Said and read – February 2021

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A vort iz vi a fayl: beyde hobn groyse ayl. A word and an arrow are alike: both make a speedy strike. The idea that words have great power and potential to inflict harm is implied in the following: Verter darf men vegn, nit tseyln. Words should be weighed, not counted.” –How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed YiddishIlan Stavans

“Mouth tissue makes an excellent urethral stand-in. For one thing, it’s hairless. Urine contains minerals that, were there hair growing in your urethra, would build up on the strands. The stony deposits are troublemakers, obstructing flow or breaking free and getting peed out in a blaze of pain. The surgeon, James Jezior, has been over at the scrub sink going at his nails. He joins us now, hands front, drying. He has blue eyes and fine sandy hair and a mischievous wit. I would use the adjective boyish, but on paper he is very much not a boy. He’s a chief (of the Walter Reed urology department), a director (of reconstructive urology), and a colonel. “Also,” says Jezior, “the mouth is tolerant of pee.” He means that the mouth is built for moisture. It’s possible to create a urethra from hairless skin on the underside of the forearm or behind the ear, but the frequent wetting from urine can degrade it. A kind of internal diaper rash may ensue. Inflammation eats away at the tissue, tunneling an alternate path for the waste, called a fistula. Now you are dribbling tinkle from a raw hole in your skin. Just what you need.” – Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at WarMary Roach

Previous book reports: 2021 — January. 2020 – December, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January. 2019 – December, November, October, September, May, April, March, February, January. 2018 – NovemberOctober, SeptemberAugust, July, June, May, April, March, February and January.

Thoughts on reading for February

February has historically been the slowest, darkest and most depressing month of my life – every single year. In the last few years, though, perhaps by virtue of keeping myself ridiculously busy, I have managed to avoid the worst of it. And reading helps, although as predicted, I didn’t get to read as much as I’d like in February and didn’t stumble on anything truly extraordinary during the month.

Nevertheless I have a few thoughts running through my head.

First is the frivolity of this endeavor. I read and then scribble down some things about what I read, and I try in some way to impart how important I think some of the books are. Then I look at social media channels and all the outrage about the state of the world we live in and a lot of commentary about how if you’re posting frivolous stuff rather than topical, political stuff, you’re part of the problem.

I wonder about the reasoning of this and feel like we can’t be turned-on, angry, vitriolic, political animals all the time without burning ourselves to the ground. And what good would that do? Don’t we need to reset and ground ourselves in ideas sometimes? I recognize that I am lucky to have the choice.

Another thing has nagged me as I’ve continued my years-long pursuit of sharing poetry daily. I love discovering and sharing poetry, particularly voices of poets who are not featured in our mainstream high school/college textbooks in the western, English-speaking world. And while I share poetry from Black poets and artists all the time, I dedicate a poem a day in February to sharing their voices exclusively, as part of Black History Month. Recently someone pointed out that they thought this felt “performative”, and I’ve questioned this myself. It’s a continuation of my desire to share great poetry, and I wanted to shine additional light on, in particular, the work of Black women. I sometimes feel when I share other people’s poetry – no matter who they are – that I am overstepping. Is it my place to share these things, regardless of how few people might see what I share?

This questioning isn’t terribly related to my “reading post-mortem, but it’s nevertheless what plagues me at night during those few nights when sleep is fleeting. I suppose it isn’t a bad thing to repeatedly interrogate yourself: Am I part of the problem? And if so, what can I do to remedy that?

So here we go…

Strangely I was overenthusiastic and included some of my February reads in my January book report… for example, The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly ProsperousJoseph Henrich and Wintering, which I will write a bit more about later. Oh well. What can you do with an (over)abundance of enthusiasm?

Again these aren’t in any particular order and mostly reflect various things that stood out to me rather than anything that I expressly loved.

*Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult TimesKatherine May

“However it arrives, wintering is usually involuntary, lonely, and deeply painful.”

Continuing to champion this lovely book because it fit so perfectly, and concisely, into the sharpest parts of winter, and the introduction to the first months of a new year.

“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximising scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”

A passage that particularly spoke to me was May’s description of how doing everything starts to look like nothing – it just blends together. How can we keep ourselves from falling into the crevasse of a life of blur?

“The problem with “everything” is that it ends up looking an awful lot like nothing: just one long haze of frantic activity, with all the meaning sheared away. Time has passed so quickly while I have been raising a child and writing books, and working a full-time job that often sprawls into my weekends, that I can’t quite account for it. The preceding years are not a blank exactly, but they’re certainly a blur, and one that’s strangely devoid of meaning, except for a clawing sense of survival.”

*Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that MattersRyan Singer

This is a strange segue perhaps, but May’s attention to “everything looking like nothing” gave me pause to consider whether all the things I do, and the way I work, could look more intentional. Productivity is one thing, but what is the point without purpose?

I don’t necessarily think the philosophy outlined in Ryan Singer’s book, Shape Up, which explains in detail how Basecamp works in six-week cycles rather than in popular but fairly meaningless two-week sprints, works flawlessly. But it tries. Aiming to swiftly develop and ship something within each six-week cycle, things move quickly without get bogged down.

Ultimately in reading this for work purposes, I saw some applicability in everyday life. That is, you can’t do everything, so why try? Why not discern what you can do that will deliver the most value to you in your life? Obviously this reasoning won’t work in every case. After all, you can’t rear children in six weeks and ship them onward while you move on to a new project. Many of life’s activities and its most fulfilling commitments are long term.

But some of the things we find ourselves taking on and saying “yes” to when we know it might be deleterious to our quality of life and in the big scheme of things won’t matter if we do them or not … we could avoid them if we thought about what matters.

*Breath: The New Science of a Lost ArtJames Nestor

If we were to wager on “what matters”, breathing would be right up there. I mentioned breathing in last month’s book report alongside this unusually inspiring book and wanted to write more about the importance of respiration and the act, rather than art, of breathing. How we take the basic inhale and exhale that mark our lives, a sign of our continued living, for granted.

How, in the middle of a pandemic characterized by breathing difficulties, could it not trigger thought about the fundamental function of breathing? How it literally flows through every single thing we do.

In January a lifelong family friend, who was just four years my senior, died quite suddenly. Again, we’re in the middle of a pandemic in which millions of people have been critically ill with this virus. But this family friend, it turns out, didn’t have Covid-19. She was admitted to hospital in December, diagnosed with pneumonia and discharged. Soon thereafter she experienced respiratory distress again, returned to the hospital, was readmitted, had been tested multiple times for Covid (all negative). Yet her condition kept declining.

From her second stay in hospital, she called my mother (the closest thing to a mother figure she had left), panicking, crying, “I’m really scared. Please tell me everything is going to be fine.” My mother reassured her, knowing of course that she couldn’t make promises but could instead try to be a calming comfort. My mother asked me whether I’d like to send a text message to this woman with whom I’d had virtually no relationship since we were children, and strangely, this entire episode dredged up some terrible memories of what a relentless and cruel bully this woman had been to me when we were children. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but suddenly, her vulnerability brought this flood of memories to mind in such a vivid way.

Of course despite the events of the past, I did send a text, letting her know I would be thinking of her and wishing her well from afar. I never received a reply, and frankly, I don’t think she was conscious much longer after that message was sent. She went downhill from that day, with the respiratory distress getting worse until she was put on a ventilator. This still was not sufficient, so she was airlifted to another hospital where ECMO was available. She did receive a diagnosis finally (a rare, and hitherto undetected, form of cancer), and died soon thereafter. Her prognosis probably would not have been good even if a diagnosis had come sooner, as the cancer was quite advanced to invade in this way. And the presentation (respiratory) coupled with timing (middle of pandemic) may have delayed getting a correct diagnosis as well.

All I could think of was that single, simple act of breathing became labored, impossible until there was no more breath.

In Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes, which I also read in January but didn’t highlight in the book report, briefly discusses the Hawaiian language and reveals the “ha” of the words “aloha” and “haole” means “breath”. Reflecting how central the idea of breath is even to the development of our languages.

*Caste: The Origins of Our DiscontentsIsabel Wilkerson

“The anthrax, like the reactivation of the human pathogens of hatred and tribalism in this evolving century, had never died. It lay in wait, sleeping, until extreme circumstances brought it to the surface and back to life.”

Wilkerson’s writing, as always, is elegant and gripping, which makes it all the more painful to be nodding along and agreeing with her conclusion that America runs under an invisible caste system. No one would acknowledge or speak it aloud, or indeed, even see it (hence its invisibility), but racism and its structures is America’s caste system. Wilkerson makes the case, describing both the meaning of what a caste system is and how/why America is one such example:

“Caste is the infrastructure of our divisions. It is the architecture of human hierarchy, the subconscious code of instructions for maintaining, in our case, a four-hundred-year-old social order. Looking at caste is like holding the country’s X-ray up to the light. A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.”

“The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not. It is about resources—which caste is seen as worthy of them and which are not, who gets to acquire and control them and who does not. It is about respect, authority, and assumptions of competence—who is accorded these and who is not.”

“Caste is insidious and therefore powerful because it is not hatred, it is not necessarily personal. It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things.”

More generally, and most damning and true, about America as a society, Wilkerson puts into words why a whole lot of people don’t buy into the myth of the American dream. It’s an illusion reversed for a fraction of the population.

“Compared to our counterparts in the developed world, America can be a harsh landscape, a less benevolent society than other wealthy nations. It is the price we pay for our caste system. In places with a different history and hierarchy, it is not necessarily seen as taking away from one’s own prosperity if the system looks out for the needs of everyone.”

And it has only become more distant in light of recent events:

“The pandemic, and the country’s fitful, often self-centered lack of readiness, exposed “a failure of character unparalleled in US history,” in the words of Stephen Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard University. The pandemic forced the nation to open its eyes to what it might not have wanted to see but needed to see, while forcing humanity to contemplate its impotence against the laws of nature. “This is a civilization searching for its humanity,” Gary Michael Tartakov, an American scholar of caste, said of this country. “It dehumanized others to build its civilization. Now it needs to find its own.””

Does America have any humanity to find?

*The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of BalanceLaurie Garrett

“Nature isn’t benign,” … “The bottom lines: the units of natural selection – DNA, sometimes RNA elements – are by no means neatly packaged in discrete organisms. They all share the entire biosphere. The survival of the human species is not a preordained evolutionary program.”

Viruses are, as Garrett warns, black boxes. We don’t know where they next come from, how serious they will be, how infectious they are, until of course they appear. As Garrett chronicles the history of unraveling various mysterious diseases as they appeared in the world, and identifying them, she paints a dark picture of what will happen with future viruses. We’re seeing her dire warnings play out now with Covid-19, although her alarm was sounded by the HIV crisis and its cruel and slow mismanagement.

“Through the AIDS prism, it was possible for the world’s public health experts to witness what they considered to be the hypocrisies, cruelties, failings, and inadequacies of humanity’s sacred institutions, including its medical establishment, science, organized religion, systems of justice, the United Nations, and individual government systems of all political stripes.”

“If HIV was our model, leading scientists concluded, humanity was in very big trouble. Homo sapiens greeted the emergence of the new disease first with utter nonchalance, then with disdain for those infected by the virus, followed by an almost pathologic sense of mass denial that dew upon mechanisms for rationalizing the epidemic that ranged from claiming that the virus was completely harmless to insisting that certain individuals or races of people were uniquely blessed with the ability to survive HIV infection.”

“Over the last five years, scientists – particularly in the United States and France –have voice concern that HIV, far from representing a public health aberration, maybe a sign of things to come. They warn that humanity has learned little about preparedness and response to new microbes, despite the blatant tragedy of AIDS.”

The awakening of a “global community consciousness” – certainly as it relates to the ecology/shared earth/environment didn’t do much to stop climate change. And firsthand awareness of both the way HIV unfolded, and now Covid, doesn’t equal action. If anything it may engender indifference in many and an active backlash in others. As Garrett writes in the gripping chapters on HIV/AIDS: **It’s a Sin**:

“Medical research money per se was not usually a partisan matter in the United States. … But AIDS was unique. It touched every nerve that polarized Americans: sex, homosexuality, race (Haitians), Christian family values, drug addition, and personal versus collective rights and security.”

*The Shipping NewsAnnie Proulx

We are far enough removed from the film adaptation of The Shipping News that reading this feels new and isn’t marred by picturing Kevin Spacey in the lead role. Oddly I started reading this the same day as I randomly had a conversation with someone in/from Newfoundland. Not an everyday occurrence. And the book makes mention of saucisson, which was once a well-tread “thing” between a former partner and me. Actually a couple of different partners. One, from whom I learned about saucisson in the first place, attempted to bring it back into the US from France without declaring it, and when I said, “Yeah, it’s a meat product”, he indignantly replied, as if his right to bear saucisson were self-evident, “But it is my saucisson!”

The next partner understood this reasoning perfectly, also relishing the fatty joy of saucisson. He made up a tune: “Saucisson – c’est bon.” I added: “Pauvre cochon.” I am certain he would still claim that the pig was happy to give its life to be saucisson.

Back to the point: Proulx has a distinct voice. I don’t love it, but I can’t deny its pull. I come to her work late, reading mostly the books from which films have sprung. I got around to reading Brokeback Mountain last month, and the film actually hewed so closely and faithfully to the book it was almost painful.

*How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed YiddishIlan Stavans

Rosten’s approach to language is, in my view, savvy and dynamic. He doesn’t perceive it as an isolated, self-sufficient, enclosed human activity. Instead, he pushes for a more dynamic, functional conception, recognizing the constant effect politics, education, sports and entertainment, and other realms of life have on it. In other words, language is never static; it’s in permanent change, adapting to unforeseen circumstances by lending and borrowing terms and expressions from the environment. His approach, obviously, came from Yiddish itself, a stunningly resilient code whose principal source of sustenance was its flexibility and improvisational nature. To find health in the Pale of Settlement, Yiddish speakers for centuries made their lingo suit the needs of the time. They were polyglots, looking at language not only as a home but also as a way of escape: if one couldn’t do the trick, another one would. Plus, they were adept at the art of translation. To translate is to overcome the barriers of language, to cope with the circumstances by doing what chameleons do: make oneself part of an alien turf.

I was a bit disappointed with the most of this book (apart from the shared passages). I didn’t expect it to be a collection of different stuff but rather expected it to be a historical and linguistic account of the influence of Yiddish on American culture, language and life and vice versa. While the book kind of achieves that, it’s not quite the account I was hoping for.

Still there are moments when the precarious balance between a pop-culture representation of the Yiddish language, which in one way keeps it alive, however hollowed out, and the richer, deeper lived experience of the full language, which disappears with each day.

“Shortly after Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish, a hilarious lexicon of colloquialisms and locutions, was published in 1968, Irving Howe, the deacon of Jewish culture in the United States, irritably reviewed it in the pages of The New York Times. In Rosten’s book, Howe said, “Yiddish is torn out of its cultural context, its integral world of meaning and reference.” He described the book as a catalog of kitsch. He was troubled by the way Yiddish had become distant and unknown among secondhand third-generation Jews, a sign of false nostalgia and lack of authenticity. Needless to say, Howe wasn’t Rosten’s only critic. Accusations of inaccuracy were published in periodicals such as the Forverts. Even Isaac Bashevis Singer, who himself was often accused of misrepresenting Yiddish and who, upon accepting the Nobel Prize, said that the mame-loshn is the only language on earth that has never been spoken by men in power, in private conversations derided The Joys of Yiddish as impure, just as he derided mainstream phenomena like the musical Fiddler on the Roof. One periodical even nominated Rosten for a “shanda award.” (Shanda in Yiddish means shame, scandal.)”

*Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at WarMary Roach

“THE MAIN stressor of combat medicine is absent from every training simulation. No one is shooting real bullets at or anywhere near you. “Training is limited by liability,” said Siddle. He sounded a little mournful. “The high number of returnees diagnosed with PTSD suggests we are not doing enough,” scolds Colonel Ricardo Love in his paper.”

As ever, Mary Roach brings her curiosity and uniquely irreverent voice to another topic: military R&D/technology.

“THE CHICKEN GUN HAS a sixty-foot barrel, putting it solidly in the class of an artillery piece. While a four-pound chicken hurtling in excess of 400 miles per hour is a lethal projectile, the intent is not to kill. On the contrary, the chicken gun was designed to keep people alive. The carcasses are fired at jets, standing empty or occupied by “simulated crew,” to test their ability to withstand what the Air Force and the aviation industry, with signature clipped machismo, call birdstrike. The chickens are stunt doubles for geese, gulls, ducks, and the rest of the collective bird mass that three thousand or so times a year collide with Air Force jets, costing $50 million to $80 million in damage and, once every few years, the lives of the people on board. As a bird to represent all birds, the chicken is an unusual choice, in that it doesn’t fly. It does not strike a jet in the manner in which a mallard or goose strikes a jet—wings outstretched, legs trailing long. It hits it like a flung grocery item. Domestic chickens are, furthermore, denser than birds that fly or float around in wetlands. At 0.92 grams per centimeter cubed, the average body density of Gallus gallus domesticus is a third again that of a herring gull or a Canada goose. Nonetheless, the chicken was the standard “material” approved by the US Department of Defense for testing jet canopy…”

“Not only are chickens easier to obtain and standardize, but they serve as a sort of worst-case scenario. Except when they don’t.”

“This is the sort of story that drew me to military science—the quiet, esoteric battles with less considered adversaries: exhaustion, shock, bacteria, panic, ducks. Surprising, occasionally game-changing things happen when flights of unorthodox thinking† collide with large, abiding research budgets. People tend to think of military science as strategy and weapons—fighting, bombing, advancing. All that I leave to the memoir writers and historians. I’m interested in the parts no one makes movies about—not the killing but the keeping alive. Even if what people are being kept alive for is fighting and taking other lives. Let’s not let that get in the way. This book is a salute to the scientists and the surgeons, running along in the wake of combat, lab coats flapping. Building safer tanks, waging war on filth flies. Understanding turkey vultures.”

And, in tribute to all those who continue to fight against stupidity in the face of… biology (people who wish people would hide menstruation):

“In other words, it isn’t the blood that makes a tampon attractive to polar bears. It’s something uniquely . . . vaginal. Some kind of secretions that, please forgive me, smell like seals. This makes sense, does it not? When a feminine hygiene company hires a lab to test the efficacy of a scented menstrual product, the standardized odor employed for this purpose is known as a “fishy amine.” So alluring is the intensely vaginal/sealy scent of a tampon that a polar bear seems not to notice that it does not also taste like seal. In 42 of 52 instances, a wild polar bear who encountered a used tampon affixed to the top of a stake (scientific nomenclature: “used tampon stake”) ate or “vigorously chewed” it. Only seal meat was more consistently pulled from the stake and consumed. Paper towels soaked with regular blood—here again, nailed to a stake like a skull warning foolhardy jungle explorers—were eaten just three times.”

1999

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A trove of notes from the summer of 1999 – the past, while so well-illuminated feels like a part of a long and long ago night.

Summer begins, and I’m traveling around in Hawaii (Maui) and then all over Europe, accompanied by what appears to have been everything Nadine Gordimer had published at that time. The sounds of the Red Hot Chili Peppers followed/haunted me everywhere in the world I went. A Spanish guy who spoke no English tried to seduce me in Prague; an Australian tour guide named ‘Mat’ kept referring to every few-hours-stop in one city (without an overnight stay) as a “city lick”, which struck me as obscene; Budapest was enveloped in a massive thunder and lightning storm; Munich was unimpressive; I remember very little of Vienna other than the oppressive heat and a seemingly bipolar Australian girl; my hatred for Italy was born, as I lost my wallet and subsisted on the bits of various currency I had on hand for the various destinations (pre-euro days) I hit after Italy, although my time in Rome was made softer by meeting an American airline crew stuck there overnight; Luzern, my only stop in Switzerland, was civilized and orderly, as you would expect; I told a man in Nice that he had a piece of paper stuck in his hair; on a sweltering Friday night in Barcelona, John F Kennedy Jr’s private plane went missing; hellish times with hellish people in Madrid; a man came up to me in Tours and started saying something, which startled me, which caused him to ask if I understood French, to which I replied “un peu” – in English, he continued, “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” I said, “Thank you.” He replied, “No, thank you” as he placed his hand to heart dramatically and kept walking. Hahahaha. So French of him.

There are other bits that I noted nothing about, which I found less than impressive – London, Amsterdam, Monaco. But I fell in love with Berlin then but still have nothing to say about it.

After all of this I ended in Iceland, where I spent several weeks and knew I wanted to stay there. At the time, I thought forever. But it only ended up being about 8-9 years. Only. En route to and from Reykjavik I had to stop at Oslo Gardermoen, which was then new, and seemed so strange. Now it’s my “airport of choice”, like it or not, but back then I could never have imagined. By the time I got to Iceland, I had exhausted my Gordimer supply and bought new books (my new credit card had been sent to my friend’s house, so I once again had money) – Jose Saramago, Bohumil Hrabal, Haruki Murakami.

I never wanted to leave. Unfortunately, I did not listen to my instinct and did leave, and found that leaving had been a huge mistake. I should have stayed. At least I returned as soon as I could.

Photo (c) Paul Costanich.

Good goo of random gum: Halloween 2015 – Nearly lost you

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Random Gum 2015: Nearly Lost You

The full soundtrack (minus those songs that don’t exist on Spotify.)

1. Screaming Trees – “Nearly Lost You”
This year, I nearly lost, and in some cases, lost, so much. The nostalgia brought on by the song and that period in time makes the case for the centrality of loss as a recurring theme.

2. Dark Blue – “Hanging from the Chandelier”
A bit over-the-top but the dramatic sound evokes dark images of last-second glimpses of giant moose on the prowl during my long, wintry, middle-of-night drives. Every dark object in the distance a deer or moose – or a mailbox.

3. Hunx & His Punx – “The Curse of Being Young”
I used to curse my youth – now I wish I could have stood still at 33 forever.

4. Metronomy – “The Look” …you’re goin round in circles/and everyone knows you’re trouble…

5. Phantogram – “The Day You Died” …And I don’t care to say goodbye, cause you’re feeling nothing/I dug into your heart, we got nothing at all…

6. Matrimony – “Giant” …Does it feel good to leave me on my own?…

7. MGMT – “Electric Feel” …shock me like an electric eel…
“All along the eastern shore/Put your circuits in the sea/This is what the world is for/Making electricity/You can feel it in your mind/Oh you can do it all the time/Plug it in and change the world/You are my electric girl”. With love from the sea’s ugliest creature, the wolf eel

8. Cold War Kids – “Mexican Dogs” …flashlights go out/stars will light the way/like Mexican dogs/nobody gave us names…
For Martina, our love for top dogs, piñatas and the endless dog-and-pony show

9. Cowboy Junkies – “Lost My Driving Wheel” …I feel like some old engine/that’s lost my driving wheel…
The sense of losing your bearings, and having nowhere to fall, nowhere to turn, nowhere to rest. Calling out for love, for support, for something, but finding no one, nothing, there.

10. Sam Cooke – “You Send Me”

11. Charles & Eddie – “Would I Lie to You?”
“Ohhhh noooo!” I somehow managed never to know that this song existed until recently. S mentioned it, thinking it was common knowledge. We had a lot of laughs over it and my “death notice delivery” nature (every time he mentioned something, I had an, “Oh and I just found out he’s dead” moment). Suddenly, once I’d heard it, it was everywhere – even the Norwegian radio, perpetually stuck in the 80s and early 90s as it is. Check out the video if you get the chance: 90s music video amateur hour. And it’s all taken on a new life with my friends and me laughing at it. And poor Charles, RIP. For S, for Hayley my former colleague, for Alfa

12. Lesley Gore – “You Don’t Own Me”
RIP Lesley Gore

13. The Boomtown Rats – “Diamond Smiles” …love is for others, but me it destroys…
1970s: was it the coke that led everyone to sing about space, sparkles, glitter, diamonds and satellites? For S, for Angelika

14. J.D. McPherson – “Bridgebuilder
Another discovery sitting in a dark, cold parking lot in the middle of the night.

15. Spiritualized – “Soul on Fire”

16. Bebe Rexha – “I’m Gonna Show You” …tired of trying to be normal/I’m always overthinking/I’m driving myself crazy…
One of those annoying, cliché-filled songs- the whole “I’m such a crazy bitch you can’t handle me” trope… but still, here it is. It caught me off guard until it became catchy (one of the perils of listening to Norwegian radio…)

17. Garbage – “Push It”
Reminds me of the summer I spent dragging myself out of bed at 4 a.m. daily to go running – one of the songs that carried me through it. College days. And who in the world can get enough of Shirley Manson? Not me!

18. Nortec Collective: Bostich + Fussible – “Motel Baja” …life is like a piñata/filled with candy to the brim…
Middle-of-the-night drives through Sweden listening to Seattle’s KEXP and its Latin music show, El Sonido. One of my favorite songs all year long. “The bottles are all empty/and I can see the border/Goodbye, Tijuana, where the party never ends…”

19. TV on the Radio – “Happy Idiot”
Another one of my favorites this year. “What you don’t know won’t hurt you/ignorance is bliss/I’m a happy idiot/waving at cars…”

20. Kinky, Beto Zapata – “Para Poder Llegar a Ti”
El Sonido! Another one keeping me sane on the long commute.

21. Squeeze – “Up the Junction” …she left me when my drinking became a proper stinging…
I can’t listen to this without losing it, bursting into uncontrollable tears, for what it reminds me of. For S. “And when the time was ready/We had to sell the telly/Late evenings by the fire/With little kicks inside her”

22. Queen – “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”
After a crazed listening and documentary fest digging into Freddie Mercury’s life, the history of Queen, couldn’t resist this. I was never a fan but no denying the unbelievable live charisma (see Live Aid if in doubt – pains me a bit to think of how long ago that was). For Roxane

23. Evans the Death – “Idiot Button …I’m an idiot for trying…
It is like there’s an “idiot button” that resets again and again, sending me back to the painful beginning, wringing out any last compassion I feel.

24. Dom La Nena – “Golondrina”
Too beautiful

25. Pond – “Holding Out for You” …I was only there for you…
The burden of sticking around to be there for someone, holding out hope…

26. Kevin Morby – “Parade”
“If I were to die today/Puppet in that great charade/The last thing that you’d hear me say/Is bury me in different shapes/Of the parade”

27. Mitski – “First Love/Late Spring”
“So please hurry leave me/I can’t breathe/Please don’t say you love me/Mune ga hachikire-sōde/One word from you and I would/Jump off of this/Ledge I’m on/Baby/Tell me “don’t,”/So I can/Crawl back in”

28. Courtney Barnett – “Dead Fox” …if you can’t see me/I can’t see you…
Love that the album this came from is called Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit. For my S. the lone wolf.

29. Perfume Genius – “Queen”
A certain atmosphere

30. The Platters – “Only You”
Just one of those things you have to love.

31. Eddy Grant – “Electric Avenue”
Reminds me of the 80s, being a kid with my brother, Kyle, and enjoying this video on USA Network’s NightFlight (decades before original programming!) or TBS SuperStation’s NightTracks or some other video show in the pre-MTV era (or rather before we had MTV)…

32. O Terno – “Ai, ai, Como Eu Me Iludo”
For all my Brazilian friends and acquaintances.

33. TV on the Radio – “Trouble”
I am in love with this song no matter how many times I hear it.

34. Ultravox – “Vienna”
Dead cold city (Oslo) at the holidays. Coffees at Deli De Luca (only thing open). For S.

35. Las Ketchup – “Asereje”
For Sarah. Back when I had pirated Israeli MTV in Seltjarnarnes and this song was everywhere annoying the crap out of everyone. Marshmallow couches, trips to the few restaurants with booths – it was like some other lifetime. The song still annoys – was shocked to hear it on KEXP’s El Sonido radio show this past spring.

36. Ros Sereysothea – “Shave Your Beard”
Reminded me of the Vietnamese music I used to hear with a long-ago boyfriend (from youth). And of course… no more beards. Clean-cut, new passport!. Fresh start, fresh face. For S.

37. The Beach Boys – “Surfin’ USA”
To new career endeavors and surfing the choppy waves of love. Waimea Bay and Five-0!

38. U2 – “An Cat Dubh” …yes, and I know the truth about you…
A rabid U2 fan back in my youth, it’s all been downhill for me since Achtung Baby (with The Joshua Tree being the pinnacle of their achievement). But listening anew to the back catalog, nothing they’ve done thrills me more than their first album, Boy. It’s so exuberant, not trying too hard, fresh (certainly for its time) and still sounds exciting, exploratory. I love it and the way the musicians’ youth explodes in sound. For Terra

39. OMD – “If You Leave”
Nostalgia, if for no other reason

40. Robyn Hitchcock – “The Ghost in You”
One of my favorite Psychedelic Furs songs only performed by one of my favorite musicians, the wild Robyn Hitchcock.

41. Leon Bridges – “Better Man” …what can I do to get back to your heart/I’d swim the Mississippi River if you would give me another start, girl…
When one requires and asks for too many chances, you care less and less every time.

42. Berlin – “No More Words”
At first included as an homage to the 80s, the lyrics took on special meaning as I kept being fed the same empty words over and over – only to face the same results (insanity?)

43. Crowded House – “Help is Coming”
Beautiful, underrated and understated Crowded House. Hard to choose a song, really, and at the end of the year as the refugee crisis hit peak levels, their gorgeous, longing tune “Help is Coming” became the anthem of offering refuge.

44. Jermaine Stewart – “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off”
One of my ill-advised Norwegian radio-listening experiences yielded this old gem. I wondered, driving along, whatever happened to Jermaine Stewart and his cherry wine, only to come home and discover that he died ages ago. More of my grim-reaper nature. Poor guy – RIP.

45. The Maccabees – “Toothpaste Kisses”
“With heart shaped bruises/and late night kisses/divine”

46. Falco – “Der Kommissar”
Nothing like memories of Lufthansa flight watching Falco biopic

47. Glenn Medeiros – “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You”
I had never been a fan of this dude at all, this song or this style and had promptly, conveniently forgotten the existence of this. S heard it in a TV ad in Glasgow, proceeded to incorporate it into his musical repertoire, and this made me, ever-curious… curious. Glenn is now a wild-patterned-shirt wearing school administrator in Hawaii, where he grew up. We follow each other on Twitter. Strangely, lots of factors can change your love for someone.

48. Night Ranger – “Sister Christian”
I have always hated this song and find the name “Night Ranger” more than comical. But it sticks in the mind in a big way.

49. Lera Lynn – “My Least Favorite Life”
The only good part of the 2nd season of the bloated and pretentious True Detective.

50. Foreigner – “I Want to Know What Love Is”
Another cheesy piece of auditory crap, but I heard it as it closed out the most recent season of Orange is the New Black, and in my apparently weakened emotional state at the time, the song seemed to hit me rather hard.

**51. Vorderhaus – “Could I Run **bonus track**

Striking midnight: Just your ghost passing through

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I have been forcing myself to get into bed by midnight every night. I might not fall asleep immediately, but I am there, mostly tucked in and ready for the cuddle that isn’t coming. Haha.

Tonight I am listening – for the first time in ages – Tori Amos‘s Boys for Pele. I had a bunch of Shiseido stuff sitting on my kitchen table for some reason, and I can’t hear or see the word “Shiseido” without thinking of the lyrics from “Muhammad My Friend“:

And on that fateful day, when she was crucified, she wore Shiseido red, and we drank tea by her side…

This is, incidentally, the only reason I am listening to this album, even if there are other bits of it that resonate with me still. Tori Amos is a very 1999-2000 thing for me. A transitional cache of music that carried me through the end of a relationship (that seemed unequivocally adult at the time, but reflecting, I see I was little more than a child in many ways – as he’d said, “You are two years old – maximum!”) and saw my decisionmaking take twists and turns that seemed illogical at the time but have slowly led me to where I am now.

I was never one of the rabid fans, didn’t jump on board right away during the heyday that followed Tori’s first two albums. It was later, looking for CDs (you know, when CDs were a thing) in a Borders (you know, when Borders was a thing) bookstore (erm, yeah, uh, you know when bookstores were a thing!) in Kahului, Hawaii, to serve as the soundtrack of our driving around Maui for a week. I found only Tori CDs and decided, despite having lukewarm feelings about her music, these would have to do. They struck a nerve for me, forever tied to that summer of intertwined endings and beginnings. The Maui sun, the tying up loose ends on the master’s thesis, the summer-long departure for a dreadful European bus trip (it was even worse than that sounds, despite all the things I saw and experiences I had). The culmination of it all in Iceland – the first time in my life that I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be. Driving from Akureyri back to Reykjavik with Anna in the middle of the night at the end of Verslunarmannahelgi weekend through the thickest fog I have ever seen – trying not to hit an errant sheep and stay awake while blasting Tori’s Under the Pink.

Tori Amos was the soundtrack of these transitions – but by 2005 I did not care any longer, and The Beekeeper is the last album I am conscious of seeking out. By then, it was all just treading old ground, and if you know me, you know I don’t like doing that.

The Allure of Regional Pride: Värmland, Sweden

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The Värmland region of Sweden is a place that seems to fill its residents with a considerable amount of regional pride. People who don’t live in or aren’t from Värmland often echo the feeling that Värmland is the most amazing place, that it would be “like a dream” to live there, and that it embodies what many consider to be “the real Sweden”. Sort of smack in the middle of everything, Värmland is mostly rural, its largest city – the virtually unheard-of (outside Sweden) Karlstad (except for IKEA furniture named after the city) is uniquely placed at a near-equidistance from the Nordic holy trinity of Stockholm, Oslo and Gothenburg. Värmland is not known for city life, of course. It’s the landsbygd – truly rural and in many ways untouched. For those who love nature, Värmland is it.

And it seems to me (in my very few years as a Värmlander myself) that Värmlanders (current and former) bond with each other – in a similar way to how people who come from a small town and meet somewhere else, far away, do. Even though Värmland is a big place and coming from the eastern edge is not totally the same as coming from the far west on the border with Norway (life there, which is where I call home, has been affected by an influx of both Norwegians and their massive border shopping centers) people connected to Värmland do seem to consider it home forever – long after they leave to put down permanent roots elsewhere. There is a sense of pride and identification with the place that people from Värmland adopt – and transplants, like me, fiercely take on. I feel protective and proud about Värmland for some really inexplicable reason. Maybe just because living here has given me the kind of inner peace that I did not really imagine ever having. I never felt at home anywhere, but Värmland is home. As exotic and wonderful as my “native stomping grounds” – Hawaii – is, Värmland is home. I spent most of my formative years in the lovely and diverse Seattle and surrounding environs. But Värmland is home. Yes, Sweden is home, but more than that, Värmland is home. When you meet Swedes, they may tell you they came from “some small town but now live in Stockholm” or will introduce themselves using the city they currently live in. But when you meet a Värmlander, it’s almost a guarantee that s/he will self-identify as a Värmlander (if their värmlandska language does not give them away! Even those who have long left Värmland still consider themselves proud Värmlanders – you can take the Värmlander out of Värmland but not Värmland from the Värmlander). The regional identity assumes almost equal importance to the national identity, and I have not noticed this anywhere in Sweden as I have among Värmlanders.

Heading into the long Easter weekend, I drove home and felt a growing sense of relief, contentment and pride once I crossed into Värmland. Happy.

Seahawks + Dodging Deer = Another Commute

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This morning/middle of the night made for an awful commute. During the first third of the drive, the roads were clear, but every kilometer or so, I encountered big groups of deer playing in the road. I must have seen 100 deer in about 100 kilometers. I also saw a rabbit, which I have never seen around here, and two foxes. This winter, strangely, has been mostly devoid of moose. It occurred to me that my driving amounted to little more than dodging deer, which would not be a bad name for a video game. I got to use the whole road, just as the Seattle-based 1990s comedy sketch show, Almost Live encouraged Ballard drivers to do. You pay taxes on the whole thing – randomly weave all over the road!

On the second third of the road, most of it was covered with ice that had been covered over by snow. So many cars were off the road and so many tow trucks were pulling the cars out. The whole thing made me not only not want to drive but made me think seriously about the merits of living somewhere warmer – Hawai’i once more? Australia (perhaps much too warm)? Uruguay?

Thanks to the middle-of-night driving, I did not get to see my Seattle Seahawks win against the San Francisco 49s in their playoff game. It sounds like the Seahawks did not play at their best in the first half, so I know I would just have been getting angry and sick watching it anyway. By the time I was done driving the first two-thirds of the seemingly interminable three-hour commute and stopped off at a petrol station in Uddevalla, the Seahawks had claimed their place in the Super Bowl (versus the Denver Broncos). All kinds of mentions of it are going around the internet already – but it seems funny that the two places in the entire US to pass laws making recreational marijuana legal are the two places that send their football teams to the Super Bowl.

Why I Changed My Mind: Cheesy TV Action Shows

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We can’t be highbrow all the time, can we? My personal tastes – those that really speak to me and mean something to me – seem to align with the PBS and arthouse/foreign film crowd. But, as a multitasker, I like mindless entertainment to play in the background while I focus on other things. This realization dawned on me after quite some time, when I finally succumbed to the fairly harmless and unrealistic lure of TV action shows.

At some point I fell under the charming and sometimes hilarious spell of Burn Notice. Stretching believability in every episode, I could set aside all concerns about reality, what could actually happen and suspend all highbrow notions and get lost in the Miami world of burned CIA covert officer, Michael Westen, and his merry band of vigilante co-conspirators. The show had a number of one-time and running jokes (notably, when Tyne Daly guest starred to play opposite series regular Sharon Gless, reuniting the TV cop duo Cagney & Lacey; the character Sam Axe – played by the inimitable Bruce Campbell – always gave his cover identities the name “Chuck Finley”, which is not funny and means nothing to non-baseball fans). Burn Notice went on for a number of seasons, and though it ended in a satisfactory way, and I thought I was ready for it to end – I miss my mindless action show!

I have shifted my allegiances and started watching the remake of Hawaii Five-0, which is actually full of fun and interesting characters. Not deep characters, not deep stories, not great acting. But it’s enough to fill the need for mindless laughs and action. Scott Caan uses humor to escape the shadow of his actor father, James Caan and plays well off his counterpart and Five-0 partner, Steve McGarrett, played by Alex O’Loughlin (I’d only seen him in the late, great The Shield before this). I am thrilled to see Grace Park in this after her killer role in one of my all-time favorites, Battlestar Galactica. With all the cast chemistry, casual fun, Hawaiian views (me being an island-born Honolulu girl), the updated version of the original theme song (who doesn’t love that?) and Magnum PI references, this should satisfy my need.

But it does not quite fill the hole left by Burn Notice – and none of the other mindless shows out there (action or no) quite fill the void.