Friday, February 27, 2004

there's no place like home

Just quick, because I need to hose myself down and go wander around outside without a heavy coat and socks and gloves and scarf: I came home to San Francisco last night. I don't know how long I'll be here. A visit to the oncologist just before I left Detroit revealed that the last round of chemo/radiation doesn't seem to have helped; there are more lesions in his brain and his lungs. But he's not more symptomatic, and Mom tells me she can hold down the fort, so I'm going to stay here for a little while and hustle up work and hang out with my peeps (a word I know sounds totally silly out of me, but I love the image of those little marshmallow chicks).

I am a little frightened by how badly I needed to be back. AX, who met me at the BART station and helped me wrangle my luggage, told me about a fictional hero adapted by aliens to be more suited to urban life. So thoroughly adapted, in fact, that when Jake gets away from a city, he starts to feel sick. I could believe it, walking through the Tenderloin and trying to open my pores up to take in as much SF as I could. Is it possible this is the city I will live in to the end of my days? Because I start fading away at the edges if I'm gone for any length of time? I never felt this way about Detroit, or Minneapolis/St. Paul, as much as I liked the latter.

But this is what it's like. We dropped off my stuff at my studio at about 10:30 last night, and out on the sidewalk, two chefs I know from work were walking home from a big job a few blocks away at the Regency. So we went over there, snuck into the kitchen through the back door, and la voila, a bunch of the people I care about, wearing radio headsets and tuxedoes and closing down a party for 2,000 cryptographers. AX and I sat on a stack of folded tables and ate cold Chinese food while people whirled in and out with platters of food, buckets of ice, bags full of wadded-up tablecloths. People recognized him and hugged me; promises were made of phone calls forthcoming, and I just felt a lot better.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

oh, for crying out loud

Citizens are freezing and starving to death in the streets.

We are reviled all around the world for our blundering, dangerously self-centered foreign policy.

Working people can't make ends meet.

Our children are barely educated.

We're about to start sucking the juice out of the Alaskan wilderness because we can't get our act together on energy efficiency and love our SUVs too much.

Halliburton can apparently do any old thing they like without repercussions.

How is protecting the "institution of marriage" our Number One Priority? In what universe is preventing the joyful union of two people going to make things better for everyone else?

I would be a lot more eloquent about this, or at least I would like to believe that I could be, but I am swaying on my feet after a totally enervating day of airplane travel, listless airline employees, and general pack mule activity. I just wish I hadn't come back to Detroit to see that Bush is still sawing away at a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. I'm cranky enough as it is.

I just know that twenty-five years from now we're going to look back on all this with some embarrassment; as a thought exercise replace the word "gay" with "interracial" or "interfaith" and follow it with "marriage" and just look at how absurd the idea of a ban is. Allowing "miscegenation" and interfaith marriage was going to mean the end of everything good and true too, remember? And has it? No.

And while I'm thinking about it, how many gay couples do you know that have been forced into a long-term committed relationship because one member was accidentally pregnant? Hmmm? Like all those shotgun weddings are really a shining example of the sanctity of the marriage bond.

Yes, it is that simple. I don't often say or believe that. But I believe it on this one. Just that freaking simple.

Tomorrow or soon: fun with bacteria, why I shouldn't be allowed to beachcomb, moneymaking opportunities in the travel oxygen business, and the sudden horrible moment where I realized that I was turning into an old roommate's evil boyfriend.

Monday, February 23, 2004

island time

1. public machine in St. Thomas; cafe about to close
2. weird patchy sunburn
3. lizards up the yin-yang
4. back to Detroit tomorrow, SF Thursday
5. still highly attractive to mosquitoes and black men in their forties
6. where is there passionfruit juice in SF? So I don't suffer withdrawal

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

low-carb profiteering

Among other interesting newsbits, like the one about how if you don't get enough carbs you could be starving your brain, comes word that the FDA is getting stringent about low-carb claims.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: carbs are not the enemy. And didn't they just reveal that Atkins himself died of obesity-related heart disease?

Maybe we should stop worrying so much about dieting and focus on doing yoga with our dogs.

Yes, I really need to go to bed now. Today has simply been too exciting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

scary if true

Researchers are investigating a possible link between the use of antibiotics and the incidence of breast cancer.

Now, the research is in a very early phase. It would be bad journalism to raise a hue and cry about this before more is known. One scientist involved with the study acknowledges that women who don't use as many antibiotics may be healthier to begin with and thus less prone to BC. Or that the diseases women are taking antibiotics to fight are weakening their immune systems, or in some other way setting the stage for cancer. And if it is the antibiotics that are causing the cancer, the mechanism by which that happens is unknown.

What is clear is that we have become overdependent on antibiotics. If in fact they are also opening us up to cancer, that's another strike against the profligacy with which they are requested and prescribed. We're using these drugs too much and for too many reasons, and the results are frightening.

Everyone's heard by now that there are antibiotic-resistant strains of many of the bugs we take antibiotics to fight. It might not be as well known that penicillin, to take one example, is now only effective against something like three bacteria--down from more than a hundred. Scientists keep developing new classes of antibiotics, but they freely admit that the bugs are catching up.

And then there's the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in agriculture, a procedure that has raised so much concern that legislation has been proposed to severely curtail the agricultural use of antibiotics. If the steak you're eating came from a cow that was fattened with, say, erythromycin, you're taking in that erythromycin.

Not to mention that antibiotic residues are ending up in the water supply.

So we're getting it in our food and our water, but we're also getting antibiotics from our doctors, and some activists are blaming doctor eagerness for antibiotic overuse. But that's not entirely fair. It's not unusual for patients to demand antibiotics, even for conditions against which the drugs are useless, such as the common cold. I know I'm not the only person who continually confuses viruses with bacterial infections; too many people don't understand that antibiotics don't do jack against viruses.

On top of which, and I'm as guilty of this as anyone, many consumers don't take the full course of antibiotics when they are indicated. We stop when we feel better, but the bacterium's still vital and ready to shift. Bacteria are much smaller and much faster than we are; they evolve much more quickly. And when we don't take the full course of antibiotics for a condition, we become the Petri dish in which the bacterium can turn into something else, and from which it can move on to some other host. It's like some sci-fi movie where an astronaut comes back carrying spores that will turn him into a evil, slavering, goo-covered monster intent on subverting and eating all humanity.

Well, maybe that's a little dramatic. But you get the idea.

All of these factors alone should be making us rethink our dependence on antibiotics, particularly the broad-spectrum variety. But taken in conjunction with this new possibility, I find myself wanting to head straight for the Vitamin C and the organic produce aisle. The SF Bay area has the highest incidence of breast cancer in the world. There are many theories why this is so. My personal favorite involves the oil refineries up in the Carquinez Straits, but I accept that there is probably a whole constellation of causes, vulnerabilities, genetic predilections, and so forth. Which doesn't really make it any less scary.

As an aside, speaking of genetics, if you're basing the way you live on test results indicating whether you express BRCA1 or BRCA2, this article from the Council for Responsible Genetics is interesting, if discomfiting. The author suggests that those markers aren't as useful as the ones that indicate what course breast cancer will take in a particular woman--testing that can only be done once there are cancerous cells to be analyzed.

The up side is that if there's anything to this link--and antibiotics are causative--finally there's something solid we can do about breast cancer, as individuals. I am cautiously excited.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

valentine's day just sucks

I will be under the blanket on the couch, nibbling at the cookie Snufkina sent me, if anyone is looking.
is Son of Blob under the bed?

My paternal grandmother, the only member of my immediate family to whom I bear absolutely no resemblance, was known far and wide for a certain baked treat she had invented. It's essentially a kind of blondie; the two main ingredients are butter and brown sugar, and there's a little flour and egg to hold them together. She would have taken the recipe to the grave with her if I hadn't batted my eyelashes and promised to guard it with my life; she'd had too many experiences of giving the recipe to people who would muck it up, and she didn't want the karma.

So I batted, and she relented, and I copied it down in my little reporter notebook, and eventually transferred it to my computer when the original had become too sticky and blurred with egg to read.

Problem is, I somehow did not transfer the information about temperature. Which is critical. These things, baked properly, don't look right at first, so most people overbake, or change the proportions, or screw it up in some other way. Baking is more science than art, when it comes down to it, and these sweets are the living proof.

Living, and bubbling, and gurgling, and crawling-out-of-its-pan proof tonight.

I have stumbled across what I could easily market as a do-it-yourself La Brea Tar Pits kit. I had my doubts about the baking powder (the use by date on the bottom of the can was 1992), I creamed the butter instead of melting it, the pan was the wrong size, and I was guessing on the heat. But I've made these things successfully before, and how hard can it be?

As I started writing this, my mother was in the kitchen, gleefully poking the mass with a steak knife. Popping bubbles as they came to the surface. We'd already peeled away all the edible (read: baked) parts and put them on a plate, and now it was time for the serious excavation to begin. I keep expecting some tusks or horns or at least a preserved hoof to come to the surface; meanwhile we eat the baked (read: burnt to a carmelized crisp) bits.

Just to mush up the visuals for you a little, I'm going to admit that my parents still regret taking me to see Son of Blob (aka Beware! The Blob) when I was three. Apparently it meant eight years of reassuring me, every night, that Son of Blob was not waiting under the bed, in the closet, or in the hall, to come digest me. Yes, I was terrified of a large, poorly animated glob of cherry jello. Interestingly enough this coincides with the period of chronic insomnia that ended once someone had the bright idea of taking me to the symphony. Classical music wins out over Son of Blob every time, and I sleep like, well, a mastodon in tar.

I don't think I'm going to be able to sleep tonight. For one thing, the kitchen's still kinda smoky. For another, I keep thinking about that molten beast of butter and brown sugar rising malevolently over the sides of its pan. When I pulled it out of the oven, a steaming lump flew out and stuck to my collarbone. This is how it starts, I thought, it starts small, with insects and kittens, and then BAM! it's eating scientists and Dick Van Patten!

Thursday, February 12, 2004

nothing about humping cats, but Bush screws the pooch

Courtesy of Veterans for Common Sense via The Center for Cooperative Research via Misanthropicity, Bush's squirming last Sunday is boned, filleted, and served up sizzlin'. Tasty!
kitty porn

There are three cats in this apartment. Two of them are technically mine; I left them here in their grandparents' care when I went gallivanting off to Madagascar a few years back and never retrieved them. Partly because I don't like the idea of cats in the cargo hold, partly because one of them, the little tabby female Bodicea, developed a pretty intense relationship with my dad, and was a comfort to him during his first bout of cancer treatment. She's tiny and loud, and the only cat who could lay on my father as he slept without putting too much pressure on him.

Then there's Spanky. He's Bo's littermate, but you can barely tell. He's larger, with pretty long white fur, mismatched eyes, and not the smallest bit of a clue. He was the one I'd chosen, and then Bo came and wriggled into my lap and insisted that I take her as well. The neighbor who was giving them away had told me that any unclaimed kittens were going into the Mississippi in a sack. She and her boyfriend and his brother all lived in the basement and scared my roommate and I mightily. We'd find the pallid brother's copies of "Cherry Blossoms" magazine down in the mail collection area, and worry about the innocent Asian woman who might end up with this fella, who made me want to wash. Troglodytes, Apple called them.

Anyway. Apple, a law student who spent all his time either taking his computer apart or falling asleep with a Torts textbook on his chest on the sofa, knew that I was planning to bring up one kitten. There'd been no discussion of two. But I was thinking about the river, and the sack, and the trogs. I was pretty nervous when he came home. Did you get a cat? he asked. I need to talk to you about that, I responded. He turned out to be totally cool with it, and in fact ended up renaming one of them--Spanky's original name was Noam, after Professor Chomsky. As it turned out, Apple could see into the cat's soul better than I could.

Being named after one of the most brilliant men alive just wouldn't have been fair to this cat. He's a few morphemes short of a sentence, if you catch me.

Spanky's always been kind of unusual. He is the only cat I've ever lived with who enjoys having his temperature taken, which has led to some incredibly embarrassing moments at the vet's office. I'm standing there, trying to contain Bo (who is looking around for something to stalk and kill), and Spanky is making this... noise... and pushing his rear up, and the vet is saying, well, ha ha little fella, easy there, and I'm wondering if I'll fit into their beige plastic carrier. He did have a brief period (about two days, as long as it took me to make The Appointment) where he was trying to mount his sister, but he was trying from the side, at an angle that wouldn't have accomplished anything even if she'd been mature. There was the sort of dogged (can we say that about cats?) determination about the whole encounter of a closeted male celebrity marrying Liz Taylor.

Which is why I'm forced to admit that I am a member of PFCH-LAG--Parents, Friends, and Companion Humans of Lesbians and Gays. Not only am I fluid myself, but I apparently have a gay cat. And I have my suspicions about Bo, who I did name after the queen of the Amazons. Who says it isn't genetic? Nature, or nurture?

The question's become relevant here in my parents' place, with their big tom Spencer. He'd be a bear, if he weren't a cat; I can almost imagine him wearing little leather chaps and mirrored sunglasses. He's not just a tom, he's a Tom of Finland.

And he likes Spanky. A lot. They play together in the usual cat ways, they run back and forth, they are collectively puzzled by Bo's queenly behavior.

But there have been a few mornings when I have woken up to the sight of Spencer crouched over Spanky, the nape of Spanky's neck firmly in his teeth. Spanky lays there passively and waits. Spencer is not actually making, uh, full contact--he was caught and snipped at about the same point Spanky was, so he hasn't got the big picture either--but at least he's got a better idea of the general position.

Guys, please, I say. I don't know why this bothers me so much. Perhaps because I feel I have stumbled into the wrong prison movie? My budding filmmaker friend and I have discussed the possibility of these cats having a vignette in one of her films.

Tonight, I took some pictures with my cell phone, as proof. Luckily for you, I have no idea of how to get them online.
too good to keep to myself

But I can't decide where to start with the intel that Barbie and Ken are calling it quits.

Could it be that the rumors about Earring Magic Ken are true?

Sunday, February 08, 2004

gay marrriage one

I absolutely fail to see the problem.

There's a much longer post lurking in me, but it will have to wait. For now, I just want to point out that marriage as we understand it is a pretty recent innovation, and historically has as much to do with the the conservation of property and the distribution of labor as it does anything else. Some of the anything else: the potential of loving companionship. The raising of children. The development of stable communities.

Where in this formulation do we see one man and one woman as the only valid combination?

The world is not going to come to an end if gay people are allowed to marry each other. Here's what will happen: the wedding industry will blossom. As a catering flunky, I of course appreciate that. Gay people who have had to worry about what happens legally if their beloved gets sick or dies will be able to spend that energy on something else. The distribution of property will be more clearly delineated. More mature, loving couples will be able to build families, through birth and adoption. The greeting card companies will do gangbuster business.

As I said, I just don't see the problem. Out here, away from my safe San Francisco cocoon, I've been listening to Good Christians on the radio talking about gay marriage as the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse. But they don't ever come out with anything solid.
hey, I called it!

Michigan caucus: Kerry-Dean-Edwards-Sharpton. With Sharpton coming in a close second to Kerry around the Detroit area (seven delegates). I am the man. Next I'm going to work on picking lottery numbers.

Also, that pickle-lovin' sylph Diablo Cody has put up two pictures of her gargantuan cat, with typically hilarious captions. So hilarious in fact that I just give up tonight; the rest of my post will have to wait until I'm feeling funnier. There's also some nekkidness over there, if you like that sort of thing. Me, I think we should start a collection to get her a gift certificate to Minneapolis' finest sushi joint. Writing Minneapolis and sushi in the same sentence makes me wonder if the regional variation over there might have anything at all to do with lutefisk, and I shudder at the thought.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

wasn't I just talking about this?

Snufkina's honey hasn't been paying attention, and brought home some of the evil toxic spew they're inflicting on our innnocent children.

The funny thing about the post, besides the post itself, is the advertising that comes up at the top. I don't know if you'll see it when you follow the permalink, but there were two ads Google attached when I was looking. One was for stuffed monkey toys and paraphernalia, which is not surprising. The other was for a product to make women smell not like women, if you catch me. The irony will become obvious if you visit. Gotta love that intelligent ad-selection software.

In other news, I might just have to watch the Grammys tomorrow night. They're taking Earth, Wind and Fire and Prince out of mothballs. The latter's looking pretty good, if the tv ad I just saw is any indication. TV ads: have you seen the one I just saw, for AT&T? Complete and total Matrix ripoff?

I'm going to have to change my prognostication on the Michigan caucus. Kerry did end up making a triumphant public appearance, Dean cut his visit short, and Kucinich--who has some support from the blue-collar segment--did visit after all. Could be strongly Kerry after all. Oh, interesting; Kucinich is taking 8% of Washington State with half the precincts reporting. He's third. Behind me, Mom is cutting up cereal boxes and commenting on how strange it is that Senator Levin (D-MI) has publicly endorsed Kerry--Carl never endorses. Wow, AFSCME is pulling their support from Dean. Ouch.

I see how people get sucked into CNN. Especially when the alternative is eXtreme athletes saying things like, I am so pumped I can't believe it over and over again.

Friday, February 06, 2004

jobs and healthcare

The thing with Dad and the telemarketer reminds me of when I worked for the Michigan Democratic Party one summer as a phonebanker. Most people just hang up, but then you hit somone who hasn't talked to anyone in a couple of days, maybe, or is just feeling lonely. And before you know it, they're telling you exactly what's wrong with the state of the state, or what exactly they think of your candidate, and you're desperately searching the form in front of you for the proper box to check off.

As it happens--perhaps concerned that my blog is spiraling into an endless chronicle of my father's struggle--Mike at radiofreemike has asked, in private email, if I'm going to blog the Michigan caucus.

It's an interesting question, and one I'm taking as a challenge to pull out of my cookies-and-pajamas haze over here. Despite my mother's best efforts, I've been out of the Michigan political loop so long I have no idea of what Michiganders care about. And I'm not exactly out on the street polling citizens, as all the citizens are inside with the central heat turned all the way up, watching DVDs and eating microwaved Bob Evans sausage Snackwiches, like us (exterior tempertaure: 33 degrees Fahrenheit. Interior: 76).

So I've been talking to my folks, and reading the paper. I can't gauge who folks want from lawn signs, because the lawn signs are all snowed under.

I'm not sure which way Michigan will go. According to the Freep's handy primer of fun facts, Michigan is the largest state to have a Democratic caucus, sending 154 delegates to the National Democratic Convention. Seventeen-year-olds who will turn eighteen by November 2nd are allowed to vote. It's the only state to allow Internet voting in a caucus or primary ("Make sure you are connected to the Internet", begins the brochure explaining how to do this, a brochure you only receive if you've already gone online to register and therefore probably have a clue.) Ballots will also be available in Spanish and Arabic (the Detroit area, as I've mentioned here before, has the highest concentration of Arabs in the world outside of the Middle East.)

Then there's the makeup of the state itself. Young (fabulous)Democatic governor. Two fairly liberal Dem senators, both of whom I've met and respect. The State House and Senate, however, are Republican. Large, vocal, and politically active African-American community. Economy based on heavy manufacturing, which is of course being outsourced at a distressing rate. State surrounded by lakes being eyed as water sources by other, dry states. Strong labor unions. "Most Democratic big city in the United States"--Detroit delivered Michigan to Gore in 2000. Your permit will allow you to carry a concealed weapon in church, but not in school. Ted Nugent pushes for blind bow hunters to be allowed to go out a few days before the season starts. The Single Business Tax discourages companies from setting up shop here (the smaller your business is, my mother explains, the more profoundly you're hit by this tax.)

In other words, Michigan is just as varied and odd as, oh, say, California.

The governor has come out for Kerry. US Rep Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (whose son, Kwame, is Detroit's enfant terrible mayor) is for Dean. Madonna (who is native, in case you didn't know) supports Clark, as does Michael Moore. The Arab American Voter PAC is behind Kucinich. Several state reps are pulling for Edwards.

The vibe I'm getting is that nobody's really sure who to spring for. I think the state would have come out strongly for Dean, before he took such a beating, but now people might be more inclined to what Mom calls ABB--anyone but Bush--type thinking. She also thinks people here are still feeling burned by what happened with Nader, and therefore less likely to vote their consciences and more likely to go with the man they think will win. Which suggests Kerry to me, except that he's not making as active an effort as Dean is.

Dean was here yesterday, hitting the two things Michiganders seem to care about most; jobs and health care (Michigan's unemployment rate is 7.2 percent, versus the national 5.7; health care is a shambles.) Dean might still be viable here. Kerry came through but made no public appearances, which may have been unwise. I think Sharpton will do better here than he has anywhere else; not only did he make an exhaustive visit yesterday (six stops), but in the 1988 caucus Michigan went for another charismatic black Reverend (Jackson) over another East Coast pol (Dukakis). The others are all bracing themselves for the South and not stopping here.

Magic 8-Ball says that Saturday will come out Kerry-Dean-Edwards-Sharpton, and that Dean will be stronger than he has been lately.

Now Minnesota, where I've lived more recently, I bet will come out for Dean.

better than the do-not-call registry

Mom has discovered an unforeseen benefit of the pressure on my father's frontal lobe.

He's very useful against telemarketers.

This morning, the symphony called, trying to unload season tickets that had been returned by subscribers. Dad took the call, and before the poor woman on the other end of the line knew what had hit her, he was telling her all about the Regina Carter concert we attended last week, and the jazz club Baker's where he used to see Carter perform, and what was on the menu at Baker's (mac and cheese, greens).

He's positively garrulous these days. And we are not saddled with tickets we won't use.

It's a good trick. Try it sometime! It's their dime, after all.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

a trip to Sinai-Grace Hospital

This morning, my father had a CT scan to see if the cancer has gone to his stomach. It's one of the next logical places, after the brain. There, and the bones.

My father has very little energy these days. Other than his daily walk with my mom down the hall and back, he spends a lot of time asleep, or taking what he calls "pre-naps." When he's awake, he reads, or sits at the dinner table smoking and looking out the window at the wide expanse of clean snow between the apartment building and the television station. Sometimes I look in on him in the bedroom and he's sitting up in bed, but his eyes are closed. The Helios makes a regular small thunking sound as the valve opens and closes; oxygen on demand. I've been instructed, if I don't hear the thunking, to make sure the cannula is pushed firmly into his nostrils.

So anything that involves leaving the building is an odyssey. There's the Helios, which holds four pounds of liquid oxygen, and can be carried in a nylon bag. I call it the oxygen purse. He doesn't need it all the time, but he doesn't go out without it. There's the Vicodin, against the pain in his arms. There's the cane he was given as a gag gift at his fiftieth birthday party. There's the meander down the hallway to the elevator, and waiting in the lobby for Mom to bring the car around. The automatic revolving door at the hospital is an unexpected nightmare; and I find myself puffing up, trying to make myself bigger, trying to make myself into a better shield between my father and all the other shamblers, the wheelchairs, the rushing orderlies, the people who just aren't watching where they're going.

I am five-six, as is my mother. My father is a full six feet tall, but he's so hunched, unsteady, nebulous. He's so, well, bald, that I'm starting to feel positively massive next to him. And protective as all hell. The wisps of hair on his scalp, the pink skin, make me think of a baby bird. My mother and I surround him, a fence of salt and pepper hair (both of us are silvering), black jackets, purses, glares. We take over all the chairs in the waiting area with our things. We watch the receptionist, the phlebotomist, the people waiting on stretchers in the hall, warily; we are picking out the path that he can take between them without tripping, or running into something. We are, ultimately, trying to stand between my father and the beyond. And we both know that the beyond is stronger. But we do what we can.

There is still some controversy about who taught me how to use power tools. I remember my dad teaching me to use the drill, but my mother claims she was the one. There's no question when it comes to who taught me how to throw, catch, and hit a softball. Who played math games with me. Who taught me to ride a bike by running along behind, holding the seat until I was stable.

And then I was riding in the late afternoon sun, and he was no longer holding on. But he was still behind me, telling me that I had it, that I was doing a good job. The gentle slope of the parking lot, empty on a Sunday, went up and down and the Shwinn went up and down and I was riding, alone, when I hadn't thought I would be able to.

This is a ride that every child expects, eventually, to take. I have always known that some day my father's hand would no longer be stabilizing my bike.

But my mother. How many people, when they marry, think about this moment? She was 19, he was 21. She'd already lost her mom, she was conversant with death, but he wasn't. They were so young. Could they see the future? The Shwinn, the businesses they would build, the winters, me, this cancer? Marriage is an incredible leap of faith. We shouldn't be upset that fifty percent fail; we should be impressed that fifty percent survive.

I will ride beside you, two people are saying, until one of us falls. And if you are the one, I will carry you until my strength fails. And when my strength fails, I will lie beside you and comfort you as best I can.

Fifty percent.
this is a true story

My mother is surprised that I'd never heard it before. I'm hearing a lot of stories these days; epecially from Dad. The pressure on his frontal lobe is impacting his thinking, and lately he has been prone to lengthy musings on things. It's unusual; it means that he's talking more than I'm accustomed to. But Mom told me this one.

Thirtysome years ago, a certain Mrs. Tubes was laboring hard in the pregancy ward of a Chicago hospital. It was apparently a long labor; she was carrying twins. So she had plenty of time to hear what she believed to be the voice of God, telling her what she should name her baby girls. Beautiful, unusual names.

Five years later, the girls were in kindergarten, and their teacher was a friend of my parents'. It was the first day of class, and the teacher was having a hard time reading the girls' names from her class list. So she sounded them out.

Fallopian and Eustachian.

I didn't know what to do, she told my mother later. I felt like I should say something, but they were five years old! What good would it do?

Mom thinks her friend should have said something. I just wonder how long it took before someone did.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Qabalah flashcard progress

Aleph through Cheth are done. Ox to fence/field. Cheth is path 18; it connects Binah (understanding) to Geburah (strength). So far I love the paths most because they're so evocative. Understanding to strength. Wisdom to mercy. Eight down, fourteen left to draw. I'm especially happy with the camels I drew for Gimel and the safety pin for Vau. Sweet Snufkina called tonight and talked to me as she was nabbing tunes for a CD she's burning for me; this flashcard thing suggests to her that I might be getting a little weird.

I didn't tell her I was thinking that I might draw my own Tarot cards, next.

Next up: the Tubes twins, humping cats, yet more musings on body hair, 1/6th scale candy bars, and the best governor Michigan has ever had.

Monday, February 02, 2004

yummy gummy, gumdrop

I'd emailed her, I'd talked to her on the phone, but I wasn't prepared for my first look at the woman I'm studying bellydance with here. From the fake-fur trimmed snowboots to the obvious fall cascading from a headband of sequins and fake purple flowers, the woman who stepped out of her minivan at a local university, dragging a clear plastic backpack, was not what I expected. Detroit's premier bellydance teacher, a grand old dame from the old Tribal days in San Francisco, is a Hungarian woman with an Arabic name, lively blue eyes, sizable hips wrapped in the gaudiest coin scarf I've ever seen. And the laugh! The laugh! Tinklier than the coin scarf, and as barely contained as the hips.

There'd been a communication error at some point, and the entire ground floor of the performing arts building was filled with tiny teen ballerinas attending a workshop. Including the theater where the bellydance class usually meets. So there we were, half a dozen adult women with loose hair, weaving through the throngs of bun-headed children, trying to find a room we could use. Which is how my first bellydance class in Michigan transpired in a classroom with a carpeted floor, blackboards chalked with bits of story analysis, and no mirrors.

There is a basic but important move generally known as Egyptian. It entails pushing up the hip by straightening the knee and pushing off the ball of the foot. She calls the posture "gotta potty." What I know as Tunisian, she calls "drying your tush with a towel." Her classes start almost an hour late, as she needs the time to check in on her students' wellbeing. She has a truly innovative method for teaching zillyat (finger cymbal) rhythms that leaves students laughing, instead of cursing. She reminds us to keep our arms up by yelling, you're getting ready to hug me! She wears shoes when she teaches. Not ballet slippers, or the special dance sandals that support the arches, but penny loafers.

Penny loafers. Black ones. With pennies.

Before the drumming class began (seven of us sitting around a table, beating the edges with our hands), she made a little speech about paying for classes. If you're having money troubles, that doesn't mean you don't come. We are family, and when things are hard, you need to be with your family. We'll work something out. Then she put one of a huge collection of homemade tapes into her player, set the speed to less than half-time (how drunk can we get the musicians?) and began slapping the table for all she was worth.

God knows what Jill and my troupe will think when I come back muttering nonsense under my breath to keep time, but I'll know the rhythms a lot better. And I'll be better at zillyat, which Jill doesn't teach.

This is going to be okay.
what if Henry Miller had taken Zoloft?

Looking for an article my mother had mentioned about childhood insomnia, I learned that scientists have discovered that creativity and mental illness appear to be linked!

My first response: no shit. As someone who has skated on a few ponds that weren't frozen entirely solid, and makes a (small, small) living as a creative type, it makes perfect sense to me. I've heard people say that they write because it's the only way to keep the demons at bay. I wouldn't go that far, but I would certainly say that a certain pressure starts to build up if I don't write, or draw, or push my art supplies around. I start to feel a little like a cassette tape left out on the dashboard. And the point about openness really hits home.

That said, the commonly-held idea that you have to be suffering to be creative gets in my craw. And all the corollaries: Creative geniuses shouldn't be held responsible for their behavior (Michael Jackson, anyone?) Happy people can't make good art. And so on. It's a little like saying that all redheads are hot-tempered. Not only is it an insult to redheads, but it gives people a reason to cut redheads more slack on behavior that wouldn't be tolerated from brunettes or blondes. Which creates a feedback loop for the redhead in question--or the artist.

Speaking of artists, I am delighted to see that Neil Gaiman has a blog--and that he has also dealt with online plaigirism. Much more gracefully than I, I must admit. His take on it is that the plaigirising party knows they're doing something wrong, and they can't feel good about it. And that exposing them doesn't really help things. The situation with my own... follower... has taken an interesting turn, but I don't feel that I'm at liberty to talk about it right now. Anyway, it's wonderful to read Gaiman talking about playing in the woods in the snow. I guess I thought he just moped around at a vintage typewriter all the time.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

as above, so below

I wrote an entry a few days ago that is having eerie resonances with a book I'm reading tonight, courtesy of AX; "The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed ben Clifford". Mind you, I'd been nattering on about the Golden Mean and all things being connected before I opened the book, which natters on about many of the same things.

But then, I shouldn't be surprised. It's to be expected, if in fact, as the learned Rabbi says, every lox unit has a special affinity with every other lox unit, and all the toes, bagels, delicatessens and floors in the universe are indeed connected. And reflect each other. And contain the blueprint of each other.

I am even now making up some Qabalah flash cards. It's funny, but I would have paid more attention to my aleph-bets in Sunday school if I'd known they could be mapped to the Tarot, the planets, the elements, and the Sephiroth. Instead of all that boring yammering on about the great privilege it was to be an Israeli (the teacher I remember best was a Sabra, and pretty much insufferable in it) and the endless recitation of sanitized history (the Maccabees weren't the nicest fellas.) The memorization of obscure holidays.

My mother passed an e-mail on once that summarized what you really need to know about Jewish holidays, if you're not a Jew. Ready? It's complicated. They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat. This is also helpful for Jews trying to explain our customs to outsiders. Imagine my surprise when I learned that First Communion did not automatically entail a nice catered luncheon, or even some kind of light snack after the service. No wonder goyim are so thin! As my (barely converted from Protestantism) grandmother went around saying, totally inappropriately, at my bat mitzvah: We Yids sure know how to party.

Anyway, this Yid is entertaining herself by drawing fairly elaborate flash cards. On one side, the properties of the letter. On the other, both the letter (neatly colored in) and a picture of the word associated with the letter.

So far, I've done two. And I'm ready to call it a night.
clip and save

Bob's WAGG got it from FNORD. FNORD appropriated it from elsewhere. Wherever it came from, it's brilliant--and useful! Without further ado, The Table of Condiments That Periodically Go Bad.

Every fridge in America needs one of these.