So Long Marianne: An Elegy for my Country through Leonard Cohen Lyrics

“Your letters they all say that you’re beside me now. / Then why do I feel alone?

I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web / is fastening my ankle to a stone.”

–So Long Marianne, Songs of Leonard Cohen 1967

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I have spent most of the last 48 hours in bed crying. Like many people in America, I have felt isolated and scared and alone.

I cried for people of color who face an imminent threat from emboldened racism.  I have mourned with my friends who have been battling cancer, who will no longer be insured if Obamacare gets repealed. I cried for my gay friends and for LGBTQ youth whose equality is uncertain. I cried for Latinos who are suddenly suspect and whose families may be in danger of forced divide. I have cried with young women fearful about family planning and a lack of options.

I have spent that last two days sobbing for one reason or another.

Then Leonard Cohen died today. Just two days after my country elected a racist, misogynist, megalomaniac.

Leonard Cohen was my soul. He was my solace. He was my wise man. He was my reason for living on so many, many dark nights. Leonard Cohen has helped me through moments of my life that I never thought I could get though. He has helped me these last few days as I’ve watched my country dissolve into a mess of racism, bigotry, and fear.

I have spent my life fighting for justice, for women’s rights, for LGBTQ equality.  In these past few days I have watched my friends crumble. I have sent letters and text messages apologizing and I have gotten letters and text messages hearing apologies. So many of us have held each other for so long.  And so many of us are faltering, falling, dying.

 

“I saw some people starving / There was murder, there was rape

Their villages were burning / They were trying to escape

I couldn’t meet their glances / I was staring at my shoes

It was acid, it was tragic / It was almost like the blues”

–Almost Like The Blues, Popular Problems 2014

 

In a strange and terrible parallel to my country, in a very real and utter desolation, an angel ascended; Leonard Cohen, the poet I had loved so much, the poet who had given me so many moments of peace, left this earth. He was too good for it. But I will miss him just the same.

2016 has been a complete and utter shit show. Many of us can count the ways: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, Harper Lee, Prince, Muhammed Ali, Ralph Stanley, Elie Wiesel, Gene Wilder, Janet Reno and, today, Leonard Cohen.

But, in addition to the incredible loss in the artistic community and sphere of wisdom, America seems to have lost its way.

 

“Your servant here, he has been told / to say it clear, to say it cold:

It’s over, it ain’t going any further

And now the wheels of heaven stop / you feel the devil’s riding crop

Get ready for the future.”

–The Future, The Future, 1992

 

The 2016 American presidential election was not about the candidates. The election was about the issues, morality, human rights, and justice. It was never about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. The people who voted against Donald Trump, the majority of Americans, voted against misogyny, racism, elitism, and bigotry. A slim majority, but a majority nonetheless, voted for healthcare, human rights, and progress.  But sadly, it wasn’t enough. And now we are facing some very dark times.

“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded

Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed

Everybody knows the war is over

Everybody knows the good guys lost

Everybody knows the fight was fixed

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich

That’s how it goes / Everybody knows”

–Everybody Knows, I’m Your Man, 1988

 

I am crying for my nieces and for the children in my life.  I’m crying for the people who came before me who believed they would see change in their lifetime.

I am terrified for the young women and for the people of color in my life.  I’m terrified for people whom I deeply, deeply I love. I want to make them safe.  I want to take them in my arms and protect them.  I want to shield them from all of this.

And I want the promises that we were given. I want that promises that were made to us.  I want the promises that were whispered to us to be upheld. “In America, you can be anything you want.”

I hold America’s broken promises in front of the people I love the most and I want to hide and shout and scream and cry.

“And I wish there was a treaty we could sign

I do not care who takes this bloody hill

I’m angry and I’m tired all the time.”

–Treaty, You Want It Darker, 2016

 

As someone who has been fighting my whole life, I’m tired and I’m scared. I hardly know what I could possibly have left to offer. But I’m still going to fight. I’m still going to give what I have to offer. I’m still going to put everything I have on the line.

 

“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

–Anthem, The Future, 1992

 

Thank you my sweet friend.  I will miss you for the rest of my life.  But I will never, ever, ever forget you. And I will continue to give whatever I have.

 

Empire Mine State Park

There was an arson arrest made related to the fire that broke out near my house and my mother’s house. We live in the foothills of Northern California and fire is a very real danger here.

We are still watching the details of the fire, as it is still an active incident.  We are still prepared to evacuate.  With regard to the arsonist, I’m very sad that someone set fire to our neighborhood and Empire Mine State Park. I say this as I listen to more sirens drive by.

Empire Mine has been my morning walk and my happy place for the past three years. It is my community park.  It is my place of nature and peace. I have hiked every trail more than once. More than twice. More than ten times.

Empire Mine State Park is the place where I get my steps. It is the place where I listen to Mozart or Joni Mitchell or Eminem, depending on my mood. It is the place I take friends and family to show off the beauty of my neighborhood. I have met humans and dogs there. I have met squirrels and lizards and deer. I smile every time I pass by a fern or a wild flower or an interesting leaf.  I have watched trees grow there. I have marveled at the colors in the park.  Lately, I have loved the green and the yellow and the crimson.

I took my mom for the first time last week.  We walked from Penn Gate (an entrance mostly used by locals and horse riders) to the visitor’s center.  I gave her the three-penny tour and told her that I’d show her the rest of the park in the coming weeks.

Right now, I don’t know how much of the park is left.

There is a bridge in the park that my wife and I cross on a regular basis. I usually make her stop and kiss me when we cross the bridge.

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It smells like pine and dust and grease and something like linseed oil.  It smells a lot like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland.  We cross it every time we walk through Empire Mine State Park. I’m not sure right now if it is still standing.

This year, in the spring, at the back of the park, my wife and I paused to watch bumble bees going wild amongst the sage. There were purple flowers for days and an incredible buzzing. It was so alive. Yesterday, as I walked through that part of the park, I caught a whiff of the sage drying in the autumn heat and I smiled for the changing of the seasons.

I still don’t know the extent of the damage but my heart breaks. My heart breaks about the fire and it breaks that someone could have been so careless or mentally ill or downtrodden or desperate to unleash such an expense on a community.

I don’t know enough of the details to be mad or vengeful or heated. I don’t know that any details will ever make me feel mad or vengeful or heated.

I feel sad. I feel really sad right now. And, based on the initial reports about damage, I’m probably going to feel sad for a really, really long time.

I have taken pictures almost every day for the last year. This is my park.  This is my heart.  This is my place.

Pictures:

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*If you feel inclined to do something, please donate to Yubanet.com, our local fire-safety website. ($2 is fine. $200 is nice too. Donate what you can. There is no auto-renew and no additional obligation.) Yubanet has kept so many people aware and safe in times of devastation. The site in run by an incredible person and is the go-to communication when it comes to fire danger: http://yubanet.com/subscriptions/

The Art Hotel

Sacramento has changed a lot in five years.  One of my favorite old art galleries is now a coworking space.  Some of the older buildings are either boarded up or in the process of being torn down.  There are new trendy cafes and restaurants.  Some of the restaurants have moved or have gone out of business.  There aren’t as many cats sitting on porches as there used to be.

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I stopped by an art installation today at the random suggestion of an old friend on Facebook.  Her post said, “Pictures don’t do the experience justice. Just go. Before 2/13 when it will all be torn down.”  The pictures didn’t do it justice.  But the location was on the way to The Crocker Art Museum which is where I was headed anyway.

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The installation is called The Art Hotel and it takes place inside an historic building known as The Marshall Hotel.  The Marshall Hotel has been a point of contention for Sacramento residents for years. It was known as a slum but for many Sacramento residents who suffered through the worst of the housing crisis, the Marshall Hotel was something of a beacon of hope and refuge.  It contained small, affordable, studio apartments and housed some of Sacramento’s long-time residents.  The residents of the building were evicted last year and the building is set for demolition later this month so it can be replaced by an upscale Hyatt Hotel adjacent to the new arena.

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Sacramento, like a lot of Northern California cities, is suffering from an identity crisis created by gentrification in the name of economic growth. It is sacrificing the cool for the trendy, the affordability for the temporary, the stable for the possibilities, the people for the corporations, and the art for the new.  I just hope it doesn’t lose all of what makes it awesome.  After visiting The Art Hotel, I still have hope for Sacramento and for what’s to come.

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The Art Hotel, located until February 13th at 7th Street between K and L in Sacramento is a temporary art installation and possibly one of the most important art pieces of our lifetime and particularly the most important art installation that has ever graced Sacramento’s stage.  (I’m not an art critic and this is merely conjecture.)  Sacramento needs The Art Hotel and all of Sacramento should wait as long as they have to in order to see it.

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What is taking place at The Art Hotel in Sacramento speaks volumes to an overall trend in economics in cities and communities all across America.  I came to the installation blindly.  I learned later that there had been a kickstarter campaign and a handful of art-loving donors who had helped to make the art happen.  From my outsider perspective, a group of artists converted what had once been the homes of many, many low-income people, into a statement about what happens when we evict the artists, the elderly, the down-trodden, the poor, the mentally ill, the disabled , the addicted, and the general diversity of a community in need.  Maybe the artists weren’t trying to be that involved in a message.  Maybe it’s just art for art’s sake.  Either way it’s really good.  Quite simply, it’s revolutionary.

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I started my morning in the car driving down from the foothills listening to a report about the all-time high rates for renters in America and the lack of affordable housing both in cities and in rural areas across the United States.  I moved to midtown Sacramento in 2002 because it was affordable at the time.  I bought my first house in east Sacramento and lost it in the 2008 housing crisis.  I moved back to midtown after less than three years as a home-owner and back into affordable apartment living.  My last apartment in midtown was a studio for $700/month.  It was little but it was cute and I was happy living there.  The same place would now cost me $1,300/month, according to a recent Craig’s list ad.

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As we continue to let the divide between the rich and the poor deepen, we continue to allow the gap between the valuable and necessary widen.

The Art Hotel is temporary.  The art there has a time limit.  It exists in a building slated to be demolished and there is no chance of saving it. In a year the The Art Hotel will be forgotten and the space will be filled with cell-phone talking executives waiting to go to a sporting event. That’s a part of why The Art Hotel is so important. It speaks volumes to how we go forward with art.  It speaks volumes to how we treat our cities and how we develop our communities. There is no saving the art in The Art Hotel.  The people who lived there are already gone.  There is only going forward.

Hotels are valuable.  Art is necessary.

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Dance Magic Dance

A part of me died tonight.  It took me by surprise. I had no idea how much I loved David Bowie until tonight when I found him gone.

David Bowie was the first person who ever made me feel like I had an identifiable sexuality or a specific gender identity. I will never forget the first time I watched Labyrinth and I will never forget how it made me feel. In hindsight, this is odd, because I’m a queer woman and, as a pre-pubescent teen in 1986 watching Labyrinth, it was really confusing to watch Jareth, The Goblin King, and his codpiece, and to think thoughts about something that I was fully too young to understand.

In the next few hours and days, there will be several news outlets and magazines that eulogize David Bowie.  They will talk about his incredible vocal capability.  And they will be right.  They will talk about his trend-setting fashion.  And they will be right.  There might be a few publications that mention Ziggy Stardust and the incredible bravery and ultimately revolutionary persona that David Bowie offered in that moment.  And hopefully they will understand how unbelievable he was, and how far ahead of his time he was in that moment.  But probably not.  In all likelihood Ziggy Stardust will be mentioned as a song on an album and not as a movement.

David Bowie was so sexy in his own right and so far ahead of his time in gender fluidity that it’s hard to look back on his career and pinpoint the moment when he became a symbol rather than an icon.  His sincerity met the expanse of his career and his genuine approach to artistry was so authentic that few people noticed the movement.  David Bowie will likely be remembered as an incredible songwriter and a beautiful popstar.

David Bowie positioned himself with such integrity that his death snuck up on us and his legacy might go without notice in the mainstream.

For me, he was my first love.  He was my first real crush.  And, as I got older, and started to understand a little better, I came to understand that he was my first real hero.

For me, and for many people like me, David Bowie wasn’t simply an incredible singer and song-writer.  He was a revolutionary who took gender non-conformity to new levels when gender non-conformity didn’t yet have a term.  He shook the world with his alter-ego in a way that will never be taken back.  He lived his life so extraordinarily that when he died tonight he took two very real people with him.

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Good night David Bowie.  And sweet dreams Ziggy Stardust.

We will never forget you.  Either of you.  And the people who knew you will ever forget your music.

I will miss you forever.  And I will never forget your advice:

Dance magic dance.

 

Valentines Day 2015

My spouse and I kinda suck at Valentine’s Day. I honestly can’t remember what we did last year. This year, our original plan was to have dinner at a swanky private super club with a nationally-renown chef. We were going to go out and do something fun and celebratory. We were late getting tickets and the event sold out. Our second plan was to go see the Met Opera piped into our local movie theater. When we got up this morning, we decided to pack a few snacks, skip the opera, and go take a hike.

It has been delightfully (terribly?) warm in California these days. My wife and I drove about 20 minutes from our home and bounced around the grassy, spring air at Bridgeport and the South Yuba River State Park, stopping to photograph every wildflower and bumblebee that flew by. We read a Parks’ Guide brochure about the Maidu and Kneebone family and ate handfuls of almonds and carrots. We sat along the sunny side of the river and splashed our fingers against the cold and rushing current, watching the water burst against the river rocks. I got a little sunburnt. We made friends with other hiker’s dogs.

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It was a typical day on the Yuba. That is to say, it was so fucking beautiful that I stopped questioning the existence of God.

After hiking around and noticing the bees and the butterflies, we decided to go to the nursery and get a few new plants for our garden. We grabbed a cup of mediocre coffee on our way and then picked up some Thyme for ground cover and three Daphne bushes for the side of our house. (If you have smelled a beautiful, strong, lemony smell in your neighborhood recently, it is either citrus blossom or Daphne. Daphne is heavenly this time of year and so worth planting.) After the nursery, we went to the grocery store and bought rice, grass-fed ground beef, butter lettuce and a few bags of frozen berries. Since we weren’t going out for dinner, we decided to barbeque at home.

We spent the afternoon pulling weeds and planting flowers in our garden at home. We don’t have a weed whacker so we cut the small patch of grass with scissors. We have Tulips and Daffodils coming out of the ground but they haven’t yet bloomed and we wanted to add a little color.

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Our cats were quite happy to oblige our whim and spent the afternoon padding around the garden chasing little flying bugs. My wife added some Scotch Moss to her Bonsai pots. We put a radio station on a mix called, “classic love affair” and listened to Etta James and Lena Horne sing love songs. We both got bit by a few mosquitoes.

For dinner, my wife put together patties of ground beef mixed with ground pork, chopped fennel, seasoned salt, and oregano. We slow-cooked the meat on the grill and ate the patties wrapped in butter lettuce. It was simple but it was perfect. I didn’t burn the meat. Later, I even threw a chicken breast on the grill for lunches later this week.

Right now we are sitting on our porch. I’m writing this blog. My wife is posting pictures from today’s adventures on Instagram and reading the book I bought her yesterday

Earlier, she looked at me and said, “I love how we slowed down today. I wish we could do this every day.”

I honestly can’t remember a better Valentine’s Day. Today was nothing special. Except that it was everything special. We didn’t go out to dinner. We didn’t make a big production. We didn’t plan a complicated dinner. We just played it by ear. We stayed in town. We hung out at home. I’ve never been more in love. And it was perfect.

The Small Stuff

The Small Stuff

It is not just the small stuff; it is every single little tiny thing.

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I love the New Year. Even though it is just another day, the perception that it is a “new year” makes the event pregnant with possibility. Just because, in reality, we only went from a Wednesday to a Thursday doesn’t mean we can’t make assessments and set goals. I like reflection. If we need an excuse for it, fine.

For 2015, I have given myself one word. My word for the year is “verve”.

Having a New Year’s “word” is fairly new to me. Poet and author, Molly Fisk, turned me on to the idea. She is one of my very favorite people and definitely one of my favorite Facebook friends. At the end of the calendar year, she asks people what their word for the next year will be. When she asked in 2012, I set my word for 2013 as “friendship.”

It took me a long time to decide on my word for 2015 and I’m taking my word very seriously.

Verve: noun 1. enthusiasm or vigor, as in literary or artistic work; spirit. 2. vivaciousness; liveliness; animation. 3. talent

I think that I came to my word because, for the past several weeks, I have been doing something fun, artistic and new to me. I have been working with miniatures. Or, more specifically, I have been working with the most famous 1:6 scale doll in the world: Barbie. (It has honestly been for professional reasons, but I will get to that.)

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Even as a little girl, I never really liked Barbies. I certainly never expected to find myself playing with Barbies at the age of 34. I have always liked make-believe but I never really took myself for someone who would enjoy miniatures.

A couple months ago, in November of 2014 I was hired for a big job, a real job. I was hired as the Executive Director of Sierra Commons, a non-profit business education center and coworking facility in Nevada City. As a part of my new job, I started to amp up my involvement in the community. I started reading every word of every Chamber of Commerce newsletter. I faithfully checked all the community calendars. I researched every non-profit resource that I could find.

As a part of my efforts, I came across an announcement put out by our local library. The main branch of the library (called the Madelyn Helling Branch, after a wonderful local lady) was taking applications from local non-profits who wanted to utilize a display case for a month. I immediately put in an application and, on a whim, decided to list our “preferential month” as January. The library wrote back about a week later to say that we were accepted and that we could have January. January 2015.

At that time, January 2015 was about six weeks away. I was super excited. I thought that we would just place a poster and post some information and call it a day. No biggie.

Then the library sent me the list of rules and the dimensions for the display case. “Each case measures 46” wide, 52” high and is approximately 15” deep. Both have adjustable wooden shelves that are about 10” deep.”

WTF?

I blinked a few times and then reread the email. I was never very good at math but, by my calculations, our display case was about four feet wide, nearly five feet tall and more than a foot deep. That’s huge. Like trophy case huge.

I’m not entirely sure why my panic subsided into the not-so-logical conclusion that I would just make a diorama representing Sierra Commons. It probably had something to do with the recent family trip to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio. I hadn’t made a diorama since my 3rd Grade book report on The Cat in The Hat. Still, it seemed like a logical conclusion. I would just make a diorama.

I learned at the museum that Walt Disney once said of his artistic specifications for Disneyland, “While some of the detail may go unnoticed, the lack of detail would have been apparent.”

I kept that in mind while I prepared to make a diorama, a diorama that was supposed to represent my friends, coworkers and our work space.

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I used Barbie and Ken dolls because they are the most easily accessible and readily available little humanish representations that I could find. I found my dolls at the local Cancer Aid Thrift Store. Some had pen on their faces which I removed with rubbing alcohol. Some of them badly needed their hair brushed. One Barbie has hair so frizzy that I separated it and turned it into dreadlocks and added beads. All of the dolls were naked.

I searched eBay for clothing and started to find “accessories.” The world of the 1:6 doll is vast. (It also has a interesting fetishist side, which surprised me. If you want a strange and weird experience, try googling “1:6 doll” in images. NSFW.) It is basically a rabbit hole. I narrowed my searches and started to find little potted plants and teeny tiny iPhones. I found itty bitty board games and notebooks and pencils. I found little laptop computers. I found tiny cups of coffee. I found to-scale bags of M&Ms. Everything that I could want to recreate our office was basically available.

I bought all of it. (Well not all of it. I bought almost anything under $10. I stopped at the $300 little Persian rugs and the $600 tiny Tiffany lamps.)

I started to think about the floor and the walls and the windows and the desks. I started to visualize an entire floor plan. I ordered window frames and baseboards from a dollhouse maker in Michigan. I printed up pictures of the Sierra Commons campus to paste on the inside of the windows so that it would look like looking out the window from our actual office.

I started to think about the small stuff. I started to notice the small stuff. I started to take the small stuff seriously.

I worked through December and into the holidays on my diorama. I started to think about the new year. I started to see things differently. I started to reflect.

As I paid attention to every minute detail of my diorama, I started to pay attention to the smaller things in my life. I started to think about the whole as the sum of its parts. I started to think about my life as the sum of my years and my days and my moments.

Late in the evening on December 31st, 2014, the word “verve” popped into my. It came out of no where and I had to pick up my iPad and research the meaning because I wasn’t sure what it meant. I thought that it was something artistic but I wasn’t sure. When I read the definition, I liked the word right away. I especially liked the idea of animation. I like the idea of animation because it has movement but also because animation is just a series of single pictures that create the illusion of liveliness and movement.

Life is an animation. It has verve. Sometimes we may not notice it or feel it but that’s exactly what it is. It’s the small stuff. The wonderful, beautiful, extraordinary small stuff.

Twerking: Our Words Matter

I turned on National Public Radio in my car to hear local and national news.

I heard a word that I’ve never heard before: “Twerking”

As an educated person, with a degree in English Literature, this new word intrigued me. If NPR is using it, it must be a real word. Right? I’d never heard it before.

At the first stop light, I did what every English Nerd does with a new word: I grabbed the Webster’s Dictionary from the backseat of my car and searched frantically.

Nothing. No twerk. No twerking. Tweet, tweeter, tweezers, twelve, twenty, twerp, twice, twiddle. Twerk wasn’t there.

Hmmm. Maybe “twerking” was a new word from some wonderful obscure novel I hadn’t heard of yet. Maybe it was like “Muggle” in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter Series or “Sneetch” of Dr. Seuss fame. I turned up the radio to catch the rest of the story. Something about Miley Cyrus. Something about an awards show.

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It wasn’t until I sat in front of a computer, and could search the word “twerking,” before I actually understood it’s definition.

There it was. It was a part of mainstream headlines. CNN. NPR. It wasn’t from a book review. It was headline news.

(As defined by UrbanDictionary.com and quoted from the website), Twerking is defined this way: “Also known as dirty dancing. When a woman slams her bottom on a mans pelvic area while dancing. The man can also lunge his pelvic area forward for a harder bang. This is usually performed in a dance club along with upbeat music.” Example sentences include: “Damn, her ass was twerkin’ on my junk, I hope she didn’t feel my shlong.” And “I saw you twerking with that girl. That ass was bouncing all over you”

Aside from The Urban Dictionary, there is no other dictionary in the world—in print or online—that recognizes the word “twerking”. CNN and NPR ran lead stories this morning using “twerking”in the headline, a word that is not recognized by any academic or professional institution.

The Onion has poked fun. Bloggers have made some comments about the raunchy performance. The socially-enlightened have mused about the cultural context of Ms. Cyrus’ dancing. Actor Will Smith and his family were visibly aghast as they sat in the audience for the presentation. We can talk forever about slut-shaming, womanhood, white-black issues and our young female icons.

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I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about words.

I’m not saying that made-up words are bad. Shakespeare’s use of the word “swagger” in Midsummer Night’s Dream is a wonderful way to use a new word. In the context of Act 3, Scene 1, swagger was an onamonapia presentation of what was happening in the scene. Swagger made sense. Words have context. Words mean something.

As a poet and a writer, words mean something to me. As a person who updates her Facebook status and sends emails, I’m pretty sure that words mean something to other people as well.

I received my degree in English Literature from UC Davis less than a decade ago. It was before Facebook and social media. Myspace had barely begun to break ground. We used newspapers and magazines to read articles; they weren’t just for packing boxes while moving. People thought carefully about what they said. There was something about the tangible feel of print on paper that made journalists careful about the words they chose.  Clearly, those days are gone.

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I have been worried about words. I have been weary about media. I had hoped that there was still some level of journalistic integrity left in America.

We need journalistic integrity in America more than we have ever needed it.

Today, I have lost all hope.

As a country, we have riches. We are privileged. We have clean water. We have incredible infrastructure. There is food on our grocery store shelves. Not all of our citizens are receiving the trickle down, many remain hungry, without water and food. That’s a shameful tragedy. As a nation, we have our share of problems. Still, as a nation, we have much, much more than most people who live on this earth with us.

Included in our riches, we have the luxury and necessity of a free press.

We have a constitutional precedent that no other county on earth has. We have, written into the law of our land, the first amendment of our constitution, an amendment that sanctions words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

When our forefathers wrote that we should have freedom of press, it wasn’t for the word “twerking”.

Today, we live in a world climate, a world that our forefathers could have scarcely imagined. We live in a world economy. We live with a world awareness. We live in this world together. We live altogether on this earth. America and its media cannot deny its power. America has a means that most of the world doesn’t have and cannot even fathom.

What Egypt is going through today, is what we are all going through, because it is something we can all have an impact on. What Syria is going though, is something we are also suffering. Where there is hunger, there could be food. Where there is disease, there could be inoculation. Where there is war, there could be peace.

We have more knowledge than ever. We have more access than ever. We have more technology than ever. We have more understanding than we have ever had on earth.

For the first time in the world’s history, we have 24/7 access to the rest of the world.

Today, in the greatest world-power on our earth, in the country with the greatest constitution, in a place that has the most unprecedented, historical access to words, in a place where words are handed to citizens by our government”s gospel, in a place where our media is protected by law, our nation’s sanctioned media decided to lead the day’s stories with Miley Cyrus and the way she dances, using a word that most people had to look up on the internet and that doesn’t exist except in slang.

The media is degraded. The excuses are terrible.

No more excuses. We could do better. We have to do better.

Words matter.

Portland

It has been nice to get out of Nevada County and find a worthy distraction to adjust my head space. Portland is a worthy distraction. Portland is outer-space.

For Portland, as for any victim of stereotyping and sketch comedy, there is a grain of truth that makes the prejudices rude and the sketches funny. Portland is a place filled with art, ideas and front-yard vegetable gardens. It is a place where people stock there their fridges with passion fruit flavored beer and go out to tiki-themed bars and order rum drinks with kitsch names like “Navy Grog” and “Zombie Punch.” It is a place of flagrant whimsy.

Yet, there is no garbage in Portland. Within the city limits, there is only compost and recycling and, if you think you have found garbage, it is because you have disrupted the somber chi of our Holy Mother Earth or because you lack the creativity to find a reasonable excuse for salvage. Portland accepts no garbage. I have been in Portland a mere thirteen hours and I know this to be true.

I walked about a mile this morning to find coffee. I moseyed along, passing judgment on each house’s garden and expecting to see more cyclists or find a closer coffee shop. The rain in Oregon makes Portland egregiously lush. Each yard has at least five varieties of fancy foliage in perfect condition. Daphnes, dahlias, rhododendron, Japanese maples, poppies, peonies and so much more. It’s as though there is a city ordinance that declares that all residents must possess a green thumb.

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I am traveling with friends to a farming conference in Tacoma and Portland is a stop in transit. We got in last night to rest before making the last leg into Washington. We stayed at the home of a Nevada County ex-patriot and her partner, and were greeted with warm smiles and the pleasant glow of holiday lighting.  In June.

Entering their home was like stumbling into an art gallery. The living room and dining area were painted in shades of turquoise, making the wood floors look like a beach and the rugs like colorful beach towels. Orange curtains dressed the windows and no wall or shelf was spared from art. There were ledges filled with sentimental knickknackery, potted house plants and books on obscure subjects. The fireplace mantle was decorated with ships and mermaids. After walking down the lime green hall, into the sunrise-colored kitchen stocked with jars with home-canned foods, all my mental representations about Portland were solidified.

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 I love Portland, Oregon.  The place is awesome.

 

Masterpiece

I never once peered down at the crayon in my hand and thought to myself, “I want to be an artist when I grow up.”  I have never wished I were an artist.  I had other things in mind.

postcard fancy

I’ve been in a rut lately. My work is bantam. Everything I write is trite. My relationships are trivial. I haven’t watered my plants in weeks. I’m a mess. Even my cats look at me like, “Wtf?”

I own several books that I haven’t read. Still, I visit my local library on a fairly regular basis. (If you haven’t been to a library lately, I highly recommend it.) On a recent visit, I found myself in the “new books” section and picked up a copy of Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist. I am easily wooed by a snappy title. The book contains advice on being creative. I read it in one sitting.

The last book I read in one sitting was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. Before that I think it was Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.

Obviously I was inspired by this one-sitting read because here I am. Writing.

I like Kleon’s point of advice #4: Use your hands. He argues for an “analog” work space, a space free of computers and electronic clutter. He shows a picture of his desks. He has one space that looks like a typical business office and another space that looks like a Kindergarten teacher’s desk. Using the wonders of a computer and the internet, I found a picture of Austin Kleon’s desk on his tumblr.

Austin Kleon. « from the desk of… If you have… – Austin Kleon

If you have any relationship with creativity, get a copy of Steal Like an Artist. Buy it. It won’t collect dust and go unread.

I spent time in my friend’s backyard this weekend doing “analog” stuff. We made post cards. We mostly spray-painted scrap paper and cut out stuff from magazines. It was the happiest I’ve been in weeks.

Art is really fun for me because I never wanted to be an artist. I don’t approach paint and construction paper and think to myself, “this is going to be a masterpiece.” If I’m getting out the art supplies it is for fun. I don’t worry about process, thesis or product. I don’t worry about consistency and flow. I don’t pour glitter on glue doodles and worry if it will come together or make sense at the end. I don’t worry what anyone thinks. I don’t worry if it will pay the bills.

postcard dual purpose

And every time I create a masterpiece.