Monday, April 30, 2007

Every year a group of people paint this giant sunflower thing in the middle of this intersection. Within a month or two it looks like a half-erased chalk board. Why not, right? Then again, why bother? Instead of spending the afternoon painting the street, why not spend it actually cleaning the crap out of the gutters, or some other useful activity?

If I lived on this intersection and wanted them to paint a giant skeleton on the street I wonder what would happen? If I didn't want them to paint anything at all would my voice go unheard?

I'm a crumudgeon, I know, but the problem with some of these community building projects is that they are only open to a certain kind of community. If you disagree with them, you're out. Community is a far more difficult and messy thing than simply ignoring those you don't like. You could say that at least they are trying, but really, I think it mostly just gives those involved a false sense of satisfaction and superiority. That's why, personally, I'd rather screw the whole lot of them and go read a book.

Friday, April 27, 2007

On my way home from the gym I often wait outside this christian bookstore and find myself reading the bookmarks and little cards they have displayed in the windows. The rest of the place is blocked from view so this is all I have to go off of. Apparently God likes kittens and bassett hounds. They seem to be very popular.

Now, there's nothing inherently offensive about this stuff. "Give Your Worries to God" and "God hears even the smallest voices." None of the cards say Baby Jesus Cries When You Do It Before You're Married or God Hates Fags. They are only offensive in their sugary cuteness and the way they consistently insist that it's all in god's hands. If this were really true then maybe these bookmarks and cards would be all we needed. Just a little reminder that everything's going to be okay. But really, this Jesus-Take-the-Wheel bullshit is bullshit and by making a kitten deliver your message of blind, unquestioning acceptance is just an insult to kittens. Bassett Hounds, however, deserve whatever they get.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

So . . .the other day Sean was playing street music and this well intentioned but rather clueless man tipped him with a half-eaten roasted chicken. Gross. And yet, just the night before we had been joking about what would happen if we simply bought kitty mao a chicken and let her go at it, let her be the wild, carniverous cougar that she thinks she is.

Turns out, she's not really a wild, carniverous cougar. She can barely do anything but lick the nasty chicken carcass, occasionally managing to nudge off a small bite that she can actually swallow. It's all a little funny and a lot disgusting.

Now, I'm heading off down the street to visit Sean at his post where he is playing music on this sunny day. Maybe somebody will tip him with a half-eaten cake and I will get to pretend that I'm a sixteen year old with crazy metabolism who can devour half a cake in the blink of an eye. And when it turns out that I'm not actually any of those things I will take the fat cat on my fat lap and we will console each other for having such skewed self perceptions.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Things have changed. I spent half the day in middle school today doing research for a character in my book. My saintly friend brought me into his classroom and let me observe the chaos. I am absolutely certain that there were never classes like these when I was in school.

It's not that some learnin' didn't get done. The surface of cylinders were determined. Covalent bonds were made and broken with the swipe of a paper towel across the overhead projector. But what I noticed was that even the students eager to learn and do their work seemed completely incapable of sitting still or being quiet. The kids were constantly moving around and talking and even encouraged to chew gum ( I never really understood that no gum rule myself).

I didn't get the impression that this swirl of energy was simply a result of the kids working in groups (although, really, that used to be a free pass to goofing off). I know it wasn't the fault of the tired but talented teacher. I think this is simply how it is now. With twenty-five kids in a class, how could it be any other way? With kids glued to TV and video games and cell phones and ipods, how could it be any other way?

Of course, I wasn't there to judge but to observe. When I left at lunch time and headed down the way for some lunch and, good lord, a beer too, I felt just a little sorry for my shy, nervous character and the cracking weight of his days as a middle school teacher. I want to rescue him from there, sweep in and set him up at the employment office. I'll even do up his resume for him.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"Life is not significant details, illuminated by a flash, fixed forever. Photographs are." –Susan Sontag, On Photography

Monday, April 23, 2007

As I waited for the bus from dowtown back over to the comfort and weirdness of Southeast I felt as if I were heading back to the homefront in some more permanent way. With my writing workshop over, my trips downtown will now return to being a more sporadic thing.

Of course, I was just dowtown last night to hear David Sedaris read to a packed auditorium. He was very funny, but my favorite thing when listening to a funny person, particularly someone who mostly reads off a page, is to watch that person crack up over something they've just thought of. Sedaris cracked himself up several times while answering questions from the audience. It made me think about how he may very well be almost exactly like he is in his stories and that this would probably start out being hilarious and then soon become very very annoying. Here is a rare photo of Sedaris and his boyfriend who have been living together in Paris for eight years. . .bastards:

Sunday, April 22, 2007

This is a photograph I took on Earth Day 1990 in Boston. It was the first time I'd heard of Earth Day. It was also probably the last time I came close to celebrating it. It was a beautiful spring day in the city and there were people everywhere all along the Charles, including this very out of place couple who were standing on the pedestal of a statue. Some band was playing, some people were out trying to raise awareness of things we are only now starting to be aware of on a regular basis. This couple looked down at the crowds in dismay. I couldn't decide if they were trapped on the statue, unable to get through the crowd or if they had deliberately chosen it as platform from which to sneer at the masses.

Happy Earth Day.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Today, I am all goofy smiles. The sun is out. Tonight is the last workshop I will facilitate (for now, though perhaps not forever). The gutters are full of pink petals and the skyline is growing thick with chartreuse leaves. Enough said.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”
Kurt Vonnegut. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

I won't pretend that Vonnegut meant much to me. I read a few of the essentials back in the day. I liked them. What I liked more was that Vonnegut was an atheist with a good sense of humor and an understanding that you had to laugh at things or shrivel up under the caustic waste of a million different miseries. I've been telling myself over the last few days to be kind. Be kind. Be kind. It's really not bad as far as mantras go. I recommend it.

Yesterday was free cone day at Ben and Jerry's. The boys bundled up and played all day while school kids circled and circled in the rain and sleet, so much sleet, all for a few bucks worth of free ice cream. Well, good for them. Free ice cream can be a good salve for the bullshit even on a cold, stormy day.

Some of that bullshit was in full view on another great report from Frontline . This show is just about the only TV journalism worth watching these days. EVERYONE should be watching this stuff. Bring some ice cream with you. You'll need it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A White House spokesman said President Bush was horrified by the rampage and offered his prayers to the victims and the people of Virginia. "The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed," spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Really? You're going to toss in a plug against gun control after thirty-two people were shot? Today, this comment was the straw that broke, not my back, but my weary weary head. Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.

Friday, April 13, 2007

These are the goalpost trees. Nice of someone to not just cut the things down. In the week I was in Mexico all the trees blushed green. The sight of them and the cool but not cold, partly sunny/partly rainy days have evoked a suprise attack of nostalgia in me. Nothing particular comes to mind, simply a sense of this season when I was a teenager and a young adult. I get flashes of walking home from school or crossing the college green and the pervasive sense of anticipation that accompanied me back then.

Twenty years later and I'm surrounded, quite literally, by the greener grass. This leaves me with little to long for other than that largely lost sense of not knowing but hoping, of waiting to become.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Everybody who has a few bucks to spare should check out an organization called Kiva. They are a microfinancing organization that makes lending money to small businesses in developing countries as simple as a few keystrokes. Here's a woman in Samoa with a lot of vowels in her name that needs money for the store that is helping support her family.

They were featured on Frontline last night and Sean and I were really inspired by it. Sean sent the Kiva info to his friend who passed it onto his mother who works in a hospital. Within a few hours the hospital staff had raised about $1000 for various people. How cool is that?

Of course, by signing up with this you will probably be put on a World Bank hit list. I'm sure we'll be in good company there.

Monday, April 09, 2007

This is Sean's new post outside Ben and Jerry's. Visit him there on a sunny afternoon. Or visit him now over at

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hamming it up for my own self portrait. God, I look insane.

If you want to see more pics of my trip, got to my Flickr page, here.

If looking at pictures of tropical landscapes makes you mad, then you'll have to settle for looking at the fancy new crosswalks that now grace the Street of Broken Dreams and Shattered Hopes (Hawthorne Ave.) Now, with the reduced risk of pedestrian injury, the hopes should shatter a little less readily. I can't believe it's taken all these years for them to paint some stupid stripes across this street and, even more surprising, how excited I am about them. Not quite as excited as I seem to be about the view of the beach, but still . . .

Friday, April 06, 2007

Our phone service has been down for most of the last two days. Frustrating, yes. . .but also a nice bit of transition back into the world of cars, television and the rest of the horrible mess.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

And so my vacation days truly come to a close. Instead of this salt-encrusted typewriter that sat at the entrance to our palapa, today I settled into some hard work on my book with a swift keyboard and glaring computer screen. Instead of resting in a bubble of warm, water-drenched calm I prepare for the eighth of ten writing workshops with my usual dose of anxious jitters.

But still, it's a gorgeous Portland day and the familiar sights from my office window (the string of fake grapes draped around my neighbor's veranda, the lightpost and the top of a Magnolia tree a block away) feel like welcoming whispers in my ear.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Back from Yelapa

In Yelapa you get the expected with the unexpected. I got to swim under that sunset. I got to marvel at the chicken bush.

Vacations are never perfect. There was a fair amount of climbing to get our amazing view. There was a lot of donkey dung to walk around to get to our delicious evening meals. But when I settled into my plane seat next to a retired Puerto Vallarta condo owner I was glad for the grit still clinging to my skin, the ache in my calves and the oompah oompah sound of Yelapa's post-rodeo party still echoing in my ears.