Monday, July 31, 2017

Hodgepodge 275/365 - Poetry (Arminé Iknadossian)

I met Arminé Iknadossian at Antioch University–Los Angeles: we were Green Macaws together in the MFA writing program. I did not get to spend much time with her because she was in the poetry thread, I was in creative nonfiction, but I always enjoyed bumping into her at lectures and readings. Her smile was rejuvenating.

She recently retired from twenty years as a teacher to work on two poetry collections; she is also a manager at Beyond Baroque Bookstore in Venice, California, and this fall will be a Writer in the Schools for Red Hen Press.

I pulled this poem (from her chapbook United States of Love) from the San Diego Reader (7/12/17). It speaks to me for being about geography, but also for its sensuousness.

California Love Poem 

The sun has an orgasm across the valley
as Pasadena opens up in front of me,
the Suicide Bridge pushing an arm out
of green sleeves, orange blossoms keening
after a mid-spring heatwave,
the Rose Bowl yawning in a ravine.

It is not enough to love the one you love,
to drive towards the ocean just to fall
into bed with them, then return home
alone, drowsy from no sleep and sex in a strange bed.
You want to keep driving East towards
black rocks and tarantulas of Nevada

or South towards the unilateral mirage of water
where the Salton Sea groans in her deadwood hammock.
On a map, California looks like she’s hugging the continent
and Nevada is leaning in for a deep kiss.
She is tentative, he is a sharp-tongued,
diamond-studded menace, kissing her
and at the same time, pushing her into the ocean.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Hodgepodge 274/365 - Dorm

Yesterday at the pig roast a few of us spent some time talking about dorms: Maria's daughter is currently shopping around for colleges, and on their campus tours—in London and Oxford so far—they've been checking out potential living quarters; and Gabriella's daughter has just finished her first year at UC Berkeley, living in a dorm there. There were many graphic stories.

It sounds like dorm life is not for the squeamish!

Me, I spent most of my college life either living with my parents, or for one glorious year when they were in Nigeria, at their house without them (there are tales there that will never be related in this blog); or, mostly, living in apartments with roommates. That was at UCLA (BA and PhD) and at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (MS).

But I also spent my sophomore year at Berkeley, and during those two semesters I did live in a sort of dorm: International House.

An imposing off-white edifice, built with the funding and support of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and inaugurated in 1930 as part of a larger "international house" movement, it sits on Piedmont Avenue at the upper end of Bancroft Way, two of the main streets surrounding the campus. It was the largest student housing complex in the Bay Area (it accommodates almost 600) and the first co-ed residence west of the Mississippi. Its mission was, and still is, to "foster intercultural respect and understanding, lifelong friendships and leadership skills for the promotion of a more tolerant and peaceful world."

And indeed, I continue to enjoy the lifelong friendship of my I-House roommate, Jenny. She became an Air Force officer and now lives, retired as an artist, in Virginia; we talk on the phone often and see each other when we can. I also made a good friend in our across-the-hall neighbor Sergio, an Italian nuclear engineering graduate student, who gifted me with my first espresso maker (though sadly, we lost touch years ago).

That year at Berkeley feels like five minutes now, but I had so many remarkable experiences. I am infinitely grateful that I stumbled on I-House. It made that year extra special. (Though I am a little troubled by the fact that, given yesterday's focus of discussion on the meal plans and food in dorms, I can't remember anything about breakfast, lunch, or dinner at I-House—except that Jenny liked to sprinkle not sugar, but salt on her grapefruit in the morning—a Japanese thing. That's it! That's all I remember! I'll have to quiz her, next time we speak. She lived there a year longer than I did. Which means her memories will seem more like ten minutes.)

(I did also live in a dorm of sorts in tenth grade in boarding school, but that's different. That was boarding school. In Germany. I remember some of what I ate then—chiefly goodies I'd pick up at the corner deli on my walks between Haus Roseninsel and the schoolhouse proper: plum kuchen, big dill pickles, and chocolate bars, most notably. Makes my mouth water just to think about. But yeah, what they served in the dining room? No inkling.)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Hodgepodge 273/365 - Milo! Again!

I've written about Milo a few times on this blog: here (as a puppy), here, here, and here (with David). Here's another installment—mostly photos, because you can't really get too many photos of the amazing Milo. Right?

Today we went to the annual Naval Postgraduate School Math Department pig roast. It was fun to catch up with a few people I hadn't seen in years, and to meet a few new folks.

Including Cody, the labradoodle. Cody gave us dog lovers permission to babble about our wonderful dogs.

I'm just going to take this opportunity to share some more pictures of my beloved goldendoodle. He'll turn seven this year. I fully hope he'll be with us another seven years, but the sad fact is, dogs don't live very long. We invest so much love in these rather temporary creatures. It's astonishing, what our hearts are willing to do.

Maria, who has an eight-year-old Irish terrier named Finabula, mentioned wanting to get a second dog, both as company for F and, frankly, for continuity. She's considered doodles, but they're expensive.

I have thought the same thing. Even though I'm very much in denial about Milo ever not being in our house, cheering us up and making us laugh. (He's a very funny fellow.)

I do love that dog.

Anyway, here's those pictures, more or less randomly selected (I have a huge treasure trove to choose from). Some may be repeats from the above-listed posts, but that's okay. Right?

Friday, July 28, 2017

Hodgepodge 272/365 - Concert (Colin Hay)

Last night we went to hear Colin Hay perform at our local historic theater in downtown Monterey, the Golden State. It was a pretty full house, and the energy was good.

Unfortunately, where we sat—in row E—the acoustics seemed a bit muddy, so I never caught the names of the Cuban singer and band that played with him. I'd like to remedy that, because they were awfully good: young, talented, and happy energy that was a treat to experience. The band comprised a guitar player (in addition to Colin), a bass player, a percussionist, a drummer, and a horn player (sax, flute, also a little keyboard).

But let me get my griping out of the way before I return to a few of the highlights of the evening. I had already had a day full of petty irritations, and when I entered the theater I was hoping to leave annoyance behind and just sit and enjoy. But nooooooo.

First, halfway through the warm-up set (the band fronted by the Cuban singer), a crowd of about ten people arrived and took up seats in the two rows in front of us. Now, being late isn't a crime; but what was annoying was that the apparent ringleader of this group spent the next ten minutes bopping up and down, checking in with her crew, making sure they were happily seated. And then she proceeded to pull out her phone, call up an apparently very important photo, and show it around to all her friends. This was right in front of us. It made it difficult, to say the least, to pay attention to the music.

Lesson 1: If you're late, enter as quietly and unobtrusively as possible, and then just sit down.

The next complaint centers on the woman in front of us also, and that wretched phone: she kept videoing (which may or may not have been prohibited, but since she wasn't there for the opening greeting, she wouldn't know, would she?). Pretty much every song, she'd hold the phone up, keep tapping it for focus. Not for the whole song, thank goodness, but for enough of it. My thoughts: (1) Why don't you be here now and just watch the show? Who, exactly is going to benefit from this low-quality video you're making? And (2) Get that bright screen out of my line of vision!

Lesson 2 (a): You're not in this world alone! Show some consideration! Notice that you are, in fact, surrounded by other people who may not appreciate your personal "needs."

Lesson 2 (b, self-directed): Sometimes, you just have to shake things off, let them go. Alternatively, you could raise a fuss. Fortunately, except during one song, I was able to direct my attention where it needed to go (the stage) and I didn't feel a need to lecture this inconsiderate woman. During that one song, though, I was on the verge. Believe me.

The final gripe concerns the concert itself. The Cuban singer had a lovely voice, and that's what she contributed: her lovely voice, plus a little maraca action. But apparently she felt she needed to perform. And so while Colin and the band blasted out fabulous music in their understated playing-an-instrument sort of way, she . . . danced! she swam around the stage! she performed a whole little pas-de-deux with a big red fan! she did the cancan! she jumped and cavorted and waved her arms, up and down and all around! she twirled, her long hair spinning! a couple of times she mimed a trucker downshifting. Did I mention the kangaroo hops? At one point, she was behind Colin as he was ending a song, holding on to his shoulders jumping up and down, and then she swatted him on the butt!

I cannot begin to explain how annoyingly distracting all that was. I was glad to have the silver-headed Asian man sitting in front of me to split the stage between left (bass player and guitarist) and right (the fandango), with Colin shifting back and forth depending on my head placement.

Sometimes I even watched the videographer's phone tapping by way of relief.

Lesson 3: I'm not sure what lesson 3 is. It's hard to accept something that just drives you batty. Unless, that is, it's something you've been living with for going on 40 years. (I am talking marriage here.) Then not only do you have no choice, but you're pretty happy to just go with it.

Okay, those were my gripes. As for the show, it was really good. I only became aware of Colin Hay a few years ago, in particular his album Going Somewhere. I am especially delighted (see big goofy grin on my face) by his song "It's a Beautiful World," for some reason. I mean, it's a silly song. And also serious. Mostly, it makes me so happy!

Sadly, he did not perform that song last night. But he did perform "Waiting for My Real Life to Begin," which is my second favorite song. And he did it part solo, part with the band, which really worked.

And probably the best song was—of course (poor Colin Hay: he'll never escape this one, written in 1979 and performed with his band Men at Work)—"Down Under." Each musician had a fabulous solo, and the entire stage was lit by smiles. Here's the original official video, very unlike what we experienced last night, but so it goes! Expectations are not always met.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Hodgepodge 271/365 - Book Report (American Gods)

Neil Gaiman, American Gods: Tenth Anniversary Edition (2011 [orig. 2001]) (7/27/17)

Last month I wrote about my intention to read some long books. I started with American Gods partly because, at 742 loosely leaded trade-paperback pages, it's the shortest of the long books I have on my stack.

And what a book it is! Gaiman's imagination is staggering. Makes me glad I don't live in his head—and/or, it makes me wonder what it's like to live in his head, whether or not he's not actively writing a tour-de-force full of gods and otherworldly landscapes, warfare and strange comforts.

The book essentially tells of a road trip, in which the hapless hero, Shadow, released early from prison having learned his wife has been killed, is taken under the wing of the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, an omniscient one-eyed grifter. Who, it turns out, is Odin, trying to enlist the "old gods," largely forgotten in modern-day America, to fight an underworld battle against the gods of the new, "gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone . . . gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon,'' who are ''puffed up with their own newness and importance.''

Along the way we meet such mythical figures as Czernobog and Belobog, the Slavic gods of darkness and of light, and their relatives the Zorya sisters, representing morning, evening, and night; Anansi (Mr. Nancy), an African trickster spider-man; the undertakers Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacquel, a.k.a. Thoth (Egyptian god of knowledge and writing) and Anubis (god of the dead); Easter, or Ēostre, Germanic goddess of the dawn; Wisakedjak (Whiskey Jack), a trickster figure from Algonquian mythology; Loki, the Old Norse god of mischief—he likes to sow chaos; Kali (Mama-Ji), the Hindu goddess of time and destruction; and Hinzelmann, a kobold, or Germanic sprite.

We also meet their adversaries, the Technical Boy, Media, the Black Hats, and the Intangibles.

Here's a scene from early in the book, where the Technical Boy lays out the apparent divide:
     The glinting fiber-optic lights inside the limo continued to change, cycling through their set of dim colors. It seemed to Shadow that the boy's eyes were glinting too, the green of an antique computer monitor.  
     "You tell Wednesday this, man. You tell him he's history. He's forgotten. He's old. And he better accept it. Tell him that we are the future and we don't give a fuck about him or anyone like him. His time is over. Yes? You fucking tell him that, man. He has been consigned to the Dumpster of history while people like me ride our limos down the superhighway of tomorrow."
     "I'll tell him," said Shadow. He was beginning to feel light-headed. He hoped that he was not going to be sick.
     "Tell him that we have fucking reprogrammed reality. Tell him that language is a virus and that religion is an operating system and that prayers are just so much fucking spam. Tell him that or I'll fucking kill you," said the young man mildly, from the smoke.
     "Got it," said Shadow. "You can let me out here. I can walk the rest of the way."
     The young man nodded. "Good talking to you," he said. The smoke had mellowed him. "You should know that if we do fucking kill you then we'll just delete you. You got that? One click and you're overwritten with random ones and zeros. Undelete is not an option." He tapped on the window behind him. "He's getting off here," he said. Then he turned back to Shadow, pointed to his cigarette. "Synthetic toad-skins," he said. "You know they can synthesize bufotenin now?"
     . . . The inside of the car was now one writhing cloud of smoke in which two lights glinted, copper-colored, like the beautiful eyes of a toad. "It's all about the dominant fucking paradigm, Shadow. Nothing else is important. . . ."
And here, from later in the book, is a conversation with Whiskey Jack:
     "Look," said Whiskey Jack. "This is not a good country for gods. My people figured that out early on. There are creator spirits who found the earth or made it or shit it out, but you think about it, who's going to worship Coyote? He made love to Porcupine Woman and got his dick shot through with more needles than a pincushion. He'd argue with rocks and the rocks would win.
     "So, yeah, my people figure that maybe there's something at the back of it all, a creator, a great spirit, and so we say thank you to it, because it's always good to say thank you. But we never built churches We didn't need to. The land was the church. The land was the religion. The land was older and wiser than the people who walked on it. It gave us salmon and corn and buffalo and passenger pigeons. It gave us wild rice and walleye. It gave us melon and squash and turkey. And we were the children of the land, just like the porcupine and the skunk and the blue jay."
     He finished his second beer and gestured toward the river at the bottom of the waterfall. "You follow that river for a way, you'll get to the lakes where the wild rice grows. In wild rice time, you go out in your canoe with a friend, and you knock the wild rice into your canoe, and cook it, and store it, and it will keep you for a long time. Different places grow different foods. Go far enough south there are orange trees, lemon trees, and those squashy green guys, look like pears—"
     "Avocados," agreed Whiskey Jack. "That's them. They don't grow up this way. This is wild rice country. Moose country. What I'm trying to say is that America is like that. It's not good growing country for gods. They don't grow well here. They're like avocados trying to grow in wild rice country."
     "They may not grow well," said Shadow, remembering, "but they're going to war."
     That was the only time he ever saw Whiskey Jack laugh. It was almost a bark, and it had little humor in it. "Hey, Shadow," said Whiskey Jack. "If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off too?"
     "Maybe." Shadow felt good. He didn't think it was just the beer. He couldn't remember the last time he had felt so alive, and so together.
     "It's not going to be a war."
     "Then what is it?"
     Whiskey Jack crushed the beer can between his hands, pressing it until it was flat. "Look," he said and pointed to the waterfall. The sun was high enough that it caught the waterfall spray: a rainbow nimbus hung in the air. Shadow thought it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
     "It's going to be a bloodbath," said Whiskey Jack, flatly.
     Shadow saw it then. He saw it all, stark in its simplicity. He shook his head, then he began to chuckle, and he shook his head some more, and the chuckle became a full-throated laugh.
     "You okay?"
     "I'm fine," said Shadow. . . . "It's a two-man con. . . . It's not a war at all, is it?"
     Whiskey Jack patted Shadow's arm. "You're not so dumb," he said.
But the overall plot, the impending war, is really only part of the fascination of this novel. It's a romp, at turns comic, mystical, magical, sinister, and serious. This is storytelling at its best. And as things turn out, the old gods remain with us. Along with the new.

Again I shake my head and wonder what the heck it's like to live in Neil Gaiman's head.

And now, I think I'll go read something short. Gotta charge my batteries before the next big book.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Hodgepodge 270/365 - Poetry (Kate Asche)

I do not really know Kate, but we attended a Writing x Writers workshop with Mark Doty together, and I enjoyed both her and her writing. She had a few copies of her recently published chapbook, Our Day in the Labyrinth, for sale in the "bookshop," and I picked one up. Here is the last poem, short but lovely:


          Point Reyes National Seashore, September

out of the north, silver
mist billows in

south: sun on blue
one beach, but how many heavens

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Hodgepodge 269/365 - My Desk

I must confess, I am fairly sick of this daily blog. I've got less than a hundred days to go (that's the positive spin on the situation), but do I have close to a hundred notions of something to write about? Well, we'll see. Stuff crops up. And when it doesn't, there's always the option of a poem.

Today, I'll post a couple of photos of my newly cleaned desk.

Closer up of the right side of the desk.

I've been sorting through the stuff in my three-room "office suite": small rooms, maybe ten by ten, three of them (one up some stairs). It's my sanctuary. Though there are long stretches of time when I forget they're there. Like, when David was off in Maryland for a year, a couple of years ago: most of those twelve months I spent at the kitchen counter, with my laptop. I don't know why. Something about feeling the embrace of the cooking/sleeping/living spaces maybe. Not off in "an office," but home. Alone. (Alone being both wonderful and featuring a bit of yearning.)

So yeah, I've been tidying, organizing, throwing stuff out, moving stuff to the garage to be dealt with later, sweeping and cleaning, and Roomba-ing! (Rudy: my new best friend!) I finally, after almost five years in the new house, cleaned out my secret under-the-stairs closet and hung my Women's March poster up in there. I still have some sorting to do, but already, the effect is lightening, uplifting.

I should do this more often.

So: my desk: if I weren't lazy, I'd affix identifier numbers to the various components, but I am lazy, so I'll just describe.

Far left: my handmade books in a stack, fronted by my brother-in-law Wayne's "fancy" birthday card (which I know I wrote about in these posts, but I can't find where), and in front of that, a hummingbird's nest that David found and gave to me (an Anna's, no doubt). Finally, still on the left, my datebook, which is what I use to keep track of appointments, with varied success. I do not use my phone, or GoogleCalendar, or suchlike. I'm strictly old school. I like to write things down. Also on the left, a necklace charm whose chain broke and needs replacing: on one side is the compass rose, on the other the saying "Not all those who wander are lost." And finally, tucked up behind the computer, The Writer's Block, which I only rarely refer to, but it amuses me. Being as how I'm a pretty much constantly blocked writer. (These blog posts notwithstanding.)

Middle: The iMac with its (stolen) modified photo of Monastery Beach and a relatively reasonable number of icons on the screen (ahem: for me); a watch, because I enjoy analog time; and a stack of index cards, for whatever comes up.

On the right (most of the lower photo): backup drives; a cheery bird coaster covering a ruined spot on the desk; my mother's driver's license, which expired in 2005 (she died in 2008): it makes me happy to see her here on my desk; a couple of thumb drives, and ear plugs because I haven't managed to get them to the bathroom yet; a Pernod glass full of rocks from Cape Cod; a camera card reader; my charging Fitband; the Two Cats Cafe mug from Bar Harbor, Maine, holding pens and pencils; and various reference books that I, honestly, never look at—but I should. They're full of wonderful surprises. A little "enlightenment" candle from a friend of mine, never lit; and my passport. I should say, my precious passport: gateway to almost anywhere. (And I didn't want to go to North Korea anyway.) Stapler. Kleenex box.

And there we are. Some of it personally meaningful, some of it simply useful (even if only potentially—those books!), some of it a record, some of it wishful or wistful, some of it the means of my livelihood. One small corner of my existence.

And another blog post finished. Whew.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Hodgepodge 268/365 - Poetry (Eloise Klein Healy)

Photo by Charles Hood
I met Eloise Klein Healy at Antioch Univeristy–Los Angeles in 2005, where I was a student in the low residency MFA program in Creative Writing that she co-founded. I wasn't studying poetry, so I didn't commune with her, but whenever I'd see her at the residency, she had a smile and something to say: she knew who I was, she was genuinely interested in my progress and my satisfaction.

A few years later, I was lucky enough to go on the last bird-watching tour that she and her partner, Colleen Rooney, led, this one to Ecuador. A good ten days in a bus with both of them (not to mention all those amazing birds—which no, weren't on the bus) was and remains one of the biggest privileges and delights I've had in my life.

In 2012 Eloise was named the first Poet Laureate of Los Angeles. In April 2013 she experienced a serious case of encephalitis, which resulted in aphasia, affecting her relationship with speech and language. By all accounts (this one from 2014 in the LA Times, and this one from the Antioch Creative Writing journal Lunch Ticket last year), she has been fighting back mightily—her life spark was not diminished one whit, her feisty humor and sweet sensitivity remain bright.

Here are two poems, one written for Colleen, the other reminiscent for me of our Ecuador trip: of the wildlife and the colors, but also of writing exercises Eloise invited us to do while we were traveling. I started a little piece of prose (a prose poem, perhaps) that I've never developed. Maybe it's time to revisit it. In honor of Eloise.

A Wild Surmise

for Colleen

Like a bride of old,
I left my house and home

to come to you, to live
in that country that had no name.

All that I was, all that I had
came to you with a wild surmise

that some other world
was trembling

and opening. There were stories
to be written and told.

What colors would fill
those skies? What songs

of birds? There was never
a hint of Paradise or its alarms.

We knew that we would be
the wilderness and all that can be found there.

More than twenty years on, we are the trees
and we are the two rivers—

one brown, one blue—
and the ocean they become

after furious travels and falls,
rapids and deep pools.

We have seen as much
in ourselves and in one another,

living parallel yet knit together
feather upon feather.

No one else, no one else can claim us,
only the expansive and beautiful world

always before us
like that peak in the Darien,

always inside us, about to blossom
with the proof we are her own.

Memorize This

The Green Honeycreeper
The soft jade chrysalis of Blue Morpho
The green anole lizard
The broad green leaves of the cecropia
The green adventurine stones in a bracelet
The green of green of green
in dracena, agapanthus,
heliconia, water lily,
beetle back, iguana, Palm Tanager,
Green-backed Heron, Coppery-headed Emerald,
Resplendent Quetzal, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Amazon Kingfisher,
the green of swirly Sarapiqui River swimming in its banks.
The green rind lining in the sunset,
the green fall of night, the deep green sleep
in the jungle's lap.
The restless green dream
clearing its throat, shuffling
the celadon pages of its story,
the neon green letters saying "the end"

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Hodgepodge 267/365 - Bach Festival

This afternoon we attended our second (of two) concerts of this year's Carmel Bach Festival, which is currently in its eightieth season. It began in 1935 as a four-day series of concerts, expanded over time to three weeks, and in 2009 was shortened to a two-week event, with a repeating weekly program. The current artistic conductor is the wonderful Englishman (and former oboist) Paul Goodwin. It's a delight to watch him  lead the musicians.

Some years, David has performed in the Festival Chorus (for local amateurs: there's also the Chorale, which is made up of professionals). Not this year, I don't recall why. We don't attend performances every year—which, there again, I don't know why. We should! It's a top-notch musical event.

Today's program included the exquisite Adagietto of Mahler's Symphony No. 5, John Tavener's gorgeous mostly–a cappella Mother and Child, and—the main event—Mozart's rousing Mass in C Minor, K. 427. A wonderful program, and a wonderful performance with the orchestra, Chorale, and four soloists.

Here's the Kyrie from the Mass (just sound):

I was raised on Mozart. Also Bach, Haydn, Handel. But mostly Mozart. Anytime I hear Mozart, it makes me happy. The only operas I really enjoy (well, besides Carmen) are Mozart's. My father especially loved the piano concertos—and of them, especially the 21st, K. 467. The Andante was used in the Danish movie Elvira Madigan (1967), which made it famous. But for me, it was already beloved.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hodgepodge 266/365 - WWII

We went on a geocaching expedition today: a lot of puzzle caches, which can be hard (I let David do those: today he tackled binary numbers and chemistry with resounding success) or basically trivia—my bailiwick! I can search the internet like a champ!

One of the puzzles today was Veterans Day Remembered . . . WWII Super Facts. Here's the quiz. See how much you know. (Answers at the bottom.)

I actually learned a lot by googling for the answers, of which I went in knowing only two.

A/ Which bomber aircraft of WWII was built by Boeing Aircraft?
(a) B-26 Marauder 
(b) B-17 Flying Fortress 
(c) B-24 Liberator 
(d) B-25 Mitchell 

B/ The “Battle of the Bulge,” as it was known, was a major German offensive campaign from December 1944 to January 1945. In which country did it take place?
(a) Belgium
(b) France
(c) Germany
(d) Italy 

C/ LGEN George S. Patton Jr. was quoted as saying, “In my opinion the ________ is the greatest battle implement ever devised.” Fill in the blank.
(a) M1919A4 Browning .30cal Machine Gun
(b) M4 Sherman Tank
(c) M1 Garand Rifle
(d) MK2 Hand Grenade

D/ In which country was the first atomic bomb detonated?
(a) Japan
(b) United States
(c) Germany
(d) Korea

E/ In January 1944 the United States Marine Corps and US Navy began an invasion to drive the Japanese out of and liberate the Marshall Islands. What was this operation called?
(a) Overlord 
(b) The Marshall Plan 
(c) Barbarossa 
(d) Flintlock 

F/ The Second World War was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The Battle of Britain, as it was known, was the defense of the United Kingdom by the Royal Air Force against the German Luftwaffe. In what year did the Battle of Britain begin?
(a) 1939 
(b) 1940 
(c) 1941 
(d) 1942 

G/ In 1941 who was quoted as saying, “In the long run, national socialism and religion will no longer be able to exist together.”
(a) Joseph Stalin
(b) Adolf Hitler 
(c) Benito Mussolini 
(d) Winston Churchill 

H/ How many offensive air strikes were launched on December 7th, 1941, during the Japanese sneak attack against the US naval base and fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor?
(a) 1
(b) 2 
(c) 3 
(d) 4 

I/ Which US submarine is credited with sinking the most tonnage of enemy vessels during WWII? 17 ships, totaling 96,628 tons.
(a) USS Bowfin (SS287)
(b) USS Wahoo (SS238)
(c) USS Barb (SS220)
(d) USS Pampanito (SS383) 

 J/ What was the most decorated (including 21 Medals of Honor) US combat unit during WWII?
(a) 442nd Infantry Regiment (Nisei, Japanese Americans) (motto: Go for Broke)
(b) 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles)
(c) 5307th Composite Unit (Merrill’s Marauders)
(d) 2nd Armored Division (motto: Hell on Wheels)

Answers: A-b, B-a, C-b, D-c, E-d, F-b, G-b, H-b, I-c, J-a

Oh, and? We found all fifteen caches (eight of them puzzle caches) that we went looking for today. Score!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Hodgepodge 265/365 - Robots

I am not the greatest house cleaner. I tend to wait until the clutter and dust bunnies pass a certain threshold of bearability before I start sweeping tables and counters clean and haul out the hoover.

Fortunately, David has a lower threshold than I do when it comes to gritty floors (I just put on socks!)—or at least, he's less lazy than I am (that must be the case, because he doesn't wander around barefoot, now that I think of it)—and often takes care of the matter in a more timely fashion.

But still: what with the dog, who loves to track in dirt and sand and dried grasses, and the cats, who shed like there's no tomorrow, the floors tend to need tending to rather more often than even David manages.

So the other day, on hearing my friend Kim talk about her Roomba, Rosie, I broke down and ordered just such a "vacuum cleaning robot". It arrived yesterday, and today it—or rather, he: we've christened him Rudy—had his maiden voyage. (So to speak.)

I was fascinated as I followed the alternately charging (as in, "Chaaaaaarge!") and swiveling whirring black disk around the living room and kitchen. How does he make his decisions? What causes him to sometimes sit in one spot and simply spin (the blue light tells me he's encountered an especially dirty spot, but really? his definition of "dirt" seems pretty arbitrary).

I did have to rescue him from under the stove. At least, I think I did. He looked stuck. But that reminds me of a video I saw on Facebook the other day of a canoeist "rescuing" an osprey in a lake. That bird most likely did not need rescuing. Osprey fish for a living; sometimes they miss and end up in the water. It may take a bit of effort to fly off again, but it's not something they can't do. And meanwhile, the paddler got a nasty bite on her thumb, for her troubles. (Rudy did not bite me. He just made his little bugle call when I pressed his CLEAN button, and got back to work.)

Eventually I left him to his own devices, and when I noticed that he'd docked himself—done for the day—I emptied his filter, and yow! Is he ever a handy little dude for these parts: he was jam-packed with cat hair! He may not get it all, but he got plenty. I'm happy! I hope he is too: job well done!

His being called a "robot" got me wondering what the difference between a machine and a robot is. I found these comments online:
  • A "machine" is a mechanical apparatus used to perform a particular task (as opposed to a tool, which is just an apparatus, no serious moving parts involved).
  • A machine needs an operator; a robot doesn't. (Rudy does, at the moment, require me to press his CLEAN button, but if I choose to relinquish my authority over his existence, I can program him to clean on specific days at specific times and he'll just hop to it. For now, I think I prefer to remain his overlord.)
  • Most machines are not autonomous, meaning they can't make decisions or be left without assistance. Robots, by contrast, are autonomous and able to sense and respond to the environment in order to "make decisions." (Unless something gums up the works, as happened today when Rudy stumbled on a bra that had snuck under the bed. He choked. I resuscitated him. "That was not a dust bunny," he muttered, then bugled and got back to work.)
  •  A robot comprises four things: computer hardware, sensor software, a sensor array, and an effector array. "The control software, running on the computer, controls the various effectors (motors, relays, switches, actuators) based on its internal programming and input from the sensor array (microphones, EOPD devices, light/color sensors, sonar sensors, keyboard keys, etc)" (courtesy of Paul Reiber, LEGO robot fanatic).
The upshot is, robots are a subset of machines, able to function more or less autonomously. But they operate according to a code, outlined by Isaac Asimov in his "Three Laws of Robotics" (first stated in his 1942 short story "Runaround" and quoted as being from the Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D.):
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. 
I'm sure these are all in Rudy's code of ethics. (They should be in everybody's code of ethics, robot or human. But sadly, robots seem to be better than humans in the ethical realm.)

Oh, and as a sidenote: the origin of the word robot? It's from a 1920 science fiction play by the Czech playwright Karel Čapek, R.U.R., standing for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots), though the "robots" in question were really more like clones, being flesh and blood. The play was immediately translated into English and so the word entered our language. (In Czech, robota means forced labor of the kind that serfs had to perform on their masters' lands; the word is derived from rab, meaning "slave.")

Anyway, I'm happy to have a robot in the house. And I hope the dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, microwave, coffeemaker, and digital clocks won't feel too humbled but will continue doing their work cheerfully as well—with a push of a button. (That's one reason I think I'll continue manual control of Rudy. That, and it'll remind me to pick up the floor to ease his way.)

But finally: The issue of robots taking paying jobs is a different, and serious, one. Here's a good recent overview of the potential inequities that could continue to be magnified as the wealthy/business owners come ever more to control the means of production. On the plus side, surgical robotics is making certain medical procedures more accurate and more affordable. Robots will be increasingly in evidence in our world. Let's just hope they—and their masters—continue to follow the three laws.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Hodgepodge 264/365 - Poetry (Sherilyn Lee)

Sherilyn is in my "howler" writing group: pretty much every morning three of us "meet" virtually, coming together from Kauai, Los Angeles (or lately, San Jose—long story), and Monterey, to spend ninety minutes writing or doing other creative work. (Me, I am not very good at the latter, but I enjoy meeting up and trying to be creative.) We call ourselves howlers because when we started, we used a cheesy iPhone app that features a howling wolf when time's up. It's wonderful, almost every day, to join forces, in virtual company.

(The three of us met in 2005 at Antioch University in Los Angeles as MFA students in Creative Writing.)

Even though we "write together," as a rule we don't share our work. But when Sherilyn finished her chapbook Bread & Butter, she sent the other two of us a copy. A lovely gift that I keep on my desk. A lovely reminder, too, of the beauty of friendship and co-creation.

I Tell Myself I Couldn't Have Seen It All at First

for Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell assemblage
Back then, eye mind recognized pieces parts,
a wind up green parrot walking in four
four time, whirring mechanic, walking
walking, tapped its beak into a silver ball
perched up on a ramp, energy transferred,
potential now kinetic, our first kiss on the
same night you shook Don Sutton's hand
in the bar of the Four Seasons. Later you
smiled, "I never thought meeting him
would be the second best part of any
day." The single-minded parrot silent,
on its side, orange feet stopped, as the silver
ball raced at full speed towards black
dominoes standing in tight, tidy rows.
Falling, sprawling, splayed.
Your fingers dovetailed with mine, that's what
I remember from the beginning but couldn't
see it all. Precarious, playful, well-timed like a
Rube Goldberg machine. I couldn't
see it all but I was in it. This was simpler
when I was a kid placing the silver ball
between two sticks on a wooden rack,
pulling them apart, aiming for one of
the green felt dots below. This is when
skill felt like chance. Now, a click leads
to a bump, strikes a match, ignites a flame,
the energy moves on. Still and silence in
its wake, designed tension rolls on its
edge towards the inevitable and I wonder
when to open my hand, release, let go.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hodgepodge 263/365 - Words

We were talking at dinner about the word tragedy, and how it's so . . . feeble. Or more to the point, that the events that we generally use the word tragic to describe today are so much more: more painful, more full of sorrow, more heart-rending, more shattering, more life stopping, than I, at any rate, take the word tragic to mean.

That's probably because of the word's origins, in Greek theater, where a story has an unhappy ending, often because of the main character's (tragic) flaw. As Wikipedia explains, it is "a form of drama based on human suffering that invokes an accompanying catharsis or pleasure [?] in audiences." The Greek word τραγῳδία itself means, literally, "goat song," perhaps referring to the ritual sacrifice of such an animal.

We need a better word for the awfulness that unexpected, unexplainable, soul-shocking deaths or other "tragedies" bring to humans, on a regular basis.

As for Asian
languages, glory
be, who knows?
So I thought I'd look at other languages to see if there were any interesting variations. Turns out there's a great website, IDL (In Different Languages), where you can look up, maybe not any word, but any common English word. My kind of place!

And it also turns out, the answer to my question is no, at least in the European lexicon. The only departure from some variation of the word tragedy, whether in Albanian, Basque, Czech, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish—you get my drift—was Icelandic: harmleikur. Which I am now desperate to learn the etymology of. Maybe it's the word I'm seeking! Even Hebrew and Turkish use variations of the Greek word.

So I struck out on tragedy, but that made me, now that I've discovered this great website, want to double-check on my favorite words for multilingual expression: caterpillar, butterfly, lizard, and spider. Because check it out:

caterpillar (English)
vemje (Albanian)
Beldar (Basque)
eruga (Catalan)
housenka (Czech)
röövik (Estonian)
toukka (Finnish)
chenille (French)
Raupe (German)
hernyó (Hungarian)
bolb (Irish)
bruco (Italian)
kāpurs (Latvian)
vikšras (Lithuanian)
gąsienica (Polish)
omidă (Romanian)
lindysyn (Welsh)

How did they come up with so many different words? Oh, maybe very early people had much more truck with caterpillars than with abstract concepts like tragedy? At least insofar as one felt compelled to talk about it.

I just adore all those words, each its own little universe of meaning.

For butterfly you get flutur, leptir, motýl, sommerfugl, vlinder, liblikas, perhonen, papillon, bolboreta, Schmetterling, pillangó, féileacán, tauriņs, peteliškẻ, farfett, mariposa, fjāril, pili pala (same and different languages than above). (I am leaving out those in the Cyrillic alphabet, which add further spice.) (If you care to know which word is which language, go to the link above. Welsh appears in all my lists, I'll say that up front.)

And lizard? Harducë, musker, gušter, llangardaix, firben, hagedis, sisalik, lisko, lagarto, Eidechse, gyík, eđla, lucertola, ķirzaka, driežas, jaszczurka, șopårlă, ōdla, madfall. Madfall! (There's the Welsh for ya.)

And finally—if you're still with me, you find languages and words just as infinitely fascinating as I do—spider: merimangë, Armiama, pauk, edderkop, āmblik, hämähäkki, Spinne, kónguló, damhán alla, zirneklis, voras, najakot, pălanjen, araña, and pry cop (Welsh again).

This is the sort of thing that makes me so happy. Our ingenuity and delight with language, with communication, with the natural world, with trying to understand and share. And it makes sense that creatures that crawl or creep or fly would get labeled extemporaneously, without having to wait on what the Greeks thought. (The Greek for each of the above words, by the way is: κάμπια, πεταλούδα, σαύρα [as in dinosaura], and αράχνη [as in arachnid, as in the Spanish araña]— also quite different).

Eurasian wryneck
And now don't get me started on the common English names of birds. Seriously. (Avocet, bobolink, cassowary, dowitcher, eagle, francolin, grouse, heron, ibis, jacana, kestrel, loon, murre, nightjar, owl, penguin, quail, robin, stork, tern, umbrellabird, vulture, wryneck, xenops, yuhina, and there's no common name that starts with z, sadly.)

Okay. I had fun with this. It tickled my obsessive bone. If you've come with me this far, thanks! I hope you had fun too.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hodgepodge 262/365 - Poetry (Tamara Madison)

Second in my (very short) series of poems by friends of mine. This one is by Tamara Madison, whom I know through my good friend Kathi. I see Tamara every few years, either when I'm in LA at the same time as Kathi or when Tamara and her partner and perhaps kids come to Big Sur for a few days of camping. She's just retired as a schoolteacher and has a new book of poetry out, Moraine. This poem is from her first book, Wild Domestic.


[sau'da-dji]—Portuguese. A feeling of longing for something which is gone, and probably won't—but might—return.

Watercolor by Pat Harrison
Now I get it,
this ache like hunger
only more painful
when you can't stop
thinking of that last meal:
how bright the salad,
crisp the crust
tender the bread,
tangy and full
of juice the meat, and how
you will never taste
that meal again.

they say the last time
or the first time
remains in your mind
and you go over and over it
as your tongue worries
a sore tooth: the look,
the embrace, the kiss,
the sweater you wore
that lies ever folded
in your drawer, the letter
you never lose track of.

This twist in the stomach
because that's the place
where love punched through
saying, here, here's this hole.
I'm leaving now
deal with it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hodgepodge 261/365 - Organ Recital

This morning we went to the Carmel Mission Basilica to hear an all-Bach recital by organist Andrew Arthur, as part of the annual Carmel Bach Festival, which just got under way. My conclusion? I am not especially enamored of the organ, though Arthur is an excellent performer. (I mean, I guess he is. But I'm really no judge of that, either.) I did enjoy being surrounded by the rich sound, but I would have been perfectly happy with a shorter program. (As is, the program lasted barely over an hour.)

Here's a video of Brigham Young University organ instructor Brian Mathias playing Bach's Prelude in C Major, BWV 547. We didn't get to see the ranks of the organ or Mr. Arthur's hands, which might have made it more interesting for me.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Hodgepodge 260/365 - Sounds

We took a walk along the shore today, just south of the Carmel River. It was a bright, warm, technicolor day, where everything—all the sensuousness of the world—seemed heightened: the aromas spicier, the hues plusher, the textures crunchier, and the sounds crisper. I heard the swimmer in the river, his arms slapping the water, before I saw him. My heart cheered at the sound of applause and laughter on the beach: a wedding had just been celebrated. I envied the glee of the shrieking children leaping back and forth into and out of the cold water (and was glad they were across the river, so the shrieking wasn't too intense). There was the rolling crash of breakers at the spot where the river flows into the sea, mixing fresh with salt, a place so important for the steelhead populations in our area—important in that, in years when the river doesn't meet the sea, because of drought, the fish can't swim upstream to spawn. This year, 300 fish were reported in our little river. That was good news. There was the sound of birds: gulls in the air, songbirds in the bushes on the bluff. There was the crunch of my shoes on the decomposed gravel path.

For the hour that we were out there, we were treated to the constant blows of humpback whales feeding in Carmel Bay, some six to ten, maybe more, of the behemoths. I couldn't actually hear them, but every time they surfaced—remaining close together and spouting in quick succession, one, two, three . . . four . . . five, six—I could hear the soughing whoosh of air and condensation in my mind. I also imagined an impish slap when I saw their flukes upswept and gleaming in the sunlight.

Here are a few photos from the place, taken other days. Quieter days, no doubt. It was a treat today to get to exercise my sense of hearing.

"where water comes together with other water,"
to quote Raymond Carver (Point Lobos in the background)
View from uptop of the bluffs, looking north
to Pebble Beach
The Carmel River (just last week): a view to the east

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Hodgepodge 259/365 - Obsession (Andy Goldsworthy)

We were talking this evening about obsessions. Like, with the JFK assassination, or with Amelia Earhart's disappearance, or Jonbenet Ramsey's murder, for crying out loud. I find those sorts of obsessions a little, well, crazy. They don't seem like reasonable things to devote one's life to.

But then there are obsessive artists like (off the top of my head) Vija Celmins, Motoi Yamamoto, or Andy Goldsworthy. Or, well, face it: pretty much any artist has to be at least a little obsessed. That is a good sort of obsession. Creative obsession.

It reminds me of a dog happily trotting along with a really big stick, which someone I know once called "good testosterone." It's like that.

This evening, the land artist Goldsworthy is who immediately leapt to mind in the "good-obsessive" category, and I thought I'd share some photos of his work. There are many books out there as well, and the short documentary Rivers and Tides (viewable here in a not very sharp version: part 1 and part 2—better to rent the DVD from Netflix).

As always click on the images to see them large on black. Enjoy!