Stray observations, asking for a tap and the memory trap

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“Despite how open, peaceful and loving you attempt to be, people can only meet you, as deeply as they’ve met themselves.” -Matt Kahn

But people are terrible buffoons, and will never listen. They must touch the hot iron.” -K Wolfe

Please forgive the desultory fashion in which I swan across a bunch of disconnected subjects. Just a clearing of the mind.

Remember

How much do I hate it when people begin statements in their stories with admonishment: “Remember”, e.g. “I went to Harvard. Remember: I didn’t get good grades!” or “I have been working and running around for 18 hours straight. Remember: I didn’t sleep last night either!” I don’t know if it is meant to be an invitation to pat them on the back for what revelation follows the entreaty to “remember” or literally a reminder, as if some detail they harp on constantly could be forgotten? Why does this bother me so much?

Similarly, we all have our favorite words and don’t necessarily notice we are using them constantly. “Similarly” is one of mine, probably because I love trying to make connections between disconnected things. When I go back over writing I see the way these words pop up again and again. I wonder if it’s deliberate when I see it in published books that should have been edited. For example, I noticed that Carrie Brownstein used some version of “sturdy” in her memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, more times than I bothered to count. Claire Dederer uses some version of “semaphore” far too many times in her recent book, Love and Trouble. How do we attach ourselves to these favored words and expressions?

Asking for a tap: Freelance distance learning – Sierra Leone

Let’s get the most important thing out of the way, though. The annual Sierra Leone Marathon takes place tomorrow (May 28), and money donated benefits the Street Child charity, which, since its founding, has helped more than 50,000 children to go to school and stay in education. During the Ebola crisis, Street Child helped over 20,000 Ebola orphans, providing emergency support and connecting thousands with families. Today, Street Child works in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nepal and Nigeria with a current emphasis on education in emergencies and girls’ education.

While you can give any time, of course, the fundraising drive for the marathon is a good time to make a big push for support. I happen to be supporting this small team of enthusiastic marathoners. I’m eager for them to make it over the top with their fundraising goal, but really I’m pretty keen for the charity to be supported in general. There are a lot of charities out there and loads of people asking for money; it happens that I chose to get involved in this right now. The results of giving are easy to see, and I guess it’s important to feel like you see some kind of result – or a direct line between what you do or give to some kind of improvement. Not just an “I will write a check to assuage guilt and not think about it again” kind of effort.

As I have written before, everything I learn about Africa is incremental… kind of one country, one obsession at a time. We all heard about Sierra Leone in the last few years because it was one of the hardest hit in West Africa during the Ebola crisis, but it’s easy for a country and its people to get lost in that kind of crisis. (Prior to the crisis, Sierra Leone was rebuilding from a prolonged civil war – and just when they were making some progress, Ebola hit.)

As part of my intro to Sierra Leone, I’ve become better acquainted also with Liberia and other bits of West Africa. Which maybe I will ramble about another time. For now, I am just thinking about drumming up money.

I have no excuse except that I let compassion have free rein. Which is often my excuse for everything. All those years not saying no to freelance work because I couldn’t. But then even when I was free of need, not being able to say no because I forgot how to say no. And even after learning to say no, I couldn’t because I thought, “I can’t leave money on the table when I could give it to a cause”. Whether that cause was a down-on-his-luck alcoholic in precarious recovery or a greater cause like Ebola orphans in West Africa.

After all, what else are we here for? I was listening to Sigur Rós’s Ágætis byrjun album for the first time in many years, and it was as though I was transported back to summer 1999 in Akureyri, northern Iceland. I was introduced to this by my friend Anna’s friend, R. R passed away long ago when she was really quite young, and listening to the opening notes of this album bring these beautiful people – who have either changed or completely ceased to exist – to life in my mind’s eye. This gorgeous prelude to the Icelandic chapter of my life, the beginnings of which were already like half a life ago.

While listening to the album, I happened to look through my college’s alumni news and saw that a former classmate had died late last year. She was in her 70s, so it was not as shocking as when people my own age or younger die (I was the youngest in my class by decades in most cases, so my cohort have reached normal “expiration dates”, but it’s still quite sad). Already flooded by the aforementioned memory plucked from me by the sounds of Sigur Rós, these fleeting moments of curiosity, asking myself, “I wonder whatever happened to X”, like today, are often followed by more nostalgia-filled grief, discovering the deaths of people who once populated life’s periphery.

Yes, of late, I see a pattern forming in, overtaking in fact, most of what I write. A lot of death and mortality to reflect on. Which is in the end why, as much as I complain, or poke at language I find annoying, I am much more inclined to think about and act on helping others, and finding meaning in the time we are here.

Give! Give! Give! More! More! More!

Random thoughts and cookie dough

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Grooving on loud music at 5 a.m. Hot Chocolate – Every 1s a Winner (not a whiner!)

I am going to make a bunch of cookie dough today and stick it in the freezer to bake next weekend. Time before the holidays is short. Must bake!

I am thinking about ways to give my 2014 the best possible chance for success, and more importantly, happiness and fulfillment. PLAY WITH BABY TIGERS! Build a treadmill desk! Knock down the superfluous upstairs walls! Fall in love with some lovely Parisian (even though s/he won’t have a Scottish accent!) and host next Thanksgiving in Paris! Go to more live shows – have more music in my life in general! Build my business up (either the web-based one or the bakery tank idea)! Find the perfect shade(s) of pink lipstick! (And I’m a sucker for the reds!) Learn more about wine! Finally take a real vacation somewhere far away that I often dream of! Get a Roomba! Take more walks in the forest, as gave me such joy two years ago! Enjoy every minute of being at home! When I worked at home, no matter how much I worked then, it always felt like I was on vacation – or at least that vacation did not matter. I was relaxed and organized. I miss that. I don’t know that all these things are possible, probable or even that they would contribute to elusive happiness. But they are fun ideas – it’s giving me some joy to think about it right now.

Soundtrack to giving in to the joy of now. Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

 “And one day we will die and our ashes will fly
From the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see
Love to be in the arms of all, I’m keepin’ here with me”

-Neutral Milk Hotel

More randomness

A friend posted an article on her Facebook wall that encouraged a return to some old-fashioned dating practices. When I reposted the article on my own Facebook wall, I stated that I might not need all the old-fashioned stuff (“I want all that stupid old shit, like letters and sodas…” Liz Phair, “Fuck and Run”), but one of the points touched a nerve – that we should call what we’re doing by what it is. Calling dating/courting/a relationship “hanging out” is an act of clinging to a juvenile and awkward period of not knowing who you are or what you want. I am almost 40. I might not want, as the letter says, to define a relationship as “exclusive” or a “Greg Brady-going steady” thing, but I am not “hanging out”. I don’t know when the shift happened between steps progressing into a relationship to this casual, non-committal, “we’re hanging out” vibe (and yes, it does seem like a “vibe” more than something grounded in reality).

As I lament the winding down of my vacation, I watched a handful of movies – mostly not memorable. But it was entertaining to rewatch a few – I am not normally someone who watches the same movies over and over, but I decided to watch Wall Street again after… 20+ years. Charlie Sheen had a sliver of talent then, beautiful, hopeful, full of vitality – all flushed away long ago to give way to the troll/demon he seems to have become. I loved all the “high-tech gadgets” that look so laughable now – the briefcase-sized cell phones and the two-inch-screen portable tv. Let’s not overlook Daryl Hannah’s ridiculous wardrobe or the unthinkable way she decorated the Sheen character’s apartment. Oh, the 80s.

A few weeks ago, a few women in my office and I took our young Spanish intern to lunch for his birthday. The women and I are all in the late-30s age bracket; the intern was turning 24. On our walk to the restaurant, the intern was questioning me about how I manage to walk around outside without covering my legs or wearing a real coat – +5C is cold for him. I don’t “winterize” until -20C. I did explain that I don’t keep my house like an icebox, saying, “In my house, the heat is on.” My three similarly aged female colleagues and I, in unison, burst into song, as if on cue, “The heat is on… it’s on the street…” Way to date ourselves, relics of a bygone era! The intern had never heard the song, apparently, but when we got back to the office, he wanted a full education in 80s music and all things American because I am, in his words, “his American bible”. Hmm.

As if it were not abundantly clear already, I am one of those nerds who holds on to details. While my colleagues could not remember who performed “The Heat is On”, I could immediately “(dis)credit” Glenn Frey and rattle off his career history with The Eagles (who blighted – yes, I exaggerate – 70s music about as much as Frey and his Eagle partner-in-crime Don Henley inflicted their solo careers on 80s music). I suppose “The Heat is On” was only as popular as it was because it was also associated with the Beverly Hills Cop film franchise, which is also a quintessential part of 80s pop culture. While schooling this intern in 80s horrors for the ears, I also managed to share the dubious 80s songs/hits of Starship while also sharing the history of how they came about – rising from the ashes of the drug-addled remnants of other related 60s and 70s has-been bands, much like a lot of the stuff that filled the 80s music charts. All supposedly reformed (in both senses of the word) and “Just Say No” – HA. (Starship managed also to supply one of the worst songs, as well as churning out mediocrity for much of the decade – for one of the era’s worst movies – “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from Mannequin – highlight of Andrew McCarthy or Kim Cattrall’s careers? Almost no 80s movie could have been complete without Andrew or James Spader, who was in both Mannequin and the aforementioned Wall Street. Both also figured prominently in the 80s classic, Less than Zero, which was also a very true-to-life vehicle for the then very messed up Robert Downey, Jr. And both McCarthy and Spader were in 80s teen favorite, Pretty in Pink – along with Jon Cryer – who has not done much other than that and, of course, the role of the aforementioned Charlie Sheen’s brother on the dismal and crass TV show, Two and a Half Men.)

Nothing can make someone feel old like imparting all this “popular culture” knowledge – when the “popular” culture her reference points are attached to were popular 20 or 30 years ago.

The same young intern came and said to me, “Did you know they had a war in Croatia not that long ago?” when we were talking about football (my beloved Iceland was playing Croatia for a chance to get into the World Cup at the time. They lost, but at least my Icelandic underdogs gave it a go). Yes, Croatia did have a war, young man, when you were in diapers and learning to walk. I was there (well, in Bosnia anyway) monitoring post-war elections.

I can forgive a young boy for not knowing “The Heat is On” – but a major war that took place in recent history within Europe…? God save the Spanish education system?!

Then again, that is what life is for – you do learn something new every day. Sometimes totally useless stuff. I, for example, learned that Liverpool named its airport after John Lennon. I sort of doubt Lennon would have liked that (not that I know what he would have liked). I wonder what Yoko thinks. (Yoko’s Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland somehow strikes me as something both of them would have approved of more than an international airport that seems to primarily take British tourists to get drunk and sunburned in Spain.)

Anyway, I started that tangent to say that I was watching movies. I rewatched Brokeback Mountain again – this is probably the third time I saw it, and I am still moved by Heath Ledger’s performance. Actually all the performances were outstanding, especially when contrasting it with Wall Street, which I watched immediately before. Even the secondary characters in Brokeback seem to have some depth and reality – you can feel for the wives of the two main characters. They are more than just one-dimensional props. The girlfriend and wife – all secondary characters – in Wall Street are hollow.

I went in an entirely different direction after that – watching Rêves de poussière, a film from Burkina Faso – the cinematography was beautiful, the story simple and arresting.

As the remaining minutes of vacation tick by, I do laundry, get middle-of-night, belligerent phone calls and wonder how a drunken person I have not seen in a decade or more (but have known now for 20 years) thinks he misses me. How do you miss someone you have not seen in more than ten years? Especially when that feeling has always been a one-way street. You don’t. You’re smoking nostalgia, you’re drinking a memory of something that never was. It’s imaginary.

“What a beautiful face I have found in this place
That is circling all ’round the sun and when we meet on a cloud
I’ll be laughing out loud, I’ll be laughing with everyone I see
Can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all”

-Neutral Milk Hotel