Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sometimes . . .

. . . I want to teach my class whatever is left on the whiteboard from the class before us, even if I have no idea what the terms, diagrams, or scrawls means.

. . . I want to buy the items off a found grocery list (lost by someone else) and do something with those items.

Today . . .

. . . I found a list in the deli, and I actually picked it up. The list was on a heavy piece of rectangular paper, about 3 inches wide and 5 inches tall. It listed the following in block letters (with weird capitalization) in heavy black marker:

PARSlEY - frEsh
ICEberG - LettucE
MAJic SizinG - Light
CAlAmARi - Frozen

(Unfortunately, I can't reproduce the underlining here.)

Then on a Super-Sticky Post-it Note (the real expensive thing!) that was positioned perfectly on the paper so that it touched the bottom and side margins (by the way, this part was in cursive and in pencil):

Spray Sizing (light)
2 Large Dove Bars
IceBerg LETTuce

When I flipped the list-card over, there was a printed line drawing of an Old Spice cologne bottle. I figured this must be one of those papers you get when you're testing out scents. I sniffed the paper. It smelled like the sharpie, the marker used to write the first part of the list.

Observations: 1) the owner of this list likely bought something (something from the deli) not on his/her list; 2) Dove Bars, Iceberg Lettuce, and Spray Sizing were important enough to be written down more than once; 3) if I were to buy the items on this shopping list, I could have nicely pressed shirts, skirts, and handkerchiefs; I could give friends candy bars (I'm not too fond of plain chocolate; although Dove is pretty good) or make Texas Chocolate Chip Cookies (this looks similar to the recipe I have); I have no idea what I would do with the calamari; and lettuce and parsley are easy enough to find something to do with.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Random things . . .

1. Betty told me that to avoid near collisions when walking (I always seem to choose to walk the same direction the person about to crash into me chooses to walk), I should look at people's feet. Whichever way their feet are pointing, they will walk. I've discovered that this method works most of the time. And it's a far better method than watching faces.

2. I invented a new term--symmetrical rhyme--which takes into account both visual and sound properties (granted these are a stretch) of certain words. (Why is it that we only ever talk about the sounds words make and their meanings? Why don't we talk about the shape of the letters? The visual patterns?)

Symmetrical Rhyme: a word where the first 1/2 of the word when read front to back (e.g., cot) rhymes with the second 1/2 of the word when read back to front (e.g., not (being the reverse as ton)), as in the word COT-TON.

And while we're at it, here are some other terms:

Asymmetrical Rhyme: a word that has the same properties as symmetrical rhyme, except that one of the rhyming units is longer than the other.

Symmetrical Half Rhyme: a word that has the same properties as symmetrical (full) rhyme, only either the vowel sound or the consonant sounds rhyme (not both; otherwise, it would be full rhyme). Some examples of symmetrical half rhyme: FAT-TEN (fat and net are half rhymes with the t-sound rhyming; if you want to get technical, they're an example of consonance); MIR-ROR (mir and ror are half rhymes (consonance)); BUT-TON (but and not are half rhymes (consonance)).

And then, of course, you could have asymmetrical half rhyme.

I know that these terms would not be all that useful to poets, as we never pronounce the word COTTON as cot and not. But, I still think that the visual properties, and their resultant sounds, are important. I'm just not wise enough, however, to know how.

3. The difference between a candy orange slice (which seems rather soft) and a jelly ring (which seems firmer), is the thickness of the candy. The thicker the jelly, the softer.

4. If someone offered you five beautiful rings--all of gold bedecked in jewels--and the only catch was that you had to grow an extra finger for that fifth ring, would you do it? (They won't let you put the ring on your thumb.) There's a billboard in SL that says you'll like their stuff so much that you'll wish you had more fingers. (And I know I'm not supposed to take it literally, but I just can't imagine ever ever ever wanting more fingers, unless I had lost one in a tragic Lemony Snicket-esque accident.)

Monday, December 1, 2008

The problem with rubrics . . .


This is in progress. I would appreciate your ideas/thoughts at any stage of this blog entry's life.

To become educated is to become an independent thinker and learner, a person who knows how to analyze, search out relevant information, investigate, reason, and discover.

To me, giving a student a writing rubric is like handing over the CliffsNotes to a novel. Don't bother about grappling with the raw voice in Catcher in the Rye or weighing through the imagery-laden scenes in Moby Dick; read the CliffsNotes; let Cliff guide how you perceive and understand this book.

In all fairness to Cliff, literature classrooms advance certain ways of seeing, but they also encourage discussions, original thinking, exploration, analysis, and discovery.

Moby Dick is more than what happened (see CliffsNotes' Chapter Summaries) and who key characters are (see CliffsNotes' Character Analyses) and the "symbolism of Queequeg’s coffin" (see CliffsNotes' Critical Essays: Major Symbols).

And creative writing--the personal essay, short story, or poem--is more than development, structure, voice/tone, style, and technical elements.

The problem with rubrics is that they promote the middle-class thinker. Most everyone--at least in the batch of contest entries I just "judged"--has ________________

The problem of the transition. On the rubric I used, low scores were given for essays with "inappropriate transitions" (no papers fit into this category); mid-level scores were given for essays with "insufficient transitions" (but the paper had to have "a sense of beginning, middle, and end); and high scores were given to well-organized paragraphs, "flowing progressively with smooth transitions."

Here's the problem. If I really judged that category by the letter, then every single--and I mean even the worst essay in the stack--would have earned high scores in that category. Yes, the paper that said, "First I am going to tell you this, then I am going to tell you that, and then I'll follow it up with that" and then matching transitions in the body of the essay was absolutely clear and even smooth. They were just predictable and boring. There was no art to them.

Okay, I know there's a category for that--on the rubric--is style. So the best

To really assess an adequate transition (or series of transitions) by rubric, we'd need an algorithm:

Back to the writing rubric.


Elementary school reflections contest
Privileges mediocrity or average-thinking / ability
. . . or as Andrew Bird says, "Can't have the cream of the crop when the cream and the crop are the same."

Transitions, in writing (in PowerPoint presentations, in films, in talks, in life), are a good thing. I won't dispute it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pain can occlude . . .

Yesterday I ordered a small gelato, half hazelnut and half some sort of chocolate (donatella). I noted to my sister that the hazelnut didn't have any flavor, to which she responded that that was because the chocolate had overpowered it.

I thought about this later on in the day. Why had I ordered two flavors? Wouldn't one flavor always overpower the other? Was it possible to get two strong flavors that didn't mute or diminish each other? Sure I could have cleansed my palette in between eating one flavor and the other, but that wasn't the point: the point was to enjoy two flavors simultaneously.

The same principle holds true in other areas: the pain of a cut finger gets wiped out by the pain of a migraine. Sure, that first, smaller pain still exists, but it becomes imperceptible when the greater pain washes through our system.

This principle of one thing overpowering and/or occluding another also occurs beyond the boundaries of sameness. In other words, pain isn't always occluding other pain. One gelato flavor isn't always overpowering another flavor. Sometimes, physical pain stops our ability to feel, spiritually. Sometimes, the swelling in our body occludes the entry of enlightenment. And sometimes the resultant frustration further occludes the connection we so desperately seek and need.

Maybe faith is the power that helps us remember (or trust that we once felt and will again feel) the connections that are temporarily made imperceptible by pain.

Tonight I wish I were as Annie Dillard . . .

An Annie Dillard paragraph is like the cosmos: both wondrous and natural, both vast and small in scale, both esoteric and exoteric, simultaneously.

How does she write both so naturally and so brilliantly at the same time?

(Incidentally, dILLArd and brILLiAnt share a lot of the same letters, and if you mirror the initial lowercase d in dillard, you get a b. And if you move the r, you get even closer to finding dillard within brilliant: brill_a_ _.)

Dillard observes closely, yes. And she makes insightful connections, yes. But there's something more to her brilliance. Is it raw intelligence? (I hesitate to say raw, because her intelligence oviously supercedes a gift. She has honed it, practiced it, stretched it, and shared it.)

At any rate, Dillard makes intelligence seem as natural as taking a walk or eating "two eggs over easy."

I wish it were that easy.

Note: I am reading Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard. I'm skipping around in the book, but so far I really liked the first paragraph of "Total Eclipse" and sections V. and VI. of "Teaching a Stone to Talk."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Judiciously we live . . .

Today, we can communicate in one or more modes at any moment we choose: while waiting in the airport, I can log on and send emails, chat, or instant message; while enjoying a meadow in the mountains, I can dial my friend; while sitting in a meeting, I can hand-write a note to my sister. And while I make sure the spaghetti doesn't boil over, I can video conference with my brother.

Of course, there's regular face-to-face communication too. And that can happen most anywhere, as well.

The problem--as I see it--isn't so much that each mode is available, as it is that their collective presence can (and does) overwhelm the personal communication system; in other words, we can easily get into the habit of talking talking talking and in the process lose real, meaningful communication. As the number of words we speak, type, or key in increases, the net value often dramatically decreases.

In a graduate seminar, I rarely spoke. I figured that if someone else articulated a similar point, I didn't really need to take up the time repeating that point just for the sake of hearing my voice. But this one day, I had something different to say, and so I said it. Afterward, a fellow student asked me why everyone listened to me, when they never listened to him. I didn't think before I spoke; I just blurted out, "It's because I rarely speak."

One advantage to not flooding the universe with our words is that people will be more apt to listen when we do speak. But another advantage is that if we're not hitting reply every other second or ping-ponging messages, then it's likely that we're taking more time to live, and living includes taking action, thinking, meditating, and finding meaning. If we simplify by not using every available communication device at every moment, we might discover that when we do type the email, chat for a few minutes online, talk to our friend in the kitchen, or share an experience over the phone that we are focusing in on what matters most: our love for the person we're talking to, our dreams and aspirations, how we're overcoming the stumbling blocks, what we are doing to help our friends/family, etc.

When I have my advanced students write a 10 - 12 page research paper, they panic. They want to pick broad topics to ensure that they will be able to fill the 12 page-space with words. When I consult with my students, I tell them that their topics could inform a dissertation, a book, or volumes of books, and that they need to focus their topics further. But they're so worried about filling up the space.

I think sometimes we do the same thing with life. We reach for our cell phone because it fills up space. We type words--even words that we have no real connection to--because it's something to do. We send out an email that we've had a bad morning and that we didn't get any sleep, because we can.

But wouldn't it be glorious if we--if I--didn't attempt to fill space with just any words. What if we were more selective in the messages we sent or the conversations we spoke? What if we went for a walk and really enjoyed the fall colors without once reaching for--or thinking about reaching for--our phones? Maybe later on in the day, after other things had happened and we'd thought about other topics--maybe then we would sit down at our desk and write a card (because hand-writing something once in a while is a good idea), and maybe we would not only describe those fall leaves from earlier in the day, but we'd mention some things we'd been thinking about, and acknowledge how much we are grateful for the person we are writing to.

In that card--or phone call or face-to-face conversation--there would be more of value and focus, I think, than if we'd sent off fragments throughout the entire day.

I'm not anti-texting, anti-IMing, anti-email. I think that each mode is useful. But maybe it's time to simplify and be more judicious in how and how often we use words. The experience will make our lives richer, deeper, more focused, and more meaningful.

At least, that's what I believe.


Perhaps the more judicious our correspondence, the more excellently we will live.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gift bags . . .

Gift bags are more ubiquitous than wrapping paper, and for good reason, all you have to do with a gift sack is insert the gift(s) and maybe some tissue paper, whereas wrapping paper requires a flat surface, scissors, tape, and a bit of patience, time, and pride in your work to get the gift bundled neatly up. (I, for one, prefer that the edges of the paper are folded under for a crisper look.)

So, for the giver, gift bags are convenient, time-saving, and satisfying. But for the receiver, it's not always such a positive experience, and it's often even embarrassing. Here's why: when someone receives a gift in a gift bag, that person can't be sure if the one gift she's removed from the sack is the only gift or if there are more hidden in the caves and crevices created by the tissue paper. Even when the tissue paper is removed, sometimes the bottom flap of the gift sack looks like an envelope, and if the receiver tries to remove it, it provides an awkward moment for both giver and receiver. Wrapping paper, on the other hand, is straight forward. When the paper is removed, the present is sitting there for all to see.

My advice when using gift sacks is two-fold:

1. If you are the giver of the gift(s) in the gift sack, don't require that the sack is opened in your presence. In other words, drop the gift off. But don't watch the receiver open the gift. This way, the receiver can rummage through the empty sack without experiencing humiliation.

2. If you are the receiver of the gift(s) in a gift sack and the giver is watching you open the gift, flip the sack on the side and slide out all of the contents, tissue and all. Then, proceed to unwrap the insides much like you would open a wrapping paper gift.

And if you don't want to worry about the above methodology, just relax. It's okay if you look a little greedy because you're digging through a present-less sack. It's okay if you didn't buy your friend five little side gifts to go along with the one main gift. It's all okay. Really.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Things that make me smile . . .

1. little silver skull buttons, one positioned on each arm about 3 inches from the shirt's elbow so that when you bend your arm the little guy looks up at you. (The shirt is a happy shirt--a plaid of reds and whites with cool domed white buttons--and it's made happier by the skulls.)

2. fake chrome dragon stuck to the back of my car. A just-because-I-saw-it-and-it-made-me-want-it-even-though-it-makes-no-sense purchase.

3. Halloween-colored peanut butter M&Ms. They could inspire a party. I hope they inspire many parties somewhere out there in the universe.

4. unexpected, bizarre happenings. A while back, I boiled some eggs, and like usual, one of the eggs decided to leak. Only you couldn't tell which egg it was, because the egg wasn't really attached to it, there was just a hole. When I cracked the egg, it was almost completely hollowed out, the white part forming the shape of a tumbler. I might have to break down and post a picture of this, because I'm having a hard time explaining it through words.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tainted colors . . .

I've had several arguments about the color of things:

Years ago
Olive: The stripe in your shirt is green.
Tree-hugger: No it isn't, it's gray!
Olive: Green.
Tree-hugger: It's gray!

This year
Olive: Your shirt is lavender.
Betty: No, it's pink.
Olive: It's not pink at all; it's purplish.

Olive: What color is that?
Amb: It's blue.
Olive: It's blue? Are you sure it isn't purple?
Amb: It's blue.
Olive: I see it as purple. Maybe I am color challenged . . . but don't let Tree-hugger know that.

Today, while talking to Amb, I came up with my theory of color. We have three primary pigment colors--blue, red, and yellow--and when any one of those primary colors gets tainted by another primary color, I see it as becoming a secondary color: purple, orange, or green. Most people that I've met, I now realize, are more generous about how long they'll let a color be called by its primary name. For me, once blue has a hint of red in it, it's purple (or purplish); once yellow has a drop of blue in it, it's green (sure it's a light green, maybe a lemon-lime green with the emphasis on the lemon part, but it's still green).

I learned once that some people see more colors due to the number of cones in their eyes. I used to tease Tree-hugger that I could see more color, that I physically had more capacity. Now, I wonder if it's more a philosophical difference--a way of seeing the world--that makes me see color the way that I do.

But hey, wouldn't it be great if I turned out to be a tetrachromat? I think I'd like that very much.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Same . . . Different . . .

Today, I attempted to take the bus to work. However, the platform was empty: I was alone at the stop and it was quite obvious that I had missed the bus. A young man came over, figured he had missed the bus too, called bus information, and then informed me that the next bus wouldn't come again for another hour. (They had changed the times of the routes.)

I stood there trying to figure out what to do. I didn't need to be to work for a while, but I didn't really want to sit and wait for a bus. And I could tell that this guy was a little nervous about having missed the bus. So, that's when I decided to offer him a ride. He accepted. And on the walk to my car, he asked me if I had a parking pass for the university that he attended, his assumption was that I was a student too.

It seems pretty strange, I think, that someone would mistake me for a college student, until you look at the facts: 1) I look younger than older (my head isn't completely gray); 2) I was standing at an express stop that many students use; 3) I look somewhat like people who go to college look. In other words, this stranger surveyed me and the situation--subconsciously, I'm guessing--and concluded that I was more the same than different, and therefore I must be a fellow student at his same school.

I think we do this a lot. If someone appears to match up with us in some ways, we mentally classify them as THE SAME and then we ascribe a lot of our own attributes, experiences, and activities to the person. If someone appears quite different from us--like they have a tattoo covering half their face--we label them as DIFFERENT and we figure we're incompatible. I think we tend to trust THE SAME people (that's what let's us offer rides to strangers) and we are wary of THE DIFFERENT people.

It's sort of funny, though, the way we think we can pin ourselves--what we think, how we feel, our experience, our perspective, our philosophy, our school affiliation--on people we barely know and on good friends, too. Why must similarity equal SAMENESS? And how can it possibly equal that ever anyway?

I'm too tired to explore this more, but it's interesting, right? I think so.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

I heard a killing at 5:00 am this morning . . .

At first, it sounded like small children--small girls--whimpering. It sounded like whips beating through the air.

I sat up in bed. Strained against the darkness. Was someone being hurt, outside?

The sounds sharpened. A chipmunk chirped too quickly, bleated out in distress. And the rhythmic beats continued--whirr, whirr, whirr.

I flipped on my bed stand light, hoping to disperse the animals. And their sounds.

The bird--it had to be a bird, most likely a hawk, because of its powerful wings--screeched in victory. The chipmunk shrieked out its terror.

And then the killing outside my bedroom window ended.

I went back to sleep, my light left on.

Nature is frightening. And cruel.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The size and shape of a miracle . . .

Is a miracle the rains of heaven being started or stopped? Is it the great waters being parted or crossed? Is it the friend who comes over, after your tears have run dry, and sits and talks to you about anything?

Is a miracle a realization, a shift in perspective, a way that we didn't before see? Is it a door, a window, a crack, a portal of perspective? Is it an implement offered to us without our knowing what tool to ask for (or even that there is a tool to ask for)?

If so, then I, Olive, have witnessed many miracles.

And, the interesting thing about miracles is that before they happen, one must reach, reach, and reach, by working as hard as she can. The miracle takes us the rest of the way, even when we don't really know which way-what way-this or that way we are going.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sometimes, I wish that I were more like my grandma . . .

My ninety-year-old grandma talks like she'll live forever. Yesterday, she told me that she can't wait until the elections are over (there was a cover story on TV about John Edward's affair, which was trumping the actual political candidates' stories). She also corrected my grandpa on how he was loading the dish washer (she told him to place the utensils so that the eating surfaces faced upward; that way they would get cleaner. I told her that I often place some utensils up and some down but that my sister is very particular about how she loads the dishwasher, to which my grandma responded, "I'm that way too.").

I've been thinking about why it is that I keep preparing myself for my grandma to die (one reason is that I will be totally devastated), while my grandma lives as if she’ll live forever.

Today, I was thinking about how I like that my grandma tells me to come back and visit, that she asks me how California was and that she’d love to be sitting on the beach right now watching the dolphins, and that she is aware of what’s happening in the world and cares which way the utensils are inserted in the dishwasher.

I think my grandma has one of those iron wills to live. She values life. And me? I think my will just isn’t that strong. I’m afraid I’d be talking about my broken bones (my grandma has some) and about how I didn’t know if I would make it one more day (my grandma told me a story about almost not waking up at dialysis, but that’s as close as she’s ever come to talking about death. And even then she was irritated that the tech didn't shake her awake and call the nurse).

Anyway, sometimes, I wish that I were a little more like my grandma.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Why . . .

I am trying to get back into the writing mode--write the blog, write some emails, write up stuff for work, write the novel--but it's difficult. Why is it so difficult?

Is it because I have too many big things to think about? Is it because the stress level is ramped up to such a level that passersby can hear the bass booming from inside of me? Is it because I only have so much time to wind up everything that needs winding up, formulate everything that needs formulating, and get in an un-burned-out state, so that I can carry on in a meaningful way? Is it because it is summer and summers are meant to be enjoyed?

One hour a day. That's all I need to do. One hour would get me started, right?

But in ten days, on the 20th of August, I have to email out 25 pages of my novel to a critique group that I was inducted into, and I would prefer that those 25 pages were good. Drivel is embarrassing. And if I write for ten hours, I won't have 25 pages. If I write for 25 hours, I won't have 25 pages. If I write for 50 hours, maybe . . .

Sunday, July 27, 2008

For loss to be possible there must have been, at some point, a gain . . .

I miss Wild Oats. They had a better name, better soups (their three bean vegetarian chili was fantastic!), better breads, better every fruit cookies, and a better look.

Today, I was at what used to be Wild Oats looking at various minerals, oils, and homeopathic remedies, when I discovered Flower Remedies by Dr. Bach. I now believe that I know where part of the inspiration for the name Wild Oats came from. Dr. Bach explains: "If you are like a rolling stone, looking for your life's mission and direction, and keep on changing direction and work, then wild oat may be of help to assist you in defining your goals and purpose in life and in so doing showing the way forward" (emphasis added). I am certain that the Wild Oats creators were going for more than just healthy grains with the store name. (And I think that perhaps I should try Dr. Bach's wild oat essential oil. Maybe it will help me be more than a "rolling stone.")

While I was at the store, I also looked up the Olive essential oil. Dr. Bach says that "When you are exhausted by mental or physical effort, or even illness, then olive can be of benefit to help you regain the feeling of strength and the pleasure and faith to carry on" (emphasis added). It's sort of like the olive leaf that the dove brought back to Noah: a return to faith. (I think I need to try Dr. Bach's olive essential oil along with the wild oat. Maybe it would help.)

I didn't buy any Dr. Bach products, but I might next time I visit the store that used to be Wild Oats (or a store like it).

P.S. If your name is Aspen, Heather, (Rock) Rose, (Water) Violet, or Willow, there's an essential oil with your name on it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Questions at 2:30 AM . . .

Question.1. Isn't it interesting that the word questions is comprised of quest, a purposeful or searching journey, and ions, those atoms that they're always talking about in hairdryer and straightening iron advertisements? (Apparently, the static and frizzy quality of our hair involves negative ions, so if we buy one of these great products that creates positive ions, we can neutralize the mess and have lovely hair.) Anyway, a quest ion could be seen as a search for what was lost (-) or as an understanding of what was gained (+).

I tend to see life in terms of loss and gain: In every loss (-), even the hardest ones, there is always always at least one gain (+). And when I write, I write about loss and and the holes that loss leaves as well as the new attributes, experiences, abilities, associations, etc. that are born in and out of that loss.

Question.2. Isn't it interesting what you can discover in separating and spacing out the letters of your name?

.....O .....

.....O..................K.............. (The e can stay silent (or act as a period), because that's what e's are the best at!), k? (Once again, we have a silent e.)

Often we find what we're looking for, either consciously or unconsciously. But sometimes we're graced by serendipity.

Question.3. Isn't it interesting that we can be up in the middle of the night and have all of these threads and thoughts, but no real questions? Instead of the big things, the real things, the purposeful things, we choose to type questions about letters.

Here's one of my real questions: Do I have to be conscious to dream? And another: If I paint a door on the wall, what will I see as being on the other side?

Friday, July 11, 2008

XXOO (and no, this is not a bowling score) . . .

Have you ever noticed that when you line up olives you get a string of Xs and Os. So if you need to tell your boy/girlfriend, friends, and family members that you love them, consider giving them some olives.

I don't think this matters, but I've always seen the Xs as hugs (Xs being arms) and the Os as kisses (Os looking like smooching lips), but it seems like a lot of other people out there see the Xs as kisses (side view of two people kissing) and the Os as hugs (aerial view of arms wrapped around each other).

I guess that this means that some people might see XO as being two forms of kissing (peck and smooch), and others might see XO as being two forms of hugging (hugging oneself, hugging another), and others might see either XX or OO as representing both a hug and a kiss. It's all a matter of perspective.

Whatever your symbolic orientation, all you really need to know is that it's unnecessary to send roses or cards or notes or to do kind deeds in order to express your love or appreciation for someone; all you need is a can of olives. I recommend Western Family or Early California.

Happy caring! Happy eating!


Monday, July 7, 2008

Lines and Intersections . . .

Lines (from Music)


"I had to dream awake" ("Dream Awake," The Frames, Burn the Maps).

I like the idea that dreaming (thinking outside the box, letting your mind wander, hoping) is a conduit to being awake (aware, alert, more alive).


". . . I don't understand these people / Saying the hill's too steep / They talk and talk forever / But they just never climb" and the complementing lines " . . . I don't understand these people / Saying the world's asleep / Toss and turn forever / But no rest will they find" ("Star Star," The Frames, Dance the Devil).

Sometimes, I feel like I meditate, contemplate, think, and talk, but I forget to do the climbing, and therefore, I don't find the necessary rest. Isn't it interesting that you have to exert energy in order to have meaningful rest?

(I actually like the first part of this song the best. You should listen to it.)

Today, I climbed--literally--two hills. In the morning, I hope to climb another literal hill on my route towards a bagel and hot chocolate. I love hot chocolate, even in the summertime.


"The simple things people over-complicate" and "Will you come with me and we'll be ourselves and walk into the light?" ("Giving Me Wings," The Frames, For the Birds).

How many of us over-complicate aspects of ourselves? (Olive does.) And isn't it so much more enjoyable (wonderful, glorious) when we feel safe enough to be authentically (and simply) ourselves? (Also, being simply ourselves doesn't mean that we're not complex. People will always be complex; they don't, however, need to be over-complicated. At least that's my opinion at the moment.)


"Words fall through me / and always fool me"; "Moods that take me and erase me . . . " ("Falling Slowly," Glen Hansard (formerly, the Frames) & Marketa Irglova, The Swell Season).

Words are powerful--potentially beautiful, potentially destructive--with what they represent, misrepresent, convey, obfuscate, open, and occlude.


"Cry alone and die alone" ("Drown Out," Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova, The Swell Season). And this line must be combined with these lines: "All the lonely people / where do they all come from / all the lonely people / where do they all belong?" ("Eleanor Rigby," The Beatles, 1).

Aren't both songs pretty much saying the same thing? I wonder how many songs are about being alone?

Note: I focused on lines primarily from one artist for no other reason than that's who I'm listening to more than other artists these days.

Intersections (lines from music intersecting with art, which is comprised of, among other elements, lines)


dreaming something awake

See Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory

Although Dali's watches seem to be sleeping, by painting the watches in this way, he's awakening our perspective (among other things).


climbing so that we can have the best kind of peace

See Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night

True there are hills in this painting. True there are bodies that could be construed as stars (and the title of the song we're linking this to is "Star Star"). But what I like most is the swirling lines, the color, and the fact that the form of the steeple is echoed in the form of the shrub at the forefront of the painting.

And if you have no idea, still, while I'm connecting these two together, let me just say that I always hear the singer sing "steep" as "steeple." I like the idea that steep and steeple share so many letters; perhaps the hardest thing to climb towards is a metaphorical steeple.


over-complicating ourselves and life

See Pablo Picasso's Guitar

You would think that Picasso overcomplicated things, right? But really, he just tried to break people and things down and show us all of their sides. He didn't add a single element or attribute that was unnecessary. Everything--people, life, flowers, guitars--is complex, certainly. Picasso understood that.


the power of words and moods on all of us

See Alexander Calder's A Universe

What better way to represent mood than motion built out of line and color! Motion is a kind of music, the whisper of disturbing the air and changing space.

Sometimes, a mood feels like an entire universe and sometimes it feels like a planet in orbit in a much larger cosmos. Isn't it interesting, by the way, that cosmos is both big (the cosmos that contains worlds) and small (the cosmos flower that I so love)? (And isn't it interesting that in these images, the cosmos flower actually appears much larger than the little dots of the cosmos.) Well that's sort of like moods and words--they can be vast and they can be minute. But they always are.


being alone

See Edward Hopper's Night Shadows

What is the central line (shadow) pointing to?

If the man keeps walking, he is going to intersect that line. And then, will he continue on along the sidewalk or will he turn and follow the shadow?

I want him to turn left and follow the shadow to where ever it will take him. If he turns, I am convinced, he's going to find someone to talk to, and then he will know that no one has to be alone.

Note: To find the artwork, I looked up some of the artists that I like in the Museum of Modern Art's database.

Everything in the Intersections section could be connected to literature, film, plays, stories from life, philosophies, and on and on. There's a whole world of connections that radiate out from here.

(And this post is way too long!)


Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy socks . . .

I like patterned socks: bright blue and yellow thickly striped socks, light brown socks with thin pink lines circling them, black socks with subtle flowers, argyles, bold polka dotted socks. I lean towards the non-representational sock; although, I once had a pair of white socks with a little frog created, in part, by a piece of green felt that you could lift up. Maybe it said ribbet underneath. I'm not sure. I just liked those socks so much that I wore them out.

I try to buy my pants long enough to hit at the respectable place on my shoes when standing--this isn't always possible, though, due to my height and fabric shrinkage problems. And even when they are long enough, it's inevitable that my socks will show when I sit down. I've seen a few surprised faces, but that just makes my feet feel bolder and happier.

There's something wonderful about putting on a pair of happy socks every once in a while. Feet shouldn't have to be confined to respectable black socks or white athletic socks all of the time. They already have to slip inside plenty of respectable shoes. So why not allow them a little freedom, a little pizazz, a little craziness. Keep the feet happy and you keep a whole lot of the rest of you happy too.

(Now shoes? That's a whole other topic.)

I can still feel the laugh (hierarchical ranking: near the top) . . .

I once met a student/writer who said, "Everyone ultimately gets what he most wants out of life." That statement made sense to me then and it still makes sense to me now, because whatever we most want, we put a great deal of our energy and resources into. And we eventually achieve, at the very least, that one most important desire.

I went to the Wayne Thiebaud exhibit this week. Thiebaud is famous for his food paintings, but this exhibition featured a lot of beach pieces--dogs on the beach, people on the beach, swimsuits--as well as land- and city-scapes; ballroom dance images; and some food. I liked the entire exhibit. And one of the reasons was because each time I returned to a particular painting or viewed it from a different distance, my experience changed.

I have a painting by my brother that hangs near my bed. I like to trace the painting's lines and discover new images within the main abstract "image." (My brother was surprised to hear that I had found a cat and dragon within his painting. I've also found a lot more images, shapes, and patterns. And I have experienced layers of color and texture and all the thoughts that go along with art-inspired meditation.)

I want to write a novel about an etching that I own. I don't know what the story is. I just know that in that one image (and really, one is misleading, because an image is made up of smaller images) is a universe. I want to explore, probe, investigate a section of that amazing space.

I admire people who take leaps--artistic, altruistic, or otherwise--off great canyon walls, even when their wings are seemingly too tiny to sustain their weight and projected flight path. I met a writer who worked a job just enough to cover his expenses, allowing him to focus most of his time on his writing. And then there's the ballet dancer who gave everything to his career--such time and energy it requires to master the body! When he retired at age 30, he moved onto the next phase: earning a bachelor's degree to lead him toward his second career. What must it feel like to risk so much--time, energy, money, certain relationships--for a glimmer of something so magnificent! You know, even if the person never dances professionally or gets picked up by a big publisher, she's done something magnificent with her soul.

Wayne Thiebaud
gave me an hour of viewing pleasure. I can still see the spinning candy-looking beach ball anchoring the viewer before releasing her to the dogs playing in the sand. I can still see the precipice that looks ordinary until you back up ten feet and then to twenty feet and then WOW. What depth! What color! What an experience!

I can still feel the laugh that resonated through me when I saw the painting: 35 cent Masterworks. Yeah, I connected to that one on a philosophical level, and well, thank you artists and writers for taking such big risks!


P.S. I want to experience this.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

To feel (verb. 2 a: to be conscious of an inward impression, state of mind, or physical condition) . . .

When there is a void,
we must fill it.

But sometimes the substance
that created the absence
isn't available
to refill, patch in, replace
what was removed.

We might have to use
a different material,
and depending upon
its constitution and
physical properties,
the filling might leave
many smaller holes
in addition to the unwanted

Maybe it's better
to keep the hole?

(This is not a poem. I just felt like using line breaks.)

* * *

For some time, I have been intrigued by the notion of loss and gain. It seems that when we lose something, we also gain something, even if that gain is imperceptible at the moment. And when we gain something, we also lose. Perhaps I will go into more depth on this topic at a later date.

* * *

To fill
To feel

Pretty close sounding verbs.

* * *

I feel rather holey right now.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I need a vacation . . .

. . . and just about everyone in my life has said to me, "Olive, you're going to take a vacation now that you have a little time off of work, right?"

I shrug. I really don't know.

It is interesting how different the views on vacations are. One friend said that I should plan the entire vacation myself and then invite someone along; that way, it would be a real vacation for me. I liked that idea.

Another friend said that I should have someone else plan everything--since that's the stressful part--and just show up. I liked that idea, too.

Someone offered me their personal wilderness for me to camp in. Someone suggested camping with friends at an established campground. Someone suggested California. Someone suggested Bear Lake. Someone suggested a short road trip, maybe to the canyons. My brother suggested that an 18 hour moving trip could be a road trip; we'd stop at sites. (But could this really count as a vacation?)

The truth is, I'm not very good at vacations. Maybe I will start out really small and go on excursions. Maybe then, I'll work up to a real vacation.

Places I would like to go, eventually:
* England--London and countryside
* New York City--energy, hot dogs and papaya juice, museums, traffic, crowds, art
* California--piers, beaches, Betty Edit, finding lost friend
* The Enchanted Highway--because it's odd and I like odd
* Anywhere in the U.S.-- where I can stay inside of the LV modular home
* Countryside, anywhere
* Cityscape, anywhere
* Various U.S. locations where friends live

As I compiled this list, I realized that I'm more interested in the odd and usual things that I can find in a place than in the place itself. (But maybe that's saying that I'm really interested in the place itself, because place is defined by what it contains and what happens inside its boundaries.)

Last summer I went to Cheyenne, WY and then on to CO to visit family. Why Cheyenne? They had the Sierra Trading Post. Yep, that was the whole reason. The Trading Post turned out to be a bust. (It's much better online.) But I do like my cowboy T-shirt, acquired from a WY museum, very much. Oh, and the trolley ride was quite fun; I do believe that I now know where Louis Sachar's Kissin' Kate Barlow comes from. A wild Wyoming outlaw!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Things I don't hear . . .

Today, I was driving and sobbing, and I had this memory of having seen this woman, she was crying while driving and she looked so much in pain that I wanted to stop her and do something for her. But I was powerless. When the memory closed, I looked around the road to see who might be witnessing my fragile moment; there was no one--Sunday traffic is light--but I stopped crying anyway.

Usually, I'm pretty good at ignoring all of the things that are wrong with me. I pretend that the me that I am is the me that must be.

But sometimes, the walls break down--just a little--and I see what I don't care to see.

(If you noticed that the title doesn't have any apparent connection to the the rest of the entry, you're quite astute.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I am thinking . . .

. . . how much my last entry reminds me of my grandma, who is 90 years and 5 months old, and who, when I last gave her a hug at the end of a visit said, "Come back and see me," with such urgency that I can't get her words out of my mind. And as the days since that visit tick by--Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and now Thursday--I wonder if I'm letting time slip away that shouldn't slip, and I wonder if she has something urgent to tell me, or if her words grow more out of not wanting to be left alone and forgotten, and maybe of not fully feeling--because I am guessing that in the end it is difficult to have that sort of confidence--that you can cross to the other side and find people there waiting specifically for you, and you alone, people who love you, know you, and will gladly encircle you in their embrace. I wonder what I should say, what I could say, to let her know that, even though so many people in her life were rotten, there will be people like me, people who love her, over there. And everything will be more than okay. It will be glorious.

My grandma is glorious already.

This is when . . .

This is when--if not long before--she would die in the wild. (Not that the tiniest poodles were designed to survive out there anyway.)

When I toss her a treat, she knows it's there, but this knowing is disconnected from the seeing, smelling, and hearing that she used to rely on to snap up treats with competitive rapidity. Now, she stands there a little dazed--she turns her head to look, but she can't see so small a treat. She sniffs, but she's too many inches away to pick up its scent. And the sound of where it landed was never so much a sound to her, as a gentle vibration that she felt, amplified by memory.

I tap my foot next to the treat. And feeling her way to the rhythm, she gets in range and sniffs her way to victory.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

He . . .

He is so used to watching the sky for activity and scavenging the earth for fallen things that when I flick my wrist he traces the arc from my hand to where the piece of cracker should land.

When there is no bit of cracker, he stares at me, bewildered at first, and then with steady, unmoving eyes. He will sit this way, this furry four-legged statue of mine, until I give in and hand him what he always knew he would find.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I sometimes wonder (a reprise) . . .

. . . at the forces that are invisible to me, the patterns that are beyond my vision, the relationships, powers, and truths that exceed my understanding, and how they lift, change, transform me in the most beautiful and transcendent ways, even when all I can do is sense these forces, feel the energy of them at work, never quite comprehending what they are or how they operate.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What I noticed today . . .

a dead doe on the side of the freeway; two of her legs had been torn off and were missing

that trailers and big trucks often have 7 or 9 brake lights on them spread out in a U-shape around the backside of the vehicle

the little almond shaped leaf, partially yellow, mostly light green, that was stuck to the back window of my car by the beads of rain

that sometimes you hear lyrics that aren't there--"do angels bleed?" is a good line, but it's not really in the song

that my enter key--which I still want to call a return key--is starting to stick

that chives, with their purplish domed flowers, and onions, with their white tips, are even more vibrant and beautiful in the rain

I sometimes wonder . . .

. . . what it means to be human.

Is it feeling this hard bench--that I have been sitting on for too many hours--beneath me? Or is it the fact that time can pass, and I will still be here?

Is it knowing that tomorrow I have hours and hours of expectations to live up to and no preparation to match it? Is it being able to glance around the room I am sitting in and notice the paintings, plants, curtains, and the cell phone, sitting on its side, next to the box of gardening stakes that I haven't yet opened? Is it being able to make sense of what those details mean?

Is being human listening to music in order to match my mood to its? Is it the ability to pull out phrases that connect to me and leave the rest, untouched and un-thought-about, in the song?

Is it the throb of feeling that pumps through my system even when I tell it to stop? Is that what makes me human? Unwanted feeling?

Or is it being vulnerable? And fragile? And entirely disoriented?

Sometimes, I wish that I could call out to the ancestor that I am named for. I would say, "Olive, what made you human, but in such a beautiful and strong way?" I think that Olive would remember the suffering she endured before her life ended too soon, and the pain of leaving four children orphaned, but would she remember what it was that made her soar? And is she soaring now?

I hope so.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Dead branches for the birds . . .

Some people love to manicure everything, including their trees. They work all spring to cut out the dead branches, and maybe they work a little too hard, because here's a secret: I've watched birds bounce up and down on dead branches. The leafless, dry branches act like a teeter-totter (the birds working with the force of the tree) or a trampoline (the birds alight and then boing down, up, down, up, before ascending).

It makes me wonder if our brand of perfectionism isn't all that perfect for everyone else in our sphere of existence.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I experience life in patterns . . .

Some writers experience life's minutiae. They say things like, "The writer in me made me learn every detail about her illness, to put names and descriptions to the experience." I don't care about the minutiae, especially when it comes to hospitals and illness. Even if I'm hospitalized for years, I won't retain its vocabulary.

* * *

The room is small where my class workshops; we usually run two sessions simultaneously, each group gathered around a separate table. Because of the tightness of the room, it's not feasible for me--without a lot of careful planning--to actually have a seat at one of the tables, so today, I stood and walked between each session.

I was surprised by the amount of "purple" shirts at the table the furthest from me. I counted four shirts, three of which were magenta and one of which was lavender.

Two of the magenta shirts were knit and had shorter sleeves. They were also worn by women with short dark brown (almost black) hair.

The third magenta shirt was a light-weight sweater with long sleeves. It's wearer, like the other magenta wearers, also had dark brown hair, but her hair--like her sleeves--was long.

The fourth "purple" shirt was also a light-weight sweater with long leaves; it's wearer, too, had long hair. But the "purple" was a paler variety--lavender--and her hair was a light blonde.

I searched the rest of the group for patterns: the three men in the group all had at least two straight lines on their shirts: lines in a striped shirt, lines separating text on a print T, lines incorporated in a graphic design.

The rest of the group wore scoop-necked, non-purple solids: black, brown, blue.

The group closest to me wore duller colors, mostly solids--there were three whites, a deep gray-green, a black, and a navy. Only the two bright blues stood out, one of which was polka-dotted. And those polka-dots tied into another group member's headband.

Part of the way through class, I looked down and realized that I was wearing a lavender shirt. If I had sat at the far table, I would have disrupted the pattern.

My lavender shirt is a woven, button-up, long-sleeved, Oxford-style shirt. It should have been a thin sweater. But even if I ignore the fabric and type of shirt, the long sleeves dictate that I should have long hair; the color dictates that I should be blonde. Instead, I have short, dark hair, dyed several shades darker than my natural color.

I don't know what the purpose of noticing such patterns is, but it's part of how I experience life.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Looking in the mirror and seeing only glass . . .

One of the problems with the first person point of view in fiction is that it's difficult for the main character to describe him/herself (e.g, I am 5' tall and have hair the color of morning dew) in a way that sounds natural to the story. Authors get creative with describing their main characters: they have their characters catch glimpses of themselves in car windows or in bathroom sink faucets (see Charles Baxter's "Snow"). Sometimes they have other characters reveal what the main character looks like through dialogue.

One of the strengths of first person is that it showcases the voice and thoughts of the main character. This, however, can turn into a pitfall if too many of the main character's thoughts are revealed or if the character whines too long or cries too much or is without hope or is overly biased or annoying.

I think for the last couple of days, I have been living my life too much in the annoying-mode of first person. I think that maybe, I should look in the mirror and see only glass, and maybe the silver foil that is behind, but not me. I've had too much of me.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I don't understand the sky . . .

I don't understand the sky, but I've always wanted to fly like Icarus before he got too close to the sun or soar like King Arthur, transformed into a hawk at Merlin's hand, or float without the constraints of gravity or climb through the air like a kite.

Last night I stayed up too late. I had a lot on my mind, and I didn't want to sleep. But the late hour was worth it, because right before I went to bed, I had an epiphany: We are all trying to climb through the sky. We move horizontally, sure, but what we're really trying to do is ascend vertically. Sometimes our navigation doesn't go so smoothly. We flap our wings and eventually grow weary. In these moments, we want to descend, to land somewhere short of what we hoped we might achieve. But then, there are these experiences--life's thermal columns--that lift us, allow us to glide and rest our wings, and in the process discover (or rediscover) what makes life so wonderful.

Life's thermal columns: kind and unexpected words; an insight or increased understanding; a friendship; a night out; an answer to a prayer; a beautiful, sunny day; a discovery; a delicious meal; a flower; a garden; a nice walk; a good conversation; finding the direction you want to take; being understood, just a little bit, by someone.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

What does this have to do with the price of tea . . .

Disclaimer: This isn't going to be an eloquent Blog, like my good friend Betty's. This is just going to be random thoughts that I have, and it's going to be mostly unrevised. It might not even make sense philosophically or on a sentence level.

What does this have to do with the price of tea . . .

In grad school, I hung out with a guy who wouldn't buy a CD if the price of the album exceeded the number of songs times $1.00. He would be especially persuaded by an album that had 15 songs on it and only cost $11.00. I remember asking him if it mattered how long the songs were (or of what quality). I don't remember his answer.

I'm not so concerned about the price of music. As far as I'm concerned, paying $.99 + tax on iTunes for a song is a good deal. (I guess grad school guy would too.) If I listen to a five minute song twelve times over the years, that's pretty cheap entertainment--it's about a dollar for an hour of enjoyment.

It's clothing that bothers me. What if I buy a skirt for sixty dollars, and I wear it six times? That's ten dollars each time I wear it. But that's only a portion of the outfit. What if the shirt cost $40 and I wear it only 4 times before I decide that it doesn't fit right? Add to that shoes, socks, underwear, a tank top or cami, and any accessories (for me, this is the cheapest part; I usually have no accessories), and getting dressed might cost as much as renting a car. If you happen to be a fancy dresser, your cost might equal booking a nice hotel room for a great vacation.

I don't really have a problem with spending money on clothes. I think that we get what we pay for, so it might be better to buy the $110 skirt instead of the $30 one (of course, that's not true all of the time either). Clothes are important. Clothes are necessary. And it's good to want to look our best.

I'm not really saying that we should wear our clothes 100 times each to make our total outfit cost for the day as low as possible. I just think it's interesting how much something costs me each time I wear it. It's sort of like my bus pass. For a partial year pass, I paid $45.00. I've used the pass on two separate days, for a total of 4 bus rides. That means each bus journey cost me $11.25, and I guarantee you that NO bus ride is worth that much money. If I ride the bus 42 more times, then my bus rides will only end up costing me $1.00. But, do I want to ride the bus 42 more times?

I recently downloaded a song from iTunes. It's 3:58 long, and to date, I've listened to it 11 times. This means I've already enjoyed almost 45 minutes of music for only $.99 + tax. I think that's money well spent.

Entry Outtakes:

If you add it all up, getting dressed might cost as much as renting a car--if you're a moderate dresser--or a hotel room--if you're a fancy dresser.

This is a better sentence (although the punctuation may be off) than what appears above, but it had to be sacrificed for the greater good of the paragraph.

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