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Chickens [Nov. 10th, 2007|04:46 pm]
[Current Mood |blahconcerned]

In a shameless act of voyeurism, I've been keeping an eye on my next-door neighbor. I'm on the second floor, so my balcony and one of my windows directly overlooks his yard. His backyard looks like a total wreck - dead plants everywhere, no grass, several failed attempts at landscaping. I sympathize with him that much; I've never been able to get any kind of flora to grow properly (I even killed a cactus once).

He's sort of an American Gothic looking man - very still elongated face, strangely awkward carriage, etc. He spends all weekend in the backyard doing various things, although there's never any demonstrable progress in terms of the aesthetics of the yard. In the past few months, he has built a little shed, which Liz and I think is either where he takes people and kills them or is a meth lab. Either one seems in some ways believable.

He has three chickens. Which is curious enough in itself - Santa Barbara proper is not exactly a haven for livestock; in fact, the Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch restaurant is right around the corner...bad news for chickens, I'd think. The chickens (all hens) just rustle around all day, ostensibly hunting and pecking for food under the few lime trees he has. They seem nice enough, though a lot larger than I thought chickens could be, and I've been to the North Carolina State Fair enough to know such things. I suspect steroids.  The chickens have their own little hutch, which always has lights on at strange hours. Liz calls it the "chicken spaceship" and makes me think of the plotting chickens in "Chicken Run."

My neighbor is a very quiet man (I'll call him Cyrus for the sake of continuity). Never speaks, never talks on the phone, just wanders around doing something or another in the yard.  Aside from hammering and digging sounds and the rustling of the chickens, I usually don't hear a thing.

And then, last weekend, I heard really horribly angry yelling. I thought the couple in the front house might be having a fight; we're talking loud cursing, threats of damnation, the works.I finally left my reading to see if someone was about to be beaten. And lo and behold, Cyrus was chasing one of the chickens around the yard, screaming curse words like I haven't heard in years. I've seen few things more comical than a very still man suddenly chasing a very large hen around the yard. I'm not sure exactly what her sin was; I believe she was outside her little pen - which makes me think perhaps the "Chicken Run" scenario is feasible. For about five minutes, she managed to escape his grasp while he screamed and ran around hunched over trying to catch her. When he finally did, he picked her up and launched her back into the little chicken pen. I was trying desperately not to laugh since sound obviously carries from his house to mine.

Previous to this episode, I'd had thoughts of buying another chicken and putting it in the yard - because what could be stranger than coming outside to find your chickens had multiplied by one? Pretty funny stuff, right? But now I'm a little concerned, both that Cyrus might come after me with a chainsaw and that the chicken might be as ill-treated as the one who nearly got away.

I will say, I much prefer a completely madcap neighbor to one who serenely plays with children in the backyard, mows the grass at regular intervals, and who can be seen through their windows placidly cooking dinner. And perhaps Cyrus thinks I'm as crazy as he is - I do, after all, have loud one-sided conversations with my dog. But I don't launch Chase off the balcony when he's running around the room with too much energy.
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Echoes [May. 30th, 2007|11:37 pm]

I’ve been in North Carolina for almost a month now. Last night I sat at a Memorial Day picnic on a muggy evening, watching kids bounce around on one of those giant inflatable castles. There were lightning bugs and the air was humid and the grass was long and the branches of the trees shifted in the slight breeze. It felt right. Everything here feels right. The houses are supposed to look like this, the people are supposed to talk like this, the summer is supposed to hit us all with a rolling burst of heat and thunderstorms. Somewhere in my childhood, I think, my internal compass was fixed for this place, and everywhere else has been not right in comparison.

Feeling right about something is, as far as I can tell, like loving something; you have to feel its absence even in the dark slow curves of your spine; it has to be imprinted on you so strongly that everything else will be not right. This place, this state, has been absent from me at different points in my life, and only because of that can I start to understand the mourning of Irish-American songs, the longing of the Israelites, the sparse writings of the Desert Fathers.  Loss of home can pierce more deeply than death.

Place is, of course, always about people too. And part of the rightness here is my family, all the branches over this state; my parents across the city, my grandmother in Fayetteville, my aunts and uncles in Raleigh and Sanford, my cousins in Greensboro and Asheville, and on outward. They were my earliest constellations, and I have little idea how to orient myself without them.

But mostly I know this feeling of rightness in terms of places. My feelings for people change; sometimes one person feels right, sometimes friendships are right. And sometimes they’re not. Even in the closest family, the relationships are always in flux.

Often, places don’t change as rapidly as people. Driving through Reidsville on my way to Charlotte today, I had so many strange jolts; the Rainbow Inn motel on the right side of the road, the cemetery on the left; they looked almost the same. This was the most familiar road of my childhood, and only a few more rust stains on the hotel and an unfamiliar paved path in the cemetery had changed. Someone, I expect, will drive down that road in another twenty years and see most of the same buildings, the same restaurants, the same long reach of the highway. Perhaps it will be me, and I’ll once again feel that strange echo.

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Old-People Drivers [Feb. 23rd, 2007|11:54 pm]
[Current Mood |sympatheticsympathetic]

I used to get really impatient behind old-people drivers. I mean, they veer all over the road and they're slow and they put on their turn signal roughly fourteen years before they turn, and have all sorts of other irritating characteristics that I'm sure everyone's familiar with.

About a month ago, after mostly impatiently waiting for a big old Mercedes sedan to turn off the street that's on the way to my apartment, I saw the older couple as they turned. The man was driving: big huge straw hat, those weird wraparound dark glasses, and hands at 10 and 2. The women - ostensibly his wife - beside him was also fairly typical: short white curly hair, florid scarf around her neck, same huge wraparound sunglasses.

There was something about the man's body language, an intensity and a carefulness, that was striking. It occurred to me that he was driving so slowly and so deliberately to keep her safe. Sure, he could be zooming around like a teenager, but his reflexes weren't so good anymore, and his cataracts were acting up, and, more than anything, he wanted to protect her.

This is complete editorializing on my part, but since then, I've actually found it quite easy to be behind old-people cars, especially if there's a couple in them. I think I can understand or at least imagine why there's such an intentionality about the way they drive. Sure, it's probably partly senility, but it could also be a profound sense of care. I'd like to think that if I'd been married to someone long enough to reach old age, I'd still be loved enough to be kept safe.

On the total opposite end of this spectrum, while I was taking out my trash tonight, I heard my neighbors arguing. They were really fighting. The kind of fighting that is rippingly painful and annihilatory. Just overhearing the tone and the fierceness and the accusations made me tense up. I've been in those fights, and, while there's something beneficial about having someone in your life you can seriously fight with because you're not afraid to lose them, there was  something so destructive in the very little that I overheard.

Granted, people are never perfect on their own, not to mention in relationships, but I think it's that care thing again. I hope
the people I love would be protected from the full force of the cruelty that's possible with anyone you know well. I hope, like someone keeping me safe by driving at a snail's pace, that my little soft underbelly would also be safe. You pull your punches, because you do have a power to really hurt them. This is probably a completely inhuman standard; I mean, there are few people who, when really pressed, won't be angry enough to be horrid in some sense or another. But I don't want to ever be in one of those kinds of fights again, and I'd be willing to do a lot to prevent that from happening. They're the total absence of care.

Keep in mind I haven't been married for forty zillion years, so I may have no idea what I'm talking about. But it has made me kinder to old-people drivers, and surely that's worth something.

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Formal Apology [Feb. 13th, 2007|04:12 pm]
[Current Mood |sadrepentant]

To all my yoga teachers out there....I just have to say.....

I'm sorry.

I'm really really sorry to have forsaken you and left the yoga world for such a long time. But, you can rest assured, I am paying for every single day I took off. I can do about half of the poses I used to be able to do. My shoulders currently feel as though someone tried to tear them out of their sockets. Similar story with hamstrings, and pretty much every other major and minor muscle group on my body. It's actually hard to type this.

I know you wouldn't revel in my pain, since you're yoga teachers and not sadists (though I'm starting to suspect the two are somehow intertwined), but I just wanted to formally apologize. I got caught up with the wrong crowd - namely the crazy not-so-religious west coast cynical grad students - and yoga classes are really expensive and somewhere in all that I lost my head and left my mat to gather dust.

Just know I was thinking of you the whole time. Okay, I'm lying, but I am still quite sorry.

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Shampoo Dilemma [Feb. 9th, 2007|03:34 pm]
[Current Mood |annoyedgreatly aggrieved]

Why, oh why, is it that when I finally find any kind of beauty product that I'm really satisfied with they discontinue it??

Victoria's Secret, I'm taking back the nice things I said about you. How dare you discontinue my favorite shampoo? Now I'm forced to sit here looking at the online ordering form to figure out how many bottles I could feasibly stockpile. Six seems on one hand too many (who has six bottles of shampoo sitting around?), and on the other, this could be my last opportunity to actually obtain them.

This happens to me a lot, unfortunately. The most difficult thing I had to part with was this fabulous self-foaming face wash from Pond's. It smelled divine - a key characteristic for me - and worked wonderfully and it was also sort of neat that it was liquid in the bottle and then you pushed the top thingie and it turned into foam.

I feel like they should have a list serve for all the things that are being discontinued. Or a mass email. Someone else has probably thought of this, another annoyance of mine that I can't come up with anything original, but I'm so irritated right now I refuse to do a Google search. At least I caught this while I could still order my shampoo online.

What do you think? Six bottles? Ten? It is forever, after all.....

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The Manneporte [Feb. 8th, 2007|11:53 pm]
One of the recent movies I've rented from the evil empire of NetFlix was Baraka; it's a highly visual documentary, largely dominated by ethereal music. I'd seen it years and years ago in some music class. I don't remember a thing about the class itself, but I've remembered this movie since then.  I put it in tonight as I was doing random cleanup/dishwashing/general maintenance of apartment.

The images themselves were beautiful; there were these stunning vistas and monasteries and mountains and mist and volcanoes and women at the market. The music itself was soothing and empyrean.

And I turned it off after about twenty minutes.

Because it was too beautiful. Too vibrant, too aesthetic, too agile in the camera shots. It was the perfect view of earth and its people, and something in me found it so disturbing I couldn't watch any more.

I felt similarly about a Monet exhibit that my brother and I took my mother to over Christmas break. The exhibit was packed, and well arranged; Monet's work was displayed chronologically, appropriately, and viewed with rapt attention by the myriad group of visitors.

I hated it. I hated the beautiful water lilies and the beach scenes and the houses, all done in this lovely soft light and bold colors. I don't have the technical know-how to give a more explicitly artistic critique. But what I know was what I felt, and it was deeply unsettling.

My mother, on the other hand, loved it, and that was our gift to her, and I would never detract from her appreciation. So I wandered past landscapes and portraits and I could feel her delight in the way the light hit everything, lit it up with pinks and purples and the occasional bold red.

The single painting that captivated me was called "The Manneporte." I stood there for about twenty minutes, pulled by the power of it. There was light still, but it roughed over the rocks and the sea was more dangerous. The colors themselves churned more, and there were two figures standing beneath the Manneporte, so tiny you could barely make them out. And it was so stunning it took my breath away.

Compared to that Manneporte painting, Baraka was too synthetic, too contrived. The colors were too bright and clean-cut, the people too poised or aware. My life doesn't look like that, and it never has. I don't mean to make this dramatic, as though I have some drastically dark soul or I can't stand things to be warm and soft. I guess I have the opposite of OCD. I want things to be unaligned.  I want them to be slightly dingy or chapped by wind. My life is not water lilies. It is not beach scenes with parasols and farmhouses near flowering cliffs.

There is such a thing, I think, as being too beautiful. Mary Oliver calls it a madness born of too much light and I think I understand what that might mean. Beauty, as I see it, should pierce you and hold you and remind you that whether darkness or light, life is made of grief as much as love, and we carry on and carry on in our confusion and our loneliness and our hope.
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A day in.... [Feb. 6th, 2007|05:41 pm]
[Current Mood |curiousmildly entertained]

the Religious Studies world:

I was (politely) accosted by a younger undergrad after my Protestant Reformation class. In this particular class, which is an upper level undergrad course (I'm one of two grad students), I make it a somewhat usual habit of kicking up a fuss about various inconsistencies in the lectures or texts. Not because I need to show off as a grad student and not because I'm an expert on the Reformation, but because I'm quite sure no one (me included) learns anything without actively engaging. This usually results in outright condemnation and attempts to embarrass me by my professor, so I take my lumps with everyone else who dares speak.

Today, we were discussing the idea that Martin Luther rejected only one of two tenets of Catholicism: the first was the importance of tradition, and the second was the notion of revelation by Scripture. Luther, obviously, chucked the first one into the Danube, but adhered quite seriously to the second one. My question was, essentially, how does one experience or acknowledge revelation alone? That is, without church authority or tradition with which one might be assisted, how does an individual *know* or *feel* revelation? Assuming the text doesn't magically illume itself or angels come down from heaven to reveal the true meaning, how would I, as a good Lutheran, be able to determine revelation? How does one reach assurance that they are reading exegetically rather than eisegetically?

The general gist of an answer was that, because Scripture itself was the perfect and divine word of God, it would itself tell you what to do and how to act. The text itself, then, would be the revelation, and all of life set against that template. Which doesn't really satisfy my concern that individuals have no real way of knowing whether they're reading into or out of the scripture. So I'm still not sure I got an answer to that one, or, for that matter, that there is a good answer (please correct me if you know otherwise).

Anyway, more germane to this story, after class, as I said, this guy struck up a conversation with me (I'll call him Matt for sake of pronoun confusion). Matt essentially wanted to talk about how I, as an Episcopalian (he'd overheard another conversation I'd had with the professor), managed to be so amazing (his words) at religious studies. The questions I asked and the general knowledge I seemed to have didn't seem to fit with being Christian, he said. I cringed at that particular phrase.  Matt's own experience, he said, was that the discipline had made him more and more atheistic, so he couldn't understand how there were some professors/grad students who still believed.

Now that's a loaded topic for any religious studies scholar.

I was honest, and said that my commitment to the Episcopal faith had actually deepened after coming here, and that I felt, to go back to today's class, that only  tradition grounds us and guides us. Revelation alone is isolating and arbitrary, and to be Christian is to live in community. My scholarly work aside, I find in church life a kind of grounding and sustaining tradition that keeps me from the kind of "ooohh, I'm sort of Buddhist, and then I like a little bit about Judaism, and then on Saturdays I'm a Hindu". Nothing wrong with that thoroughly modern approach, but it leaves one without guidance or circumscription. Which makes me a very strange kind of Protestant....I love the Episcopal faith.

I also said that it has been very difficult for me to bear up under the strain of all these extremely nihilistic and minimalistic thinkers (damn you, Michel Foucault), but that there were some extraordinary ones who made up for it (kisses to Derrida).

The second entertaining bit: my professor, in this same class, had made a joke about how Nietzsche is my dead German boyfriend (it's true, and if you try and take him away I'll beat the living daylights out of you....he'd like that), and also joked that it might make for a very odd Valentine's Day. Matt mentioned that, and was absolutely stunned that I did, in fact, find Nietzsche to be a hot number and the passionate love of my life. How, he asked, could I possibly love Nietzsche and be a Christian (again, a wince on my part)?

I said what I loved in Nietzsche was his fierce and passionate refusal to compromise; he was, even on the brink of madness, blazing forth with his writing. And, I added, his critique of Christianity was dead on. But his absolute command to stop living for the next world and live in this one seemed thoroughly concomitant with my beliefs.

I think I just blew the fuses at that point. There was more talking, but very little headway because Matt was so astounded I could hold all these things in common and not go completely crazy. Which is not an inaccurate assessment, but it was extremely entertaining to watch him try and fit it all together, which I never manage to do anyway.

That conversation almost makes up for the nasty display of  temper from a fellow graduate student, who took it upon himself to upbraid me for several things, including my sense of "hopeless optimism". How I love being called an optimist. It usually comes from people who call themselves "realists," as though not groveling in pits of despair puts me in the category of naïveté.

Anyway, that's the day in the life of a graduate student. That, and reading some Heidegger. That man seems to revel in circuitous and devious writing.

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The Dream of a Resting Fulcrum [Feb. 3rd, 2007|11:38 pm]

My life, as I’ve known it thus far, has been marked with an incessant restlessness. I’ve always pushed beyond my limits. The methods have changed over the years: push relationships to exhaustion. Push exercise until exhaustion. Push academics until I’m worn thin.  The reason is always the same: with bone tired comes a slight feeling of rest.

I have dreamed of rest. I had hoped that age would mellow me, but it has not. I'm here at the top of an academic realm, but have found so little peace. So I’ve asked for change.

I know, clearer and clearer, what I want: I want a farm where the mist sets on the meadows in the morning. I want to hear  tree frogs through the limitless darkness; I want to smell cold fields and rusty granite creekwater as I fall asleep. I want to wake early and sit, bundled against the chill, to watch the light change. Sitting there, I would be the resting fulcrum, knowing that nothing around me would move, that the changing of the seasons would cycle through, year after year beneath the mountains, soft and foggy and achingly old.

I want, day after day, to pull out flaring skeins of words and set them down on paper and then fit them to each other, line after difficult line. Because if I continued to do this, I might be able to bring forth something that spoke to the edged glory of my life and its gifts. I dream a book that is aletheia embodied; a surging of grief that tears into you years later, and the icy contraction of loneliness, and the soft touch of a man’s hand on the small of your back, and the faint sharp smell of iceberg lettuce, and the slight trembling of a tectonic shift when you realize you’re in love with someone, and joy like springtime always flowing forth.

I want someone there inside that farmhouse. Though I can’t see him well, I feel his quiet presence. I can’t tell much more than that; the country of marriage is strange territory. But whatever it brings, I want to set two fulcrums beneath the changing night skies.

This, all of this, would be rest. It would lengthen the spine of my life and bathe my disquiet in penetrating summer heat. I would sleep peacefully and wake without this trailing note of sorrow. I would be free from this painful arc of force.  I could stand at the doorway of my life and feel replete in the smell of wood smoke and the blazing leaves of fall. It would be peace, and I hope for it.

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Weak female will [Feb. 3rd, 2007|12:04 pm]
[Current Mood |lovedstarry-eyed]

Whoa. I'm in love. Seriously in love.

It's not even with that skulky guy who walked past me smelling like better than my daily yerba maté the other day (that's really saying something). No, I'm in love with the technological wizardry and bountiful plenty of Blockbuster Total Access.

I tried to resist your charms, Total Access. I even (sorry to tell you this in such an impersonal forum) thought about trying NetFlix. But I just couldn't do it. The lure of your online ordering + in-store exchange was just too much for my poor weak female will. I spent about an hour yesterday gleefully adding obscure movies to my queue. It was like pure bliss, the same feeling I get from walking into libraries and wanting all the books Looking today at my queue in a bit more sober and contemplative light, I'm wondering what it says about me.

I've got Baraka, this amazing documentary artistic film I saw about eight years ago and never forgot, closely followed by Secrets of Ancient Empires: The First Beliefs, then a movie about the French philosopher Jacques Derrida that I never finished watching. Close behind is a documentary about voodoo, then a movie about Jewish resistance under Nazi regimes, then a movie about bluegrass in the South. There are about eighty more after that along the same lines.

For those of you who think I'm a frivolous young lass, I offer evidence of my movie queue to inform you I'm quite serious. There's not a single car chases and explosions and martial arts maniacal film in there. Or a romantic comedy.  Perhaps being slightly unconventional in my movie tastes doesn't demonstrate my somber attitude toward life's peculiarities. But I am a serious person, no joke. I studied plant genetics for three weeks before I dropped the class in favor of a seminar on Michel Foucault. How's that for proof?
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Soft glowy lights [Feb. 2nd, 2007|06:58 pm]
[Current Mood |refreshedrefreshed]

God bless Victoria's Secret. And not because they make fabulous lingerie and underwear (which they do) and not because they have gorgeous women in their catalogs who make you think that you would also look that good in that dress (there should be no blessing on that account); no, the reason God should bless Viccy C's is because they have actually gotten the memo and made their dressing room lighting soft and glowy so almost everything you put on looks fabulous.

This, to me, should be a no brainer. Companies in the business of selling clothing of any kind should invest in absolutely the best lighting for women's dressing rooms. But for whatever ridiculously stupid reason, they don't. Go into your average department store and the bathing suit section dressing room has hideous fluorescent lighting. Even Heidi Klum would look pale and a little wide around the middle. Probably not really, since as far as I can tell you can put Heidi Klum in a big tub of lasagna and she'd look fabulously hot. Point being, though,  NO ONE (else) looks good in that lighting. So why the hell would you buy a bathing suit when it makes you look like crap?

Sadly, this is not restricted to mass department stores. Even the little pseudo-boutique-y stores do it too. Banana Republic. Shitty lighting. Bebe. Even worse. The Limited. I usually walk out of there feeling like a fat hag (and I'm usually not that self-critical).  There is NO good reason for this. For a minimum of investment, any store would get an enormous return, I'm quite sure. Make women look good in your clothing. They'll buy it, I swear. And if you can figure out a way to make them look younger and with bigger breasts, that would also be a real boost in sales. That might be harder to do, I suspect.

So thank you,Victoria's Secret, for figuring it out. I looked wonderful even in that Pepto-Bismol pink and black see through top that I brought into the dressing room on a whim. Now that's good lighting.

In other news, I actually went into the innards of my computer and added more memory and I had ordered the right kind of memory and I didn't electrocute myself and my computer is smarter and I'm just so proud of myself.

Oh, and while I'm talking about things technological, may I say that, while scrolling through my phonebook, I was slightly horrified to notice all the numbers of people I keep in the phone only so that I can screen their calls. Like at least a good 40% of numbers were from people I would be happy never to see again. Another 10% were people whose names I didn't even recognize. Who the hell is Ryan? I don't know any Ryan's. Or Kiel? Is that some store name I accidentally entered wrong? I'm sort of tempted to call and ask them how they know me. I suspect they don't even know. 

So we have a solid 50% of pointless numbers, to which I add another 25% of numbers from old friends/acquaintances from NC and other locations that I don't have any particular reason to call, and then 10% of my family members (also not on the "call every day " list) and you have a total of 85% of completely useless information stored in my phone.

But hey, if Kiel ever calls me, I'll know it's he.
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