Friday, June 29, 2007

Mea Culpa

I know I haven't been updating this blog on the level I should, or want to. There are a lot of things I'm thinking about both in analog and digital form, which are either preventing me from finishing just one or preventing me from spending time writing at the computer in the first place. But in the queue are:

• Recent Supreme Court decisions, the desegregation/racial quotas cases in particular
Carousel and the gender issues surrounding it
• The problematics of being a "do-gooder" and what one can be instead
• More on organic foods and social movements, inspired by the comments in Band-Aids and Open Wounds
• Contrasting views of sex and sexuality in 1984 and Brave New World (with other supporting dystopias) and their implications for the Bush administration
• Authors writing in the voice of a different gender from their own (someday I really will write this one that I've been promising to write for centuries, I SWEAR).


Friday Poetry: Li Po/Ezra Pound

Li Po
tr. Ezra Pound
The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter

While my hair was still cut straight against my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling.
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
For ever and for ever and for ever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

By the By, or, Pointless Milestone the Fourth

The previous post was my 200th post.

And it only took me two and a half years.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Poetry: James Tate

James Tate
The Early Years

Minnesota is the Gopher State.
Why? I don't know.
In baseball, a homerun
is sometimes referred to
as a gopher ball. I know
nothing about this so-called
baseball. Huckleberries
are also known as gopherberries.
Bull snakes are likewise
alluded to as gopher snakes;
presumably, they hunt
and eat the little varmints.
There is a gopher
known as the pocket gopher.
He would probably fit
in a pocket quite snugly.
I think gopher wood
is yellow of hue.
In southern Florida
there is a tree
with snowy, white flowers.
It has a hard, yellow wood
and yields a yellow dye.
Now if this is the wood
you are suggesting, please
tell me how I can get
to southern Florida
in time. I know this means
little to you, but I am over
six hundred years old.


I hated the ida of leaving
everyone behind. They were
a violent bunch, but who isn't?
Somehow we did it, I stopped
asking why. We snatched some birds,
roped a couple of giraffes, etc.
What a leave-taking, knowing
it will never be the same,
but it will be just the same,
as if to say, "I love swimming,
but I hate water." I might also
add that I packed poorly.


Although my sons were only
a hundred years old, they
were beginning to walk funny
and talk in riddles and pinch
one another's wives. No one
was getting a tan on this
cruise. We played gin rummy.
We sure could have used
some air freshener in the hold.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Loss, Part the nth

I just learned that the co-founder, co-artistic director, and incredible leader of my favorite theater company in Chicago, youth or otherwise, has passed away.

There's not really much to say. I don't know about you, but I've had quite enough of people dying.

As I was lying in bed, a woman on the street said, loudly enough that I could hear it from my third-floor window, "What the fuck are you looking at? Drive, dipshit!" and I thought, Do we really have time enough in our lives to say things like that? Honestly, probably we do, but I wouldn't mind knowing why that is.

I mourn an incredible artist and (judging from my limited knowledge of her) an incredible human being.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Poetry: e.e. cummings

Perhaps a trite choice among the gentleman's works, but goddamn it's good.

e.e. cummings
[anyone lived in a pretty how town]

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone's any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I Believe I Believe You Believe

My friend V is a first-grade teacher. Raised a questioning Catholic herself, she works at a non-denominational Christian school in which the kids pray every morning, attend a school-wide chapel every week, sing songs about praising Jesus recreationally while doing art projects. This year, if I've mentioned to her a problem that feels intractable, she asks, knowing my lack of commitment to a particular religious belief, if I would like her kids to pray for me. And I've taken to saying yes, and upon learning my cousin would not leave the ICU, I called V and left her a message requesting that her kids pray for my cousin and my cousin's children.

Now what was that all about?

It's perhaps inaccurate to say I lack commitment to a particular religious belief; rather, I lack commitment to a particular organized religion. Culturally, it being my own background, I favor Judaism, but as I've said before, art comes much closer to being a religion for me than any established form of worship. I believe that art can change people, can solve problems, can offer experiences of transcendence where little else in the world can. I'd say that's a personal belief, but I've come to it because it's through art that I've experienced the deepest, most complex, most surreal—that is to say, least defined/limited by conventional logic—relationships with other human beings. And I consider religion to be about proscribing, or at least directing, relationships among human beings.

And yet, the next belief I'd put forward is that human interaction is my god. What many people in my life, including but not limited to bunches of my own adult students, attribute to an act of God I attribute to the power of human connection. I attribute a limitless power to connection between human beings—which is not to say that limits don't exist, but it is to say that I don't believe they have to. I think mobs and ensembles have tremendous power for evil and good (respectively, though that's reductive); they can do things far beyond what any individual could, and I don't consider that a miracle, although I think such a group could do anything that fervent Christians believe would be a miracle. Maybe not *anything*, but anything that I believe has ever actually happened.

It's beyond that, though; it's almost a belief in karma. Though I don't believe that the prayers of V's students are reaching God's ears, I believe in their belief. I think that the power of seven-year-olds praying could change the world, just by virtue of seven-year-olds believing in something that strongly. I think those children putting that energy into the universe is going to change it. Perhaps it's because I still trust seven-year-olds to act on their professed beliefs, to genuinely do good works in the world, but even if V's students never meet my second cousins (my deceased cousin's children) themselves I still somewhere believe that the fact that they prayed for them will make a difference. On a certain level it's delusional, or at the very least too abstract to be relevant; my second cousins are going to have a very difficult next several years of life no matter what happens, whoever has prayed for them and whoever concretely, actively supports them. But it would also be sad if we wasted prayer, and belief, on things like "making things not difficult." I believe that support in the world has been created for my cousins by V's students' belief. Not because God will provide it, but because seven-year-olds are putting that kind of thought and love and energy into the world, which means there's more of it, and will somehow make its way to my cousins.

I don't really understand why I find that so much more plausible than God.

Is it all semantics, to belief that it's your belief that changes the world, rahter than an all-powerful deity (or set thereof) responding to the power of your belief? I know some believers who'd say it is and some who'd say it isn't, and there's always the thrillingly circular question of whether and how semantics matter(s). And it may be that I'd prefer to believe in something over which I could conceivably (and ethically) exercise some level of control. I can make decisions about what I put into the world and what I ask for and let my judgment, rather than the judgment of something I could only pretend to understand, be the ultimate arbiter. Certainly my judgment's been influenced by any number of sources, among them religious people, but I think it's beyond semantics and into pragmatics. I believe in, and am devoted to, other people's belief—not automatically or indiscriminately, but I think there's abundant evidence that it makes a difference, for good and/or for ill. Can I direct it, does my belief in a particular form of belief influence what goes into the world? Is there any way to decide that for certain?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday Poetry: Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes
Harlem Night Song

Let us roam the night together

I love you.

The Harlem roof-tops
Moon is shining.
Night sky is blue.
Stars are great drops
Of golden dew.

Down the street
A band is playing.

I love you.

Let us roam the night together

Last Plug

No, seriously, this is the last time I'm going to plug it, but come to the Balls to Congress launch party at Early to Bed from 9-11 pm, and continuing at Big Chicks afterwards. It will be a joy to see you there. And you can send balls.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Friday Poetry: Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver
In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Band-Aids and Open Wounds

I am thinking about this article Tyromaven sent from WorldChanging a couple of weeks ago, and I am thinking about food donation and the general concept of "helping those less fortunate," and I am thinking about the Olympics in 2008 in Beijing and the possibility of the Olympics in 2016 in Chicago, and I am thinking about comfort in all its ambiguous definitions and necessities.

And they're all related. Seriously.

I've been suffused lately with a blanket contempt for Band-Aid social solutions. Food pantries in particular have been on my mind for a variety of reasons. What's bothering me, basically, is that they do indeed solve a problem that has to be addressed immediately—a person is hungry, he needs food—without acknowledging that food is, indeed, a political problem. I can extend that to most charities, the problem that they don't contextualize what they claim to serve. Yes, if a person is on the street, she needs a bed, and yet to what degree are you then saying it's okay that she doesn't have a bed in the first place, as long as you're there to provide it?

By the same token, Daley touts his 2016 Olympic plans as a revitalization of the South Side. Beijing, one of the most polluted cities in the world, was chosen to host the 2008 Summer Olympics back in 2001, probably with the hope that such an honor might help them to take their pollution problem more seriously. But who's really going to change the structure of their lives permanently to suit one summer? Whatever's put in place to help the Olympics will be there briefly and leave with the event. I can't remember where most of the Olympics in my lifetime have taken place (all I can call to mind right now is Lillehammer and Atlanta).

Last year in Chicago, LaSalle Bank piloted a really upsetting ad campaign in which the collars of shirts and sweaters were displayed with such labels as "The last time this sweater was in fashion, Carter was president." (I'm not remembering the exact ads, but that's the idea.) At the bottom of the poster, it then suggested that if you had such relics lying around your house, you should donate them to the LaSalle Bank Clothing Drive to help those less fortunate. Thus, of course, reinforcing social hierarchies—the poor can have what you can spare. The stuff that's in fashion, of course, is the stuff you require; perhaps then you'd be able to distinguish those "less fortunate" by the fact that they're wearing less fortunate clothes.

All right, that's a little angry. And it also perhaps points to my fears regarding the organics movement and food donation, which is to say, the possibility that the "less fortunate" are just going to end up with less fortunate food. I recognize that there are some great organizations working to counteract that (which obviously means I'm not the first person to think of it), but the idea does point to the social problems of Band-Aids—that if you just stick them over stuff, with no further care or consideration, nothing's going to heal.

Chicago this year has attempted to change Earth Day to Earth Month, which calls to mind perhaps my favorite Onion headline ever, 'White History Year Resumes." In grossly oversimplified terms, that's what the WorldChanging article addresses. As ought to be obvious, and in most cases is, we need to commit ourselves to Earth Behavior, because every year is, indeed, Earth Year, just as every year technically is the year for every form/version of history. That's how we're going to heal gaping open social wounds.

However, the co-founder of Balls to Congress would be kind of a fool to deny the importance of Band-Aids. Which is to say, a world where we're entirely focused on gaping wounds and ignore things that need Band-Aids would be a world in which a lot more open wounds were created because the Band-Aid problems went untreated. In Harry Potter terms, even with Voldemort gaining power, we still need Fred and George's joke shop. It's essential to be able to distinguish between Band-Aid problems and open wounds (and to acknowledge that there are, in fact, things in between that need stitches), but I'm not even certain that one treatment takes priority over another. I aspire to be a person who always has Band-Aids handy and knows that if you require more than, say, three of them, it's a problem that requires treatment and devotion to its healing.