January 31,2006

Valley of the Shadows

Fight the powers that be! I’m talking about non-conformity!

But I’ll tell you the truth I’d like to be an undercover non-conformist. A little conformity is a comforting thing. Enough to get through the door.

‘Cause I always think I’m a little off. Not quite like all the other non-conformists. As if I am unaware of the three sheets of toilet paper dragging off my shoe.

Somehow, if I start talking about what’s on my mind, people give me a blank stare and say, “Whatever.”

But I’ve got the floor, and you don’t, so I’m going to speak my mind.

I got this new job. And I’ve moved to a new place. Okay, I’ll be honest I bought a house–one that June Cleaver would be proud of, with a lemon tree in the front and roses on the side.

This freaks me out a little. Because I do not want to wear a twin set and eat off the kitchen floor. I want to be that creative artist type that stays up all night drinking and toking with their other creative friends and being REAL.

Isn’t that what the L.A. life is all about? Except I don’t’ drink much and I don’t like drugs. And I get really sleepy around nine thirty, so no one would hang out with me.

I guess that’s the life in West L.A. I live on the East East of L.A., and I am just like everyone else here. We get up early and speed to beat the sunrise, speed to the screeching halt of the bumper in front driving 5, 20, 10, stop and then start again with the miles per hour for the hour or the hour and a half that it takes to finally stop at the parking lot and the padded cell walls of the cubicle.

It’s not so bad. I like mornings. And maybe this is the real L.A. after all. Maybe you crazies from the West are going to crash and burn back to where you came from while we east enders drop the grains of sand into our 401Ks ’til our time runs out, the mortgage is paid or we retire–whichever happens last.

Maybe this is the real L.A. Los Angeles is full of Valleys, did you know? Any dip between these many hills is a valley.

Quite honestly, I love my commute. I drive a short jaunt on the 10, exit left and downshift my manual transmission down to 3rd so I can power up the crest of the 57. Below me, just at sunrise, the North Horizon is a range of green tree and gray rock mountains, which, when hit by the slant light of dawn, get pink or orange or purple mountain majesties.

This is the San Gabriel Valley. Yes, the Holy Angel Gabriel, the mouthpiece of God. And I hear it every morning, the messenger of God proclaiming that I am redeemed.

But that is the second valley of my daily journey. I had to climb to enter the Angel’s valley. I asked around and discovered that I live in Pomona Valley. Pomona is the name chosen for this place when it had few houses and more fruit trees. Pomona is the Goddess of the harvest. I dwell in the Valley of the Goddess. Which is most excellent, because I am the Queen of Pretty Things. It’s a long story, but I’ve been the Queen of Pretty Things for almost seven years now, a position which carries a lot of responsibility. As the Queen, I am pleased to find my dominions in the Valley of the Goddess.

As to be greeted by the Valley of Voice of God, traveling through it every day to the very end. I know it is the very end of the San Gabriel Valley, because my cube window faces a big Rock. The rock is part of a mountain, and where there is a mountain, on the other side is a Valley. This valley is well known: the San Fernando Valley.

Fernando…OOooo Fernando…ABBA? This is the Valley of the Dancing Queen.

I travel there less frequently. I suppose that’s just as well.

December 28, 2005

Naming Conventions

I met Chris for dinner after I went to the bank about some of our money matters. We were catching up on each other’s day:

“The guy at the bank kept calling you my husband. I told him you weren’t…”

“Old habits die hard.”

“I guess ‘significant other’ hasn’t quite caught on. It’s kind of formal, anyway.”

“What would you want them to call me?”

I smiled adoringly at him. “You would be my ‘old man’.”

“Oh right. Then would they call you my ‘old lady’?”

“I prefer to be your ‘queen’….I guess they could call you my ‘prince charming’.”

Chris got that funny look on his face, the look that means his funny bone is clicking into place. “…do you think that if a real royal family, and you had a son…?”

“NO!” I said. “That’s not allowed.”

“Why not? there could be a prince charming the first…”

“No, it’s against the rules.”

“What rules? If you were King, you could do what you wanted.”

“You could not! The same rules that let you be King would dictate what sort of names you could use to name the princes.”

“…and then he would grow up to be King Charming…”

My turn now. “Of course if it were an Emperor…maybe in China…”

“The Ming Dynasty?”

“Yeah…Emperor Char Ming.”

December 22.2005

Talking and Listening– The Art of Conversation by Benedetta Craveri, translated from the Italian by Teresa Waugh

There was a time when formal conversation was a highly respected and desirable art. For the rich upper class with nothing better to do than entertain themselves with their own exclusive company, being interesting, inoffensive and, if you can manage it, witty, seemed just about the epitome of human grace.

The period of the salon it was, an era described in The Age of Conversation by Benedetta Craveri, translated from the Italian by Teresa Waugh. My heart squeezes with envy at the thought of those drawing rooms. There is a reason they called that time the age of enlightenment. Conversation is one of the very best ways to learn anything. To be exposed to new ideas and perspectives.

America was born during the enlightenment. Interestingly, the age of conversation and enlightenment was a thing that suggested its own demise. America’s crazy ideas spelled the end of the upper class. The concept of a class who did not need to produce anything but conversation was rejected by the conversations that ensued.

America had work to do. America, and everywhere, had projects to start and research to do and the world to change. They did not have time to merely sit and converse. That has continued forward to this day.

But that didn’t mean the conversations had become unnecessary. Humans need to talk. They need to clear their psychic buffers and build on half conceived ideas. I think it might be nearly as essential as sleep.

It might be time to take a page from those salons again. Craveri writes “talent for listening was more appreciated than one for speaking. Exquisite courtesy restrained vehemence and prevented quarrels.”

I, for one, would like to prevent quarrels. World peace would be a little closer, if we take this idea as true, if listening could have that effect.

There are two people who have been working on this exact issue. I don’t know if they have read Craveri’s book, but Bill and Liz have taken a chunk of their lives to bike around the U.S. and wear a sign that says:

Talk to Me

These guys knock my socks off. I first heard about them on “This American Life”, the “Say Anything” episode. Bill and Liz sat on a busy Manhattan street holding their sign. People just came up and talked to them about anything.

Imagine my shock and delight to actually see with my own eyes these two fabulous people at the Los Angeles Book Fair last year. They sat with their sign and I walked over and talked to them!

I asked them about TAL, what they thought of Ira Glass, and barely restrained myself from asking for their autograph. They did, however, ask for mine, and my email address.

They surprised me with their sweetness. They really seemed sincere and interested in what people had to say. How could people maintain that kind of interest after so long?

I really wanted to get them to talk to me, actually. I thought they were fascinating. When I told them where I lived (Glendale), Liz told me she was part Armenian and had promised to go visit Glendale on their trip(Glendale’s population is more than 50% Armenian). I recommended some busy spots and a bus line to take to get there.

I tore myself away, at last. These guys are so great! I can barely get my mind around what they have chosen to do. I asked them about what was “next”, what they wanted to make of their experiences. They seemed not to have concrete plans.

In some ways, I think that’s good. Commercializing their endeavor could ruin the integrity of it, and they seemed to be so sincere.

I got an email from them. They have circled the lower 48 states on their bikes with their sign. Check out their website: http://www.nyctalktome.com

Ponder this, my friends. What does it mean to really listen?

November 15, 2005

Deja Vu

I sleep hard, but sometimes I dream things. Things that haven’t happened yet. Sometimes I remember them, wonder about the dream. Then I go on my way and forget them.

Until they come true. They call it déjà vu. But I know I dreamed it. Stupid, everyday, unimportant things. Like looking for a notebook when someone is walking down a hall towards me. Or holding a conversation, when in the middle I realize I know exactly the next thing I am going to say. I would step into the now that had already happened months ago, years ago, in my dream.

It feels like a spell; I am split in two. The me who dreamed the conversation, or should I say, the me in the dream from the past, was fully engaged in what she was saying.

But the present me, the one living in the event which had already taken place, became distracted by the memory of the present.

How do I dream these future scenes?

How could I possibly see what hadn’t happened yet? What let me see the future? And why such irrelevant ordinary scenes from the future?

This makes me wonder how time works. Am I in time? Like I am in the universe? Or am in time like a fish in water?

A fish can jump out of water. Leap up high and dive back in.

For that matter, am I traveling through my life like a fish through a stream? Where the direction is laid out, only I can’t see far enough ahead to know that the biggest choices I have are whether to swim on the left side or the right.

Or maybe I am the stream. Maybe I am flowing for the first time. Perhaps my journey from the heights to the sea is unmarked. I, the water, flow because I must, but minute by second by future moment the way is chosen. Each obstacle changes the whole course. Over that pebble, pool below that hill, rapids here, waterfall there. Something new under the sun.

My dream moments might be telling me something. Who knows which moment is the decisive one? What choice is the fulcrum for an irreversible direction? Is some extra-temporal being trying to draw attention to the unnoticed as the start of some fork in the road?

But if that’s so, what am I supposed to do with this?

When the spell of a dreamed scene comes over me, and I am split between the layers of the dream memory and the identical present, I shift.

If the dream turned right, I go straight.

Who knows what’s at stake? Nothing? Everything?

But illusion, delusion or otherwise, I choose where to plant my feet.

November 3, 2005

Where’s your pride?

Sticks and stones will break your bones
but names will never hurt you

…that’s a crock of bull…Names are extremely painful. All kinds of words can conspire to hit you in the middle and throb.

Each person has a sense of themselves. I am not the only one to have a way that I wish to be seen, a presentation of myself projected to others. I want to be seen as clever, or funny, or good-looking. All three even.

But when others poke a hole in my bubble, when they dash my polished surface… They could show me up as stupid. Or not laugh at my jokes. Or something much more embarrassing.

Something that makes me feel like everything about me is undesirable and even despised.

Uhhll. That’s a horrible feeling.

I want to be loved. I want to be accepted and cherished.

That doesn’t always happen. There are times when I am very NOT.

It’s ironic, because I know that I am not always desirable and lovable. I live with me every day. I know my flaws.

Then again, it is especially painful when I hear from others about a flaw I was unaware of. How withering to learn that they outfit I thought so cute has a big hole in it. Or the speech habit I thought endearing was percieved as condescending.

It’s a sick, skin-crawling self-loathing feeling. It’s the sort of feeling I want to be rid of as soon as possible, but it lingers.

I remember one particular embarrassing moment. I was in a new town, and had been embraced in a new friendship–possibly romantic!–which was all the more exciting because there was no one else vying for my attention.

He had loaned me his guitar, a great trust, and told me where he lived so I could return it after a while.

It seemed appropriate to me to bring it back after a few weeks. Still warm from his attention, and not wanted the friendship to fade away, I followed the directions he had given me to his apartment, where his lived with his family. I brought the guitar back, hoping for a little visit.

I came to the door and was greeted with a wall of hostility. His sister left me in the hall, and went to get her brother. He took his time. When he finally came out he asked why I had come.

To return the guitar.

He looked down at the guitar and took it from me at last. Then he said I should not have come.

I left as soon as I could. I was mortified. I felt like a bug that narrowly escaped death, only because I would have soiled the shoes it would take to squish me.

I was reeling. I wanted to find some comfort somewhere. But I had no one I could go to. I wanted to have some friend–someone!–tell me, “hey, don’t listen to them. You’re okay.”

But I was new to the town, and I had no way of communicating with any of my old friends. It was all me. And I felt like a pimple on the butt of the world.

That part of me that stays on the side tried to think of something. Some way to comfort myself. I began to realize that the thing that was hurting was my pride.

What is Pride? “… it’s not a hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man…”

And yet it can be hurt. Was it important? or was this pain like the hiccups, something uncomfortable that was not serious and would pass?

Pride…Pride is the original sin. Lucifer was proud and he screwed everything up.

In that case, pride SHOULD be hurt. Pride should be ignored, torn down, attacked. It was a good thing to have my pride damaged. I should be humble, not proud.

And yet…There is another meaning of pride. Pride in opposition to shame. I will not be ashamed. If I am ashamed, it means I have done something wrong. Something shameful.

But if I am proud, I am proud of myself, I am living right. I should strive to be proud of my work. I should preserve my pride.

How can this be? Two things that mean the opposite.

Here is how I have determined the difference:

For the false, destructive pride, the source comes from external things. If I am proud of what I did not create, what I did not work for, then this is false. If I take pride in my appearance, my status or how people regard me, then that’s wrong.

But if the source of my pride comes from my own work, and the affirmation comes from myself, then it is good pride. Yes, I should work hard and take pride in my work. I should be careful to be honest and have integrity. I can be proud of that integrity, but my pride can be an internal affirmation. I don’t need to broadcast my good deeds, it is enough to know them myself.

A shameful pride would be trumpeted and draw from other peoples’ opinion.

But a humble pride would be quiet and only need affirmation from oneself.

That is basically the litmus test. And it places my pride, my self-worth, inside my sphere of control. I don’t need anyone else’s opinions to know.

I can hold my own with pride.

November 1, 2005

It’s your Duty to uphold tradition

Once of the things that parents must do when raising their children is give them a sense of right and wrong, and a sense of the values of their culture.

This is important! If kids are not guided and molded, how can society maintain its vital traditions?

Parents, I say to you now, it is your DUTY to take your children trick or treating. Haloween depends upon it.

In years past, there were hordes of costumed waifs parading down the block after dark. It has slowed! It is merely a trickle when once it was a mighty flood.

But we, the childless members of society depend on the children to uphold the tradition. Where would we be if the children abandon Halloween?

Do not go only to the businesses and the malls to gather candy! Fie on you, you parents who deem it convenient or ‘safe’ to do so!

No, we depend on the children to provide us with a reason to buy large quantities of our favorite candies.

It is your DUTY, parents and children, even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you don’t like candy or aren’t allowed to eat it.

You are the carriers of the torch. If you do not pass it forward, we are lost.

Can you imagine the grim future, the barren and dry future of an America with no more halloween? No sweets, no costumes, no flirting with evil or badness?

Let it not be so! Keep halloween thriving! Dress your children and yourselves!

It is your unhallowed duty.

October 18, 2005

a decade

America…since…Gosh, I don’t know…But we started to think in decades.

The 50s…the 60s…the 70s…the 80s…

The 80s are coming back, don’t you know?

But, what’s up with the arbitrary emphasis on the ‘0’? the 80 to the 90. Or the 1950 to the 1960.

We have an extra zero now, and we hardly know what to do with it. We don’t have a cute term for the now…The fifties, the eighties, the nineties…and two thousand five…or worse, two thousand and five.

We’re kind of drifting until we get to call it the teens. Then it’s back on solid ground, the twenties, the thirties and the forties.

But at this moment, we are half way. 2005.

And for me, that concludes my own personal decade. On October 15, 1995 I flew from the Anchorage airport to Sacramento California.

My first decade of California living has passed.

I have a geeky reason for remembering that it was 1995. That was when it went from Windows 3.11 to Windows 95

A big year, to be sure. And the decade that followed has been justly monumental. I am so happy to be where I am and to have the skills that I have.