Monday, January 12, 2015

A Hard Place

I've been in a physically fine, emotionally hard place this past week and over the weekend. Working extra hours at my day job to compensate for the fact that my co-worker left, and feeling conflicted about it. As with many things in my life, it has to do with boundaries, and the kinds of obligations I tend to fall into over and over.  The obligations are such that perfect effort equals invisibility, and anything less than perfect effort--which includes perfect effort for too few hours--equals embarrassing results for others that are highly visible and have repercussions--if a guest speaker were to arrive and not have a hotel room booked, or a professor need syllabi for the first day of class and not have any copies.  Not earth-shattering, but the kind of thing where you might think the person responsible was doing a shitty job because it's such a small thing to do...except that there are a lot of small things and each one takes time.

I haven't fucked up anything yet, but if I were trying to do 65 man-hours of work (the amount of myself and my coworker combined) in 25 hours (my official work schedule), it would have happened already.  Instead, I am trying to do the 65 hours of work in 35-40 hours, and feeling resentful about it.

The resentment has to do with the way I didn't make anyone ask, but just took it on.  It has to do with the fact that when the new person starts, she will be paid about 20 cents less per hour than I am paid...after four years. I think they would pay more if they could, but fear that I will find out, as I happened to find out that my last co-worker's salary had surpassed mine after only a year.  Apparently I was hired at too low a rate four years ago, and they have seen the error of their ways and hired subsequent people at a higher rate, but because yearly raises are given as percentage of the rate you already get, that's an error that keeps giving...less, and makes me resent both the people who made the original offer--and makes me resent myself for being so naively trusting early on.

I took a part time job because I wanted to pursue my big writing dreams, but then I agreed to the hours that come closest to simulating a full-time job, and whenever someone is sick, or gone, or needs to go home early, I instinctively spread out to cover the hole...because I'm a team player, and I'm there.  But it happens over and over.  There's always someone else's drama that is more dramatic than my drama so I enable that and then I feel like I haven't really fought for what I want at all, and so maybe I don't deserve it because if I really wanted it enough I would fight harder.

And then I think, if this unrealistic dream thing isn't going to work out, and I'm not really fighting for it, then I should just get a full-time job and makes some money...because, hey, we could hella use some money...  And that makes me sad, because I feel like I didn't try hard enough yet...because of making the very decisions I'm describing right now.

It just goes round and round in a pretty spirally fashion. So that's the hard place I'm in at the moment.  It makes me a less than optimally fun person to hang out with because even when I contain the words coming out of my mouth, my energy is just sad and dark. So I'm trying to find the center and the bottom so I can start charting my way out.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

New Sight

My last notable accomplishment of 2014 was to make it to the optometrist before my annual vision benefit ran out.  I have a pair of glasses I wear occasionally, but I thought, since I didn't need new frames, I should get some contact lenses. I was surprised to find out that I have grown about a point more nearsighted in each eye...so I actually probably will need new glasses now--but we were already going down the contact lens road, so that's what I got.

I tried on a few different brands of contact lenses--which I guess were all super-premium, because in the exam room the doctor said they were all the same price, which he wasn't sure of, we could talk about that in the other room, and in the other room, once all discussion was over, the "same price" was appalling and more than a hundred dollars more per 3-month supply than others in the case.  I had liked my experience up until then, as the doctor was very friendly and knowledgeable, but in the "other room" he and his assistant also informed me for the first time that because I was a new patient, they were obligated to do an eye exam, and this was separate from the contact lens fitting--not in terms of occurrence, but in terms of billing. I walked out of the shop $250 lighter despite my coverage, though they pointed out, delightedly, that I had "saved more than I was spending."  Maybe I should have anticipated this when I chose an optometry center with "Beverly Hills" as part of it's name.

That said, having the lenses is kind of amazing.  I guess everyone always notes that the leaves on the trees look so distinct...but it is always something I notice.  Also, street signs!  Driving is a different and more pleasurable experience.

The last time I wore contacts--in my youth, pre-Lasik surgery, I wore rigid lenses...so the soft lens thing is also remarkable.  It's like putting a little curved piece of Saran-wrap on your eye--and once there, it's truly invisible and largely unnoticeable in terms of feel.

A downside is that unlike the last time I had lenses, I am now old--and seeing far away means I have a hard time adjusting to seeing up close.  For some reason, I thought that wouldn't happen to me...because I'm magical I guess...but not so.  I will be needing some reading glasses.  Which the doctor (not a big surprise here) recommends I don't but from the drug store, as that could damage my eyes with long term use. Is this true?

Another downside thus far is that I don't seem to be so good at removing the lenses.  They are so invisible, they are difficult to find, and almost impossible to get hold of with short-nailed fingers (I actually resorted to tweezers tonight to get them out). I usually succeed by getting it to wrinkle up on my eye enough to see so I can pull it out,  where upon I can't help thinking that it looks and feels like a very tiny used condom.

All that said though, seeing without glasses is super-cool.  It crosses my mind that I might even play tennis again someday.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holiday Letter 2014


Dear Ones,

SEASON'S GREETINGS!


Last weekend Paul, his brother Pat and I traveled to Las Vegas for a Seetachitt family gathering. Walking through the MGM Grand, I was struck by the number of people wearing cowboy hats and by the piped-in country music . I asked a hat-wearing stranger what was up, and he informed me that we'd just missed the week-long National Finals Rodeo.

I was sorry to hear that, but then happy because it helped me think of a theme for this year-end letter.

2014: The Year of Trying to Stay on the Horse.



Upfront, I'll warn you that this was not a super exciting year. Nobody rode Sea Biscuit. Just a few familiar horses with maybe some different colored ribbons in their manes:

The Working Out Horse: Paul and I did a "running for out-of-shape people" program called “Couch to 5K." This is what the program looks like:


We stayed on the horse for the whole ten weeks. Yay us. But the 5K-10K horse was a little feistier, and we fell off at the halfway mark, bucked by other obligations, minor health issues...and the fact that neither of us could think of a good reason to run for an entire hour. But the experience was bonding, and has inspired some increased gym-going.

The Meditation Horse: I have my own haphazard meditation practice, but have never had an established group here in L.A. the way I did in Tallahassee and Alice Springs. So it was cool when USC hosted a nine-week mindfulness meditation class as part of a pilot program. My practice was more consistent during the class, but of course I fell off the horse after it was over. That's okay though, because the class was nine weeks, and as you can read in this article, it only takes eight weeks to measurably increase the gray matter in one's brain. My brain actually looks like this now:


Although you don’t notice it because of my hair.

Other Horses we've gotten on and off of in 2014: diets, budgeting programs, household cleaning regimes...the usual suspects.

But lest you think we’re the just kind of people who just fall off metaphorical horses, I should remind you that we've been very consistent about staying on the Work Horse. Each day Paul drives west and reports to Davis Entertainment where he's an assistant and I go east to my job as an assistant at the Philosophy Department at University of Southern California.

And we are also riding steady and hard on the Show Business Horse-- though we're learning it's less like riding a horse and more like this:


Paul was a co-wrote two movies this year--one of which is already being made--but he worked uncredited, so you won’t see his name on them. I’ve got a couple of projects that will definitely have my name on them but are far from being made. I won't lie, this is the main stuff time, effort and central preoccupation at our little rodeo, but it's weighty for a holiday letter. If if falls within your area of interest, stop by my writing blog, where I basically talk about it non-stop, all year round!

A quick year-end recap that has nothing to do with horses: It's lovely to get to see the kids in our family getting bigger, stronger and more entertaining by the day. We're excited for friends--quite a few!--who had babies in 2014 and looking forward to witnessing their journeys. This year I was so psyched to get to see some old friends after many years (Mya! Amy! Anne!) and I was saddened by the death of an old friend (Woody, you will be missed). Every day Paul and I are grateful--for books and board games and clean water and yoga, for being safe and healthy and having cars that run...

And most of all, we're incredibly grateful for our family and friends...that's YOU!

We wish you happy holidays and a great 2015


Love, B and Paul
***

Read Last Year's Holiday Letter.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Elevated Train Platform, December 9, 2014

Almost 9:30 and the sun is shining, the day well on its way to the 75 degree high that has been promised to it. I have my pants legs rolled up for the vitamin D, and this combined with a hat and too many bags results in people looking at me twice--discreetly--before they sit near me.  Until they see clean white of my shirt, notice my shoes aren't too worn, they have to consider that I might be homeless, or I might be crazy.

First one pigeon, then another, lands on the cement platform. Their heads duck and bob as they peck and peck at I don't know what, until I look closer and see the small crumbs glistening in the sun like grains of sand. Tan sand on gray concrete. The pigeons' eyes are orange with round black centers and their feet are a redder shade of orange with black tipped toes. Claws? Their feet are red-orange with black tips.

And then a man comes by, the real thing now: Probably homeless, probably crazy, his mostly-gray  frizzy and his clothes loose and touched by grime.  He comes up one set of stairs and strides the length of the platform yelling,

"You don't see me?
I see you not looking!
Ignore! Ignore!"

Which is maybe not so crazy at all. It happens fast, he walks fast and doesn't look right or left, doesn't look at anyone he might be addressing, doesn't burden anyone with dreaded confrontation. And then he's at the other end of the platform and down the stairs he goes, down to the traffic and the city.

And no one on the platform, standing and on the benches, looks up from their book or iPhone. No one's expression betrays the relief we feel that he's gone.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Curcumin for Colon Cancer

I think I have Chris' blog on my side bar--but I want to share this article specifically.  It's about a comparison study between curcumin and a chemotherapy agent called 5FU.  5FU was a large part of the chemo-cocktail that was proposed to me in 2004 in the wake of my colon cancer diagnosis.  I didn't end up taking it--opting instead for a nutritional regime that did include curcumin supplements.  It was a gamble at the time--one that seems to have paid off, and Chris' summary of the study explains why that might be the case.  I have fallen off the supplements lately, but just ordered the recommended type of curcumin he mentions--have to take the reminders from the universe as they come!

Monday, November 03, 2014

Not Sick Yet

Not sick yet, but it will be amazing if I'm not by the end of the week. My boss who was sick all last week and today has been working half days.  A still-sick faculty member just handed me a folder full of germ laden receipts she organized and labeled while home sick, and the crazy and / or really drugged out guy in front of me on the train this morning was ranting like a Shakespearean actor and I definitely felt spittle spray land on my hands and phone.  Here's to building up tolerance.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Blah Monday, but...TELEVISION!

In a minute I have to get out of bed.  When I do, I have to mix up the nasty, sea-water-tasting solution I will have to start drinking as soon as I arrive home from work.  I will put it in the fridge to chill, because chilled sea water is more palatable than warm sea water.  Still, dread.  I will be drinking into the wee-hours of the night in preparation for getting up early and going to the hospital for "the procedure." Blah.

On the flip side, if I can get through a minimal number of script pages early on, I will reward myself with... TV!  I still haven't watched the season finale of Extant  or dived into Amazon's Transparent (I did get to see the first two episodes at a screening, so I'm thinking I will like it). That's five hours, so probably more than enough, though I also have many saved episodes of Masters of Sex. That project might have to wait until after Paul's writing deadline on October 10.

By tomorrow at this time I will hopefully already be loopy from anethesia and recovering, planning my first meal...

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

October Stampedes

Woke this morning to find October bearing down upon me like herd of stampeding horses. "Herd" is not right, though. That's for cattle. It's morning and my brain is losing words, but you get my drift. I mean a large group of stampeding horses. Or other large animals that stampede. October has come really fast, is what I'm saying.

Where did September go? School started. Some folks at school decided to have conferences and parties every other week. There's nothing like a series of events to make the days go fast--the present flashes by while one orders food and reserves hotel rooms for the future.

And in the last week, there have been movies and screenings and plays and an out-of-town guest.
The plays have included Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate at the Pasadena Playhouse which was impressive but long, and Trip to Bountiful at the Ahmanson Theater which was really lovely and affecting.

The visiting friend was M, from grad school in Tallahassee, who has recently moved back to the states after several years abroad.  On Thursday we did a "Hollywood" thing--went to a pre-screening of The Judge, and saw Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall at the Q and A afterward. I never would have expected Robert Downey off-screen to remind me of my brother-in-law, but so it was.  On Saturday we went on an overnight meditation retreat at Monrovia Canyon Park.  It was meditation-lite, but it was pleasant and the park was beautiful.  We went on a hike the next day.  Monday I took off work and we took the train down town to the Grand Central Market, which is mostly a really big food court with some produce and chile vendors mixed in, and then we spent a couple hours at The Last Bookstore. And in between and during those things we talked a ton and got caught up on each others' lives.

And now it's October first, and the bedroom floor, which I had actually emptied enough to vacuum before M's visit, is an obstacle course of duffel bags, sleeping bags, and hampers full of un-ironed laundry. And of course, with all the recent excitement, I'm behind on screenplay pages.  My goal has been to turn in 10-15 pages a week, and for the last two weeks I've averaged 6-7, and I've also fallen behind on breaking the story in advance--which is kind of like clearing yourself a path to follow so you don't have to swing the machete as you write--so I've got some brush clearing to do in addition to covering ground.

Guess it should all start with a shower...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hot on a Sunday

When it's really hot on a Sunday, the coffee shops and the few libraries with Sunday hours are overrun with writers and students escaping their air-conditionless environments.  The Beverly Hills Library is one of those that is open, and I am one of those who has arrived, trolled the back room of tables to find a seat.  I avoid the leg-shakers and those who type like it's a revenge and find myself a nice spot, facing a large arched window with a small sculpture on a wooden plinth in front of it.  The light from the window means I sees the statue only in a kind of silhouette, but it appears to be a representation in bronze of Abraham Lincoln sitting on a bench, with his signature top hat on the bench beside him.  He seems to be resting his weary bones. Could he be worn out from the heat as well?

Outslide the window is a large pine tree, which is unusual for Los Angeles.  I always particularly notice pine trees when I see them here, as they remind me of my home state. Home town. Really the house where I grew up with a large pine outside my bedroom window.

Friday, September 05, 2014

I'm Diversified...

You might or might not have noticed that I have been writing less about writing on this blog. It does not mean I am writing less about writing in general. In fact, I am writing more about writing, such that I thought, "maybe I should have a place that's just about writing," and now I do.  It's at barringtonsmith.net.  It is where you will find all my ponderings about rejection,  occasional brags and humble-brags, experiences with "the business," and sporadic discussion of craft. 

Here I will occasionally talk about writing as well, but I will try to be less long-winded about it. I'm still trying to figure out the balance, because much of my life is configured around writing, so something called The Daily B will inevitably brush up against writing like a California King in a small room.  In the same way, what I write about writing can only be infused with my life.

After many more years than you would think--considering I identify as a writer--I am at last reading Rilke's Letters to a Young PoetRilke says (to the young would-be poet),
...acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all--ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself of a deep answer. and if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple "I must," then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.
I like to think if it were denied me to write, I would probably not die. I would find something else to do, but I'm not sure.  I think my first instinct would be to write about the experience of having writing denied to me. And I have, for better or worse, built my life as if it were a necessity, even as I propose it is not a necessity. So perhaps I am the delusional alcoholic who says, "I can quit whenever I want."



Saturday, August 09, 2014

Random Ramblings as the weekend commences

End of the week, beginning of the weekend.  Weekends can be kind of tricky because they "feel" like weekends, but really, as a writer with a day job, there's some heavy lifting to be done on the weekends.  Up until today I had several quasi-plans for the weekend--these are plans that people have broached but then not really solidified, and they have about a 50-50 chance of just going away on their own.  I knew that I could only do about half the plans, but I don't like to be the person who always says no right away, and since I never know which plans will actually happen, I tend to wait and see.  Not infrequently, that strategy works out, but sometimes I have to back out something I thought would disappear but didn't.  Sometimes,  for group things like book club or wilderness I'll hang on right 'til the bitter end, assuming there will be a small cascade of last minute regrets until the the host will just cancel about two hours before the event.  Then I get to feel kind of self-righteous for not cancelling plus I get a block of bonus writing time...

All of this is not really main thing on my mind though--except to say that I got to postpone a bunch of semi-scheduled stuff guilt-free because I needed to leave the time available to hang out with my brother, who is moving to Chicago ("back" to Chicago, as we both spent some years there).  He was going to leave Friday, but some things changed and now he is leaving Monday, and so his schedule is all weird as he does things like return his cable box, wait for a truck to come take his car, meet with his subletters etc.  I will squeeze myself into whatever piece of interstitial time arises.

Omitting the netherworld of a weekend, leaving on Monday is like leaving  tomorrow. I have to say I'm pretty sad about it. That is the main thing on my mind.

Friday, August 08, 2014

My Brother is Leaving

My brother is leaving LA and moving (back) to Chicago. I'm happy for him, because it feel like a change, and it feels he's been looking for a change, but I'm also sad because he will be gone.  Although we are certainly different in many ways, in other ways, of my siblings, we have the most in common in terms of sensibility, and so in some ways he is the closest person I have to myself.

If they are not sudden, partings have a chronology.  At first one in aware of the upcoming parting but it is far away. You will see the person a dozen more times: the thrumming drum of the parting is muffled by all the times that stand between any of those times and the last time. A dozen times becomes several times, several times become a couple of times... and finally it is the last time--the time after which the person will get in a car or on a plane, or some metaphorical boat to the underworld and go someplace different and far away.

And the last time, the awareness of it being the last time floats and lands, floats and lands through your time together. You think "this is the last time," and then for a few moments you forget it is the last time, and then you remember and thing, "this is the last time."

In thinking of this and being sad, I am also being over-dramatic, because Chicago is hardly the ends of the earth my brother and I will certainly see each other a few times a year.  It's not like saying goodbye to our friends in Australia almost a decade ago, or like saying goodbye to my father the last time before he died. But I think maybe all the big goodbyes in my life have sensitized me to the smaller ones as well, like stubbing the toe that's been broken.  If I let myself remember, the small goodbyes are just rehearsals for the biggest goodbyes. In every case, with no exceptions, the big goodbye is out there, a gong echoing and reverberating through the years of  padding between then and now, saying "I am here."

Yeah--that's  weird metaphor juxtaposed with other questionable metaphor, but hey, I'm writing sad--because I'll see my brother on Sunday, and it will be the last time I see my brother before he moves away.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Let's Go for Three

Got a call from my doctor / surgeon yesterday.  "Surgeon" is perhaps not the right word for him, because we do a pretty good job of not using the word "surgery" for the minor procedures I've had this year.  Instead we call them "procedures." A "surgery" is defined by Merriam Webster as medical treatment in which a doctor cuts into someone's body in order to repair or remove damaged or diseased parts. So I guess it depends on your definition of "cutting into."  Does that refer only to cutting through one's outer epidermis?  Or does it also apply if another mode of entry to the body and organs is used, and then the doctor cuts and burns things away?  Unsure.

But earlier this year I went in for a colonoscopy and the doctor cut and removed "damaged or diseased parts." Unfortunately there was one area that was too complex for that procedure, so we had to schedule another procedure with another procedurist shortly thereafter.  The call yesterday was that procedurist explaining that although the procedure was largely successful, there was a tiny bit of the bad tissue "in the margin," so it would be necessary to go in and "clean that up," in a few months. Three procedures in less than a year is a new record for me.

With my history, of course the most important words are--and the doctor used them many times--"not cancer."  It's not cancer.  It's just tissue that might become cancer, except that we won't let it.

So, happy dance for that--always.

And yet.

There is always an emotional fallout from such phone calls.  News like this has a tendency to come just at those moments where I am thinking about making changes in my life. When I'm feeling "normal."  Literally, for the past week I have been making plans (and even taking actions) for "moving forward," telling myself that I am not trapped in any of the circumstances of my life, that I have a diverse skill set and I can find lots of interesting things to with it, I don't have to be stuck by pre-conceptions, I don't need to be tethered by any reality that is not of my own construction. These were the pep-talks I was having with myself.

The reminder of how parts of my body, while "not cancer" seem intent on becoming cancer is a reminder of how dependent I am on our health-care system.  That is a  reality that does not seem to be  of my own making.

Thus I am tethered.

I am tethered. If I feel there is injustice or ingratitude in a situation, I cannot escape it so easily.  I can't just fly away whenever I want and look over the landscape for something better.  I can make moves, but they will be constricted and complicated because tethered.  I can take the time to dig up the post and I can carry it with me. I can carry the post and I can walk. But I can't fly. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Chemists Are Awesome

Paul and I took a long-weekend road-trip this past weekend.  We spent one day exploring Berkeley, CA, one day in San Francisco, and two days of driving.  Paul and I get along well on drives, so the whole thing was pretty fun.  We stayed in Berkeley with a retired faculty member from my job who recently retired and moved there. He and his wife were lovely hosts, taking us to Berkeley Pier, Aquatic Park, the Berkeley campus and down around Telegraph Avenue where Paul scored a Nutella crepe.

This was the first time I'd met the wife of our acquaintance. She had some good stories. She was born in Hungary but her parents had to emigrate because of World War II. She lived in Venezuela and Canada before the United States.

When she was young, and her family was trying to get out of the country (more worried about the Russians than the Germans at that point) her father, who was a chemist, had the idea to make long matches, which apparently were hard to come by--because he was able to use these to bribe passage for his family of four on a river-barge that carried them up the Danube all the way to Munich.

In Munich they spent several months in an ex-enemy camp, where her father built a still and made alcohol, which he could then trade for food to feed the camp.

Basically, her dad was like Walter White, but a good guy.

She also told another story about the camp that wasn't about her dad.  Somehow, the people in the camp had managed to get a live pig, which they expected to be delicious, but for some reason, the officials wanted to confiscate the pig (maybe they thought it would be delicious too).  The crafty people of the camp dress their pig up in a woman's clothes and sat him on a toilet in the outhouse.  The guards made only a cursory check into the outhouse, and did not recognize the pig. After they left, there was celebration, and, I assume that not long after bacon was had by all.


Just in case you ever need to know how--here's how to make a match.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Road Trip!

Yesterday, Paul and I embarked on a little road trip up to Berkeley and San Francisco. It officially started here:

 This is the restaurant's owner:

I thought his name might be Jack or Joe, but it was Mark. He explained that Jack was for "flap jacks" and Joe was like "cup of Joe". He was excited for our trip.

When I got to the car, Paul told me that he and his wife had started the place after their daughter died to have a place to put their energies. He'd read that on the internet! I was struck by how people are struck by misfortune and then keep living...and by how the discombobulating the internet is, making the whole world seem like a small town where you know things about people.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

After Life

Someone I know from my place of work died recently.  He'd had an interesting life: He'd served in the military then done well in academia. He married four times and had a number of children. As the person who processed his expense reports, I can say that in very recent years he spent months at a time in England and Italy, and that he ate well--like I imagine Henry the 8th would have dined if he'd had a per diem. His receipts reported spirits with every meal, and things like Shepherds Pie and quail.
For almost a year, the gentleman was ill and seldom visited our offices. The few times he came in, he seemed mostly peeved at his condition, which was revealing itself to be one with finite outcome. Upon his death, it has been his second wife, with the help of two various sons who has emerged to handle his large library, items in his office and the number of bills that he received to his work mailbox. When the mail began to transition and be address to "Executor of the Estate," I called to confirm that this was she. This was when she revealed to me that there was, as of yet, no formal executor--because there was no will!
I found this both surprising, and I guess, not.  On one hand, he had fair warning.  On the other, maybe he figured that after he was gone, it didn't really matter.  Maybe he'd had conversations and things were pretty much worked out in ways one can't see from a distance.
But as the person opening doors, filing paperwork and procuring boxes for family members trying to work their way through the rooms full of books, papers, thoughts and ongoing business that one man accrues in a life, I could only be struck by how little anyone seemed to be prepared for this eventuality. And really, the choice not to make a will, even given a good six month lead time, seems somewhat self-involved and presuming--qualities some might have discerned in him even before his death.
My father had a will, but it has still taken my mother years to go through the myriad of things left behind. She continues to go through things, purging and storing and making decisions largely, I think, so that we--their children--won't have to. Although it is hopefully decade away still, she is putting thought into things so that her possession and affairs will be as easily dealt with as possible.  Basically she is the opposite of presuming when it comes to such matters.
But the other night as I was thinking about this, I thought: What about my end of the bargain? An obituary seems the very least one could do in such a situation, and I realized I wasn't sure what my mother's parents' names were, or even where she was born! Since I was using a Southwest voucher and making an impromptu trip to Indiana, I decided it was time to do for real something I have been promising to do for a couple of years--try to ask the questions that in the future I will wish that I had asked.  And this time, instead of assuming that I could come up with some good questions, I consulted the internet, something like "How to Interview a Family Member," and of course, because it's the internet, found several articles on taking a Family History, here and here and here.  A lot of the questions are similar. I ended up with a double space list of three pages, and after dinner this evening, turned on the recorder, and we had Part I of a very interesting conversation!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Effort Certification

This is the a computer screen that I use at work.  It's kind of small, but maybe you can see that each of the items on all these lists are links to things you can do.  Some people might use a lot of these links. I generally use about two.kuali 1


For instance, I noticed the other day that I have never clicked on this link: "Effort Certification."  What is it? Is there a form I can fill out that certifies I have made an effort?kuali 2


I maybe never know, because it turns out I am not authorized to open it.
kuali 3

Thursday, May 22, 2014

When Nouns Become Verbs

I sometimes like it.

Probably not always. Most of the examples that I can think of off the top of my head have to do with emerging technologies. "Facebook me."  "I'll Google it."  These are okay--short and also specific, which I respect.  Though I'm not a fan of saying "google" for "search" if Google is not the search engine, as that is kind of misleading instead of specific.

What I really like--and what has me writing on this topic to begin with-- is when the language is used more playfully and willfully, so that it has poetry as well as efficiency.  I recently read Karen Russell's Sleep Donation and jotted down two examples:

"We moth along toward the lights."

"Moth along." Kind of great, right?  She's describing human beings at a night market.  It evokes a different visual image and / or sense of intent from "walking", or "traveling" or "moving"--this is more haphazard.  And there's mood too--a sense of danger, of bad judgement in action.  For a short phrase it does a lot of work.

Here's another: "She has to houdini out of her restraints."

Not just struggle or wiggle--though certainly we feel wiggling is part of it. But we feel that "she" has a willfulness, and intent to escape her restraints such that she is doing something a little outside the possible.  Like Houdini.
Do you salad or sandwich? The verbing of English

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hollywood and Highland, Friday Night

The short Hispanic woman selling blinking plastic light-sticks from a shopping cart offers a collegial fist bump to the guy in the wheel chair selling bunches of roses from his lap, then continues down the block.

A black man, so thin he swims in his all black shirt and trousers, break dances next to an oversize speaker. Popping, locking, giving it his all, beads of sweat on his bald head when he takes off his top hat with sequined, Shamrock-green band.

At the end of the song, no one puts money in his jar. No one buys roses, or light-sticks--not that I see.
But perhaps the night is still young. Maybe at a later hour, there are buyers on Hollywood Boulevard to complement the sellers.

This all takes place on the sidewalk in front of the America Eagle, with its clean glass storefront underneath the sign that exhort in block letters: LIVE YOUR LIFE.

Next to these words, a ten-foot photo of two women, elegant and gaunt, sylphs haunting a cool green forest. Their shoulder blades jut under loose, summer linen, hinting at wings.

The wheelchair guy moves to try a different spot. The black dancer searches his playlist for a better song.

The 217 bus comes and takes me away.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Thinking About the Weather

Los Angeles current temperature: 93. Wednesday's high: 99. Thursday's high: 99. Friday's high: 95.
For some reason "Like the Weather" from 10 Thousand Maniacs popped into my head.  An old favorite back in the day.  I had a tape, but never watched the music video of the song. Would it have occurred to to me how incongruous the performance is with the subject of the song? Maybe she (they) figured no one wants to watch you sit around and be mopey.  Or maybe the exuberance of youth was just too strong to be squelched.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YelgLoQMLE?rel=0&w=420&h=315]
I lift my head from the pillow and then fall again
I get a shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather
A quiver in my lip as if I might cry
And by the force of will my lungs are filled and so I breathe
Lately it seems this big bed is where I never leave
I get a shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather
A quiver in my voice as I cry
"What a cold and rainy day
Where on earth is the sun hid away?"
I hear the sound of a noon bell chime, well I'm far behind
you put in 'bout half a day while here I lie
With a shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather
A quiver in my lip as if I may cry
What a cold and rainy day
Where on earth is the sun hid away?
Do I need someone here to scold me?
Or do I need someone who'll grab and pull me out of?
Four poster, dull torpor pulling downward
For it's such a long time since my better days
I say my prayers nightly, this will pass away
The color of the sky is gray as I can see through the blinds
Lift my head from the pillow and then I fall again
I get a shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather
A quiver in my lip as if I may cry
A cold and rainy day
Where on earth is the sun hid away?
A cold and rainy day
I shiver, quiver, and try to wake