Friday, February 29, 2008

DW: Self-Esteem

DIABLO Cody is bristling over the fuss her topless photos are causing. The ex-stripper and Oscar-winning "Juno" screenwriter fumes on her MySpace page, "Hey! Did you guys hear about the [pictures] I voluntarily posted on the Internet myself? What a tantalizing 'scoop!' Seriously, I thought nudity was only a scandal if the photos were leaked by some crumb-bum rat or vengeful ex." She adds: "They can dress me up, they can give me awards, they can coach me on the right responses, and they can sand the callouses off my giant [bleep]ing feet, but I will always be me. And I will never be ashamed."

WC: Tanzania: The Advenure Continues


Spent a few nights in places without computers--and sometimes without electricity. They're tented camps--you get your own little cottage, which is a large tent with one or two walls to make a bathroom, but no doors. You zip to get in and out, which turns out to be rather hard on the back because you have to bend all the way down to zip and unzip from the bottom. At one of the places, we had a flimsy little lock with which to sort of secure our tent, but any person or animal could have gotten in. At the other place, they didn't bother with the charade of a lock.

There are so many things to talk about and I have so little time. We're going into the Ngorongoro Crater today--the largest caldera (collapsed volcano) in the world. We're on the rim now, up many tens of thousands of feet, level with the clouds. Earlier, when we weren't so high, we stopped and looked into the crater with binocs. Even with the x10 magnification, the animals were tiny--even the elephants. Hippos looked like brown dots in a pool of water. But we could see thousands and thousands of flamingos, which we could discern by the swath of pink along the huge lake.

Sometimes we see so much at a time it's hard to know where to look. We'll all be standing in our pop-top vehicle, sometimes standing on the seats (against the rules, but hey . . .), trying to see in twelve different directions and climbing over each other for the best angle of whatever interests us. I think, among us, we have gotten some amazing photos and video.

We've had some lovely experiences with people here. Unfortunately, I missed the most extensive interaction because I had decided against a hike because my back was recovering from a spasm. It was the right decision, but I did miss the Masai guy who showed my group how to throw a spear and use a slingshot (and then was annoyed when no one gave him money), as well as a bunch of kids following them around.

We do so much in a day that I have actually fallen asleep while writing in my journal. I have a funny page full of blots and cross-outs and sentences that make no sense at all. Also, a sentence I was sure I had written was missing, so I must have dreamt it.

Today I went to the bathroom in an enclosure with a couple of big crickets and a tiny milliped and didn't panic. Growth!

When we got to this lodge today, we were greeted with glasses of pineapple and hot wet towels. This place is owned by the same folk as the last lodge I wrote from, and it turns out that the designs on the squares of the uniforms are actually diamonds, not squares.

I've learned a lot about my lack of visual acuity on this trip. Many of my group can look in a crowded forest and pick out a tiny bird--and then discuss its markings so that they can identify it. But, starting today, we're focusing on big things!

My main expense so far has been buying water. At about $1.80 for 300 ml (whatever that is), it adds up. We buy water to drink, but also to brush our teeth with, etc.

Well, gotta go. I miss you all. Wendy

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

RS: My Black History Month

People ask me why I go to church. "Oklahoma," I tell them. I hate the musical Oklahoma. Played Ike Skidmore in high school. Didn't audition. I didn't sing then. Not a lick. But Mr. Norman convinced me, by promising I wouldn't have to sing any solo lines. First rehearsal was "The Farmer and the Cow Hand." Takes place on Ike's farm. I was staged down front, in front of a microphone. I didn't give it a second thought, it was, after all, my farm. As we sang, I read ahead, what did I care? Then, I panicked as I noticed my character's name by a solo line. I had seconds to decide what to do. I could either stop the rehearsal and remind Mr. Norman about our deal, or I could jump in and be a trooper. I made the wrong choice. Throughout rehearsal and performance, my solo line never got any better. I hate Oklahoma.

I saw the revival on Broadway. I still hated it. What I loved was the collective experience in the audience. All of us creating a unique experience, along with the actors on stage, that would never be exactly the same. Connecting to each other, connecting to the music, our spirits expanded and enriched.

Church is the same. All those people wanting to feel God, touching them in a way that will sustain them throughout the week. Do I love meeting up with my friends? Yes. Do I love brunch after? Yes. Do I skip it occasionally when we decide to play hooky? Absolutely. But I do feel connected to a being larger than myself, in part, by connecting to a room full of people trying to connect to a being larger than themselves. And the music, the music is proof that life exists. People bow their heads during the Lord's Prayer, but I look right up to the roof at the stained glass window, because the light shining through makes me feel like my prayers go right up to the light and the light comes right down to touch me and fill me. And I do feel lighter in my skin.

This Sunday, the sermon was from Romans 5:

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us.

I have always struggled with the concept of suffering. Why is my suffering caused by an inferiorly bruleed crust on my dessert as someone else's is caused by an entire absence of food? And why does God allow suffering? A minister told me once that God doesn't promise us no suffering, he simply promises to be with us through the suffering. Perhaps applying Joni Mitchell is appropriate. I've looked at suffering from both sides now. . .I really don't know suffering at all.

This week the minister told stories, not calling each of us to suffer our way to redemption, but recalling the suffering for its historical benefits. Jewish friends tell me that all their holidays are about suffering. One said they could all be summed up as, "They tried to kill us. They didn't succeed. Let's eat." Protestants don't do the suffering. My minister said, "Jesus did the suffering, I'm over it." Me too.

But she told stories of individual black people who had suffered so she wouldn't have to. One of the people was her grandmother. She started cooking at 2 years old, standing on a chair. She didn't have the opportunity to finish high school because it wasn't allowed. She struggled to make ends meet and focused all her energy on saving, so her children would have something. As I listened, I realized it was my grandmother's story too. She suffered so my mother and aunt would suffer less. My mother suffered so I would suffer less. And during my suffering, my mother took it on too, hoping against hope that it might help me suffer less.

So, black history in the particular sounded a lot like my own particular history. And at the end of it all, character leads to hope. I don't always like what the Apostle Paul had to say. His words are the basis for a fair amount of the fundamentalist hatred that is spewed and diminishes and disregards Jesus's own words, words that are supposed to be the foundation of Christian faith. But I don't have a problem with character bringing hope. And he didn't say that suffering gave you hope. Suffering leads to perserverance, perserverence character, character hope.

It reminds me of Barak Obama, a black man who speak quite eloquently, and often exclusively, about hope. He catches a fair amount of flack for it. I was taken to task by someone I respect for name calling toward Hillary Clinton, so I won't. In truth, she gives me hope too. Last week, my 9 year old niece, growing up in a conservative place, with a devotedly conservative father, announced that she supported Hillary Clinton. She didn't much care for Obama because, well, she just didn't.

My sister, who voted for Huckabee because her husband insisted and because she knew he didn't have a chance in hell of winning, encouraged her. She also told her husband, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn't allowed to say a thing to their daughter. My sister and I talked about the fact that my niece was growing up in a world where all she knows is that a black man and a woman and a white grandfatherly type were running to become President of the United States. She doesn't know any other way. That gives me hope. My sister would not allow her to be robbed of the normalization of that. That gives me hope. My sister is the single person in my family who I believe actually takes the impact her vote might have on me and my life when she steps into the voting booth. She, too, gives me hope.

This year, I am supporting a black man for President. Not because he is black. No, I get to live in a world where he just happens to be black. And this black man speaks about hope. Some tell me it is all he has to offer. I wonder why, in this day and age, that isn't enough. My minister helped me see this as my black history month. When we look at lives in the particular rather than in the general, they are each our lives. My niece made it my black history month too. She, like that black man running for President, gives me hope. And that is more than enough.

Monday, February 25, 2008

WC: Roughing it in Tanzania

Well, at some point we will indeed be roughing it--but we sure haven't reached that point yet. The two hotels we've stayed in have been gorgeous, with hot water and good food, and internet access, albeit v-e-r-y s-l-o-w.

However, while waiting for the computer to load this morning (it took me 5 full minutes to get to this site), I watched a baby vervet monkey gamboling in a tree about 20 feet from me, bush hyrax scurrying across the ground and in bushes, and many birds flying by that anyone else on this trip but me could identify immediately.

At breakfast today, a buffet, they had four fruit juices (orange, mango, pineapple, and lichi), fruit (watermelon, pineapple, mango, passion fruit, peaches, pears), pancakes (really a cross between pancakes and crepes), omelettes made to order, ham, back bacon, pork sausages, beef sausages, baked beans, potatoes, white and wheat bread, a few different sorts of yummy rolls, and more.

The people who work here all wear loose-fitting uniforms in bright green and yellow or blue and white large squares. The light squares have lighter versions of the dark squares in them, again in a checkerboard pattern. I don't know if the uniforms are done in a known native pattern or if it's something invented for this hotel, but they're quite pretty and certainly don't match the image of "uniform" in the west.

When it's someone's birthday at a meal, they turn out all the lights, come into the large dining area with a flaming torch, chant and dance, and then sing Happy Birthday.

Our room are quite nice--very high ceilings, stucco walls, big reasonably comfy beds with carved headboards. Since we're in the middle of a national park, the electricity is iffy and hot water stops at 9 pm, but there's little other sign of us being in nature.

I don't want to talk about Tanzanians as some group I know anything about, since obviously I don't, but I must say that the people at this hotel are mostly very good-looking. Masai seem to predominate, and they have over 100 different tribes, if I remember correctly.

Our drivers are Lesika and Joyful. Both have a great deal of knowledge about nature, and they can drive through/on anything. We went off-road yesterday in search of cheetahs, which was bone-jolting but fun. Our waitress last night also had a Joyful sort of name, but I forget which word for happy it was.

Swahilli is a beautiful language. It is far more accessible than I imagined it would be--not that I know more than four words. But the sounds are familiar--there's no unfamiliar tonal variation.

By the way, did you know that elephants have more than 150,000 muscles in their trunks?

Today we're going a place where the lions hang out in trees to avoid tsetse fly bites. Should be interesting.

(Thanks, Holly, for putting the pix up.)

WC: Tarangire


That's how you greet people here. (If I repeat myself, forgive me. I've only 30 minutes on a slow computer, so I don't want to take time to check what I already wrote.)

Up at 5 this morning, on the road at 6. It's now 2:35 in the afternoon here, and we're back at the lodge for a break from the heat. I'm dirty and sweaty from the road, but I wanted to grab this opportunity to post.

It's magnificent here. The area we're in today has vast swaths of green with trees dotting the landscape--acacia, baobob, the occasional palm, sausage trees, etc. We drive on dirt roads, often standing in our vehicle (the top pops) so that we can see as much as possible. It often feels like an amusement park ride.

It's funny how the rules of "civilization" fall away. For instance, seat belts? Feh. They slow you down when there's something to see. And there's always something to see.

We've seen dozens of amazing birds, in all sizes and shapes and colors--especially colors. The "trash bird" at the area where we stopped for lunch, the equivalent of a pigeon or sea gull in looking for human leftovers, is a Superb Startling. It's partially irridescent blue, with some red I think, black rings around the eyes, truly thrilling to behold. I'd post a picture, but this computer is sloooooow, and it would never work. (If any of my co-bloggers would like to find a picture and post it, that would be lovely.) We saw herons, 5 different types of eagles, egrets, starlings, strikes, widow birds, go-away birds, and on and on. There was one called a violet-breasted something-or-other, and it's pastel--gorgeous.

And we saw elephants. All over the place. Clumps of them under trees, enjoying the midday shade--and avoiding the midday heat. Two bathing together in a little pool of water, looking like they were having a great time and really enjoying each other's company. Babies that look like they're only two feet high, although a woman I'm traveling with says they're twice that size--she used to volunteer at a zoo and knows her elephants. We saw two young males butting each other. We saw one male so close that Andrea and I decided that we were the equivalent of 10th row center. And close enough that there was no doubt it was a male. Another male trotted across the road right in front of us. And we saw a baby breast-feeding, which was very cool.

We also saw impala, dik-diks, warthogs, and birds. Did I mention birds? The people I'm traveling with are bird crazy. They look for birds while we're waiting in line for the bathroom. They look for birds while we're eating dinner. One woman has seen over 1700 distinct species of birds!

I should probably go take a shower before we go out in search of lions.

I wish I could begin to do justice to just how amazing and magical it is to be here. It's such a different place from anywhere I've ever been, particularly in the Tarangire Park where we spent the day. The world seems to go on forever, the sky seems to go on forever. We go hours without seeing other people. The animals are just out there, living their lives.

And we have mosquito nets when we sleep, which feels very Tennessee Williams.

Lala salom. That means good night or goodbye, I forget which.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

WC: Arusha, Tanzania

First let me mention that I am as tired as I have ever been in my life, following red eyes two nights in a row and very little sleep on either flight (but I did get some, for which I am quite grateful). I'm trying to stay up to 9 tonight, to get on
Africa time, but it's a challenge.

We're all exhausted, and punchy. We just went birding in the garden behind our hotel, and we were bumping into each other and tripping over our own feet. We did see some amazing birds, though. We saw hornbills, which are huge and make you really get it that birds are descended from dinosaurs. They look prehistoric. (I'd add a picture, but I'm on a very slow connection.) We also saw these irridescent birds with blue and green and purple and yellow, I think. (It was only 10 minutes ago, but my brain is fried.) Everyone has been very nice about my neophyte-ness.

I'd like to share some impression from the 45 minute ride from the airport to our hotel. Much of the ride was in a rural area, which gradually got more populated, and then led to the city.

But let me start with the airport in Kenya. It's small and warm and crowded. And it smells different than a U.S. airport. It's got a warmer smell, a more human-based smell, with no hint of fast food and old cooking grease. (The only recognizable brands I've seen here so far are Pepsi, Coke, and Camel cigarettes, which puts out huge billboards.)

In the rural area, people walk and ride bicycles--old, beat-up bicycles. Often it's two people to a bike, with the peddler working very very hard. This area doesn't have water, and we saw a young man on a bike with a bunch of huge water containers--the size used in water coolers, only these were yellow and dirty. Most people can't lift one of them, and he was biking with at least four of them.

The people walking are often women, in very colorful drapped clothes, carrying amazing things on their head: water, boxes, bundles of wood. Some had kids papoosed to their backs as well. And they walk and walk and walk.

This area didn't have all that much in the way of greenery. A lot of animals were around: cows, donkeys, goats, some being herded, some wandering. The animals are much smaller than our domestic animals, just as the people are much smaller than we are. Some of the herders are Masai, in traditional garb.

When we were in the most rural area, all the kids we passed waved, which was fun.

As we got into a more populated area, the two-lane road got more and more populated. (They drive on the left here, by the way, and pass each other with an inch of clearance between the passing car and the oncoming car.) It was a market day, so people were bringing their wares. We saw women with branches full of bunches of bananas on their heads and guys pushing metal wheel-barrows. They work hard.

On the side of the road are many unfinished brick houses. People build them for themselves in their spare time. But they don't have a lot of spare time, so it can take five years to build a home smaller than my apartment.

In contrast, Arusha is a city. It's an African city, with a lot of people trying to sell stuff to tourists, unfamiliar brand names, and a completely different look. But there is a tall glass building ugly enough to go up in the Lower East Side.

I actually just drifted off to sleep writing this. Weird!

While we were birding, the head gardener came and started showing us all the plants and flowers, many of which I knew from San Diego. He is a cheerful man, very proud of the work he's done, proud to be as successful as he is despite his lack of education. He's so thin that his cheekbones dominate his face as his skin is molded around them. His eyes are rheumy and he's missing teeth, but he was overall attractive, mostly due to his enthusiasm and friendliness.

When you meet someone here, the appropriate greeting is Jambo. Last night, when we got to Tanzania, I said Jambo to the customs woman, and she rolled her eyes and said Hello.

At the bank today, however, they were much friendlier.

I just fell asleep again. Damn. I've got to stay up for dinner and to repack my bags--everything is out on my bed.

The hotel is gorgeous, by the way. Our bathroom is lovely and we have mosquit nets over our beds.

Tomorrow is our first safari.

Friday, February 22, 2008

WC: On My Way to Africa--But Not There Yet

I'm sitting at a computer at a hotel in England, not far from Heathrow airport. I decided not to go on the birding trip here, since I'm tired and was just not in the mood. Instead, I've been dozing in the hotel retaurant, trying valiantly, but unsuccessfully, to stay awake. (Some of my co-travelers booked rooms here, but I didn't, since I was planning to go birding with Andrea and a few others.)

Let us now take a moment to be impressed by technology. I mean, I'm in England! And you're reading this in the U.S. And tomorrow I'll be in Africa.

Yesterday, I met Andrea at her place, and her friend Lorraine was to drive us to the airport. But her car wouldn't stop, so we got a lift from her carpenter/contractor person, who practically lives with her. He has a van, with few seats, so Lorraine grabbed a box that was on the sidewalk as rubbish to sit on. The highlight of the trip was Lorraine sinking, oh so slowly, as the box gave way, laughing her head off.

The flight over was on a 747, which I don't think I've ever flown on before. To get to our seats, first they sent us past the spiral staircase leading up to the rich people's airplane heaven. Then we went through the downstairs not-so-rich people's area, which includes diagonal cubicles, each equipped with a comfy reclining seat and an ottoman and privacy. And then we passed the classy-economy section, with standard business class seats. Finally, we got to steerage, where we were seated.

Many of my co-travelers ended up with bulkhead or exit row seats and footroom--I did not. There was decent footroom, but the distance from seat arm to seat arm was just barely more than my distance from hip to hip. Andrea had an empty seat next to her (we didn't sit together)--I did not. But the English woman next to me was pleasant, quiet, and thin, for all of which I was quite grateful.

I sort of slept. My feet were restless and I couldn't stay still. And then there was the repeated hot flash/cold clammy cycle, with the sweater on and off and on and off. (I am sure that the woman next to me would not speak as favorably of me as I just did of her.) Yet, for all that, I did sleep some and the trip went quickly.

Breakfast was a choice of biscuits (cookies) or muffin. I took the muffin since that is one of the little cheats I allow myself in my abstinence from desserts. But it was a double-chocolate muffin, and even I cannot convince myself that is breakfast food. I asked the flight attendant if they had anything for people who didn't eat junk food, but they didn't. Oh well.

My co-travelers are an interesting bunch. One married couple (Ann and Dexter), one mom-daughter pair (Eileen and Shari), a few women traveling solo (Marsha, Carol, Marian), our zoologist guide guy (Don), and our travel guy (Dave). Yay, I remembered their names!

They all seem very nice--one has already volunteered to teach me how to pee on the Serengeti. And boy are they interested in birds! They sound like my theatre friends and I discussing Sondheim.

On the shuttle from the airport to this hotel, Andrea and I came up with songs with birds in them. Green Finch and Linette Bird was the winner for sheer volume. A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. Meadowlark. Then I suggested, His Friends Are More Than Found of Robin and Owl Be Seeing You. Andrea replied with, Emu Something to Me and To Everything Tern Tern Tern.

In the hotel restaurant, I had lunch and then a lovely cup of tea (I'm in England!). Afterward, I went to the ladies room and passed a standing machine, looking much like an ATM or computer kiosk, where one could print one's photos. Someone had a left a photo up of his forshortened body--he was obviously pointing down at himself--with his penis as the central item. His uncircumsized penis. (I'm in England!)

In a couple of hours, we'll head back to the airport and get on Kenya Airways to Nairobi.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

AV: Two Long Ears and a Microphone

"I dream of Jeannie, she's a light brown hare."
- Bugs Bunny

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

RS: The Beat Goes On

I went to Cleopatra's Needle, a quaint little jazz club on the Upper West Side, on Sunday evening—open mike night. I was not there to perform. I have neither the gift nor the inclination for jazz. I did perform a song in a show once and was encouraged to scat in the middle of it; and by all accounts, did a fine enough job. Did it, loved it, scratched it off the list, moved on. I love to sing, a musician I ain't. My friend, Sheila, is. She hears things in music that are totally lost on me. I envy both her skill and her gift.

We were there to scope out the place, preparation for her debut at open mike night. She's a damn fine jazz vocalist; and since moving to New York just under a year ago, has spent the majority of time settling in. But you can only live so long estranged from your passion before your spirit begins to wither just a little. It takes courage, though, when that passion has to be expressed publicly. Cowardliness ain't a tick for which she needs to be dipped. I'll be there when she takes the stage, well before her one year anniversary in the city, thank you very much.

So, we sat and watched. I saw the cogs turning in her head, the furnace lighting in her stomach, and the Sleeping Beauty of her passion gently kissed and awakened. I couldn't have gotten a better contact high if I were sitting next to Snoop Dogg.

There was a parade of passionates taking the stage. There was a range of talent behind the mike. There were three people, in particular, that I found most interesting—all over 65, two well into their 70's. I don't know their histories. Each had a comfort with jazz, a muscle memory far greater than the agility that time had worn a bit. Maybe they had lived the life and were continuing a love affair to the only extent the market would bear. Maybe they were sideliners who'd finally worked up the courage to shuffle into the game. Maybe I was there for the very moment they lived their dream for the first time. Whatever the story, or three stories in this case, they were living their dream. You could hear it. Mostly, you could see it. Just them and a jazz combo—piano, bass, drums, and delight.

If you ever find yourself too long separated from your passion, just go to Cleopatra's Needle. You won't want to spend another day estranged.

Monday, February 18, 2008

DW: The Big Pause

Here I am, 51 (hard to believe), and in the throes of menopause (almost impossible to believe).

For some reason I never thought that I'd have a hot flash. Nor did I believe that they could be that hot. Boy, was I wrong. It's really awful, and they only thing that's good is that I don't look as hot as I feel. Along with this is the worst part: insomnia.  

Before, I was able to fall asleep, then would wake-up at 2:10 am. Now, no matter how tired I am, I can't fall asleep. It's maddening. Right now I'm relying on Ambien to get me through until I uncover something else. I may go on hormones, but I'm not sure about that until some blood tests come back.

I just came back from the endocrinologist and while I officially have hypothyroidism, my thyroid levels are normal. So the insomnia, forgetfulness, dry skin, hair thinning, libido suppression, skin rashes, etc. will not be alleviated by thyroid supplementation, because I apparently have enough. 

If anyone has any advice, please send it on!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

WC: Tanzania, Here I Come

Thursday, I leave for Africa.

Preparing for the trip has been a trip. Six shots, a bunch of prescription drugs, buying safari clothing, etc, etc. I've had six instances of doing tons of research, finally making a decision, ordering something on line, and then being told they're out of it--or I get it and it doesn't fit--or it's the wrong item. (My co-traveler Andrea has had similar experiences. I finally asked her if we could get to Africa by running in circles.) But the preparation, while not quite done, is on track, which is all a person could ask.

We're changing planes in Nairobi in both directions, and we agree that if we're going to be kidnapped and/or murdered in the midst of all the fighting there, it damn well better be on the way home! (I also prefer, should something go wrong, that I be killed by a good-looking animal like a lion or cheetah, rather than a hyena or person.)

I'm excited, and getting more so by the moment. Every once in a while, I burst out to whomever I'm with, even if it's only me: "I'M GOING TO AFRICA!!!"

My sister is vacillating between envy and relief she's not going. Like when I explained why I had to get bland colored bandanas: Bright colors attract animals; dark colors attract tsetse flies. And did I mention the scorpions?

When I was taking anthology classes, I was talking to one of my profs, who had done much in-the-jungle research. He said that while there are way more insects in South America, Africa has more things that can kill you.

Which reminds me of an explanation Andrea was reading to me about snakes in Africa.If a snake is longer than a meter and a half, it's probably dangerous. If it has a diamond or triangular-shaped head, it's probably dangerous. It it has stripes or bands on the head, it's probably dangerous. If it's rearing up at you, it's probably dangerous. (Luckily, the vast majority of our trip happens in a vehicle.)

This may sound completely perverse, but I'm actually looking forward to being bitten by a tsetse fly. I mean, how exotic can you get?

The only challenges I face are my claustrophobia in the endless airplane rides, my insect phobia, my limited camping experience (ie, none), my fear of water (we're snorkling), and my extreme reluctance to bare my butt in public to go to the bathroom in nature (which I've never done). But beside that, it should be a peace of cake.

And oh, the things I'll see!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

WC: Ahead of His Time

From Uncle Vanya:
You can burn peat in your stoves and build your sheds of stone. Oh, I don't object, of course, to cutting wood from necessity, but why destroy the forests? The woods of Russia are trembling under the blows of the axe. Millions of trees have perished. The homes of the wild animals and birds have been desolated; the rivers are shrinking, and many beautiful landscapes are gone forever. And why? Because men are too lazy and stupid to stoop down and pick up their fuel from the ground. [To HELENA] Am I not right, Madame? Who but a stupid barbarian could burn so much beauty in his stove and destroy that which he cannot make? Man is endowed with reason and the power to create, so that he may increase that which has been given him, but until now he has not created, but demolished. The forests are disappearing, the rivers are running dry, the game is exterminated, the climate is spoiled, and the earth becomes poorer and uglier every day. [To VOITSKI] I read irony in your eye; you do not take what I am saying seriously, and--and--after all, it may very well be nonsense. But when I pass peasant-forests that I have preserved from the axe, or hear the rustling of the young plantations set out with my own hands, I feel as if I had had some small share in improving the climate, and that if mankind is happy a thousand years from now I will have been a little bit responsible for their happiness. When I plant a little birch tree and then see it budding into young green and swaying in the wind, my heart swells with pride . . .
Anton Chekhov (I wasn't able to find the translator's name)

RS: The kid stays in the picture

There was this kid, see, in the town where I grew up. We used to play together and I told him all my dreams. He knew every one of them, remembered them better than I did. Then one day he disappeared, just vanished. But the thing is, nobody seemed to notice, nobody seemed to miss him, and nobody went looking for him. And they kept talking about him in the present tense, like he was still in the room, like he was going on with his life, growing up and playing little league and trying to date girls and staring for hours at blackheads as he squeezed out the oily little stems. They acted like he actually went to the prom, like they could actually see him, dancing, shaving, having a life. But he was gone. He was somewhere else. And I used to wonder around town trying to catch a glimpse of this kid, find some evidence that he really existed. I was the only one looking for him, the only one who missed him. Sometimes, I thought I could hear him breathing just over my shoulder, or looking at me in the middle of the night while I was trying to sleep, afraid that he was going to sneak up and suck the life out of me. Like he was some kind of banished soul just waiting to take over my body and my life because he had been hacked to death and abandoned in some not so distant wood where he was left to rot, leaving his soul to roam the earth until he found a weaker sould he could replace. And I thought maybe he might come after me. And part of me was hoping that he would. But he was always just beyond me, just across the street. Sometimes as I would stand at a crosswalk waiting for the Go, my heart would start to race because I was sure that if the light would just change a little faster, I could run across the street and catch up with this kid. But I was always caught, trapped between the Don't Walk and the oncoming traffic. Thing was he didn't want my life. He had it too good, he was there. And I always wanted to be there. I dreamed about there. If only I had his life. I could be the center of it all. There

Monday, February 11, 2008

WC: Uh, Really?

"She had, to the highest degree, the feminine trait of appearing to be exclusively on the defensive, concentrated on guarding the integrity of her being, when she was really, with every force in her, bent on the offensive."

Isak Dinesen describes a bushbuck fawn in Out of Africa.

Friday, February 8, 2008

AV: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Hi sports fans. It's been a busy week on the political front and I've just written about it for my monthly San Diego Democratic Club newsletter column. I decided to post it here so I wouldn't just end up writing about this stuff in pieces.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As I thought about what the appropriate subject of this month’s column might be, I reflected on what’s happened since the last one and realized, after the most recent development on the Marriage front, that I’ve come back to that infuriating encounter with the signature gatherer. I’ve also continued my conversation with my friend, the 20-something new mother as well as her young new-father husband. And we’ve all since gone to the polls.

The Good, as you might have guessed, is the extraordinary turnout for Democratic candidates in San Diego County. As of this writing (with some provisional and absentee ballots still being counted) this election counts 55% of voters selecting Democratic candidates compared to 44% for GOP candidates. Overall, San Diego saw 27% (that’s almost one third) higher turnout for our candidates than in the 2004 Presidential primary. San Diego voter turnout for Democratic candidates was the highest in a Primary election since … well, since a really really long time. This is most likely the result of several factors, among them: a closed GOP primary, extraordinary efforts in the last several months to register new voters (over 10,000 of them Democrats), and of course, the caliber of candidate on offer on the Democratic ballot as opposed to those from any other party, including the Republican party.

This last factor was the most important, in my opinion. Since this race began, I’ve watched the GOP field with something approaching fascination. Sure, we can’t underestimate the right wing (see the “Ugly” portion of this column later), but the early part of the race sure lacked anything remotely resembling direction. I’d hoped it would last a little longer, but sadly, it is not to be. Which brings me to the Bad and the Ugly.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, there’s some new money in the ongoing right-wing fundamentalist effort to write marriage discrimination into the California state constitution. Big money. Potentially enough money to underwrite the kind of over-the-top effort they need to gather enough signatures to get this hateful initiative on the November ballot. This changes the landscape a bit for you and me in the upcoming June and November elections. You can be sure, as a friend recently characterized it, it’ll be “All Marriage, All the time” not only in California, but locally here in San Diego.

I for one am not looking forward to the kind of enormous financial and volunteer drain this will be when so many of our agencies and organizations are already hurting for funding. The introduction of this bottom-feeding initiative on the ballot is a blatant effort to drain our wallets, our spirits, and to divide the Democratic vote in one of the largest electoral prizes in the country in a Presidential race in which so much is at stake.

So here comes the Ugly. You and I, my friends, are once again the identified faces of Demon Immorality and the Scourge of All That Is Good and American. That’s right. You, me, and our families are “Evil.” You and I will be used as fodder for the fundamentalist Christian of both the right and the left. We’ll be discussed and vilified and there will be much theorizing and predicting and focus-grouping and hating. And fundraising. And advertising.

Marriage for same-sex couples isn’t the only issue on the hotplate either. Let’s not forget the Presidential race. We have an extraordinary opportunity in the upcoming Presidential election to put a Democrat back in the White House. And not only a Democrat, but the first woman or African-American to hold the highest office in our country. That’s all Good, right? Sure it is. In fact, it’s Great and I think most of the party, if not America, agrees.

But let’s be real and prepared. Whether it’s the right of same-sex couples to legally marry or placing a woman or a black man in the Oval Office for the first time in this country’s history, the Ugly will also come at us from the people we think are our friends. Strange as it may seem, some of them won’t even know that they’re ugly.

To wit: recently received in two separate emails were images that shocked me in their malice or naiveté. The first was a “Driving Miss Hillary” movie spoof (featuring Senators Obama and Clinton, respectively) sent by an elderly friend of the family usually known for forwarding a non-ending stream of cute-kitten-and-puppy emails. You know the sort. The second was another spoofed movie poster, this time an adaptation of the “Mandingo” poster featuring Senator Barack Obama in the midst of a bevy of white women and Bill Clinton amidst similarly adoring black women. This offended me mightily, not only for the supremely distasteful nature of the stereotype, but that it came from someone who is working for social justice for other violently oppressed minorities here and across the world. This person knows better and I either have to attribute the image to an inexplicable ignorance, or to an inexplicable malice. I’m dismayed at either explanation.

This can get ugly, and honestly, much uglier than I had thought possible before these two emails – and the doings on the campaign trail in South Carolina.

Our job, my friends, is to keep the conversation real, above the belt, and to steer our enemies, our friends, our party AND each other with love, respect, and passion for everything our party stands for.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

AV: Sunday and Tuesday

Yeah, I voted too. What a ride, huh??

But before we go there, I'd like to give RS a big air kiss for seeing a show that he obviously loved. I'm so happy for you! AND, I want to share with all (six) of you one of my favorite things: The Museum of Bad Art. Why? Why did I think of it?

Because one of the first pieces is a marvelously awful painting titled: Sunday on the Pot with George. It never fails to delight me.

See for yourself.

And please take the time to peruse the site. Read the commentary. Agree, disagree, opine, it matters not. Bad Art is Bad Art and shall not be denied!!

I held on to my mail-in ballot until about noon yesterday when I marked it in a frenzy, put it in its tidy yellow envelope, licked the (awful!) glue side and affixed it shut. Then Aida and I took our votes to the nearest polling place and deposited them in exchange for the coveted "I Voted" sticker.

I voted for Barack Obama. But could have easily voted for Hillary Clinton. Either way, sports fans, this is a most excellent problem to have.

As Senator Clinton noted (kind of) in the most recent debate, our next President is going to be either a woman or a black man.

Of course, if South Carolina taught me anything, it's that this thing is ours to lose and, crap, that could happen.

More later on why I voted the way I did, but suffice it to say it was the most conflicted I have ever been about any vote ever ever ever.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

DW: Montclair Loves Obama

Montclair, NJ loves Obama. I just spoke with my friend Jed who lives in Berkeley, CA and he said there isn't much support for Clinton that he's aware of. I think the triumvirate of Caroline Kennedy, Maria Shriver, and Oprah Winfrey is hard to beat. 

I was very moved that Caroline is so committed. She not only wrote the editorial in the NY Times, but has taped a commercial that shows her dad with her reiterating "....A President Like My Father." He has something that can't be manufactured, and I'm happy to say that I'm responding to it!!

HC: Yes, I Voted, too...

...but first of all let me say that I love this blog. I love that Entourage and Sunday in the Park with George get as much weight as the presidential primary.

I, too, voted for Barak Obama. I'm so not into politics it's not funny, but I did watch one debate. I liked what Clinton said more than what Obama said. However, I don't believe Clinton's smile. She seems plastic-y and hard and somehow inhuman. I just can't vote for someone whose smile I don't believe. Do I love Obama? No. Do I have high hopes for him? Yes.

Also, I have a husband, two kids, a house, two cars, and all those grown-up things, but I've never felt more Grown-Up than when I've pushed a lever for a potential president. This is important stuff! My little opinion/decision means something. That's pretty cool, isn't it? What do I want from our next president? Fairness. To me that means NOT telling people what to do with their bodies. NOT telling people whom they can't marry. NOT invading other countries just because they might have something we have but don't want them to have. I want a president who really believes in the freedom associated with America. I want freedom for everyone. I want people to be able to keep and pay for their houses. I want good health care for everyone.

Enough. I'm not a soap box kinda gal. I hope Obama wins. I hope he paves the way for more "others," by which I mean "No More Old White Men," including women, gays, Jewish people, transexuals, and even foreigners. I really really hope Obama makes me NOT feel bad about being American.

RS: Getting the Big O

Like my good friend, WC, I voted today. But I voted for someone. It hurt that I couldn't pull the lever for Dennis Kucinich. But I didn't make a choice between the lesser of two evils. I chose who I consider the only hopeful. Hope that our country can make some much needed changes. Hopeful because we have a woman or a black man poised to lead a nation with a disgraceful history in its treatment of the groups they personify. And hopeful because it heralds the ever nearing departure of a confederacy of dunces. To me, he is far better than ending up with a wacko (Huckabee), a shape shifter (Romney), an unapologetic Bush-kisser, or a vacant, soulless Fembot (guess who?). And thank you Jesus and Florida for the humiliating crash and burn of Guiliani. Mostly, I pulled that lever for President Obama today, because I think he has the best chance of winning in the general election. He may not solve all the problems of this country. He may not solve any of them. But I hope--and almost believe--that the world will be the better for his winning. I am willing to bet on it, and I'm willing to be wrong.

WC: A Prediction

My Prediction:

Obama will do much, much better today than predicted and he will win the Democratic nomination.

WC: Keeping My Fingers Crossed

Well, I did it. I voted against a woman for president--a woman with a legitimate chance of winning--not something I ever thought I'd do in my life.

Do I feel good about my decision? No.

Would I feel good if I had voted for Hillary? No.

And if I had had the chance to vote for John Edwards, would I feel good about that? Better than I feel now--I thought he was our best option. But then I would have voted against a woman and against an African-American, which would have been quite odd for this committed bleeding heart liberal.

Whoever gets the Democratic nomination, may he or she win. May he or she nominate liberal Supreme Court justices. (And may a conservative justice or two or three retire or die or be stolen by aliens.) May he or she manage to improve health care, get us gracefully and morally out of Iraq (which is way more complicated than just leaving), restore our international image, help heal our deathly ill economy, and fight global warming.

Wow, we don't need a president. We need a superhero!

RS: Sunday in the Park With George

It isn't a perfect musical. And this production hasn't fixed all of its problems. But it is still a thrilling score, joyous and rapturous and expands the soul a bit. Jenna Russell, who takes on the roles of Dot and Marie, is near perfection. She doesn't sing all the notes with the full-throttle enthusiasm of Bernadette Peters (and I personally loved her in that show), but she is a woman of desperation, desperate need for love and attention, to be seen. And when she sings--it isn't always sweet, it isn't always lovely, but it is always perfect--calibrated but never cold. The leading man, Daniel Evans, finds a fullness of life in George without ever flipping over into the schizophrenetic Patinkinisms of old. He is less successful in the second act and gives out a big old girl, gay inhale at one point that ruins a moment, but just a moment. He sings beautifully but never overblown. His ending for Finishing the Hat was simply complete. The production values are wonderful. It helped that I got to sit in the first row. I am a big fan of Jessica Molaskey, in modest doses. She is terrific. Michael Cumpsty is good but not special. Mary Beth Piel is bad but so dispassionate that you can't work up enough emotion to hate her. Alexander Gemignani is perfectly fine but does nothing to deserve his billing--nepotism rules! Everyone else is fine. They have improved on the originals in many ways. The opening of act one remains one of my favorites in theatre. The end of act one is thrilling and heartbreaking and deliciously beautiful all at once. This performance of Children and Art is brilliant. And the ending, oh the ending, I love the ending of this show. The disconnect between Dot returning to sing with modern day George does undercut the emotional punch of Move On, and I actually prefer hearing the song out of context; but it is just a stunning song. Even with that, the last 30 minutes of the show are breathtaking. A journey that brings you full circle, to the place where a perfect beginning and perfect ending meet.

Monday, February 4, 2008

DW: I'm Hooked on Entourage

So here's how it happened: my husband and I were lounging around at 10:30 am on Saturday, and I casually said that I wanted to check out if we could watch the HBO-series "Entourage" via our Comcast "On-Demand" feature. Yes, we could.

For the next several hours we watched Vince, Eric, Drama, Turtle, and Ari Gold deal with the quest for fame and fortune in Hollywood. Aside from this show cranking out one fabulous script after another, I just love the whole idea of manifesting your destiny with your tribe in tow.  Before I got married to my husband, I was "married" to my friends, and can easily imagine living in a group situation, waking up to a kitchen filled with my favorite people in the world.

Anyway, we watched 6 episodes in a row, left the house to do errands, went to the office, came home, ate dinner, then watched the rest of the on-demand library until 11 pm. I thought the entire third season was available, but it wasn't. So at 11:30, we jumped in the car an went to the local video store to get a portion of a third season, the last third as it were.

As you can imagine, I've revised our Netflix queue with all of the past seasons. I feel like I know these guys, and that they should be joining us for Passover. Jeremy Piven is simply wonderful, and I can completely relate to how he was unable to stop thinking about work, even on Yom Kippur.  

It's so much fun to have a new obsession!!!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

SS: The Perils of Being Too Nice

I am what is called a people-pleaser. I'm "nice" to a fault, to the point where someone can completely and obviously take advantage of me, and to a degree that any sane person would never find remotely acceptable, and I'd still likely forgive that person -- and possibly not even acknowledge that I had been wronged. I grew up with a mother who was much more like a child than a parent and in this sense, she was the true baby in the family, almost from the time I was out of diapers. Because of her disposition she demanded most of the attention and care-taking in the family and my father and I in essence became her parents. I do not know how I felt about this when I was young -- I just knew my mother always came first -- it was an unspoken rule between my father and I and it was important to her stability that I not be much of a burden on her.

Sometime between my childhood and teen years, I learned it was best to always be the good girl in any situation, to not rock the boat, to not have opinions, to resist any urge to criticize. I'd have moments where I'd break out of this and actually say something I felt, but then if I was met with any kind of resistance, I'd take it as the "reason" why I should have shut myself up in the first place. Again, I'd go mute. I wanted nothing more than to make the other person happy.

This was great for some of my first boyfriends, who were usually the types any emotionally healthy woman would have run far, far away from if approached by them. I will not go into the details of how some of them treated me (it is shameful to me even today), other than to say I listened many abusive comments and obeyed many insane commands because I believed the only way to be loved was by doing everything and anything to please the other person.

Being nice was not just limited to my "love" life. I accepted it any time a boss refused me a raise, never complained if I was overcharged for a service, said nothing if I was treated rudely by someone paid to help me, was always the person willing to work extreme hours all the time to help finish a project. In fact, I got to the point where I would take on the extreme projects because I thought that was what I was supposed to do in order to keep my job. In the first few years of being a freelance writer, I would negotiate DOWN on a project price, because I just wanted the client to like me and keep me.

In my late twenties, I developed a fantastic mechanism for coping with the enormous amount of stress I was now experiencing as a result of keeping my mouth shut and my head down for so long. I started popping pills. The end result of this behavior -- a suicide attempt last year -- was what made it starkly clear that things needed to change. I needed to stop this kind of thinking.

I stopped the pill popping not long after this incident, and got into treatment I began to explore what led me down such a path of self destruction and what would keep me from going that way ever again. There are many root causes, but I firmly believe a primary one was my dogged determination to make others happy at all costs. To sublimate my own needs. To make the decision, somewhere along the line, that my life was not worth much unless someone else saw it as worthy.

Now it's been close to three months since I began living without pills. My mind is getting clearer, and I truly feel like I am getting stronger. I'm learning how to arrest those demons that trigger my self-hate, which was the ultimate trigger of my need to please others. It's very hard, but it's getting so much better every day. This may be the closest I've come to a bona fide miracle in my life. I'm learning to fight back, when necessary, against people and situations looking to exploit me. And that is quite a powerful feeling.

I think our society encourages women to "be nice" at all costs. It helps to keep us feeble in the same way that looking at anorexic models in a magazine day after day helps to keep us feeble. It teaches us we are not worthy as human beings, and that thinking leads us to hate ourselves and ultimately, it renders us unable to fight back against injustices, whether they occur in the context of romance, work or on the world stage. Not every woman who practices people pleasing will go down the same path as me, but some will. So I say, "Fight this with everything you have. You are worthy. The only thing unworthy about you are the feelings that want to kill you. Resist."

Copyright February 3, 2007 by Sarah Stanfield

Saturday, February 2, 2008

AV: One Book and Two Outrages

Let's start with the "One Book" part. Bill Moyers is taking votes online for the one book (besides the Bible) you'd like to see the next President take to the White House*. You can voice your opinion on the Bill Moyers Journal site. Me, I'm not sure if it should be James and the Giant Peach (by Roald Dahl), Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, the classic The 1001 Nights, or Goodnight Moon.

You might have some better ideas.

(* evidently this question was first posed by Katie Couric, so don't blame Bill for the "besides the Bible" part)

Outrage One

Also on Bill Moyers Journal tonight I learned that the White House, in direct violation of law (yeah, so what's new ...), is "missing" emails from key staff (including the Pres and Rove) for a 473-day stretch between 2003 and 2005. They, of course, cover the time of such events as the outing of Valerie Plame and the destruction of the CIA tapes of interrogations. You can watch the whole program on the site.

Outrage Two

Let me just preface this by saying that I'm really looking forward to the day (coming my way next January, I hope) when I am not screaming at my radio while driving. This most often takes the form of me gripping my steering wheel and yelling "What?!?!?" at the top of my voice. It has happened more than I care to admit over the last 8 years.

This time?
I was listening to NPR as they reported on Atty General Mukasey's first Senate hearing (as the Official Atty General) this week.

What did he say that engaged my attention so passionately?
I'll paraphrase.

He said, essentially, that torture is more or less okay depending upon the value of the information one extracts as its result. While torture is defined as something that "shocks the conscience," the activity that shocks the conscience in one instance (asking where the car keys are, for example), may not do so in another (finding out where they're baking up the anthrax).

He said, in so many words, that the ends justify the means.

I'm not shocked that they think this. I guess I'm just dumbfounded that they have the arrogance to really admit it like that. AND that they think we're dumb enough to not notice. Maybe they think they've got nothing left to lose.