Saturday, December 24, 2005

Brokeback Mountain

I saw Brokeback Mountain today. It is a sad story, beautifully told against the backdrop of vast open spaces and amazing mountain views. I wonder if the impact would have been different if I hadn't already known the whole story before I saw the movie. At any rate, the tragedy of the story will probably be lost on the people who need to see it the most. My hope is that it will strengthen the will of people who are engaged in the struggle for gay rights. We can't go back; we must continue the effort to craft a society where it is not necessary for people to live a lie.

I think Heath Ledger is likely to get an Oscar for his performance. It was a perfectly nuanced reading of an extraordinarily difficult role.

Read Annie Proulx's short story here. And buy her book Close Range for more Wyoming stories. She's a good writer.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Merry Christmas to All

It's been several years since we had a traditional Christmas tree, the kind that looks like everybody else's idea of what a tree should be. About the age when many kids decide to become vegetarians because they can't bear the thought of killing animals, our daughter went a contrary route and became ultra-sensitive to the issue of killing trees. We took a trip to northern California, a sort of pilgrimage to the grandfather trees. That went well, except for the occasions when the sight of a logging truck loaded with timber would bring the Sensitive One to the brink of tears. Oh, the horror, the carnage!

So, we do not kill a tree to decorate our home during the Christmas season. Four years ago, we created a sculpture out of wire that was marginally evocative of a Christmas tree, and we decorated that. Last year, we bought a Norfolk Island Pine in a pot and decorated it. Then we put it out in the yard. During the year it grew and we repotted it. This year it's about twice as big, and last week we brought it in and hung lights and shiny stuff on it. Maybe more than we should have--I was starting to feel sorry for the little tree. We hung a calendar nearby so it would see that it was only 11 days until Christmas is over and it can go back outside.

I'm most proud of the star on top of the tree: it's hanging from the ceiling. Actually quite a nice effect.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Achenblog is Broken

No Achenblog on a Friday? I can only hope it will be repaired soon.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Pearl Harbor Day

Well, it’s Pearl Harbor Day, also the birthday of my sixth grade English teacher, Ms. Ellis. She was never one of my favorite teachers, but my best friend really disliked her because when Ms. Ellis was rebuking her once for some behavior or other (probably talking in class—that’s the only misbehavior we knew how to do back then) she said, “Your parents may let you act like that at home, but it’s not acceptable here,” and my friend took that as an insult to her parents, and never forgave the teacher for it. I also remember Ms. Ellis for misusing a Bible quote. When she punished the whole class for something one student did, she’d say, “It rains on the righteous and the unrighteous alike.” But that quote, which is from the Sermon on the Mount, is an example Jesus used to illustrate God’s grace and mercy, to remind us that we all receive God’s blessings even though we are sinners. On Pearl Harbor Day, I always remember Ms. Ellis, and that reminds me of God’s mercy and forgiveness, and while I’m forgiving the Japanese Imperial Air Force, I’m also trying to forgive my sixth grade English teacher. As one Pearl Harbor survivor said, “forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself.”

In thinking of Ms. Ellis’s transgressions, I also automatically remember my years as a teacher, and all the times I spoke carelessly or inaccurately, the times I inadvertently insulted or hurt one of my students. It happens, even when you care a lot and pay attention. So I need forgiveness, too. I hope my former students have forgotten the mistakes I made.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

They Might Be Giants


I got the new TMBG Venue Songs CD/DVD and it's having the usual impact on my life. I listened to the CD a few dozen times, and then I obsessed on this one song. For the past two days, whenever I'm listening to music, I'm exclusively listening to this song. I still haven't got all the words absolutely, one line in these lyrics is reconstructed from aural fragments, but I won't tell you which one, it would disturb the flow. Ladies and gentlemen, "Renew My Subscription" by They Might Be Giants!

Renew My Subscription

Well, I don’t write too many letters
I figured I’d better write something now
I saw the thing about the heartsick shut-in
Thought that I would cut in and tell you about how
It woke me from a lifelong daydream
While I was aging you wrote it all down
And though I recognized the words when I read them
I know I never said them to people out loud

Renew my subscription
to Desperate Bellowing magazine
It sure does have a familiar ring
You might say I fit the description
Renew my subscription to Miserable Freakshow Quarterly
Every back issue I saw spoke to me
Acknowledging it’s my addiction
Renew my subscription!

=====

I want to be a much better person
Instead, I worsen with every day
But there’s a drug whose name I’m not sure of
Which I need more of to feel okay
They told me exercise and diet
If I would try it, would cure my ills
But though I’m already past my quota
I want another load of those magic pills

Refill my prescription
To whatever that thing is that makes
The carpet stop turning into snakes
In lieu of my coming conniption
Refill my prescription
And free me from where I don’t want to be
Standing outside the unopened pharmacy
Before I confirm your prediction
Refill my prescription!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Bah, Humbug




I want the "irritating office" award for the week because I am within 10 feet of BOTH a singing/dancing Santa AND a performing snowman. And have just been informed that a second snowman will be joining the mix tomorrow.

My best friend in the office said she bought one of those things for her neighbor, who has brain damage from a stroke, and "he loves it." She can handle the truth so I told her my opinion that the performing holiday characters, along with the singing fish and so on, were perfectly suited to that audience: people with severe brain damage. She laughed, and then she hit me, and then she emailed me a PowerPoint presentation called "Things that make you go AWWWW" (cute animal photos...)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Philip Roth: American Pastoral

Philip Roth's book, American Pastoral, was published in 1997, and won the Pulitzer Prize. It's an enjoyable read, with muscular prose and plenty of philosophical content and social commentary leveraged into the plot. I'm not going to write about it, but I'm going to quote it.

p. 19:

"...the Swede, tentatively flexing an elbow while half running and half limping off the field, spotted me among the other kids, and called over, 'Basketball was never like this, Skip.'

The god (himself all of sixteen) had carried me up into athletes' heaven. The adored had acknowledged the adoring. Of course, with athletes as with movie idols, each worshiper imagines that he or she has a secret, personal link, but this was one forged openly by the most unostentatious of stars and before a hushed congregation of competitive kids--an amazing experience, and I was thrilled. I blushed, I was thrilled, I probably thought of nothing else for the rest of the week. The mock jock self-pity, the manly generosity, the princely graciousness, the athlete's self-pleasure so abundant that a portion can be freely given to the crowd--this munificence not only overwhelmed me and wafted through me because it had come wrapped in my nickname but became fixed in my mind as an embodiment of something grander even thatn his talent for sports: the talent for 'being himself,' the capacity to be this strange engulfing force and yet to have a voice and a smile unsullied by even a flicker of superiority--the natural modesty of someone for whom there were no obstacles, who appeared never to have to struggle to clear a space for himself."

p. 43:
"Perhaps by definition a neighborhood is the place to which a child spontaneously gives undivided attention; that's the unfiltered way meaning comes to children, just flowing off the surface of things. Nonetheless, fifty years later, I ask you: has the immersion ever again been so complete as it was in those streets, where every block, every backyard, every house, every floor of every house--the walls , ceilings, doors, and windows of every last friend's family apartment--came to be so absolutely individualized? Were we ever again to be such keen recording instruments of the microscopic surface of things close at hand, of the minutest gradations of social position conveyed by linoleum and oilcloth, by yahrzeit candles and cooking smells, by Ronson table lighters and venetian blinds?"

Friday, November 25, 2005

Girl With A Watering Can

This painting by Renoir has always been one of my favorites. It seems so peaceful and the little girl is so real. I'm fascinated by how detailed the lace looks even though objectively it is not detailed at all, but rather sketchy or blurry, but the viewer's mind fills in the intricate pattern of the lace.










This photograph is also one of my favorites, and by coincidence also features a girl with a watering can. For me it conveys the joy of being outdoors, interacting with nature and celebrating the day.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Miami Book Fair: November 19, 2005



The Miami Book Fair is big. Thousands of people, millions of dollars worth of books, dozens of fabulously talented authors. Located in the heart of downtown Miami, a beautiful location on an urban college campus. I only went for one day, the Saturday street fair, but the event went on for more than a week. It was a ruly crowd, but civility notwithstanding, book fair attendees are a passionate group, easily whipped into a barely contained frenzy by a well-articulated metaphor, awarding standing ovations to professorial scribes and avant-garde performance artists alike.

My primary objective in attending the fair was to obtain signed copies of Wicked and Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire, on behalf of my out-of-town daughter. That objective was achieved, but unexpected bonuses were around every corner. A highlight of the day was being touched by Mitchell Kaplan--he was managing the book-signing line and because one of the authors was free, he herded me up to the front with an encouraging hand on the shoulder. Kaplan is the godfather of the book fair, the owner of Books and Books, and a literary legend in south Florida. I didn't have the presence of mind to say anything to him, but I wish I had told him thank you for all he has done for the literary arts in our region.

Maguire was scheduled at 11:00 a.m., on a panel with Eric Bogosian and James Shapiro. I knew that would be a popular event, so I took my seat in time to see the 10:00 feature: Zane. I knew nothing about Zane, but the audience was 95% black, and predominantly young--the group near me was obviously high school students with their English teacher. As it was soon revealed, Zane, writes "erotica"--essentially ethnic romance novels, apparently dominating a niche where there isn't much competition. She owns a book store in Baltimore, is in negotiations for a tv talk show and a tv dating show, is launching a clothing line and a personal products line, writes between three and eight books a year, and has her own publishing house. Her books are best-sellers. She read from her latest book and it was full of stereotypes and cliches. If it had been written by a white person, I'd say it was racist. Since I believe that a work of art stands on its own merits, apart from either the intentions or the ethics of the author, I'm bound to say that, in fact, it is racist. The character she described for comic relief is named "Precious"--she is a former stripper with 5 kids from 4 different men, collecting government checks and child support. The narrator ridicules the woman's hairstyle, fingernails, makeup, clothes, lack of education, and uncouth behavior, in contrast to our heroine, who is poise and good taste personified. As I said, stereotypes and cliches. The phrase "open a can of whup-ass" was featured. At one point Zane said, in response to a question about why she doesn't use her real name, that more than half of the authors she publishes use pseudonyms. I didn't think about it at the time, but later that really struck me. I wish I had stood up and said to her, maybe more than half of your authors use pseudonyms, but what percentage of the authors at the Miami Book Fair use them? I'm sure there is a inverse correlation between the quality of the prose and the likelihood of a nom de plume. She is making a lot of money, and I don't object to that. She got those black high school students to attend the book fair, and that is great. But if I were their English teacher, I would be sure they attended some other events as well, and I would hope that they didn't settle for just reading books when they can read literature.

Maguire, Bogosian and Shapiro read from their books and they were all fascinating and amusing in their own way. If Zane shows us that the way to make a lot of money from writing is to find your niche (or to write about sex)--Shapiro shows us that if you want to spend fifteen years writing a detailed book about one year in the life of William Shakespeare (1599) you need to be a college professor. Deadline? What's a deadline?

Bogosian was engaging and intense. He spoke reverently about Philip Roth and Norman Mailer, and said he feels old fashioned because young readers today don't want to learn anything from books, plays and movies. They look for a more "realistic" narrative; that is, one that goes on and on, with unexpected twists and no defined ending.

Maguire talked about Abu Graib and about his new-found fan base (pre-teen girls) and mentioned that he has adopted three children since the publication of Wicked. He brought those elements together and explained how they led to the sequel, Son of a Witch. Maguire, like Shapiro, is a college professor.

I didn't stay long enough to see Dave Barry with his band, the Rock Bottom Remainders. I did see Gloria Estevan, but she was signing books, not singing. And I saw most of the presentation by the author of The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler. She is quite the icon.

The book fair is a safe place to be a liberal. I picked up a copy of the UN Univeral Declaration of Human Rights. [Article 9 - No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.] The speakers spoke emphatically and freely about their dismay at current trends in American domestic and foreign policies.

I had a great day in Miami, milling about with all the other bibliophiles. I came home tired but happy, and I'll be back again next year.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Art, Literature, Statistics


The Kiss, by Gustav Klimt


"Maybe the human animal has contributed nothing to the universe but kissing and comedy--but, by God, that's plenty." --Tom Robbins


Achenalysis

The following is interesting to an exceedingly small number of humans on this earth. Coincidentally, that also describes the number of people who read my blog. What are the odds that anyone who reads this will be interested in my statistical analysis of the 11/13/05 Achenblog?

Well, first of all, if you do not know Achenblog, you should go there now and forget Read-Think-Live. You should only come here after you've read whatever Joel has to say, because he is smarter and funnier and a better writer than I am.

Below is a simple analysis of the kaboodlers on the "Fabulator 5000 and Fast Food Farming" kit from November 13. There was no kit on November 14, so the comments went on for two days--a total of 306, which is more than normal for one day, but about average for two days. The number of different names commenting (counting "no name given" as one) was 67. Three of those (Achenfan, Tom Fan and Dreamer) definitely belong to a single individual. CowTown and MadCow are presumably the same person, but omnigood and omnigasm claim to be two different people. If out of 7 completely anonymous posts there are three people responsible (just a guess), that brings us back to 67, so that's a good number. Number of commenters with 2 or more comments: 38, number of commenters with 10 or more comments: 13. Average number of comments: 4.6. Average number of words per comment: 337. Achenbach: 6 comments, 237 words. (The original Achenpost was 839 words.)




"Name"number
of posts
total
number
of words
mofan11
ach14
Charlton14
drfan14
","11
CowTownFan15
Jimmy Page15
omnifanfanfanfan15
Billy Fish16
Ellen Aim19
hotrockette19
l OO mis19
parrotzmom120
scumbunny112
Sinclair113
[^**?**^]/TD> 116
conehead117
HP117
markwa117
AchenfanFan118
sarafan119
Conquistador143
D. Lama BeWanna124
anaonymousforgoodreason129
kp130
BovineTruth1720
omnigood155
Golconda149
MadCow172
Dolphin Michael272
orifice245
newkidontheblog237
camisole277
melvin/a279
Bobby Plant212
Lady Jane2355
omnigasm2163
an american in siam...2328
Snarky Squirrel3152
yellojkt3305
Cat Keeper3195
Tom fan3154
Sara4180
slyness4174
LP4132
Achenbach6237
ot6313
LB6156
Achenfan6168
Curmudgeon6933
(no name)7233
Reader7557
bc7699
Dreamer8588
mo10313
pj10621
Bob S.10824
esskay111249
dr121049
Tim121360
Bayou Self121424
mostlylurking13949
Nani13923
kurosawaguy161028
TBG181310
Loomis193333
CowTown20588
TOTAL30622548

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Hadassah

11/16/05

I left work at 12:30 today and spent most of the afternoon at a Hadassah meeting at a nearby retirement community. Hadassah is a Jewish women's educational and charitable organization. I was there as part of a panel discussion. The topic was "peace." I was on the panel with three other women from the interfaith group I work with (JAM & All): one Jewish, one Buddhist, and one Muslim. I had the job of explaining peace from a Christian perspective.

There's no question in my mind that the historical Jesus was a pacifist and that the risen savior wants nothing more than for us to love one another and live together in peace. My research indicates that the early Christian church was both communal and pacifist. Early Christians didn't own property and they didn't serve in the military. Once Constantine's conversion led to the creation of the Holy Roman Empire, and Christianity was changed from cult status to a state religion, everything changed. But, here's the thing: Jesus didn't change. So as a Christian, with a personal relationship with Jesus, I am only interested on a secondary level in theology and church teachings. My primary interest is in Jesus as revealed through the Bible and through prayer and meditation.

Jesus's message was "turn the other cheek," "love your neighbor," and "blessed are the peacemakers." There is no way to justify war or violence from his words alone. Paul's letter to the Ephesians tells them to "put on the whole armor of God"--it's a metaphor that makes the point that our struggle is spiritual, not physical.

When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus said, "Love God." and then he said "...and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." So whenever a "Christian" comes up with a position, I test it like this: "Where's the love?"

You oppose gay marriage? Where's the love in that? You vote Republican? Show me how love motivated you there. You support the death penalty? Because you love...whom? You expect non-Christians to go to hell on judgment day? I'm sorry, I'm just not feeling the love there. This is how my walk with Jesus goes. The Bible says, God is love. And over and over the Bible says in so many words, if it doesn't come from love, it isn't of God. I'm not making this up.

I didn't give the "love" speech today; I stuck to "peace," and I kept it under four minutes.

It was interesting speaking to the Hadassah group--about 40 Jewish women, average age 75 or so. I had trouble picturing the audience in advance, and if anything I failed to connect with them because I didn't tailor the talk to them directly. But I think more than what any of us said, the power in our presentation was just the sight of the four of us, friends from four different faiths, sitting together, and celebrating our agreement on the issue of peace.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Qur'an

I bought a copy of the Holy Qur'an not long after 9/11/01. I haven't read every word of it, but I've read quite a bit. It's much easier to read the whole Qur'an than to read the whole Bible. My Bible is 1400 pages long, written in various styles by a multitude of authors over hundreds of years. The Qur'an is about 400 pages, the style is consistent throughout, and the message is pretty coherent. The more I read it, the more I get where the Prophet Mohammed ("peace be upon him") was coming from. Of course, the Prophet could assume that his audience had some familiarity with Judaism and Christianity. He isn't contradicting anything that was taught by those two religions. He teaches monotheism, and the repeated message, the message that is reiterated hundreds of times, is that Allah (God) is Most Gracious and Most Merciful.

The Qur'an is the gift of this merciful God, a rulebook that makes it possible to follow God's will without having to discern it for ourselves. A guide to the good life.

Here is Surah 107: The Neighborly Needs:

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

1. Do you see one who denies the Judgment (to come)?
2. Then such is the (man) who repulses the orphan (with harshness),
3. And does not encourage the feeding of the indigent.
4. So woe to the worshippers
5. Who are neglectful of their Prayers,
6. Those who (want but) to be seen (of men),
7. But refuse (to supply) (even) neighborly needs.

On a related note, the union des organisations islamiques de france (UOIF) issued a fatwa last week saying:

"It is formally forbidden to any Muslim seeking divine grace and satisfaction to participate in any action that blindly hits private or public property or could constitute an attack on someone's life."

He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Matthew 11:15

Sunday, November 13, 2005

"Meme" is just another name for "unoriginal material"

This weekend has not been inspirational blog-wise; I have been lazy. I'm using this idea from Yellojkt's blog (thank you). "The 24-hour meme":

5:00 a.m. For a long time, I woke up at 5:00 (or even 4:30) and went jogging for a half hour. But now since I ride my bike to work, I don't do that very often.

6:00 a.m. Time to be getting my stuff together so I can be on the road by 6:15.

7:00 a.m. Arrive at work, head to the bathroom to change into the corporate uniform: pantyhose, high heels, skirt, blouse, name badge.

8:00 a.m. The early reports should be run by now, and it's about time to answer the overnight emails.

9:00 a.m. Settle in for the workday, fielding inquiries, responding to (perceived) crises, holding up my end of the operation.

10:00 a.m. Time I leave for church on Sunday.

11:00 a.m. Time I eat lunch at my desk, while still working--that's because the coworker I share my office with goes to the cafeteria at 11--this way I can eat my crunchy cereal without bothering her. I read that "noisy eating" is the number 3 pet peeve at the office. (Number 1 is people yelling between cubicles)

12:00 noon Time I take my "lunch break" which usually means taking a walk--to the beach or just around town; I have a regular route that is 2.5 miles and goes over three drawbridges. That's a lot of scenery.

1:00 p.m. Time to be back from my lunch break--if I feel sweaty, I might spritz my mandarin orange-mango body spray. Body odor is probably somewhere on that office pet peeves list too--although nobody has complained and a few times when I have come in from walking at noon people have said, "you smell like fresh air!"

2:00 p.m. The afternoon tasks have to be lined up at this point--any requests I get from here on out will likely be resolved TOMORROW.

3:00 p.m. Time for school to be over for the day. This mattered to me for 12 years when I was in school and for another 12 when my daughter was in school. Now, it's pretty much irrelevant.

4:00 p.m. My workday officially ends. Change into my shorts and sneakers and jump on the bike for the "no-stress commute."

5:00 p.m. Arrive home. Assess the situation. My husband works at home (art studio), so I might find anything from a total disaster mess and mental confusion to a clean house and dinner on the table. I have to be flexible and take whatever comes.

6:00 p.m. Housework, as much as I can force myself to do before collapsing (I can do about 45 minutes to an hour. My house is not very clean.)

7:00 p.m. Reading, most nights, or a dvd/video.

8:00 p.m. Sometimes, craft projects--jewelry, crocheting, sewing--and Tocci goes back to the studio for a while.

9:00 p.m. We're winding down by this point, looking forward to sleeptime.

10:00 p.m. Weeknights, bedtime. Weekends, I'll probably be on the computer.

11:00 p.m. Remember the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson--it started at 10:30 where I was (Central Standard Time). When my brother was in high school (he's three years older) he had a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I would start watching the Tonight Show and at 11:00 he would come home from work and he would bring chicken! And we would sit and watch tv and eat the chicken, just the two of us. Those were the days when George Carlin and Steve Martin and David Steinberg used to be on and we would laugh until we almost literally fell out of our chairs--Steve Martin with the arrow through his head, I loved it.

12:00 midnight On New Year's Eve, when we were kids, our parents usually went out. We were allowed to stay up and Mom usually bought Seven-Up and Fritos and M&Ms. Big party. We would watch tv until the New Year and then go to bed. Nowadays, I go to bed early, knowing the neighbors will wake us up at midnight with fireworks and yelling. I greet the new year and turn over and go back to sleep.

1:00 a.m. After the Tonight Show, sponsored at our house by KFC, there was a local show with Gailard Sartain, who went by the stage name of Mazeppa (when he used his real name, he always pronounced it "Gailard S. Artain"). The show was called the Uncanny Film Festival; he showed old movies and during the breaks he did little skits, for example, parodies of local commercials. He was funny. Later, he developed more material and they dropped the movie and the show was called the Unfilmy Can Festival. Really. He's quite the big-shot character actor now. I was especially impressed by his role in The Spitfire Grill--he did a spot-on Maine accent, that's real skill for a Tulsa boy.

2:00 a.m. I can't remember the last time I stayed up that late--my 2 a.m. memories would be about the baby waking up or else my disco days.

3:00 a.m. Sometimes a train goes by--I live less than 1/2 mile from the tracks, and that is a cool sound in the darkness, the whistle and the train going by.

4:00 a.m. I love to wake up at 4:00 a.m. when I don't have to get up until 5:30. That last hour and a half is so special: bonus sleep.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Two favorite internet sites

For New York grassroots literary culture:

Mr. Beller's Neighborhood

For sophomoric humor and intellectual literary pretensions:

Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Memories of the Miami Book Fair

I was getting all ready to go to the Miami Book Fair this weekend, but just realized that it starts Monday and the big weekend is November 19-20. Next weekend. So I have plenty of time to get ready and plan my strategy.

Many years ago I attended the MBF with my husband and baby daughter--she was about a month old. We went to see Dave Barry. I remember he talked a lot about Robert Bork, who had been nominated for the Supreme Court, and Dave being who he is, there were a lot of jokes about the nominee's name. Dave was funny and the audience was laughing a lot, I was laughing, Tocci was laughing. Later that day, after we returned home, I was changing the baby's diaper and she laughed for the first time in her life. I have always given Dave some credit for that first laugh.

Last year I went by myself and was somewhat overwhelmed by the excitement of it all. But I did see Gene Weingarten and Gina Barreca, along with Andy Borowitz. It was well worth the trip, just for that one program.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

All Caught Up

We got our electricity back today around 2 p.m. I got home from work at 5, and after dinner I transcribed all my journal entries for the last 17 days. Now it's 11:30 p.m., I'm all caught up, and I haven't a single original thought in my head. Good night, all.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Leaving Footprints

One of Tocci's business ventures was selling rings at the Swap Shop, a gigantic flea market in Fort Lauderdale. At night it is a 14-screen drive-in theater, so every morning hundreds of vendors show up to a huge empty parking lot and they put up tents and displays and create an instant marketplace, and every night they take it all down and remove it.

Two or three times when she was five years old, Danielle spent the day at the Swap Shop with her dad. She liked to stand on a box behind the counter, chatting up the customers, making the sale. A few months after Tocci had last been there, I was at the flea market, just strolling and shopping. I passed by the location where the ring stand had sometimes been located. It was something completely different now, maybe handbags. As I was walking by, I heard one shopper say to another, "Right there--that's where that little girl was selling the rings."

This passage from Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen, always makes me cry:

"If I know a song of Africa...of the Giraffe, and the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields, and the sweaty faces of the coffee-pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Would the air over the plain quiver with a colour that I had had on, or the children invent a game in which my name was, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or would the eagles of Ngong look out for me?" ( p. 79)

Does a person's presence create a lasting physical change in the environment, a change that can be detected if we are open and sensitive to it? Is it only memory, and does it only exist when there's a person there to remember? Or do we shed DNA wherever we go, and leave our indelible footprints behind?


I'll be seeing you in all the old, familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces all day through
In that small cafe, the park across the way
The children's carousel, the chestnut tree, the wishing well

...I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing you...

--Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Jane Austen Book Club

The Jane Austen Book Club: a perfectly imaginary world, where there exists, in one community, six women and one man who love Jane Austen the way trekkies love Capt. Kirk & Co. It's too obvious that these are characters, not people, and that they were all created by one person, herself obviously marinated in Jane Austen for many years.

Nevertheless, it is a charming novel. Enchanting, even. All the Austen stories and characters inhabit the book in remembered cameos and slices like specimens for a laboratory slide. Fowler cites deprecatory quotes by Mark Twain and R.W. Emerson. They didn't "get" Austen. I guess she was just too subtle for them! In my literary notebook, Jane rates well below George Eliot, but I have always appreciated her humor and her plot twists. She's above, for example, the Brontë sisters.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Coping / Finding Serenity / Steve Martin

Two weeks with no electricity--we are truly starting to adjust, although, today I was eating every chance I got, it was pretty pathological and I'm disgusted with myself. Tomorrow I'm going on a diet.

I need to calm down, find the equilibrium. It's all about being happy with what we do have: we do have running water, clothespins, nice books to read, flashlights and candles, a sturdy roof and walls. I feel something like anger towards the people who stubbornly refuse to admit that it is possible to live without cable tv or air conditioning or a dishwasher--so many people I know are planning to buy whole-house generators. The newspaper says they cost up to $50,000 but these people are like Marie Antoinette--no cost is too extravagant for their comfort. I'm sure the anger comes from a fear that I am like them and that I won't be able to find the balance, the serenity in the situation. Everything is going fine. I rode my bike every day last week, even though the back wheel needed repair. Now the wheel is fixed so there should be no anxiety about that for this week. I have an iron at work, so if I get there and my blouse looks wrinkled I can go in the bathroom and iron it. I got a haircut and new styling gel so I sould look reasonably professional, hairstyle-wise. I had a good weekend, and next weekend I have a choice between Key West and the Miami Book Fair, either of which would be great, I'm sure.

The continuing possibility that our electricity could return any time is a spirit-lifter. Things can only get better, and it is reasonable to expect them to.

I finished the Hornby book--it was entertaining and thought-provoking. The plot involves four people who have nothing in common except that they are all planning for various reasons to jump off the same building on the same day. They meet on the top of the building, and one thing leads to another. Hornby has a deft touch with humor in serious situations.

We went to the movies today: Shopgirl, by and with Steve Martin. I go way back with Steve Martin, to the 70's when he was on the Tonight Show and on Saturday Night Live. I have always thought he was great--often fantastically funny, but always fantastic. Intelligent and sensitive, but not at all sentimental. Very self-aware, very meta. Like the card he reportedly printed to hand to autograph-seekers:"This certifies that I had a personal encounter with Steve Martin and found him to be witty, kind, and humble." or something like that. One of my all-time favorites.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Saturday: Usable Daylight

My stove mission for the weekend has ended--I didn't find any camping stoves for sale. I did find (but didn't buy) a regular gas stove for $45.00 at the local discount store. That made me think: when this is over, I should replace my old electric stovetop--it doesn't work very well anyway--with a gas one. I'll have a better stove and it will work all the time, not just when the electricity is on.

The houses across the street from us have power now. It can't be much longer for us, right?!

I took my bike in to the shop this morning--it needs bearing in the back wheel--and then walked to Supercuts and to the library and home--I guess it's about four miles. I saw a lot of hurricane damage and took some pictures. My profound thought ws that Hurricane Wilma is something like a death in the family for all of us. The storm is over, the sky is blue, you wake up in the morning expecting to have your old life back, but there are reminders everywhere, obstacles, setbacks; there is so much work involved in the recovery, and the damage affects every aspect of life. I find myself wondering why I feel tired or depressed or cranky, and then, I remember.

But eventually, I'll be able to give up this hunter-gatherer existence ("Fire! Must make fire!") and return to the Life of the Mind. Looking forward to it.

Meanwhile, at the library I got two nice, easy books: A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby, and The Jane Austen Book Club, by Karen Joy Fowler. I'm more than halfway through the Hornby book--I may finish it before I go to sleep. No "Fresh Air" tonight, and I think I missed "This American Life." but I did hear an NPR gem today: someone has written a musical based on Strunk & White's Elements of Style--and they perfomed it in the reading room of the New York Public Library. I don't have a single real-life friend who would be delighted by that--but several in the Achenblog SAO-15 would smile. I remember when we first discovered the grammar-nerd slant to the kaboodle--it's heartily encouraged by Joel, himself quite the language maven. ("distaff," "meatspace," "infelicitous," "quiescent"..."jeepers")

Friday, November 04, 2005

Friday Night--Woo Hoo

Twelve days without power. The FPL website says November 15--that's 11 more days so if that's right we're only halfway through it. The website says 210,000 customers are still in the dark in Broward County. This afternoon I came home on Fereral Highway instead of Dixie so I could stop at Target. Federal has no bike lanes, so I was glad to have my helmet. I walked into Target and went upstairs to the camping equipment department. The shelves where the stoves would be were clean and bare. I thought, I should have asked downstairs and saved myself the trip--but I feel stupid asking, like, of course we don't have that, of course we're sold out--don't you know nobody has that now! But I also felt stupid for not asking, I wasted my time. I bought some candles.

I got home around 5 and took the car to the supermarket. I bought matches and ice and yogurt and canned food. I didn't get home until almost six, and it was getting dark, and it's scary to be driving without street lights or traffic signals after dark. I heated soup with candles and then I heated water to wash my hair and bathe. I'm nice and clean now. It's 7:30 so I have time to read before "Fresh Air" comes on at 8.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

"Nothing good can come of it"--Achenbach

One more day until the weekend--

The best thing about the weekend now is Usable Daylight. The sun will be out and I'll be free to walk around in it.

Today I figured out how to heat food and water with candles. It's a lot easier and quicker than the solar cooker. I heated about a gallon of water tonight for my bath. One gallon of hot water is better than all the cold water in the world, when it comes to washing.

I did laundry this evening, in the bathroom sink, and hung the clothes to dry outside on the line. One eye on the sky, analyzing the clouds--what are the chances I'll be out there in the middle of the night, in the rain, bringing in the laundry. We'll see.

I felt really slow and stupid today, reading Achenblog. My excuses: the triumph of the mundane in my home life and a serious amount of work to do for my job, so I just don't have a lot of mental energy to devote to trying to think up plots for tv shows and so on. But still, I don't like the feeling.

Joel had a funny comment in the kaboodle:

I don't want to try to write stuff just for the sake of getting lots of comments or having lots of "readers." I don't want to have a blog that is "popular" or has a lot of "page views" or whatever, because that's a slippery slope. Next thing you know, you've got fat book contracts, people want you to write screenplays, you're always at parties, laughing and having a good time instead of remaining slumped over a keyboard like a true artist. Nothing good can come of it. I prefer to keep this blog as a boutique operation, kind of a storefront, with "Gone Fishin'" over the door most of the time. I like the sense of being not just unread, but completely obscure, and fully in control of a career that steadily dwindles into total insignificance. This is all part of a plan. Just watch. Posted by: Achenbach Nov 2, 2005 4:57:00 PM

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Theme, Re-Visited

Today was our tenth day without electricity. Previous to the hurricane, I had a blog entry on Read - Think - Live every single day for 42 days. I've written something every day for the last 10 days, ink on paper--it's more effort, much harder to make it sound intelligent because I can't edit without re-writing.

Tonight, about 15 minutes ago, I reached a point where inertia overtook momentum, and I thought, I really don't have anything to say and I'm going to give up on writing anything at all until we get our power back.

But I guess I got a second wind, and here I am.

The theme of Read - Think - Live is that my life is largely literary/intellectual. But without electric lights or refrigeration or a washing machine or a stove or oven or hot water, life becomes a little more bound to the physical. I have to spend more time tending to necessary tasks, keeping clean and finding food. The prevailing darkness encourages us to go to sleep early. That has meant more complex dreams, but less reading time. All our routines are disturbed, and at the same time I have changes and stress at work. I'm tired, but I'm getting stronger.

"Fresh Air" with Teri Gross is on NPR at 8 p.m. My new routine is to climb in bed around 8 and listen with my headphones until I fall asleep.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Pretty Good, Not Bad, I Can't Complain...

Okay, on the one hand, we still don't have electricity, Tocci is cranky, and I rode my bike home today in torrential rain. On the other hand, our electric lantern arrived from Campmor, Publix has power and we had cooked chicken for dinner, and I received an e-mail from J. Achenbach. That totally made my day, and I have no complaints.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Skipping Halloween Altogether This Year

En route to work today, I noticed a sign advertising "Driving School and Income Tax." Now, there's a business proprietor who doesn't have "stress avoidance" at the top of his priority list.

It was a very windy ride to work this morning--I was going straight into the wind and it wasn't easy. Coming home was better.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Sunday: Church and Carl Hiaasen in the Paper

Dawn came an hour earlier today. At about 7 a.m. we discovered that we had no running water. I immediately sank into depression and apathy, unable to interest myself in the solar cooker project. When the water returned, 45 minutes later, my recovery was instantaneous, too. I set up the new, improved, version 1.1.3 of the cooker, but by the time everything was in place, the sun was behind a big cloud. As it turned out, we had clouds off and on all day. As of 2 pm. I had succeeded in heating 3 quarts of water to 125 degrees. That provided a pleasant afternoon "bath" but it is not "cooking" yet. Just wait until we have sun all day. Today we did have bubbles forming on the surface of the cooking pot; that was a first.

I went to church at 10:00 a.m. The church property sustained some damage. At the spine of the roof a panel was loosened. At each gust of wind it flipped up, revealing a small patch of sky and emitting the sound that comes from backstage when King Lear is on the heath in the storm. Theater-thunder. The minister joked that it was "either an amen or a hallelujah" as God Himself commented on the proceedings.

After church I explored the neighborhood and found a grocery store that had just gotten its power restored. Since I was on my bike, I didn't get ice or water, but I picked up a few things and continued my explorations. I found a Supercuts that was open but by then I was ready to go home. It's next to a laundromat, so maybe we can work that into an expedition sometime this week.

Carl Hiaasen had the award-winning commentary on the storm today--much funnier than Dave Barry or Fred Grimm. Fred came in second. His theme was, okay, its' been nice chatting with the neighbors but enough already. I'd rather have cable. Ha.

The Hiaasen link has already expired, so here's the article, reproduced in its entirety:

Miami Herald, October 30, 2005

We Were Fabulously Prepared for a Hurricane--Weren't We?

by Carl Hiaasen

(Rejected first draft of Gov. Jeb Bush's candid post-hurricane remarks.)

My fellow Floridians,

Let me begin by taking token responsibility for the delays in delivering supplies to areas hit hard by Hurricane Wilma. The effort could have been swifter and better organized.

But, hey, didn't I warn everybody to keep 72 hours' worth of supplies on hand? Didn't I tell you to build a 15-gallon gasoline depot in your backyard?

Still, I know that millions of you still have no electricity, no food and no fuel in your cars--and I'd like to assure you that the situation is improving rapidly.

I'd like to, but I can't. The truth is, you're screwed for now.

this morning I spoke with executives of Florida Power & Light, who sounded like they'd been drinking heavily. They said they're awaiting a large shipment of Legos and rubber bands so that they can repair the substations supplying power to Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.

When I pressed for a timetable, the FPL officials explained that electricity would be restored on a "grid-by-grid" basis, using the same giant dartboard left over from Hurricane Andrew.

Obviously, these are difficult times. Florida has been through something like 83 hurricanes in the last 14 months, causing approximately $987 jillion in losses--and that's not including the fraudulent claims.

A major concern is, of course, the fuel supply. The good news is that South Florida has plenty of gas. The bad news is that we can't get it out of the ground.

Apparently, service stations actually need a flow of electricity to operate the gasoline pumps. It would have been nice if somebody had told me sooner.

Next time, I promise, we'll rent truckloads of exorbitantly overpriced generators from politically connected vendors and provide them to gas stations in advance of the storm.

Since I've been getting calls from the travel industry, let me take this opportunity to urge tourists not to cancel their vacations to South Florida. The weather is fantastic, the beaches are gorgeous, and the traffic is, for obvious reasons, exceptionally light.

You will need to bring your own siphon, ice, refreshments, and possibly a large-caliber handgun to protect yourself from desperate civilians.

Speaking of desperation, many of you are listening to me now in your car, waiting in line for $20 worth of high-octane that will barely get you home. Some of you may even be trying to put your foot through the radio, you're so pissed off.

All I can say is: Who the heck knew?

Wilma was no Katrina. It was supposed to blow down a few trailers, not cripple the infrastructure of our three most overpopulated counties.

Only days earlier, I'd bragged to a congressional panel about how fabulously prepared for hurricanes we were. Florida knows the drill, I said. Don't worry about us.

Now you turn on the tv--if you're lucky enough to have juice--and there's bedlam in the streets. How do you think that makes me look?

A few so-called experts say they aren't surprised that Wilma caused such a mess. They say it was inevitable, with six million people crammed onto the tip of a low-lying peninsula in a hurricane zone.

I'd like to promise that we'll do a better job of managing coastal development in the future, but who am I kidding? We don't have the stones to say enough is enough. We'll let 'em keep on building subdivisions until every last acre is gone.

In other words, you don't want to be around when the Cat 5 hits.

Finally, I know some of you were nervous to see my brother fly in last week for a tour of the storm damage. Let me assure you that there will be no repeat of what happened--or didn't happen--on the Gulf coast after Katrina.

So far, FEMA has done a stellar job on the Wilma front. For example, none of the relief supplies set aside for South Florida have been sent to Guam or even Utah by mistake.

Yes, there have been delays, bad information, and mass confusion. Too many distribution sites have run short of ice and water, leaving thousands of people angry and empty-handed.

But don't blame the federal government, especially not my brother. Haven't you been reading the polls? Leave the poor guy alone.

You want to blame somebody for Wilma's mess, blame me. Or better yet, blame yourselves for not listening to me. Didn't I tell every homeowner to install an industrial-sized walk-in freezer with a propane-powered ice-making machine?

A long road lies ahead. Just remember that today will be about the same as yesterday, tomorrow will be no different than today, and next week will probably be the same dull, grueling blur.

As your governor and the leader of hurricane recovery, I'd like to urge Floridians not to get to discouraged, depressed or homicidal. I'd like to tell you that, but I can't.

This is the absolute pits. I am so glad to be up here in Tallahassee, you have no idea.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Life Goes On--Miami Herald Resumes Delivery

The newspaper was delivered today!!

The weather was clear, but a little windy. Stange how ominous a breeze can feel--a little breath of air that would have been innocuous a week ago, now seems potentially dangerous.

My solar cooker is continuing to improve. It still hasn't cooked anything, but I heated two batches of water today, one for "bathing" this morning and one for washing my hair this afternoon. Tomorrow if it is sunny all day, I'll have a shot at really heating something up.

Today I made earrings, inspired by the discovery of 100 or so little gold gift boxes that Tocci had decided to throw or give away. I said, why don't you put jewelry in them and sell them? He said (grumbled) "I don't have money for jewelry." but we do have findings and beads--glass beads and semiprecious beads--and today I have something unusual: TIME. So I made about three dozen earrings. It was fun. Now it's getting dark so I have to stop.

Reading: more about Harold Pinter. He was a conscientious objector in Enland at age 17 (just after the end of WWII) Just because, he said, "I smelled a rat." Not on strictly "pacifist" or "religious" grounds--more, I'd say, on "artistic" grounds--in the sense that an artist's first duty is to serve the truth.

This afternoon I rode my bike to Sears, Lowe's and KMart. All three appeared to be under full power. There were batteries for sale, but no clothespins. Also, solar lights, meant for the yard--they charge all day and give off light all night--but they aren't very bright and prices start at $35. I'm doing okay with candles, and we're looking for an oil lamp. I'll try to order one from the internet Monday.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Back to Work, Friday

I rode my bike to work today--left at 7:00, which is later than I would normally leave, but it's the time of first light. No traffic lights, so all the intersections are four-way stops, a little tricky for a bicycle among cars. But the traffic was pretty light. When I got to the last intersection, the lights were working and when I got to work, everything was powered up--I turned on my computer happily. I was able to get some work done, avert a couple of crises, and catch up on reading the Achenblog. I couldn't quite get to the point of caring a lot about what is going on in Washington, or even what everybody is reading this week or writing in their respective blogs. The apathy is a result of being disconnected all week and the feeling that nobody outside of Florida cares about what is happening here. We have our own situation and we have to deal with it ourselves. That's okay, but dealing with the destruction and lack of conveniences here takes up most of our energy so we (I) can't get worked up over whether Scooter Libby did or did not lie when he was or was not under oath. Give me time, I'll come back to it.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Wilma Aftermath, Day 4

At 7 a.m. I hiked up to the pay phone to call work. I didn't have any success reaching a live person, but did confirm that the resort still has no power. To get to the phone I passed by a line of cars waiting for gas, so after I made my calls I walked up to the gas station--the BP station at Sample Road and NE 3rd Avenue--and then walked the line and counted the cars. I've heard of "a line a mile long" before, but this is the first time I've actually seen one. I counted over 300 cars--all the way from Sample to Copans Road on 3rd Avenue, then east on Copans to Dixie Highway, and stretching north on Dixie--growing all the time while I was watching. This line was a result of a rumor that the gas station was going to open at 10 a.m. I spoke with the woman who was last in line as I came around the corner on Dixie. I told her how many cars were ahead of her and gently suggested that she might be wasting time and gas by getting in the line. She was desperate and determined. In addition to the cars, there were dozens of people in line on foot, with gas cans.

I walked home, tightened up the wobbly back wheel on my bike, and set off on a sort of scavenger hunt--my list included tape, aluminum foil, matches, a phone, and oil lamp, and AA batteries.

I got to Walgreens first and I didn't have to wait. There were two lines. About four people were in the "pharmacy" line, and nobody in the "regular shopping" line. there were no lights inside the store, so an employee with a flashlight took me to the location of each item. They had plenty of AA batteries, candles, and matches. I wasn't optimistic about the phone but they did have a whole bin of them--really nice, with caller ID and speaker phone for just $9.99. Luckily I did have cash--they were just adding everything up by hand and counting out the change from an open cash register.

I curtailed my exploring for the time being and rushed home with the phone. I was able to call work and get a little information. Maybe I could go in tomorrow; maybe they will get power on Suday. We called Key West and heard a first hand account of the damage there: mostly water damage, 80% of the island was flooded. Fantasy Fest will be postponed, rather than cancelled. I heard on the radio last night that tourists will be allowed to drive into Key West beginning tomorrow, but most people don't have gas at this point and very few gas stations are open.

Yesterday, after I finished It Looks Like a President..., I read the frst 100 pages of The Life and Work of Harold Pinter. This morning I read some Steinbeck ("The Crysanthemums") and some Edith Wharton ("Madame de Treymes") from my little mini Penguin books that were published on the 60th anniversary of that august institution--they are so fun to hold and read. I wish I had bough the entire collection. I think there were 60 of them and they cost 60 cents each. They are 3" x 4", good quality paperback binding. I have "To Build a Fire" by Jack London and "Truckstop" by Garrison Keillor, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by S.T. Coleridge, and the U.S. Constitution. Everybody should own a pocket-sized edition of the U.S. Constitution, in my opinion.

I also did laundry again this morning. I'm actually washing the clothes faster than we're getting them dirty.

We had mail delivery today for the first time since Saturday. Smithsonian and Wired magazines kept me occupied for a while. About 4 p.m. I set out on my bike to see what was going on in the world. One of our corner drug dealer associates passed close by my bike so I said, "hi" and he said, "How's it going, ma'am." Good public relations for his little enterprise. Their business is not suffering from the storm, apparently...

So, I started to got to the BP gas station that was the subject of so much anticipation this morning, but there was no longer a line so I assumed they probably ran out of gas, or else they never opened at all. I headed for the nearest shopping center to see what was open there. As I approached, I smelled fried chicken. That got my attention and I followed the scent to the supermarket, but they were just selling canned goods. Next door, the China Buffet was doing a cash-only, takeout-only business. Eureka. So I hustled on in and got two dinners to go and biked them straight home. We had hot food for dinner and no cleanup. As I was leaving the shopping plaza, I saw a little bar that was open and had a sign out: "Coffee. Wings." So I guess that was the chicken I originally smelled that led me serendipitously to the China Buffet.

Also this afternoon I succeeded in placing a call to my homeowners "wind insurance" company--got my claim number and they say the'll contact me within 14 days. That's good enough for me. Everything is going as well as it possibly could go.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Hurricane Log, Day 3, and Achenquotes

I didn't set the alarm this morning. Woke up at 3 a.m. and listened to the news. They said that out of a million powerless customers in Broward, Florida Power & Light has restored service to 6,500 so far. At this rate, we should have electricity by Christmas.

Who needs it, anyway. I hiked down to the pay phone at 7, when the curfew lifted. The resort hotline is still saying that employees should report to work, but my department wasn't issuing any information, so I called the main number and they said the hotel still doesn't have power, so there's no point in going in.

At 8:00 I made a trip to the grocery store. Publix is running on generators, so no perishable food or ice, but otherwise they were relatively well-stocked and the lines were no longer than usual. I bought canned goods and cookies and jello. Also cereal and soy milk, we'll see how that goes...

I was home by 9, with a great plan: now I have time to make that solar cooker I saw the plans for on the internet! That took about an hour, then I did some laundry and hung it up in my backyard "solar clothes dryer." Then lunch, then I took my bike back down to the phone to call Artist Alice and let her know her parents survived the hurricane (she probably hasn't been giving it much thought.)

When I got back, I checked the cooker--I had just put some water in to heat, to see how it works. It had been in about 2 hours. I took off the plexiglass cover and tried to take the lid off the pot, but it was too hot to life off without a potholder. That's encouraging. Right now, we don't actually have anything to cook, but at least we can heat water for bathing purposes. Meanwhile, I have my dinner (a can of Campbell's soup) on the dashboard of my car. It will get pretty darn warm there.
This is much easier than camping, since we have comfortable chairs and a bed and running water and walls and a roof. It is abundantly clear to me after two days that what all the timesaving appliances do for us is give women time to have jobs. If I have no job to go to, I have time to do things manually.

Even doing laundry by hand and riding my bike to the store and so on, I had time to read It Looks Like a President, Only Smaller (by Joel Achenbach) from intro to acknowledgments [do I need to mention it's not the first or second time I've read the book?] Here is my favorite paragraph:

Horse-drawn buggies roll down the sides of the country roads, but some are filled with tourists who have paid money to act like an Amish person for an hour. Someday it will be this exploitation of the authentic that is itself the great marvel and attraction that will draw tourists from far away. People will want to see these strange entrepreneurs who sell overpriced mass-produced crafts in someone else's historic village. They'll want to imagine what it would be like to operate a tourist attraction. They'll pay thirty bucks a pop to get into a theme park called Commercialization World. (p. 111)

Here are a couple more selected examples of excellence:

I'm all in favor of denial as a psychological tactic for getting through the day. The last thing you'd ever want is a clear view of the world and your place within it. No one can stand that kind of pain. (p. 42)

There's not much that's democratic about the Democratic National Convention. It appears that the priority for party leaders this week is to hobnob with Hollywood moguls and movie stars. There is a dazzling array of parties to which you, the ordinary person, are specifically not invited. Some parties, like David Geffen's or Barbra Streisand's, are so exclusive you have to be on a special list even to be allowed to think about them. Forget I brought it up. (p. 71)

And here's something Achenbach wrote more than five years before the invention of the Achenblog:

"When online writing is effective, it creates the sense of being at a dinner party with a lot of smart, loud, opinionated people who are still several drinks away from being completely soused."

[the kit & kaboodle, in a nutshell!]

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hurricane Log, Day 2, and a Tom Robbins Quote

October 25, 2005 7:00 a.m.

I reported to work as instructed by our hurricane hotline and my supervisor's recorded message, but the building is on generator power, so: no computers, minimal lighting. I peeked into the cafeteria and saw that there were some people--I guess drinking coffee in the dark--I was like, okay, no thanks.

Nobody has shown up in my department. Most likely people are waiting for daylight before they set out on the roads since all the signals are out. Now that would be sensible, wouldn't it. On my way in, I picked up a co-worker from the warehouse department--he was waiting for a bus. He would have had a long wait because the busses are not running today. I saw someone riding a bike in the dark. My plan for the rest of the no-power days (they say it could be weeks) is to wait for daylight and ride my bike. It's much cooler now than it was before the storm. Good bike-riding weather.

8:00 a.m.

Looking for information, I visited the call center and "Information Services"--I did get some information, but not answers to my particular questions. Apparently, Palm Beach County is just a bad as Broward and Miami-Dade, power-wise. The Palm Beach residents I talked with were wurprised to hear the Dade & Broward had also
been hard-hit. I guess the radio stations are concentrating on local news.

The director of IS told me that the resort is officially open, but I guess they are not checking anyone in. There are 400 guests in-house. The Palm Beach airport expects flights to resume today so I imagine once that happens, our guests will be departing.

4:00 p.m.

I left work a little after noon, having been very little use to anybody, but I was there and available if they'd had something for me to do. Came home, cleaned up the house. Dark comes early when there's no electricity; it's hard to read with flashlights and candles, so I spent some time listening to my Tom Robbins audiobook: Wild Ducks Flying Backward. One passage was so inspirational that I sat in the dark and transcribed it by candlelight, to wit:

Note: The preceding was written several years before the military-industrial complex first seized and then cemented total control of the U.S. government, a coup d'etat that would have failed without the active assistance of a rapidly growing population of fearful, non-thinking dupes--true believers, dumbed down and almost comically manipulated by their media, their church, and their state. So be it. Freedom has long proven too heady an elixir for the masses, weakened and confused as they are by conflicting commitments to puritanical morality and salacious greed.
in the wake of the recent takeover, our prevailing national madness has been ratcheting steadily skyward. The pious semi-literates in the conservative camp tremble and crow; the educated martyrs in the progressive sector writhe and fume. It's a grand show from a cosmic perspective, though enjoyment of the spectacle is blunted by the havoc being wreaked on nature and by the developmental abuse inflicted on the children.

We must bear in mind, however, that the central dynamic of our race has never been a conflict between good and evil, but rather between elightenment and ignorance. Ignorance makes the headlines, wins the medals, doles out the punishment, jingles the coin. Yet, in its clandestine cubbyholes, and occasionally on the public stage, enlightenment continues to quietly sparkle, its radiance outshining the entire disco ball of history. Its day may or may not come, but no matter. The world as it is--life as it is--enlightenment is its own reward.

Monday, October 24, 2005

October 24, 2005 - Hurricane Wilma

October 24, 2005

In deference to Hurricane Wilma, here's my stone-age blog: ink on paper. [All entries were written on paper from October 24 - November 8, and transcribed here November 8]

The hurricane is passing through as predicted. It's about 9:30 a.m. and the winds have been very strong since before dawn. Casualties so far:
(5 a.m.) the electricity went out
(8:00 a.m.) screens gone from the Florida room
The roof over the bedroom patio--it's just corrugated plastic--blew in and took some framing with it.
The orange tree blew over--it's leaning on the roof.
All the plants are severely battered--our neighbor's banana trees blew over early this morning.
Part of our front fence blew over.
No water pressure.

The wind is still out of the south, so it's the first half of the storm.

We are safe and dry inside our cinderblock house.

1:00 p.m.

No phone (our phone needs electricity to work, but the neighbors say their regular phone doesn't work, either)

The second half of the storm took the roof off of our Florida room.

It's relatively calm now, and a lot of the men in the neighborhood have been out in the street, surveying the damage and comparing notes (Tocci says there are some women out there too--but I think mostly the women are staying inside like sensible people)

6:15 p.m.

The water's back on! Yea! I have only the news from neighbors--brief reports: "worst hurricane in the history of Broward County," "two million FPL customers without power." I walked around the neighborhood, found a pay phone that worked, checked on my employment situation--apparently the buildings didn't blow away and I can report for my normal schedule tomorrow "to help with the recovery efforts."

Our cleanup at the house has gone as far as it can. Our pile of debris out front is respectably large--none of our neighbors has a bigger one, so we can't be accused of sloth or lack of neighborhood pride. I cleaned up the laundry room--the window broke when the roof came down. I put plastic over the window but it will blow out if we have any kind of wind. I cleaned the other patio too. The tree on the roof will have to wait until we can borrow a chain saw. Our neighbor, John, has one and he loves to use it so he'll probably be over before too long.

Hurricane Wilma, October 24, 2005

Hurricane Wilma photos, taken the day of the storm

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Thank you, Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiassen has the definitive snakes-in-Florida article in today's Miami Herald. Carl's columns are always amusing, but more than that, they are shocking. I turn the pages of the Herald and it's: news, news, celebrity gossip, news, news, TRUTH, news--double take, go back, what's this TRUTH doing in a family newspaper?? Oh, that's Carl. Somehow he gets away with it. When the politicians are acting like idiots, Carl writes, "These politicians are acting like idiots." And then he proves it, so it's not libel, just the TRUTH.

I had the idea of doing the research and writing a summary of snake incidents, and I've been saving the current articles in a file. But Hiaasen has saved me the trouble--he's been keeping track for a lot longer. Thanks, Carl, I'll just take the day off.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Key West City Commission Race

Key West is a small island--Captain Tony, a local saloon owner and celebrity (and former mayor) likes to remind people that the island is about the same size as Miami International Airport. [I checked; it's true.]

The island is known for its tolerant attitude. You can really be whatever you want to be, and because of that, Key West has a higher per capita eccentricity ratio than most places. It compares to Venice Beach or the West Village or the French Quarter. But unlike all those places, it is not near a large city (Havana is the nearest city, but with the travel restrictions, for practical purposes the nearest metropolitan area is Miami, 160 miles away.)

The exigencies of business have long clashed with the quirky character of the Conch Republic, and free enterprise being what it is, greed gradually gains ground at the expense of the unique ambiance that has been so treasured by visitors and residents through the years.

Some good news: George Halloran is running for City Commissioner, in a race to be decided November 1. George has been working for over thirty years to moderate the forces of greed in the island city. He was instrumental in saving public access to the beach at the foot of Simonton Street ("Save Our Shores") some 25 years ago (that was a fight that has been renewed several times, but today the public access is maintained) and has been involved in every major struggle since, most recently working with "Last Stand", fighting illegal development and corrupt politicians and businessmen.

George came to Key West 33 years ago, on a sailboat he bought and rehabilitated in Toronto and sailed to Florida with his wife and two children. He has worked as a carpenter/builder and community activist in Key West, but he has a degree in English and actually started out as a newspaper reporter in upstate New York. He and his wife Marcia are very special people and Key West is unbelievably lucky to have them. George served in the City Commission once before, years ago when I lived there. He was a shining light, a ray of hope. The Key West City Commission is in some ways a typical small town body, but they deal with much larger budgets and issues than most small towns. When George was a commissioner, he did a lot to facilitate the building of a sewage treatment plant--before his tenure, the city was dumping all the raw sewage into the ocean. That's just one example.

The fact that someone is clearly the most and best qualified candidate is no guarantee of success in politics; in fact integrity can be a real obstacle to getting elected. George's opponent, Mark Rossi, is the owner of several businesses, including Rick's Bar, so it's easy to see him as the personification of business interests, and of course Rossi has lots more money than George.

Key West is a small town that faces some big challenges--this election is important.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Yes, a Sonnet!

Words

Let’s say I’m on an island all alone
And you are on a ship. You sail, apart
And strong across the wide spray-filled, wind-blown
Expanse with no illusions, but a heart
Weathered, fired in the furnace of solitude.
And let us then imagine ink, and parchment,
My message scrawled across and placed in rude
Antique bottle, corked, sealed with tar and sent
In hope or despair, into the emptiness
It reaches you, you read, you answer back
The bottles coming to my shore express
Community, then unity, and lack
Of loneliness—a bridge of words exposed
Connections none had ever presupposed.


=========

I took piano lessons from 1st to 8th grade, from the local small-town piano teacher. What I mostly learned was how to read music under pressure, since I never practiced my lessons and had to try to play for the teacher as if I knew what I was doing. Later, in college, I had a series of lessons with a real pianist, someone with actual musical training, and at one point he said to me, "playing the piano is not like typing." I guess most people would say, duh! to that, but it really surprised me. To me, playing the piano is pretty much exactly like typing. Needless to say, I've never won any awards and never been suspected of having any musical talent. I was reminded of that when I was composing this sonnet--to me, writing poetry is a lot like working a crossword puzzle. And somehow, I have a gut feeling that that is the wrong attitude. But, by gosh, I said I'd have a sonnet here today, and there it is.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Kills 99.99% of Germs with Moisturizers and Vitamin E

I guess this is what they mean when they say "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

I have been working too much this week and my mind is a little lacking in inspiration.

So today, I'm "blogging" on the last thing I read, which happens to be: a bottle of Instant Hand Sanitizer that I keep on my desk. The wording on the label (quoted above) is terrible grammar. Literally, it implies that either it is using the moisturizers and vitamin E to kill the germs or that it kills the germs that have them--no, no, no. Totally wrong.

Anyway, it's a cool product, basically rubbing alcohol in gel form. When I first saw it I was completely disdainful, because I assumed it was a product for people who are basically disgusted by real life and try to isolate themselves from anything related to biology. I'm not like that. But after a couple of airplane trips that resulted in illness, I gave it a try, and the last two trips when I used the hand sanitizer regularly, I didn't get sick. I recognize that washing my hands is just as effective, but it's a little easier to use the sanitizer when I'm at my desk and I don't have to go all the way to the other room to wash with soap and water. It smells good, too.

Starting tomorrow, I'm back on my regular schedule, so I will try to make more effort to be literary--maybe a sonnet?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Hurricanes! Snakes! Avian Flu! The End Is Near!

A big hurricane (Wilma) is headed for us, but it could turn or decrease in power.

Large tropical snakes--Burmese pythons, boa constrictors, and so on--are being captured in South Florida at the rate of two or three a week. (It's the ones that aren't captured that you have to worry about.)

The avian flu is in the news--surely if there is an outbreak it will happen in Florida first.

Overall, I guess I'm more concerned with the Shoot First law that the NRA passed through the Florida legislature that says you are free to shoot someone if you feel "threatened" by him.

We all have to take everything one day at a time--heck, one moment at a time. I don't worry about any of these things. I'm just glad to be here.

It's been a hard week at work--I'm on my third 11.5 hour day and I'm starting to feel the strain. Tomorrow will be the last of it and then I'll be back to my more normal life.

I'm very happy about my Tom Robbins cd that arrived yesterday (Wild Ducks Flying Backwards). At the end of a hard day, I put the headphones on, lay down in bed and smiled and laughed for the last 15 minutes of the day's waking existence--then, pleasant dreams...

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Okay, go ahead and award him the $1.3 million

I got through a couple of Harold Pinter's plays, and I'm willing to concede that he is some kind of a genius.

The plays are minimalist art. Few words and fewer stage directions. But somehow the complexity lives between the lines, and even reading the plays is an interesting experience. I'm sure that watching good actors create a Pinter reality is very enjoyable.

So. In Harold's honor, I'll just keep this short today.

Cheers.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Lunch Ramblings

My patron saint of the lunch break is T.M. Shine. In his Timeline column, he habitually writes, "12:07 p.m. Went to lunch. Ate alone." And he brings his lunch from home, usually, and eats by the river in Ft. Lauderdale. He also gave me this valuable tip: If you're going to stretch your lunch hour, it's much wiser to leave early than to come back late. People don't usually notice if you leave early.

Now, once a week when I take my walk at lunchtime, I pass by the City Link dispenser and I stop, take out the paper (it's free) and read Shine's Timeline column. Then I put the paper back and continue my walk. Alone.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Jezebel

Our Bible study group is on I Kings this week, including the story of Jezebel. The theme of the week's study is "Warning." Jezebel is just one of a whole list of Bible Bad Girls; the two others whose names come immediately to mind are Eve, the Mother of All Bad Girls, and Salomé, of "bring me the head of John the Baptist" fame. [I need to read Oscar Wilde's play about Salomé. It's on my list. As of now.]

Queen Jezebel was put to death and left in the courtyard to be eaten by dogs. Her crime? Allegedly, she encouraged idolatry among the Israelites, and had them making sacrifices to the god Baal. Jehovah really frowned on that sort of activity. However, Tom Robbins, in Skinny Legs and All has this to say:

Except in an entirely secondary manner, Queen Jezebel never worshiped Baal. Baal was the ancient Semite word for "lord" or "husband." The god referred to by the Bible as Baal had divine status primarily because he was husband to Astarte. It was Astarte whom Jezebel worshipped.

Who was Astarte? She was a goddess; rather, she was the Goddess, the Great Mother, the Light of the World, the most ancient and widely revered divinity in human history. Shrines to her date back to the Neolithic Period, and there was not one Indo-European culture that failed to remove with its kiss the mud from her sidereal slippers. In comparison, "God," as we moderns call Yahweh (often misspelled "Jehovah") was a Yahny-come-lately who would never approach her enormous popularity. she was the mother of God, as indeed, she was mother of all. As beloved as she was for her life-giving and nurturing qualities, the only activities of hers acceptable to the patriarchs, she was mistress over destruction as well as creation, representing, according to one scholar, "the abyss that is the source and the end, the ground of all being."

Astarte's other names include Isis, Ishtar, Kali, Demeter, and, in the Saxon language, Ostara. The words estrogen and Easter both come from the same root as Ostara. Get it, "Easter EGGS". I am firmly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and Jesus (a Jew from the patriarchal tradition) is my personal Lord and Savior, but I am not threatened by the idea of the Goddess, and I find it rather endearing that my religion's most important holiday is named for Her.

So, was Jezebel just a Bad Girl, or a prophetess with a message for us today?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Day at the Fort Lauderdale Library

I set out this morning to go to Fort Lauderdale and check out some books by and about Harold Pinter. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature this week, and I know next to nothing about him--I saw some movies, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Wit, but don't have much idea of why he was awarded the Nobel Prize.

The library was pretty empty, just enough other people there to keep it from seeming eerily deserted. The design of the building is attractive and has won architectural awards; I always enjoy my time there. It's thrilling going to the fourth floor where the plays are because of the architecture--the middle of the building is an atrium and the stairs sort of hang in space so by the time you get to the fourth floor you are looking down 40 feet or so. I am also gripping the handrail at that point, and thinking that my willingness to take these stairs proves indisputably how much I dislike elevators.

I found the Pinter books with no problem, and on the way I picked up a couple of movies, an audiobook, and an assortment of books to browse before I left. I read through most of Dave Barry is From Venus and Mars--I was laughing out loud, trying not to be disruptive, kind of holding it in, but it sneaks up on you--he is really funny.

Then there was a book called Laura Ingalls Wilder Country that had pictures from the locations of the "Little House" books. That always makes me cry; I love those books so much. Laura was a real person, very strong and willing to live a simple life--actually believing that the self-sufficient life near nature is the best, that she wouldn't want to be anything other than a "farmer." And I believe her, too--she had the best life anybody can have on this Earth.

After that, I read one episode from a book of "Fawlty Towers" scripts, and looked at the pictures, so I was laughing again.

After that whole emotional roller coaster, I walked Las Olas Boulevard, looked at the boutiques and art galleries, and grabbed a toasted turkey sandwich at Quizno's--and then it was time to head home. A very pleasant Saturday.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Our Future Speaks Chinese

The Herald reported today that U.S. imports from China are up to a record level, and the trade deficit is soaring. The same article says that our Treasury Secretary is in China, urging them to "undertake faster changes in their currency system"--like it is their responsibility that we are spending money we do not have to buy goods that we do not need. The main driving force in the increase in trade with China is "textiles." If you go to any clothing store today, from WalMart to Saks Fifth Avenue, the product lines are dominated by Chinese imports. And think about it. Americans probably own more clothing per capita than anyone in the world.

Meanwhile, the Chinese are educating their children, working hard, staying organized and focused. The only thing we have in our favor right now is that China, Japan, and Korea cannot get along with each other. If they get organized, we won't have a chance, and we better start learning to write our letters with a brush.

The principle behind Chinese martial arts is that you use the aggressor's own energy to defeat him. The typical judo demonstration starts with the demonstrator telling the volunteer, "Now, come at me like you're going to attack me," and ends, a split second later, with the volunteer lying on the floor. China is doing precisely this with the international economy. The U.S. is rushing all over the world, wasting its resources on destructive military actions and expensive military establishments. Meanwhile, at home, our citizens are running up personal debt at a rate exceeded only by the national debt. China is just going along, taking advantage of our weakness for nice clothes and other consumer goods, making money on every transaction and even lending us the money (at interest) to indulge ourselves. We're getting weaker while they are getting stronger.

America's days of undisputed world domination are numbered.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

You Know You're From Oklahoma If...

You know you're from Oklahoma if:

  1. You can properly pronounce Eufaula, Gotebo, Okemah, and Chickasha.
  2. You think that people who complain about the wind in their states are sissies.
  3. A tornado warning siren is your signal to go out in the yard and look for a funnel.
  4. Your idea of a traffic jam is ten cars waiting to pass a tractor on the highway.
  5. You've ever had to switch from "heat" to "A/C" in the same day.
  6. You know that the true value of a parking space is not determined by the distance to the door, but by the availability of shade.
  7. Stores don't have bags, they have sacks.
  8. You see people wear bib overalls at funerals.
  9. You think everyone from a bigger city has an accent.
  10. You measure distance in minutes.
  11. You refer to the capital of Oklahoma as "The City."
  12. It doesn't bother you to use an airport named for a man who died in an airplane crash.
  13. Little smokies are something you serve only for special occasions.
  14. You go to the lake because you think it is like going to the ocean.
  15. You listen to the weather forecast before picking out an outfit.
  16. You know cowpies are not made of beef.
  17. Someone you know has used a football schedule to plan their wedding date.
  18. You have known someone who has had one belt buckle bigger than your fist.
  19. A bad traffic jam involves two cars staring each other down at a four-way stop, each determined to be the most polite and let the other go first.
  20. You know in which state Mi-am-uh is and in which state Mi-am-ee is.
  21. You aren't surprised to find movie rental, ammunition, and bait all in the same store.
  22. Your "place at the lake" has wheels under it.
  23. A Mercedes Benz is not a status symbol. A Ford F350 4x4 is.
  24. You know everything goes better with Ranch.
  25. You learned how to shoot a gun before you learned how to multiply.
  26. You actually get these jokes and are "fixin" to send them to your friends.

Finally, you are 100% Oklahoman if you have ever heard this conversation:
"You wanna coke?"
"Yeah."
"What kind?"
"Dr. Pepper."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Hope for Haiti

After we went to Haiti, back in the Baby Doc days (early 80's) I read the history of that little country. The first successful slave rebellion in the western hemisphere, they have been "self-governed" for a long time. But it has been a government of might makes right, a series of greedy despots. No history of democracy at all. The Africans who took over from the French seem to have used their former oppressors as a pattern.

The best government in the world would be hard-put to make Haiti a pleasant home for all its citizens. The challenges are huge: inadequate infrastructure; weak, unorganized economic system; lack of natural resources; chaotic social organization; crushing poverty.

I would believe that Haiti is completely without hope, if it weren't for their national character, the energy of the people who live there. I was very impressed by Haitians we encountered in their native land, and my admiration extends to immigrants I know in Florida. These are people who, if a framework can be established, will work to build a viable community. They have already done a lot with very little. I think they need more help from the international community, but I believe that eventually Haiti will come into its own.

The Miami Herald reports that the Supreme Court in Haiti has ruled that a Haitian-born U.S. citizen is eligible to run for president there. I think this is the wave of the future, as Haitians who have spent time in the U.S., made money and learned about democratic institutions here, will return to their homeland and work for improvements there. Our friend James came here from Haiti ten or fifteen years ago. His children are U.S. citizens. James is a hotel maintenance worker and is always looking for extra work. His wife works, too, and they have saved their money and invested in Florida real estate. James is building houses on land he bought, and he will no doubt end up a wealthy man. He wants to return to Haiti, and I think he would be an asset to his homeland, as he is an asset to our country while he is here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Kurt Vonnegut is Alienated, Too

In Kurt Vonnegut's book, Slapstick, there is a presidential candidate whose slogan is, "Lonesome No More!" and the platform is that everybody is going to be assigned to an extended family so nobody will have to get by entirely on his own. I remember he says, you know there are people who spend their whole lives on Earth wondering if maybe they have been sent to the wrong planet. A classic description of alienation. Artificial extended families is a cute idea but they wouldn't cure that kind of alienation.

In his book How to be Alone, Jonathan Franzen speaks of "isolates"--these are people who feel more comfortable with a book than with other people, and he doesn't seem to think it is such a bad thing. Franzen does admit that he went through a period of clinical depression, and I can't help thinking that isolation contributed to that situation.

Marilyn French once wrote, "Loneliness is not a longing for company; it is a longing for kind." That describes my feelings pretty much. Nothing makes me feel lonelier than being around a bunch of people who can't understand who I am. But time spent in the company of a kindred spirit makes me happy.

So, I enjoy reading Vonnegut's books, because he and I are on the same wavelength most of the time. In his latest book, A Man Without A Country, he tells a story about Powers Hapgood, a Harvard graduate, a socialist who worked in a coal mine and tried to organize the workers. A judge asked him why he had given up a comfortable middle class life for a struggling working class existence, and he answered, "Why, because of the Sermon on the Mount, Sir." And Vonnegut says, "Hooray for our team!" I'm on Vonnegut's team, too. Hooray for us. Lonesome no more!


=====

[Washington Post Vonnegut profile here.]

Monday, October 10, 2005

Imagine

Yesterday was John Lennon's birthday. He would have been 65. Here's one of his poems.

Imagine

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
No religion too
Imagine all the people
living life in peace

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
sharing all the world

You may say I'm a dreamer
but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one.

--John Lennon