and a new home. When I stop in to visit her, she leaps from her spot and runs to me, purring. I hold her as tightly as I can, both of us, remembering.
Oh, god, I so much just want to be left alone. Not by my friends, so much, but by my aquaintances. My co-workers have just suggested that we have weekly lunches to catch up on each other's lives; "I never really talk to you!" said one cheerfully. My skin crawls. There's no way to say, "Oh, Wednesday? On Wednesdays I like to go for long meandering rural drives during lunch, ostensibly searching for a Starbucks that will serve me a Frappucino, but failing that, I like to stop at Herbie's homemade ice cream because I've just discovered it and no one knows where I am and I have the potential to get lost and then I get a low-fat frappe and drink half of it slowly, while in a fetal position on a bench outside in the shade!" Well, I guess that's what I like to do on Mondays, or at least Monday, August 5, 2002.
Over the weekend we had a company picnic, which I dutifully attended, and yet the point of the gathering was lost on me. Isn't it enough that I come in to work? Aren't I allowed to have at least my lunch breaks?

I'd like to say, "Oh, I can't do lunch! I'm sorry! I am just waiting for the day that I can work from home full-time! It takes everything I have not to wear all black to work everyday, in mourning for my life!"

Instead I say, "Hmm, Wednesday! Why, Wednesday! I am enthusiastic about that idea! What a bright-eyed little bugger you are! How extremely exciting of you!"
Lemmings at Internet Speed: Kottke.org on Andrew Sullivan's interview with Camille Paglia.
And before I forget, I'd like to recommend this article to anyone who finds beauty in the fringes and wastelands of human culture.
I had kids, and it's not easy. Well, I had kids just for the weekend. And maybe "kids" isn't the right word; my brother, age 17, and his girlfriend, 18, visited for a couple of days, which were spent nightswimming in the ocean, ferry-hopping at Long Wharf, checking out the Sea Lion show at the New England Aquarium, and taking an impromptu tour of Harvard. I heard about high school, the approach of college, the plague of SATs and the tide of drinking and sexuality that washes a school, soaking though each grade level.

I don't miss that painful, intense time. A trip back to high school or college sounds like another circle of hell to me.

8.02.2002

Today marks one month at my new job. One month of driving my car everyday at high speeds, one month of wearing work clothes and saying work things, one month of walking into the woods during lunch to sit on the forest floor. I've been on a steady diet of NPR (Morning Edition going there and All Things Considered on the way back), swallowing up bits and pieces of news, working on my book on the side, blogging for the first time in my life (although I just discovered an old attempt at blogging), and soaking up my non-work time like it was sunlight. I hadn't worked full-time in two years when I started this job, and it has been a bit of a shock.

There are a few drawbacks. I am plagued by the thought that I have sold out and am not pursuing my bohemian dreams. I pester myself: will I ever have a job that doesn't bore me? I wonder how I'll get enough time to exercise, to write, to hang out with my friends, to get to know my godson. The body suffers; my wrist aches from computer use, for which I'm hoping to get referred to a specialist next week. And I agonize about the re-shaping of my hard-won body to fill the chair in front of this computer.

But, there is time for things apart from work, in the end. And I'm grateful for a real salary, a fast drive, and a comfortable job. Once I was Marxist, and I'll never forget that I give my blood for their money. But compared to others, the sacrifice is nothing, as I was reminded by trapped miners.

8.01.2002

Word has come down from on high that we are off to Western Springs, IL in a mere eight days. Though it's a suburb of Chicago, Beeswax tells me that it's a good forty minutes away from the city by public transport, which means the bulk of our time will be spent in the town. We'll be there to join a rare gathering of my boyfriend's extended family, and it will be my first time meeting them. His grandparents are retired now, but in their day, he was an FBI agent, and she was a model. I wonder how such a cosmopolitan couple wound up in a mild suburb. I also wonder if they'll like me.

In the year 2000, the population of Western Springs was measured at 12,000 and change, and in 1990 the median family income was about $93,000. I wonder how much that has changed since its founding in 1886. Like those in most small towns, inhabitants are not free from nostalgia. Respondents to a 2001 poll expressed a desire for the return of an old variety store to the town center, and a sadness that the main hardware store is buckling under. Some respondents had more direct advice. One respondent did suggest that the town council establish in downtown a "restaurant where food is edible." Another wrote, "NO MORE BANKS!" One lamented, perhaps excessively, that the Post Office is "easily the VERY WORST in the U.S." And though some said, "OK as is!," overwhelmingly, they expressed frustration with the lack of eateries and the overabundance of real estate brokers intent on consuming central storefront. They missed the pharmacy, and they wanted a bar.

And yet, there is clearly a satisfying town center, even if it's not physical. I see that 556 Western Springs citizens (out of a total of 1,602) participated in this year's Tower Trot, a foot race with a 25-year tradition in which (I believe) my beloved has participated. There's an active playhouse. There are eleven public parks, and the streets sound as though they are lined with old elm trees.

There's a powerful homogeneity there; only 23 of the town's residents are African-American, and a few dozen more are other non-whites. It's hard to imagine being in their shoes. I imagine (and hope), however, that Western Springs has probably diversified in the last few decades, and even if it's a handful of people at a time, it will continue to change.

Despite the critiques of downtown, almost none claimed plans to pack up and leave. In fact, sentiment is primarily the opposite. When asked why they live there, residents cited the warm atmosphere and the convenient location, the good schools and kind neighbors. They talked about the old town centers and low crime rate, how it eases the pain of aging and how it feels like a hometown.

I've never lived anywhere where officials asked me what I wanted out of a community, and if they had, I don't know if my community would have responded. Even the complaints from respondents give me hope; by filling out their forms they demonstrate that they know they have a voice. They know that their opinion gives them a right to participate.

When I meet the grandparents and aunts, the uncles and cousins that weekend, I'll meet a community of family, and when I step outside the front door, I'll be glad to remember that there are so many families, all with voices of their own, independent and unified, respondents each and every one.