29 October 2007

on the weekend, i made a mad-dash roadtrip up the coast and back with friends. we drove. we talked. we laughed. we feasted. we listened to music. we magically arrived everywhere at exactly the right time. we witnessed everything from horrific to incredible live music. we browsed bookshops. in short, we had a perfect three days. the details:

1000 miles: the oc to l.a. up the grapevine and through the central valley to mountain view. to san jose and palo alto. into the city (the city being san francisco). across the bay bridge to berkeley. through oakland and back to san jose. down the 101 to san luis obispo. on to santa barbara. back to l.a. and home to the oc.

gastronomic hedonism: singaporean dinner at the spice islands cafe in mountain view. the roti prata was divine and everything else yummy. brunch at country gourmet in mountain view. pumpkin pancakes with cranberry syrup and ginger butter. french toast (made with cinnamon streusel bread) topped with banana, almonds, and caramel rum syrup. an omlette with bacon, cheese, tomatoes, and roasted tomatillo salsa with sour cream and avocado. it was a flurry of shared dishes and expressions of delight. i've never had a more delicious brunch. i'm already planning a girls trip to the bay area just so i can take my mom and sisters there. brunch at yank sing for dim sum. i'd never done dim sum before and it took all of two minutes for me to fall in love with it. probably because we started with soup dumplings (another first for me) which were amazing. everything else was delicious, too, but i'm determined to find somewhere in so.cal to get soup dumplings. yummy. and we capped off the culinary indulgence with fabulous mexican food at a shack with a tent attached in santa barbara. i loved its quirky blue and white structure and its three-car parking lot as soon as i saw it. and the food was amazing. i envision driving to santa barbara for dinner in the future. it's that good.

music: the reason for the trip was the bridge school benefit concert organized annually by neil and pegi young. eight artists in seven hours. regina spektor, tegan and sara, my morning jacket, john mayer, tom waits, neil young, jerry lee lewis, and metallica. that's right. i can now say i've seen metallica live--something i never aspired or hoped to say. but it's humorous. they were horrific. it was, however, entertaining to watch. both them and their fans, who were sorely disappointed (the metal-head next to us called out "come on, metallica! make it worth my money!" i think the rest of the line-up left him cold). jerry lee lewis looked stiff--like if he moved too much he'd keel over dead on the spot. but that didn't keep him from being a dirty old man. and his penchant for putting his name into his songs was endearingly humorous. in spite of his obviously advancing age, he was fun. i had to leave during john mayer, who elicits an almost viscerally disgusted reaction in me (even if he is a good guitarist). and tegan and sara were only okay. but i loved regina (who i'm seeing again on wednesday). it was fun to see neil young, who has this very low-key but compelling stage presence. my morning jacket was fantastic--i'll be listening to more of them in the near future. and tom waits stole the show. the man is brilliant--as a lyricist and a performer. and i took a secret pleasure in all the teeny-bopper (whether actual teenager or older) john mayer fans being forced to listen to him.

bibliophilia: a quick trip to green apple books in the only unclaimed twenty minutes we had in the city. a drive-by of city lights books en route to dim sum. and a detour off the 101 to visit leon's in san luis obispo. can you tell we were a carful of book nuts?

college tour: some of us went to visit stanford (not me; i went to the airport to pick up george). we took a quick walk around berkeley. and we did a drive-through of cal poly san luis obispo's campus (the other reason for our detour there). there was also a bit of pointing out various schools from the road. because the big dangerous and our scapegoat (he really is unnecessarily blamed for too much) are looking at college options.

it was a wonderful weekend. i didn't want it to end. i've spent my day dealing with the let-down, wishing i was still immersed in music and laughter and conversation and friendship (with an occasional argument), driving through california's beautiful valleys and along the coast with occasional stops at bookshops and eateries. but i suppose every day can't be so perfect. i'm glad i had the ones i did have--they make mundane daily living much easier to deal with.

23 October 2007

tonight as i drove home the sun blazed redgold in the west, infusing the sky with warmth and light. it was stunning. but that beauty was born of the disastrous fires blazing to the east. which were in turn caused by my beautiful santa ana winds. this symbiosis between beauty and destruction haunts me. i look at my world and it is so beautiful. but it is so devastating. not just the physical world, but humanity, too. i believe community is unavoidable--that human beings are naturally social creatures who form bonds of beautiful intimacy and love. but i also believe that the very actions and words that forge those bonds isolate us. we use the gestures and actions of friendship to turn inward, to hunker down, and avoid the pain that interaction demands.

i do not know how to navigate that paradox. and today it has me feeling tired, eyes heavy with tears i do not want to shed, wishing i could take refuge in misanthropy. but i can't. because despite the destruction, the beauty is there--glaringly unavoidable. like the sun in the west, reflecting the fire in the east.

18 October 2007

i am addicted to npr. or public radio, if you'd rather be generic (i do, after all, love some non-npr programs--this american life and the world, for instance). every single morning i wake up to one of l.a.'s two public radio stations. and i generally listen for at least half an hour before i drag my body out of bed. then there's the listening while getting ready in the morning. and the listening while driving every time i drive anywhere. and the listening while cleaning. any day without a healthy dose of public radio is just incomplete.

like i said: i'm addicted. and here's why. this morning's dose included the following:

strikes in france in response to sarkozy's efforts at labor reform.

the status of the new u.s. command in africa, with an account of china's burgeoning influence there. which highlighted yet again the way in which limited natural resources dictate foreign policy.

the ongoing debate over bush's veto of the recent schip bill.

the u.s. (non-)response to iraqi refugees.

just a sampling of the various u.s. and world news stories, covered with npr's usual evenhandedness. but that's not all. i also got:

an account of the hannah montana phenomenon ($2000 for a ticket to a hannah montana concert?! crazy parents and damn scalpers).

a report on anthropological discoveries of evidence of human civilization from 160,000 years ago.

in other words, interesting stories about culture and society in all their incarnations. and that's not all. npr coverage is eclectic and interesting and intelligent.

now i realize i could get most of these stories elsewhere. but internet news irritates me. too many banner ads, too much visual distraction, and most of it is poorly written. television news is a travesty of playing to the audience and mindless repetition. and other radio news just gives me a headache with all its bells and whistles and grating newscaster voices. plus none of them give me the other stories npr gave me this morning:

the woman arrested by her cop-neighbor because, when her toilet backed up, she cursed in her own home. never fear--the aclu has taken up her cause asserting a constitutional right to curse in one's own home. hilarious. especially when you stop to wonder what the hell went through that neighbor's head. all i can assume is there was a pre-existing tension; because really--how could you arrest your neighbor for swearing in her own home and not realize it is not a neighborly thing to do? not to mention the ridiculousness of turning cursing in one's own home into a constitutional matter (it is constitutionally protected speech, but did we really need to involve the law in order to determine that?).

and (my favorite) the woman who was minding her own business, washing her hands in her bathroom, when a 7-foot python popped its head out of the toilet next to her. she screamed. then called the plumber (the plumber?!) to take care of the problem. apparently the plumber helped her out, but i can't help but wonder about that. do all plumbers have to deal with large reptiles showing up in toilets? or is that just a new york city phenomenon? is there special training plumbers get for how to deal with large, potentially dangerous sewer critters? and how exactly does one extract a 7-foot python from the plumbing through a toilet?

and now you know why i'm addicted to npr. wouldn't your day be better, too, if it started with hearing such stories?

11 October 2007

about a month ago, i helped run a training workshop for grad students teaching literature for the first time. my cohort was out of town for a wedding the two days immediately before the workshop. and my parents, who i had been counting on to take me to costco to get some materials, were also out of town. all of which resulted in me running around on my own, begging favors from friends, and left me generally a bit frazzled. on sunday afternoon my right foot started hurting and by the end of the evening my foot was swollen and hurt so badly that i was limping. this was A Bad Thing, as i had to be on my feet much of the next two days, not to mention hauling all kinds of stuff between my car and the classroom. in tears i called seymour and asked if he would come give me a blessing. which he did, along with mbn. and then they helped me wrap up the last minute details i still needed to finish. i actually ended up in bed before 1 in the morning.

monday was a long day and my foot was aching and swollen by the time i got home. but i had to do some prep for the workshop the next day. and my parents were coming home, so i needed to do a bit of cleaning. my time was limited and i knew my foot couldn't handle too much, so i made my list of tasks in my head and set about accomplishing them as efficiently as i could. no movement was wasted. every trip from one room to another served multiple purposes. complete economy of motion. i was in that mode where mind and body and purpose flowed together so smoothly that the only way to describe it is harmony. i have these moments occasionally and they feel like perfection. everything fitting together to make a whole that is more than merely the sum of its parts. there's a feeling of grace, of blessedness, that comes, leaving me feeling like life makes sense, even if the work i'm doing is as menial as dishes and laundry and taking out the trash.

as i reflected on that feeling, i thought back to the morning i spent at fallingwater in august. the building is such a work of absolute harmony that it seems wrong to call it a building. everything, from the glorious design to the building materials, works together to manifest perfection. there was absolutely no detail too mundane for wright to consider so that it would add to the being of his creation. this is true of all of wright's work. for instance, at the pope-leighey house, wright used long horizontal lines to reinforce the design and to add a sense of spaciousness to what is a very small building. in laying the bricks, the mortar that ran horizontally was recessed a good half an inch inset from the front of the bricks, while the mortar that ran vertically was flush with the bricks, allowing the shadows cast by the bricks into the recessed horizontal mortar to create long lines. wright even dictated that the screws used in the building be flathead rather than phillips and they were to be turned so the groove on the head of the screw formed a horizontal line.

fallingwater is full of gorgeous details that contribute to its harmony. the boulder around which wright built the house jutting up to form a rough hearth in the primary living space of the house. the stone floors inside polished so they look like the stones of the terraces when they are wet. the glass corner of the house opening out so the corner disappears altogether, breaking the box of the room, the house refusing to inter its occupants in a living tomb. the low ceilings and vast stretches of glass directing the eye out to the beauty of the forest. how could anyone live in such an environment and not find herself existing more often in that state of harmony that i find only so rarely?

in my mind, wright's magnificent masterpiece is akin to the gorgeous perfection of beethoven's symphonies--beings in their own right, full of life and beauty that can make the world better. when i left fallingwater that day, i resolved to go back. as often as i can. to immerse myself again in a place where all of the best of humanity and nature work together to manifest god's glory.

09 October 2007

being a byu alum, i get the byu magazine every so often. sometimes i pick it up and peruse it. occasionally i read an article or two. usually it just sits in my pile of mail until it gets thrown away. tonight i started sorting through my pile of mail (i always have a pile of mail; i hate mail; i wish people would just not send me stuff; unless they're people i know and love; then they can send me stuff) and ran across the byu magazine. and when i read the cover blurb 'jane clayson lands her dream job: mother,' some sick masochistic part of me turned to page 22 to read the article.

it's all about jane clayson who becomes jane johnson. perhaps that's reductive, but the article's attempt to represent rhetorically the shift from single to married by referring to the single jane as clayson and the married jane as johnson does call attention to that shift. it was a bizarre editorial decision--one that caused more confusion than anything. and it made the difference between unmarried and married sound almost jekyll-and-hyde.

anyway. back to the regularly scheduled programming. here's the reader's digest version: jane goes to byu expecting to graduate and get married. jane graduates but doesn't get married. jane becomes award-winning, nationally known television journalist. jane realizes that 'real life' has begun, even though she's not married. jane gets married. jane quits working. jane has babies. jane has epiphany: 'mothers matter.' (yes, that's the epiphany: 'mothers matter.')

it's a lovely story. really. i'm happy that this talented woman had the opportunity not only to find such professional success but also to fall in love and marry and have children.

but dammit. don't tell me i'm a mother simply by virtue of the fact that i have breasts, a vagina, a uterus, and ovaries. i am a woman. i am not a mother. and i don't care how much mental gymnastics you do, you're not going to convince me otherwise. but clayson (or should it be johnson?) tries: 'i want every woman to feel in her soul that among the many important things that women do, mothering is the most important thing, whether a woman biologically bears a child or not.'

i appreciate the sentiment. i feel all warm and fuzzy that jane (and sherri dew and numerous others like them) recognizes that the church's emphasis on motherhood for women leaves single and childless women feeling inadequate on some level. but has it ever occurred to them that perhaps the answer is to authenticate other life paths for women? to acknowledge that women have incredible contributions to make outside of motherhood?

i am a nurturer. i love children. i'm patient and kind and loving towards all of my nieces and nephews. i adore them. but i spend very little time with them. and while i know for a fact that they love me and that i have helped shape their characters in some ways, i also know that i'm not much of a presence in their lives. am i to understand that mothering is the most important work i do, when easily 90% of my time is spent completely apart from children? what does that mean about the rest of my time? is it really all that much to ask that the value of my work and life be acknowledged without trying to shove it through a mother-shaped hole?

please, jane clayson johnson (and anyone else who's made the error of trying to convince themselves and others that every woman is a mother)--please have enough decency to honor all the work women do, not just the work they do as mothers. don't tell me i am a mother in some misguided effort to make me feel better about the fact that i'm unmarried and childless. instead, look me in the eye and see me for who and what i am: a woman of god who is using the gifts she's been given to make as much beauty and goodness as she can.

06 October 2007

about six years ago, i spent an evening sitting outside a friend's room on UVA's campus, talking with him as the sun went down. we'd taken a study break, ostensibly to watch the sunset, but our break lasted long after dark as we talked. for some reason our conversation wandered onto the topic of girls and beauty and before i knew it i was crying. because of the painful knowledge i had as a girl of 8 and 10 and 16 and every age in between that i was ugly. skinny yes. but ugly. because even six years ago, at the age of 25, i still only felt beautiful in flashes. but mostly i was crying because of my beautiful nieces and knowing that they, too, would experience that pain. being told in every way imaginable that they were not beautiful enough. that if only they could poke and prod and cut and snip and paint and dye and conceal and smooth and style enough, maybe--just maybe--they would be beautiful enough to be loved. it starts when they're so young. and it never stops.

i've blogged before about my perception of my own beauty. i am mostly comfortable with my appearance. i don't spend a lot of time trying to conform to preconceived ideas of what it means to be beautiful. but the pain of not being beautiful enough still lurks. mostly it has to do with the fact that i don't date. i can't help but think, in some of the dark moments when i wonder what's wrong with me, that if only i were beautiful--more fit, more striking, more sexy--then maybe men would be interested. i don't know why this thought process happens. maybe i really haven't accepted my body the way it is. maybe that awkward, gangly eight-year-old is still trapped inside me, looking in a mirror trying to figure out how to smile with a mouth that's just too big. or maybe it's easier to believe it's my body, and not my mind and my soul, that is unattractive. maybe wishing i was beautiful enough to attract some interest is just a defense mechanism meant to stave off the infinitely darker pain of wondering what's wrong with my self, rather than merely what's wrong with my body.

my tears six years ago ended happily, with my friend taking my hand and telling me how beautiful he thought i was. an articulation of an attraction that we had both felt since the day we met and which had been growing for months. a beginning of a relationship that left me happier than any other i've ever had. but i wish the cause of those tears didn't exist. i wish somehow we could let our girls simply be without cramming a beauty myth down their throats at every turn. so take a moment and watch a bit of what i'm talking about.

and yes. i realize the irony of that being a product of the very beauty industry it critiques. but honestly i'm desperate enough for something to change that i'll accept any consciousness-raising tool no matter where it comes from. even if it comes in the shape of advertising...