lextopia

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Archive for May, 2007

The Local Libary

May 28, 2007 By: admin Category: Cooking, Food, General, Living, NewsQuake!

(This is a post I didn’t submit to Netscape cuz I didn’t think it would make it – not sure if users would be interested in what I thought about the local public library…)

There’s no question that the internet has become the world’s new, mostly all-access public library. With Wikipedia, Google, and – for my money – the website for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention), and MIT’s web edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, there’s no end of searching possible for whatever it is you’re looking for. We have become – thank goodness – addicted to information, and as a result our collective knowledge is growing. But no matter how much we read and learn online there’s no substitute for the quiet humanity of the local public library.

This afternoon I was doing some web research in my home office for an upcoming piece on Rachel Carson and her seminal book, Silent Spring. I read the online “TIME 100” article about her, read the wiki, and checked out her website. Thinking I had the book somewhere I poked around the house for a while before I realized I was wrong. We have a local branch of the Los Angeles Public Library out here in the suburban boonies where I live, so I hopped in my car and went to go get the book.

Once through the doors of the library I was immediately greeted with all kinds of things that caught my eye: Studs Terkel’s “American Dreams,” “Globalization and it’s Discontents,” by Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, a beautiful leather-bound edition of “Pursuasion” by Jane Austen, as well as all manner of Harry Potters, instructional books, kids’ books on lower shelves, and magazines.

A woman at the front desk helped me to renew my long-unused library card and pointed me toward a bank of computers to search the catalog for Silent Spring. By the computers, near the Information desk I noticed a stack of the June issue of a small review leaflet called Book Page. Emblazoned across the top was “COMPLIMENTS OF YOUR LIBRARY,” and featured on the cover was a review about “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” the new novel by Khaled Hosseini, author of “The Kite Runner.” I picked up the issue and, while reading – and ignoring the computer catalog entirely – made my way slowly to a group of leather arm chairs by the window and settled in. After a moment a man came and sat down in the chair beside me. He had the May issue of Book Page that on it’s cover featured a caricature of Barbara Kingsolver standing in a vegetable garden with the title: “Living off the land: Barbara Kingsolver gets back to basics with food.”

“Oh wow,” I said, louder than I realized. The man bent the corner of his Book Page down and looked up at me. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I was looking at the cover.” “You know Barbara Kingsolver?,” he asked. I told him yes, said I’d been the #1 fan of The Bean Trees the year it had come out, and that I WAS Taylor Greer, the book’s main character. He laughed and said that the article he was reading was terrific. It profiled Kingsolver’s latest effort, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which was part-memoir, part “investigative nonfiction narrative” about her family’s efforts to live off only the food from their own garden and local farmer’s markets. The man and I traded stories about great books and favorite authors and discovered a kinship in our thinking about environmentalism, nutrition and something we came to call Non-Obsessive, Non-Haughty Organic Gastronomy.

At the end of a long conversation David, as I finally found out he was called, handed me a simple flyer. It was a listing of the upcoming book club gatherings hosted by the library and the books that would be discussed. The next discussion would be on June 6th and would focus on Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, a book I owned but had not yet had the chance to read. “You should come,” said David, encouragingly. “We could talk about Indian food.”

It was only after I’d left the library and was back in my car that I realized I’d forgotten to get Silent Spring. So I went back in, found it in the catalog, signed in out, and went home. In my office I sat down at the computer to check email and saw nothing but spam. Discouraged, I swiveled around in my chair and my eyes came to rest on my bookshelf, on my used copy of Interpreter of Maladies. I smiled. More than a book, it now represented to me the making of a new friend, and the memory of a comfortable, safe place where I can always go to be peaceful. I got up and took the book down. I placed it on a chair alongside Silent Spring and promised myself to read it through in time to participate in the June 6th book club discussion at the library. Who knows who I might find there? I thought. Who David might introduce me to? Already I had come away from simply reading Book Page with an invitation to join David and his wife at their house for an informal wine-tasting. It was something he’d always wanted to do and our talk about all things food had inspired him to make good on his promise to himself.

In a library, maybe there’s something about not being at your desk that enables you to allow yourself to just sit and read. Maybe it’s not having any of the regular creature comforts, and nowhere to get a soda. Maybe it’s that the atmosphere of a public library that just a little perfect. All that knowledge… Who knows? What I know is that in the library I can be as alone as I am in my office but, if I play my cards right, can never be truly lonely.

Choices

May 27, 2007 By: admin Category: General

We all have choices. That’s THE BIG SECRET. Wherever you are, you can ALWAYS change. You’re only locked down if you think you are. I’ve been in plenty of situations where the ship was going down and it was clear and I was the only one NOT flipping out because I had a sense of perspective.  Even before India I knew there were greater things out there than whatever was right in front of  my face. The key is to remember, though, that the choice is yours. Nobody rules you, and you can unhook from the Mother Ship at the drop of a hat. Losing my mother taught me that. I sweartogod NOTHING could be as bad as losing my mother… So bring it on, you idiot assholes – y’ain’t got nuthin’ on me. Even if you did, I ain’t killed no one, so I’m OUTA here scott-free. Beat THAT with a stick and go FUCK yourselves.

My First NewsQuake! Article!

May 23, 2007 By: admin Category: New Orleans, NewsQuake!

It’s official: I’m a blogger! Now, effectively, I’m getting paid for it! Check out my first post – researched and everything – on Netscape’s new news blog, NewsQuake! My genius colleague Karina Longworth came up with that title, I’m told, and I love it.

We Are All One

May 21, 2007 By: admin Category: Faith, General, India, Video

Sometimes I’m humbled. Really, truly humbled. I clutch my heart and try to hold back rising tears, but the emotions evoked by a thing will just…break me, and I’ll have no choice but to let myself feel it all. This story of the Ulas family – a family in Turkey who’s children walk on all fours – is something that humbles me.

NOVA broadcast a documentary tonight, “Family That Walks On All Fours,” that was mostly science-oriented – why did they walk on all fours? What is the genetic mutation/regression that caused them to do this? – but curiosity about genetics isn’t what you come away feeling after the film. Compassion is. Shame is. Shame for being able to walk upright. Shame for not feeling, as son Huseyn does, so frustrated by how different you are that you scream at people for no reason. Shame that, unlike one of the Ulas daughters, you can dance and find yourself a mate. Just overall shame for being so goddamned genetically privileged. 

Humility teaches us to slow down. To reassess. To remember. To put into perspective. Fear governs us, but it can’t win in a head-to-head with humility. Try it. Your fear will always lose. Read the portion of the NOVA website called “The Family and Me.” It’s about facing your fear and bowing in thanks to the awesome power of humility, and the realization that we are all one. We are all responsible for each other.

“…the essential dignity of work”

May 17, 2007 By: admin Category: General

The above title is an excerpt from a wonderful article about Studs Terkel written by kick-ass NPR host of “Democracy Now!,” Amy Goodman. Amy is one of the new visionaries of this country, someone who talks the talk, walks the walk, tells truth to power, never hides. I would never have the balls to be her, but if I ever thought I could actually be like someone awesome like that, I think it would be Studs Terkel…

From the article:

“Studs Terkel, the great journalist, raconteur and listener, turns 95 this week. He was born in New York City on May 16, 1912, to a tailor and a seamstress. He says: “I was born in the year the Titanic sank. The Titanic went down, and I came up. That tells you a little about the fairness of life.”

His life’s work has been to tell the stories of the working class, the down and out, the forgotten and ignored. I interviewed him in a Chicago studio, his white hair made even more unruly by the headphones he puts on to hear better. His hands leaning on his cane, Studs exclaims: “Ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things, and that’s what it’s all about. They must count!”

His parents moved to Chicago, opening a rooming house. There Studs learned of the essential dignity of work, of working people, of self-esteem. The residents worked in tool-and-die factories, on ships that plied the Great Lakes, and, sometimes, as prostitutes. He watched the devastation these folk endured when the Great Depression hit. The workers sat around then, drinking and fighting. Studs feels passionate about the New Deal, and about its Works Progress Administration, the WPA, which put people to work during the Depression. “Working class means you work!” he shouts. “With shovels and rakes. And there was work for artists!” In fact, work for him. Though he graduated from University of Chicago Law School, he was a WPA actor and writer. “There were artists and painters and dancers and singers. This was all part of the New Deal!”

I love working, understand the whole idea behind it’s American romance – if you work hard enough you can have anything – and fancy myself as working toward being a raconteur. I think i just found a solid goal for My Life’s Work. Very cool. Sadly, I read very, very slowly. If I’m going to be like Studs Terkel I have to read my ass off.

Currently, beside my laptop on my desk are the books: “Democracy In America,” “American Dreams” (Terkel), “A People’s History of the United States,” “Bowling Alone,” “Globalization And It’s Discontents,” “War Talk” (which NEVER loses it’s relevancy), and “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.” I truly feel that if I am going to play at covering some of the run-up to the 2008 election (I have no journalism credentials) I’d better “get my Brain on.” My unread library is intimidating and so I’ve chosen the above works as the place where I should at least start if I am to be expected to know what the fuck I’m talking about when interviewing someone about the future of – you know – human civilization.

Is it just me or does anyone else feel that this election isn’t just about the U.S.A? It feels to me like the UN is voting, like France is voting (again), as if Germany is going to weigh in, certainly Russia, and that China will be counting all of our paper ballots. They certainly have the person-power and the need for the work! Right? And, let’s be honest, the Chinese workers would do a hell of a better job than any selected, official “minders,” right???

Anyway, so I’ve killed The Bag of Shame – the massive tote filled with old TIME magazines – only to replace it with something even more daunting. Not a problem. Anyone who knows me is already thinking: “yeah, that’s sounds like Lex.” Long live work.

Have a good Thursday, y’all. :)

“In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried”

May 12, 2007 By: admin Category: Mom

When I think back to that time what I remember is a deep sense of familiarity, like the hospital was somehow mine. All my life I’ve had issues with feeling that I didn’t deserve to be somewhere, touch something, ask a certain question. That I should tiptoe around and be so respectful that I made myself uncomfortable, for my own discomfort somehow guaranteed that I wasn’t fucking with someone else’s space. But during that time I remember telling myself it was okay to let go of that for a while and go where I chose and help myself to the things that were semi-public. What were the nurses going to do, anyway? Tell me, while my mother was dying, that I couldn’t have some of the milk in the patients’ fridge? My mother was a patient but she couldn’t drink any milk, so I figured I was just having her share.

There’s a solidarity among those of us who have loved ones – parents – who have died of cancer. Before she was diagnosed I romanticized what that must have been like. That clique. I thought about how you’d be able to see the world in a whole, new way – a better way -, and thought that you’d always be able to use the death as an excuse for not understanding something, or for understanding it too well. Now I realize that, while all of that is true, it’s not anything anyone really wants. The price for this kind of perspective is simply too high.

The title of this post is the title of one of my favorite short stories of all time, by one of my favorite writers: Amy Hempel. It’s about her best friend who is dying of something in the hospital. M says that I shouldn’t read things like while I’m trying to deal with my Mom Stuff, but I tell her that I read it so I can deal with my Mom Stuff. My love for Mom is somehow somewhere in the writings of my favorite authors. They help me to understand how I feel by telling me how they feel. To be a perfect dumbass, I suppose that’s what writing is all about – what all art is about, really – making something from your own emotional well that resonates with others, and somehow saves them. This last is, I’m guessing, what all artists dream of achieving, but I can’t be sure…

It’ll be Mother Day soon, and at the risk of sounding like the hypocrite that I am, having come – as I do – from a family that eschewed what we called florist-invented “Hallmark Holidays,” I would give anything to spend it with her.

Counting Calories

May 10, 2007 By: admin Category: Cooking, Food

It’s not that I’m starving myself, I’m just fantasizing about food. All the time…

You have to understand, in order to “get fit” – and we put that in quotes to show that we’re speaking code for “lose weight” – I have to count calories. There’s no other way. I’ve read the books, the webpages, the fucking wikis, for christ’s sake, and they all say the same thing: cut down how many calories you eat and (fucking) exercise!

My jaw has developed a tick: it gnashes. I’ll be in the middle of editing or perusing the B&H catalog online and all of a sudden have a craving to bite. To gnash. To sink my teeth into – anything. Chocolate. And so I’ll go into the kitchen, my guard up, approaching the fridge slowly with my mantra of the moment (today it’s “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…”), pull the handle and… grab a fucking apple. Alright, alright, you got me…. the truth…???? I GRAB TWO APPLES, YOU COCK-SUCKING NAZI SHITHEAD!

In all seriousness I feel fucking better than I ever have! I bet if I weighed myself right now I’d ALREADY be LIGHTER! ‘Course I can’t drink beer ever again (or only at weddings), can’t even THINK about cheese (so there’s goes, you know, FRANCE), and have to TRIM the goddamned FAT off a fucking STEAK!!!!!,….. but I’m lighter. I can fit into a size… “something other than 14”!

And so, my advice to you? Get a girlfriend who understands that thoughts of fridgicide aren’t necessarily a cry for help… They really, truly are a message that you want to destroy the fridge. In ugly, ugly ways. Do that, or get a girlfriend who’s going through the same thing. That way you’ll have company. But this is not territory you want to enter into willy-nilly, no. This is like… the Civil Rights movement. Ya know? This is like… gathering your forces… to fight… a system of oppression: YOUR APPETITE! You DO NOT need to sit idly – or otherwise – by, and let your cravings rule you! NO! YOU. HAVE. A FUCKING. DREAM! YOU HAVE A VISION TO BE 3, AT LAST! 3 AT LAST! THANK GOD ALMIGHTY, YOU WILL BE 3 AT LAST!!!

The Blood of the Builders

May 09, 2007 By: admin Category: Mom

I could craft snow, I could engage lions, I could tear steel, I could give birth. I have the blood of the Inca Builders in my veins. I also have the blood of Bolivia, a country I know almost nothing about. I know that it’s capitol is La Paz, and I know that my uncle Walter, my mother’s only full-blooded sibling, is buried there. I know that the air is thin and that the crafts are beautiful.

Mom never wanted to talk about Bolivia. She feared that she would be rounded up by the government for claiming to be someone else: a Peruvian. Her illegitimacy haunted her, even though it meant nothing in this country, and she seemed so afraid to let on that she had been brought, finally, to Peru by her father after her mother had died. She was only 4 or so when all of that went down, but I think already had some idea that she was different and that different in South America spelled: B-A-D.

She told me that her earliest memory is of Walter and her walking through a train yard, stepping over tracks while carrying small suitcases. Mom was four, remember, Walter was seven or so. Seven and four and the two were alone crossing electrified rails. That’s all I remember of what she told me she remembered, but I have her memoir and will look it up later to be sure.

I’ve been thinking a lot about immigration. It’s not at all what it seems on the surface. On the one hand it implies a freedom of possibility, of hope, that defines this country – the United States of America – on the other, it signifies the death of so many other nations. Cree, Mohawk, Pontiac, Navajo, Sioux, Nez Perce, Ojibwe, Ottawa, Algonquin, Mattatuck and many, many more were here before we all came, and have since been shuttled into obscurity or eradicated. And so today, when I think of immigration, in addition to the hope of many, I think of the sadness of a few.

Immigration will be a big issue in the 2008 race for the presidency, but what should be an issue is how we treat each other. Instead of focusing on whether to continue to legalize something that we know makes sense for us, let’s turn our attention to something we haven’t yet tried: the rebirth of the first dwellers, and the equality of all dwellers.

Pete Seeger, Baghdad & The “In-Between” Notes

May 08, 2007 By: admin Category: General

I woke up early to get a jump on the day. I had a lot to do and it’s still all going on, so this will be quick… After breakfast I scheduled a historic radio interview with Pete Seeger to record via my computer. The local progressive station out here: KPFK, KICKS ASS and is digging into the archives of their parent, Pacifica Radio. Today’s offering: a 2-hour interview with Pete Seeger, someone I grew up listening to and loving.

Next, I ran out to go feed and walk my pal Ryan’s dog, Deuce, who is a sweetie even at 120+ pounds. :) All the neighbors are afraid of him, it’s so funny…

ANYWAY, next I came home and started my Netscape shift, did a bunch of work on video stuff, etc., and in the course of this ran across a really wonderful site: Electronic Iraq. I’ve added it to my blogroll and encourage everyone to check it out. Especially the diaries. Incredible stuff that we should all be reading if we want to be informed about what this fucked-up war is doing to the people of Iraq.

Last, I’ll go out with M. tonight to hear a concert of “microtonal” music. M says “microtones” are the in-between notes between all the regular notes that you and I know about. You know Middle C, G-major, B, etc., well, between all of those there be notes. And I’m going to hear’em . So be sure to check back to read my report…. 😉

In The 20s

May 05, 2007 By: admin Category: General

The President’s approval rating has fallen to 28%. This is, apparently, the lowest for a U.S. President in a generation.

I feel two ways about this: 1, I’m thrilled, cuz – fuck him; 2, I’m very, very sad. We should be proud of our nation’s leader. We should want to shake his/her hand if (s)he comes to town. We should want to stand up and speak for him/her if (s)he’s too ill on that day. I have always idolized government a bit. I like to. Government and our leaders should be bigger than life. They represent us, after all. That’s a wonderful, beautiful, AWESOME responsibility. It should take people who are better than most, fairer than most, and smarter. But it doesn’t. And so when the President is so publicly unloved, a big, bright light shines down on these terrible facts and makes us look like fakers.

I don’t know what more evidence you need as a sitting President that the decisions you’re making aren’t being “bought” by the people. Every job is a chance at a sales pitch, the U.S. Presidency perhaps most of all. So, if your approval ratings are in the 20s that spells to your investors, your constituents, that the market’s going to crash because the CEO has gone crazy and it’s time for us to pull all our money out and head for the hills because the ship is going DOWN!

But abandonment, in this case, is not what I’m advocating. It’s the opposite, actually. I say we rebel. I say we stay where we are and we lay down our arms. Not our weapons, our actual arms – the things attached to our shoulders. I say we have a national strike and stop work for just one hour. All of us. Imagine what that could do, what that would do. The media would still keep crankin’ on because they’re a den of faithless, hypocritical bastards ;), but the rest of us would just stop what we were doing and… wait. The message would be simple: “Mr. President, YOU are not in control of this democracy of the people, by the people and for the people, WE are. If you don’t apologize to the world’s leaders, and beg for help from the U.N. and Middle Eastern nations with respect to finding a peaceful solution to the destructive unrest in Iraq, we will keep on stopping and will grind this country to a halt. We do this because we no longer care for ourselves as individuals, we care about us all as a whole, as the UNITED States of America, and because we have faith in the greatness of that idea. In any case we have a hell of a lot more faith than you and so it’s our turn.”

Today the tide turns. I hope it doesn’t take another terrorist attack or more soldiers’ lives before we realize how unique and strong we really are and act on that. For one moment, let’s take a step back from the enslavement to our luxuries and stand up. WE are We The People.

What do you say…???