Sunday, January 31, 2016

365 True Things: 308/Red Threads

In 2004–6, I attended the Antioch University–Los Angeles low-residency MFA program in creative writing. Twice a year for a long week, a hundred-plus of us would gather together to attend lectures and "workshop" one another's work. I got valuable experience at Antioch in writing, and thinking about writing; in reading, and thinking about what I read in terms of writing (craft, theme, language, sensitivity, ethics); in meeting deadlines; in critiquing, and accepting critiques; and more.

But the most valuable gift of Antioch, now, ten years later, is the community of writers, of friends, I found there.

Today I spent the day with one of my fellow Antiochers, Susan. She is the author of Nagasaki: Life after Nuclear War (Viking, 2015), which I read early drafts of (the first few chapters) during and shortly after our Antioch days. As I type here, she is rereading the book to make small changes for the upcoming paperback edition. On an afternoon hike today, she told me some of the ins and outs of the experience of getting this book published and publicized. She is meticulous in every way, and I know the book is wonderful, if hard—meaning the hard subject matter: the life story of five hibakusha, or survivors of the second nuclear bomb. (I have yet to read the book, but it's on my list for my 61.)

Susan and I participated briefly with four other Antioch alums in a writing group we called the Red Threads. The name comes from the traditional Chinese notion that the gods tie an invisible red cord around the ankles (or in the Japanese variant, the little finger) of those that are destined to meet and help one another. Here's most of us, at a get-together at Susan's house in Tempe, Arizona, in 2007:

me, Susan, Khadijah, Anne
A few years later, we all ganged up again in Denver for the AWP (an annual writers conference). We still keep in touch—via FB, with very occasional in-person encounters—but 2010 was the last time we all were in the same place in the same time.

Kim's current FB photo
Other friends from Antioch are my now daily "howling" pals, Sherilyn and Kim. And then there's James, Ed, and Seth, who I hope to meet up with this year at a writers retreat James is building in the Nevada desert. Danielle, who came to visit on her move north from LA back to Washington State a few weeks ago. I see Suellen and Christin on FB.

I feel extremely lucky to have met these talented, thoughtful, committed, industrious, interesting, interested people, who care about language and stories and life so much.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

365 True Things: 307/Astronomy

On the start of my westward return journey this morning, I again passed by the Very Large Array. This time, I turned south for a visit. Fortunately, the grounds open at 8, and I arrived at 8:05 (not that there was anyone around to keep me from wandering around, so far as I could tell). I started by watching a very good 24-minute film, narrated, fittingly, by Jodie Foster (her movie Contact featured the VLA), that describes this radio telescope and some of the work that's done with it. Then I took the walking tour.

I confess I didn't stop to read what I assume is excellent signage. Mostly, I wanted to get up close to one of the twenty-seven antennae, each of which weighs over 230 tons, is 82 feet across, and over 90 feet high. They are very impressive! They get moved around on 82 miles of railroad tracks shaped in a Y, to make up four different configurations.

As for what they actually accomplish—capture very long-wave radio energy from far, far, far away—that's beyond my limited ability to comprehend. All that energy in the universe: radio, microwave, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, x-ray, gamma ray—it's mind-boggling. Never mind the vast distances. Take the galaxy sexily named MACS0647-JD, for example, one of the farthest objects yet known: 13.3 billion light-years from Earth and formed 420 million years after the Big Bang. I mean—those numbers are just meaningless to me. 

Geology also involves big numbers, especially when it comes to the age of the materials of this planet, but at least I can touch dirt and rocks. And the Earth isn't that big, when it comes down to it. The idea that the solid inner core of iron has a radius of 760 miles, while the liquid, outer core of nickel-iron alloy is 1,355 miles thick—those numbers my poor head can pretty much grasp. Then comes the mantle, at 1,800 miles' thickness. And the crust? Between 3 and 46 miles thick. I get that. 

Indeed, the Earth is shockingly tiny in comparison to the vast universe. I don't think I'd ever realized just how tiny until just now.

Because 13.3 billion light-years? That's incomprehensible. One light-year, or about 5.9 x 10^12 miles, is comprehensible. I don't even get 92 million miles (about 500 light-seconds), which is how far we are from the sun, on average.

Be that as it may, I enjoy looking at the sky, even if I can't fathom it. I enjoy knowing a few constellations, tracking the planets as they move throughout the seasons, and looking through a telescope at the rings of Saturn or the Andromeda galaxy. And I enjoy knowing that there are serious scientists who understand far, far, far more than I do about our universe and its origins and makeup. And who get to use the VLA to peer deep into space at specific objects of which I have no ken, and put together a bigger picture of our universe.

I enjoyed my visit, and I took some photos. Here's three of them.

Friday, January 29, 2016

365 True Things: 306/Death

This morning we paid a visit to the cemetery of the small town of Magdalena, New Mexico. What brought us there immediately was a geocache (yes, I found it), but I always enjoy visiting cemeteries and seeing how people are remembered (memorial markers, flowers), how old people were, what their names were, and the general siting of this, their last resting place.

Today when we arrived, a burial was going on. It was a small group of mourners, maybe fifteen or twenty. As we entered on the opposite side of the cemetery, the final words were being spoken, and soon several of the attendees picked up long-handled shovels and started attacking a huge pile of orange dirt. Over the half hour or so we wandered among the graves, they pitched all of that dirt into the hole holding the coffin.

The pile of dirt is almost gone
Me, I'm reluctant to approach people—strangers—who are deep into their own lives, whether the event is happy or sad. So I stayed away. Melony, though, was following her artistic nose and ended up taking some pictures near the funeral party. One of the men engaged her in conversation, and she learned that the deceased was 39. Melony and I had wondered about the fact that the family seemed to be doing all the work of covering the coffin, and speculated whether they had also been in charge of digging the six-feet-deep hole. The man verified that, yes, the family was responsible for the whole thing. He also said that since the nearest mortuary was several dozen miles away, they didn't bother with embalming. Into the ground the body went, as is. The man said the women in the group were closest to the deceased, that he was the young man's uncle.

The event, plus all the graves I passed by with headstones indicating a life of only forty, fifty, maybe sixty years (though a few women—formidable matriarchs, I have no doubt—lived into their eighties) made me think about death and what happens at the end—or more specifically, what I want to happen to me at the end. Cremation, for sure. But beyond that? What about a service? What songs would I like to have played, or readings read? What about doing something with the ashes? Wouldn't it be nice to follow this business of life all the way to the other side, and make sure (as long as my survivors comply with my wishes) I'm sent off in a way I'd like?

I happened to bring on this trip a book called A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as if It Were Your Last, by Stephen Levine. One of my writing buddies mentioned it, and the notion of spending a year thinking very committedly and, I hope, positively, about the end game just makes sense to me. This effort includes making sure your affairs are "in order." Which, no doubt, is more important than the farewell party. I haven't had time to open the book yet, so I'm not sure just what-all it will ask me to consider, but it's one of the first on my list for when I kick work out of my life.

We later learned from the town marshal that the young man (who the marshal said was only 34) had died of heroin, plus diabetes. I suspect that or a similar story is all too common in these parts.

Some of the grave markers in the Magdalena cemetery were barely legible, or else had been written over by hand, and surrounded by dry scrub; others were carefully tended and sported photos (one even displayed a birth certificate) and colorful decorations. There is no water, so living plants exist only in terms of what grows in the ground: junipers, little yuccas, struggling trees. Though when the monsoon comes, I imagine the place turns green.

One large enclosure with several graves was clearly well attended to. The most elaborately adorned grave in the enclosure belonged to a twelve-year-old boy; above the grave was a wooden shelter, decorated with many kinds of lights, powered by solar panels. We ran into a man in town and told him we'd been up to the cemetery; he said, "You should see it at night!" I expect he was referring to that grave of the beloved boy. Now I'd like to swing through Magdalena one night and see the lit-up graveyard. It must be quite a sight. But . . . it'll have to be on another trip.

Addendum: The next day while driving, I was listening to the TED Radio Hour, and what should it be about but . . . death. In particular, creating a new narrative of death. Excellent food for thought to add to Levine's book.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

365 True Things: 305/Likes

Occasionally I like to get up very early. I like coffee. I like to look at birds. I like to enjoy fabulous eating experiences. I like to drive. I like to make new friends (slowly). I like to geocache. I like to photograph. I like to photograph landscapes well enough, but especially if they have something human in them (like a human, or like something manmade). I like to get to my motel room and finally have some peace and quiet and me-time after a long day of anything but. (Which is not to say I don't appreciate, even love, the socializing, but right now: can you hear my long sigh of relief?)

Today: up at 5 to watch the snow geese do their morning flyover at the Bosque. Incredible. Photos (at least mine) cannot do it justice. I had to simply stand there and stare. The moon high in the sky; their white bellies and black wingtips; the sound of their honking and their beating wings; the long, long, long skeins that would weave in and out of one another. At one point two separate waves of beautifully ordered geese (often they would form a cluster-clump, so beautiful order was not necessarily the norm) merged from opposite directions, and it was truly like seeing opposing tides unite, all movement and sway and momentum. Just incredible.

I filled my big thermos coffee cup at the motel before we set off, so I was sufficiently fueled.

We then looked at sandhill cranes arrive an hour or so after the geese had settled in their field. I think the geese are the wake-up call for those lazy (but equally noisy) cranes. We also saw a bald eagle dining on something (a goose, we think: white feathers scattered about, but it was far away, so we weren't sure); a harrier hawk; and a roadrunner! Roadrunners fill me with delight! Meep-meep! 

The fabulous eating experience was the Buckhorn Tavern in tiny San Antonio, rated #7 on the Food Channel for their green chili cheeseburger—which of course we had to have, all four of us. It deserved the high praise. The fries weren't bad either. And the owner of the Buckhorn was a hoot and a half. (I wish I'd gotten his picture, but he was too formidable to ask. However, there's the Internet! Here he is demonstrating how to cook his green chili. Bobby Olguin. Formidable—and very friendly, actually.)

The drive: from Socorro to the Bosque, the Bosque to San Antonio, San Antonio to White Sands National Monument (140 miles right there)—and back to Socorro. So, easily 300, 325 miles. I like to drive, but I'm hoping tomorrow can be an easy driving day, because Saturday: 366 miles, Socorro to Tempe AZ.

On the five-hour drive, Melony—whom I only know via FB—and I chatted, about this and that. A couple of times I considered turning on the radio or putting on a CD, but I liked the silence interrupted every so often by easy conversation. It was comfortable. She no longer is a stranger. She's now a Hui friend in the flesh.

Geocaching: one cache, called Carrizozo Crop Circle. Plus Melony and I wandered the rundown little town of Carrizozo taking photos. I started to "feel," get into, the picture-taking, given urban (not landscape or purely avian) subject matter.

And once we arrived at White Sands, I was even more inspired to try to get some shots. Which I probably didn't succeed at. But I was reminded of a photo I took long ago—maybe 1989?—one of my favorite ever. Here it is, scanned from a print. I wish I had the original negative, but twenty-seven years later, I suppose I should be glad I even have the print. (If I do; not sure about that anymore. At least I have the scan.)

I see I already posted this picture elsewhere: I'm repeating myself!
Oh well, it's worth reposting. As I said, one of my favorites ever.

And now . . . I'll look at my photos and see if any are worth working with. But the "developing" will be for another day. I'm tired. It's been a long—but excellent—day.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

365 True Things: 304/Photography (Bosque del Apache)

Hard to see, but yes, cranes!
I spent the morning in Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico, reconnoitering. At one point I found myself with a few dozen greater sandhill cranes off to my left and a few thousand snow and Ross's geese off to my right. They were all making a mighty racket. Sometimes a few would swoop up into the air and circle around, then settle back down. As I walked out the gravel trail to an overlook and sensed the commotion, my heart starting singing with joy. You know that feeling, right? Where you're just delighted to be alive in that very place at that very time? That was the way it was this morning.

I kicked myself for leaving my serious camera in the car, but then I forgave myself. Maybe it was all part of the plan. With the serious camera, I might not have just stood at the overlook marveling at the ruckus and the beauty of the landscape and closed my eyes to listen. I might have been less aware of the heart beating gladly in my chest.

Bob, Melony, Bill
In the afternoon, I met up with three photographers I know from the Hui Ho'olana, a creative place and space on the island of Molokai. We toured a different refuge—saw a gazillion cranes there—then headed back to the Bosque. Although the bird show was off in the distance, the light was spectacular, and we had a good time taking shots and enjoying one another's company.

I've always wanted to come to the Bosque, even though I didn't exactly know what I meant when I said that. Now I know. It's a spectacularly beautiful place.

This and the next shot are the same trees: look how the light changes them!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

365 True Things: 303/Road

I will end on a true thing, but I will start with a brief account (with photos) of my day. Because, yeah: road trip!

I got going from Needles at 7 a.m.—which twenty minutes later turned into 8 a.m., because Arizona is on Mountain Time: so there was an hour gone right there. I arrived in Socorro, New Mexico, at 6:40 p.m., close to eleven hours later. I traveled some 600 miles, thanks to a couple of detours.

Here are the highlights of the day:

Quick stop in Seligman AZ to look for a geocache, in an excellent collection of organized junk called Juan's Garden, created by Juan Delgado who in 1953 built an ice cream shack nearby from scrap wood. It (the ice cream shack) still exists (but is not open at the moment). Sadly, I did not find the cache.

One of the various heaps in Juan's Garden

A gas-up in Flagstaff, where the temperature was 33 degrees F and the gas (thanks to Safeway and 30 cents a gallon off) was $1.75 per gallon. One seventy-five!!! I'm still in shock. Yesterday, I gassed up somewhere—Barstow?—and the price was more like $3.49 a gallon. Which shocked me in the opposite direction.

[no photo, though I should have captured that $1.75 for posterity]

Oh wait: here's a photo of the San Francisco Peaks
as I was heading east out of Flagstaff

Winslow and "the corner" of Jackson Brown/Glenn Frey/Eagles fame ("Take It Easy"). When Frey died last week I was surprised to see on FB photos of people standing on a corner with a life-sized statue (of, it turns out, Browne). David passed through Winslow last year and took a less touristy shot of himself on a more random corner. But now I wanted to find that corner, with the statue (which is certainly not the corner of the song). And again thanks to geocaching, it was easy. And it was sweet to see all the flowers piled at the base of the statue, honoring Frey.

Holbrook, where I cut from I-40 to Hwy 180—blue highways, yay!—has one of those fabulously awful wigwam motels, and I had to stop for a picture, which may contribute to Susan and me finally finishing our long-fought diptych project. Because yes, we are currently on W. W is for wigwam motel.

Turns out, Petrified Forest National Park is off Hwy 180. Who knew? I had to turn in and drive to the entrance station, where I was immediately put off by the $20 entrance fee (thinking, "But... there's nothing here! Just a bunch of rocks that used to be trees!"). So I crawled up to the kiosk and asked what I'd see—still debating the cost, and thinking about time. The nice young man (I believe his name was Shem, which means "Name" in Hebrew...) told me about the park's offerings, said it would take about 45 minutes to drive through, passing the Painted Desert on the way back to I-40. But I said, no, I didn't want to go to I-40; I wanted to stay on the nearby highway. He suggested going only partway in, then, to a place that he especially likes called Blue Mesa. And he wouldn't charge me. And he gave me a map. So what could I do but go drive the Blue Mesa loop, do the short one-mile hike down into the badlands? I'm glad I did. It was good to stretch my legs, and it was beautiful, in the stark sort of way I love. And I had a conversation with a raven. It doesn't really get much better.

From Hwy 180 I merged onto Hwy 60, and just as darkness was falling hard, I passed the Very Large Array, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. I didn't really know what I was seeing at first—just a lot (a lot) of large radio dishes; and a "tourist parking" lot on the side of the road; and then a small sign: "VLA Visitor Center." Seriously: VLA, like people are supposed to know what that means. But I did. Dang! I've always wanted to visit that. ("Always" being a rather small "always" in the far back of my mind, because if it were a large "always," I would have known that it was on my route today and I wouldn't have dilly-dallied.) However, that said, maybe I can include it on my Saturday itinerary, when I head to Phoenix. Hmmmm....

It's astonishing, the things you can drive by on a beautiful January day: various vestiges of (or homages to) American popular culture, an ancient Jurassic forest, and a view into outer space. Wow.

But today's true thing is this: when I arrived at my hotel in Socorro and unpacked my car, the tailgate wouldn't lift all the way. A little bit, but I didn't want to force it. (It's all "automatic"—the push of a button.) My camera gear is in the back of the car. It would be much easier if I could just open the tailgate. But, alas. I looked in the user's manual (which is about a thousand pages long) but didn't find anything useful. I looked online, but there are no similar complaints for a 2016 Outback. I tried this and that. It could be a very simple solution, but I'm not divining it.

So my true thing is this: I don't need to get upset. It's not a crisis. I can still access my stuff. And when I get back to Monterey, I'll take the car in and get them to fix it. I paid for seven years' worth of fixes. This'll be the first (though I hope the last for a while). I'm in good hands.

But but but: I am truly enjoying driving this car. And today, it got twice the mileage that my 4Runner gets. Twice! Truly! That is so great. And the tailgate: it will get solved. It's just a minor annoyance. That's my true thing: optimism.

And maybe... patience? I would not have claimed that in the past, but maybe, just maybe? Patience would be an excellent skill to cultivate. In conjunction with optimism.

Update: The next morning, I decided to try googling the problem again—a different combination of words—and this time I got a 41-second video from my very dealer that mentioned a secret mystery button to the left of the steering wheel. After a bit of fiddling, I got the hatch to open! So add clever to my true things! Or maybe just perseverent. Or at least good at googling. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

365 True Things: 302/Listening

The shadow of my car reminds me
of the Little Prince's elephant
I drove the first leg of my long-awaited road trip today. The Mojave Desert, and on into darkness right around Barstow, finally ending up at Needles on the Colorado River. I will see just what that means tomorrow, in daylight.

While driving, I listened to all sorts of audio: NPR Now via Sirius XM (I got a three-month trial with the car)—very handy when you're in the middle of nowhere; Pandora a little; and Lucia Berlin's A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories, on Audible. (I am starting to figure out how to juggle Pandora and Audible, both of which are on my phone, and the Subaru knobs and buttons.)

I found that although I enjoyed listening to the stories, my mind would wander. Hearing the written word seems to render the language less sharp. I enjoyed what I heard, and a couple of the stories had characters that were so sharply drawn I managed to stay with the words. But I also found myself wishing I was just sitting with the book and savoring the writing.

Of course, I was driving, so I was not singularly focused on the stories; I was ostensibly paying attention to the road and my fellow drivers. And looking at the landscape as well. But I seem to have no trouble attending to the words when I'm listening to an interview or talk radio. There's a difference between spoken language and the crafted word. Written language, when it's done well, is like a rabbit hole of creation that you can get drawn down into and become lost in it. And that, I believe, is best done sitting in a comfortable chair with a book.

I do own a copy of Cleaning Women, so I'll try to make a note of the stories that most grab my attention and maybe go back and read them the good old-fashioned way when I get home. But for now, it's a nice way to while away Interstate time.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

365 True Things: 301/Postcards

I love getting postcards. They remind me of all the places I need (okay, want) to go in the world, or of places I've been. Some postcards are silly and make me laugh. Some postcards are artistic. Some are sentimental and snatch at my heart.

Over the years, I have enjoyed collecting blank postcards. I have a wild array of images, all neatly stacked in a shoebox. In the past, I even sent them to friends, with something deeply insightful scribbled on the back. Not so much lately, though.

Some of the 45 cards I received
from people all over the world
For six months or so a couple of years ago, I subscribed to an interesting Web project called Postcrossing: "Send a postcard and receive a postcard back from a random person in the world!" It was very fun. The postcards tended to be visually interesting, and what the random people chose to write about themselves, likewise. Since I'm a writer and into visual imagery, I had a good time matching their published profile to my box of eclectic postcards.

But . . . these were just random strangers. And I've got enough to keep me occupied right here with friends, family, and colleagues. So I let the project lapse. It's there waiting, if I choose to reengage.

The bottom two (Stockholm and
the Dolomites) are from my old
friend Ulla, a traveling fool;
the top one I sent to my mother
from Namibia, where we were
rock climbing (but with ropes
attached where they should be)
Whenever a new postcard arrives in my mailbox—less and less lately, alas—I put it on the fridge. It reminds me of dear friends and of the big beautiful earth we live on. I like those kinds of reminders.

You? Send me a postcard! If you need my address, I'll be glad to give it to you. I'd love to hear from you. And if you'd like me to send you a postcard from my shoebox, just let me know.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

365 True Things: 300/Names

This is going to be another ramble, because I am going to end on a surprising note (surprising to me, anyway—and I say that already knowing where it will end).

I sat down just now and wondered, What do I write about today? And somehow the idea of names floated into my head. Not what we are named (I wrote about that back in May). But the fact that whenever we meet someone new, we pretty much immediately forget what that person is called. And then feel ashamed, or at least apologetic, when we have to ask again.

I've gotten pretty good at saying simply, "I'm sorry, I've forgotten your name," without having also to splutter that I always forget names! I'm so bad at names! Sometimes I have to ask three or four times!

As we all tend to do . . . Because, yeah, names are hard. There's nothing obvious about a name. I mean, I could be Anne or Meredith or Pocahantas—well, okay, Pocahantas you might remember. But I kinda almost think not. Because I do not look like a Pocahantas. You would just remember me as "that woman with the really weird name. What was it? . . . Something Indian? Really? Who does she think she is, anyway?"

I was let off the shame hook on the subject of names years ago, by Art Garfunkel. He was on the Dick Cavett Show, it might have been around 1970, and Cavett asked him something about his name. I don't know what. Maybe what it is like to live with such a memorable name. After all, that name—Art Garfunkel—does have a certain cachet.

And Art said that he doesn't put a lot of stock in his name. "Names are so arbitrary," he commented. He said it very eruditely (he's a pretty smart guy), and I wish I remembered more of what he said, but the gist was: Don't worry about not remembering people's names. They could be called anything. 

As I was trying to come up (via the Internet) with something more than that scanty memory, I happened on many amazing videos of Simon & Garfunkel performing together, and that sweet, sweet voice harmonizing so beautifully. Art was dubbed "the second name," but without him that duo would have lacked their special magic. (And I don't dis Paul Simon in saying that: he's a formidable artist, and I love him. But Simon & Garfunkel were something else.)

And then I stumbled on this: Art Garfunkel in 2013 at age seventy-two, writing a note to his younger self (a CBS This Morning series). And, yeah . . . like I said: he's a pretty smart guy. And I'm glad to this day that he taught me not to worry about remembering people's names. Eventually, if they're people I want to know, their names will stick.

Friday, January 22, 2016

365 True Things: 299/Faces

Finally, the third try was the charm: we managed to see The Big Short (we tried also on 12/27 and 1/8). The theater was very full, even on a Friday at 1:40 after the movie's been playing for weeks. What gives with that? (A lot of grayhairs. Oh. That's what gives. I wonder if any of them were seeing it for a second time. I would consider it, myself. Because it was a . . .)

Great movie, though the story it tells is revolting. Rampant greed, recklessness, and then no punishment whatsoever. On the contrary, reward! Sure, we'll bail you banks out, says the U.S. government—because you're too big to fail! 

The director, Adam McKay, nailed it when it comes to explaining something as arcanely abstract as the subprime mortgage collapse—factors such as mortgage bonds, collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), and synthetic CDOs—in ways that make sense (respectively: champagne and bubble bath, fish stew, blackjack). And you even care about these whiz traders who are betting against the entire U.S. economy.

My enjoyment of the movie aside, the true thing I'm going to mention concerns my general illiteracy, if that is the word, when it comes to faces. I did at least recognize Christian Bale and Steve Carell, though I couldn't begin to put names to their faces. Brad Pitt I just kept puzzling over—and I know what Brad Pitt looks like. Ryan Gosling was the only one I could name, but I kept second-guessing myself there too (wrong-color eyes). I stayed planted in my seat at the end until the cast list rolled around, little "ahas!" going off in my head as the actors' names (Melissa Leo! Marisa Tomei!) were revealed.

Many years ago, David and I were eating breakfast in Pacific Grove at a popular cafe. He nodded at a table by the windows and said, "Look. It's Laurence Fishburne." I looked. I saw a large black man engaged in animated conversation, probably with Gina Torres (I just looked him up: they were married in 2002, which might fit the time frame). I would never in a million years have recognized him if David hadn't done it for me.

Oliver Sacks wrote about the phenomenon of face-blindness a few years ago in the New Yorker. He also spoke about it on Radiolab, referring to both his own and the artist Chuck Close's inability to recognize faces. Both are worth a read/listen.

And I will close with the quote that opens The Big Short, ostensibly by Mark Twain, though as with so many quotations ostensibly by Mark Twain, he didn't say it. Still, it's good:
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

365 True Things: 298/Contradiction

I have many interests, and quite a few abilities and talents as well. However, I wonder whether my many interests translate to spreading myself too thin, to not really being very good at anything. Jack of all trades, master of none.

I was musing the other day while journaling about whether I "should" write essays as opposed to short (or long) fiction or poetry (which I "dabble" in), because I know what I'm doing when I write an essay. I'm competent in that form.

But then I turned right around and said, no! I want to play! Fiction and poetry are perfect, precisely because I don't know what I'm doing! I should have fun! And not just with writing, but with making things generally—artist books and photographs; with drawing, gardening, and cooking. I want to experiment! (Okay, maybe not cooking.) Competence is overrated! (Yeah, definitely not cooking.)

No, no, I told my inner child: competence is not overrated. However, it isn't all there is, either; you are right about that. Play is very important. And indeed, you (I) could be better at it, for sure.

Not Carmel: but wow, the artistry!
Plus, it illustrates my plight . . .
(Many years ago when my English friend Christine was visiting, we went to see the Carmel Beach Great Sandcastle Competition, and after viewing the hugely creative works and learning about the earnest bribing-of-the-judges and seeing all the energy that went into something that, the next day, would get kicked over and forgotten, she commented, "You Americans certainly do take having fun seriously.")

So, in the midst of wondering about that—cultivate seriousness or simply fool around—I realized that my problem wasn't competence or lack thereof so much as not wanting to think of myself as a contradiction.

And yet: contradiction is (I believe) the very fuel of creativity and exploration. If everything made sense, if everything had an answer, well—we'd be set, right? But it doesn't, and so . . . we question, we try to find a balance between the unknown and the known, we search for our center, which may lie between two (or more) opposites.
“In art, and maybe just in general, the idea is to be able to be really comfortable with contradictory ideas. In other words, wisdom might be, seem to be, two contradictory ideas both expressed at their highest level and just let to sit in the same cage sort of, vibrating. So, I think as a writer, I'm really never sure of what I really believe.”
― George Saunders

“What should I do about the wild and the tame? The wild heart that wants to be free, and the tame heart that wants to come home. I want to be held. I don't want you to come too close. I want you to scoop me up and bring me home at nights. I don't want to tell you where I am. I want to keep a place among the rocks where no one can find me. I want to be with you.”
― Jeanette Winterson

“When I start a new seminar I tell my students that I will undoubtedly contradict myself, and that I will mean both things. But an acceptance of contradiction is no excuse for fuzzy thinking. We do have to use our minds as far as they will take us, yet acknowledge that they cannot take us all the way.”
― Madeleine L'Engle

“The matter on which I judge people is their willingness, or ability, to handle contradiction. . . . It's important to try and contain multitudes.”
― Christopher Hitchens

And apropos of absolutely nothing (except I reencountered it while searching Google for a "contradiction cartoon"), a smile to round things out:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

365 True Things: 297/Daylight

I always enjoy that moment near the beginning of the year when you realize the days are actually getting longer—when you can start your afternoon walk just a little later because you won't get benighted.

That moment came for me this week, as five o'clock rolled around and we were still on the trail and the sun was still plenty high enough that we didn't need to rush.

I am glad I don't live in the far far north, because the very short winter days would weigh on me. That said, I am happy to visit and experience the very long summer days of the far far north. A couple of years ago we were in the Lofoten Islands, above the Arctic Circle, at midsummer. Alas, the midnight sun hid itself behind a good-sized mountain (the pointy one in the photo), so we never got to see it not set. But it was very cool to have "night" consist basically of twilight.

The way the sun plummets lickety-split out of the sky at the equator always surprises me—and makes me feel a little cheated. I like twilight, the subtleties of dawn and dusk, the way the light changes the colors and distances around us.

The equinox, never mind summer solstice, is still a ways off, but I will enjoy noticing the growing of the days.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

365 True Things: 296/Fear

I am thinking about fear today, and about the imperative that it NOT BE FED.

When I think about fear, the imagery of hungry ghosts comes to mind
I've written about fear in the past. I am not afraid of much (I like to tell myself), but every so often a feeling of dread descends (a mild feeling: you'd hardly notice it—I tell myself—but lest it become paralyzing, it NEED NOT TO BE FED).

At the moment, I'm getting set to boot work-work out of my life (again! the idea is, for good!), which means I'll be at my own devices, doing "my own thing"—whatever that is.

I think a large part of it is going to be play. Just play. Have fun with my talents, my interests, my curiosity, my imperfection, my courage. Take risks! Fool around with words, with colored pencils, with beautiful papers and X-acto knives, with my camera (and, um, yeah, get my printer working again—a little fear there, of technology having the upper hand). Get out on my bicycle, on my motorcycle. Go sit at the beach and watch waves roll in, a notebook in hand. There is absolutely nothing frightening about any of that. (Okay, the motorcycle maybe.)

I've collected a few quotes today that touch on fear, and its invidiousness. I intend to keep pondering their import.
“I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always ... so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
"Your fear must be kept in its place. (True emergencies only, please.) Your fear must not be allowed to make decisions about creativity, passion, inspiration, dreams. Your fear doesn't understand these things, and so it makes the most boring possible decisions about them. Your fear mistakes creativity and inspiration for saber-toothed tigers and wolf packs. They aren't. Creativity and inspiration are the vehicles that will transport you to the person you most need to become."
Elizabeth Gilbert 
"Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." ― Paul Atreides (Muad’Dib) [Frank Herbert, Dune]
And then this quote, which is more about a variant of fear: discomfort? uncertainty? Which, if we are to be honestly and fully alive, must be embraced. Life shouldn't be all about comfort. It is uncertain. We don't always have control. But the lack of control can reveal interesting, important, provocative things. About us. About our potential. About our world.
“If I’m going to do something that could be provocative or artistically relevant, I have to be prepared to put myself in a place where I feel unsafe, not completely in control. I have no fear of failure whatsoever, because often out of that uncertainty something is salvaged, something that is worthwhile comes about. There is no progress without failure, and each failure is a lesson learned. Unnecessary failures are the ones where an artist tries to second guess an audience’s taste, and little comes out of that situation except a kind of inward humiliation.”
The more I read about (or by) David Bowie, the more I admire that man.

Monday, January 18, 2016

365 True Things: 295/Milo

Two-toned Milo: yes, he loves the mud
Milo is a wonderdog partly because he's Teflon coated: if he gets dirty, once he's dry, the dirt just falls off. (Onto our hardwood floors, but that's another story.) He doesn't get that "doggy smell." He doesn't shed, either, which is wonderful. (The cats, in contrast . . .)

He does, however, get disheveled and, sadly, matted. So every couple of months, I take him to the groomer for a shampoo and a trim, a tooth brushing and a nail grinding.

Today was that day.

His normal, fulsome tail
In the past, the groomer has been able to deal with the matting pretty well, but alas, not today: she called and said his tail needed to be shaved. Now, he has a beautiful feathery brush of a tail—when it's not matted. But . . . sometimes drastic measures are needed. So I told her to go ahead. She said she'd give him a lion's tail.

Fortunately—and in this, we humans could take a lesson—he doesn't care! I bet he feels better having been washed and trimmed. And the tail will (we humans, at least, hope!) grow back.

He's hiding the fluffy lion bit at the very end.
The cat, meanwhile, thinks, "Hmph, still looks like a dog to me!"
And now, once again, we resolve to be more diligent about brushing and combing. Though . . . he's a poodle (mostly). You don't brush and comb poodles. But maybe you have to brush and comb doodle tails. We'll try to be better about that. . . . No more lion king if we can help it.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

365 True Things: 294/Periods

I got my first period in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, when I was twelve. It was an unexpected shock. Yes, I had had the requisite fifth-grade sex education instruction, but that was all . . . abstract. Actually confronting the bright splash of blood was something visceral and strange.

There were, along the way, the odd missed periods—how do you spell w-o-r-r-i-e-d?—but they always resolved back into (welcome) bloodiness.

I hit menopause a few years ago, so now tampons and stained underwear, mood swings and cramping, are, thankfully, things well of the past.

I wrote a short story about my first period, which I posted here briefly, but a friend convinced me to hold it in reserve for possible actual publication. So: I will leave this at that.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Deaths-bis (#291 revisited)

My third death has arrived, and in the week.

Eva Saulitis, age 52. Writer, teacher, biologist, as her website puts it. I haven't read much of her, but she was a contributor to a book I copyedited, Home Ground (Debra Gwartney and Barry Lopez, editors). The name Saulitis is Lithuanian, and my Lithuianian writer-editor friend Rasa menioned Eva to me also; said she'd been impressed by her essays in Leaving Resurrection: Chronicles of a Whale Scientist. Which I purchased and have dipped into.

Here is a link to an essay Eva wrote about her impending death, "Wild Darkness." It's worth reading. And then pondering.

And now, I think I'll find my copy of Leaving Resurrection and dip a little further. RIP Eva.

365 True Things: 293/Volunteering

I have done four volunteer jobs in my life.

The first was as a guide at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, for fifteen years. I was on a great shift and made some good friends, a couple of whom I see still, regularly, twenty-five years later. I learned so much about my new watery backyard in the professional class the Aquarium conducts every year for its new guides. Knowing the land is relatively easy, but not so much the ocean. I am forever grateful to the Aquarium for filling a whole well of information and connection on that front.

For a short time, around the end of my Aquarium days, I spent a year or so doing literacy tutoring at the local library. I worked with a young Vietnamese woman who wanted to speak better (her co-workers couldn't understand her; I could understand why: she swallowed most of her words), and a thirties-ish man who had been in and out of trouble, didn't finish (by a long shot) school, and now wanted to learn how to read. Victor. I enjoyed working with him. Well, with both of them, but he . . . I got a sense of him wanting to make something better of his life. But eventually he moved back to Washington State—precisely where he'd been in quite a bit of trouble. I wonder if he managed to avoid the hole this time around. I hope so.

And then of course there's been Search & Rescue, which I've written about several times here (like, here).

Lately—what with the knee (see yesterday's post), for example —I've been wondering if I shouldn't be easing out of SAR. It's a younger person's game. But this year will be my ten-year anniversary, and I'd at least like to reach that milestone. I'm silently gearing up to respond more diligently, if and when we get any calls (it's been freakishly quiet these past few months).

My fourth volunteer gig has been as a ranger in the Ventana Wilderness, working with the US Forest Service. Just the other day I went out with three of my fellow rangers to remove an "exploded oak" (as it was described, quite accurately, by a visitor to the area) from a trail. It was fun! And the clear trail at the end of the day was a beautiful sight to behold. We also do Leave No Trace education, fire ring removal, and so forth. It gets me out hiking and enjoying the beautiful land I live in. 

So: I'm starting to think ahead to a quieter sort of volunteerism, to take the place of SAR at the very least. Maybe back to literacy tutoring. The ability to read is so important. Or . . . something else? This is something I need to ponder. But for now, I've got the Ventana. And one more year hanging on to SAR.