Fuzzy, Was He?

Justin and I went and saw a film about depleted uranium weapons last night. We came home and ranted to each other for half an hour afterwards.

Why, oh, why do lefties (I might have said "my fellow lefties" and I don't mean southpaws) tend so often to eschew a fact-based approach to arguments? Why do they tend toward hysteria, fear-mongering and prurient sensationalism?

Why do I so often feel frustrated and embarrassed when people speak up on behalf of values I hold and issues I care about? I know there are plenty of rightwing nutcases (like on much of talk-radio) who also avoid facts and logic and depend on base emotional reactions to make their points, but I find it so much worse when it's coming from educated people with whom I basically agree.

It seems so obvious that if you want a movement to be more than seven guys with beards and 20 hairy-armpitted women (and I'm one a them wimmin), you need to make appeals to the people who aren't there.

I remember Justin coming back from an anti-war rally in Chico asking why the music at protests has to be singer-songwriters on acoustic guitars (and we like sensitive singer-songwriters on acoustic guitars). It's part of the same problem. I guess it's always more comfortable to preach to the choir than to go to the streets where someone might ask you a hard question.

Maybe it bugs me because I,too, would rather just repeat what I feel to be true than to do the research myself, and I, too, find it easier to hang out with "like-minded" people than to seek out people with whom I'm likely to disagree on fundamental issues.

End of rant!

Work, Schmirk

I just realized that I will definitely be working only part time in January because one of my programs (the ESL one) doesn't start back up until the 6th of Feb. I'm really looking forward to having less time at the office and more time to myself. It's funny to remember how I was really ready to work after three months of not working and how after 7 months of working, I've just about had enough! Maybe part-time will suit me perfectly. I've never worked only part time. Anyway, there's three weeks of work and two weeks of unpaid vacation between now and then.

Below are some photos of us to amuse you and lighten your day!
A picture for my friend Lisa who wanted to see photos. As you can see, I'm as stylish and kempt as ever! Posted by Picasa
Justin (self-portrait) on a camping trip in October. This landscape would be much greener now, as we've have over 100 ml of rain since then. Posted by Picasa

Grog II

Sometimes I write to entertain, sometimes to inform, sometimes to persuade, and sometimes I write to help myself to process my experiences and feelings. It was for this last purpose that I wrote my posting about grog. I occasionally share this kind of writing on my blog with the hopes that someone might say something that sheds light on whatever issue I’m grappling with, or perhaps someone else might be processing similar experiences or feelings and be heartened to know they aren’t alone. I appreciate the thoughtful comments which have been posted already.

I got an email from someone who seemed to have taken offence at that post. I hope it was clear to most people that I was not passing judgement on any individual or any group of people. I know people drink for all kinds of reasons and lots of people I love very much drink. As I said in that post, "I feel powerless and baffled in the face of extensive alcohol use."

I was commenting on my own feelings and reactions to seeing people drink, both people I know and like, and strangers. My reaction to alcohol has been one of aversion for a long time. It seems to hold so much power, yet I have seen it cause so much pain. For years I avoided being around alcohol and also avoided thinking about it much.

It is said that aversion is simply another face (or facet) of desire. In the pursuit of peace of mind, it seems worthwhile to explore both desire and aversion. What do I cling to? What do I run from? What attracts me and what repels? What thoughts or events cause me to be suddenly staring down into that deep shaft (is it a pit or a well?) of sadness, listening as a pebble ping-ping-pings down, bouncing and echoing in the dark? I strain to see if there is any light reflecting on water at the bottom, but there’s no sign, no evidence that this well has an end.

Do we all have our own private wells of sadness? We may stumble across them by accident, but then we keep coming back to gaze down in, drop in stones or coins for good luck, try to understand what is in there and where it comes from. Watching or seeing people drink is one thing that can take me right up to the brink of my own sadness, and I'm suddenly looking into that ominous darkness.

What leads you to peer down into your own deep well? And when you've taken a metaphor way too far, how do you step back from that precipice?

More About Grog

I've been wrestling with understanding grog again. Alcohol-drinking is an absolute institution here, as elsewhere; the consequences are so much a part of the fabric and rhythm of daily life that they almost become invisible. Big-city dwellers learn to walk past other human beings as if they were another species, their humanness not registering because they are dirty, out of their minds, drunk, begging, etc. I worry about this happening to me.

I passed an old woman and an old man the other morning who were sitting side by side on the cement foot/bicycle path that I take to and from work every day. (People commonly sit on paths and sidewalks around town and particularly in this area as there are nice trees shading it. I remember being surprised at first that people choose to sit on concrete rather than grass.) The old woman was bawling, sobbing and wailing. The old man just sat looking straight ahead.

I had to veer off into the dirt and grass to go around them, as I often have to do in this area of my ride. Usually I greet the people sitting on the path, some of them apologize for blocking the path, and I'll tell them it's no problem. If the people on the path are extremely hung over, drunk or passed out, the exchange may be entirely one-sided (my "hello"). As I approached these old folks, I wondered if I should stop, if I should ask what was wrong, if I should see if there was anything I could do. But I didn't. There are a million ways to justify my actions, but they don't change the fact that I didn't stop. I didn't ask what was wrong, I just said, "Good morning" as I rode around them.

My greeting sounded so inane. It obviously wasn't a good morning for that lady. I thought about what I could have said (without stopping) that would have been more sensitive. I didn't come up with anything satisfactory.

Anyway, this gets back to grog because I blame my unwillingness to get involved on the extent to which I have become accustomed to seeing people fighting, crying, and passing out in public. I feel powerless and baffled in the face of extensive alcohol use.

GROG in America
I recently read Dry by Augusten Burroughs. It's the follow-up to his childhood memoir, Running with Scissors, although he actually wrote "Dry" first. It highlighted for me the difficulties of sobriety even when you've got a lot going for you, and how hard it is to see that alcohol that you love so much could actually be bad for you. How much harder is it if your life seems like a dead-end, if you feel like a failure, if alcohol seems like your only true and constant friend?

One Friday, more than a month ago, as I left work and hopped on my bike, I felt really happy and full of energy. I had promised to stop by a friend's workplace. As I rode there, I was thinking maybe she'd want to ride down to the hot springs. Instead, I ended up going with these two friends to a bar, where I watched one of them drink glass after glass of wine. She's a strong and fit person and drinks a lot and often, but I felt really sad watching her mental capacity deteriorate quickly. She's smart and clever usually, but after an hour, she'd had 5 glasses of wine I think, and she just didn't get most of the jokes or references that were being made. However, if you didn't know her, you wouldn't notice that anything was wrong, as she seemed perfectly in control of her senses.

Since then, I've been thinking again about alcohol and all the ways it is used around the world and by different people. Why can some people drink a beer on occasion to relax or just to enjoy the taste and be equally satisfied with non-drinking activities, while other people can't enjoy a film or interact socially without grog in their system? Why do alcohol problems become so systemic within certain oppressed populations but not necessarily among all?

What a seductive drug, both beneficial and potentially lethal to individuals and maybe even to cultures. I can't even begin to understand.
Justin found this visitor trying to get into the shower last night after I'd gone to bed. He took pictures and left it alone. I found it in the shower with me this morning.  Posted by Picasa
New address: our backyard. Posted by Picasa
Dragonfly, photographed on Justin's most recent trip to Pigeon Hole. Posted by Picasa

A Morning Delay

Without my glasses, I can see very little. For example, standing up and looking down, I can see that I have feet but not that I have toes. (From a sitting position, I can make out my big toe if I spread it away from the others.)

This morning, as usual, I placed my glasses on the counter and stepped into the shower stall. I turned on the water and noticed something brown moving frantically near my feet. I knew it wasn't a cricket or a cockroach because I could actually see it, and not a gecko because it was definitely brown. I couldn't, however, see it well enough to know what it was. Even though my brain must have registered "spider" as I could tell it was roundish not long (I'd have been more nervous if my brain had registered "snake") and it moved like a spider, I felt much better when I had my glasses on and could actually see it. I'm not generally afraid of spiders; maybe this is why even though I know there are some very poisonous spiders in Australia, I haven't bothered learning what they look like or anything about them. So there's no logical reason why I felt better when I could see what it looked like, but I did.

My next reaction was to go into the bedroom and tell my sleeping husband, "Hey, there's a huge spider in the shower."

He replied, "I know, I saw it last night and took pictures."

Me: What do you think I should do about it?

Him: Coax it into a paper bag and put it outside. (Then he went back to sleep.)

Now, Justin spent far less of his childhood out in nature (and I suspect encountered fewer spiders in his house) than I did, so I don't know why I asked him what to do, or where he got his idea.

After chasing the spider around the shower stall with a bucket, I resorted to Justin's idea. Guess what? The spider went right into the bag, but not deep in, just inside the edge.

Happy ending: I left spider and bag in backyard. When I came home today, spider was gone. Either she ran away or was eaten by a resident lizard. Either way, it's a happy ending for someone.

And I got to shower alone.

Forest's contribution

Thanks to Polly, Sophie and Mom for posting poems as comments on the last post. I had asked my brother for his favorite poem on the phone earlier and he emailed me what follows. I thought others would like to read it too, as well appreciate his comments. Thanks Forest!

Signpost, by Robinson Jeffers

Civilized, crying: how to be human again; this will tell you how.
Turn outward, love things, not men, turn right away from humanity,
Let that doll lie. Consider if you like how the lilies grow,
Lean on the silent rock until you feel its divinity
Make your veins cold; look at the silent stars, let your eyes
Climb the great ladder out of the pit of yourself and man.
Things are so beautiful, your love will follow your eyes;
Things are the God; you will love God and not in vain,
For what we love, we grow to it, we share its nature. At length
You will look back along the star's rays and see that even
The poor doll humanity has a place under heaven.
Its qualities repair their mosaic around you, the chips of strength
And sickness; but now you are free, even to be human,
But born of the rock and the air, not of a woman.

Uhh, you said to include with the poem a couple sentences about why you like it, but this turned out to be a couple paragraphs! Feel free to select. [I didn't cut anything.]

People criticize Jeffers for being too "brutal." However, I think this poem shows that he is no misanthrope, just that he locates the value of humanity within the greater beauty of nature. Humans are beautiful not because they are exceptional, but because they are also a part of nature. This perspective, shared with deep ecologists, is also consistent with the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions that have undermined the anthrocentrist view that our planet and our species, respectively, are more significant in the universe than other planets and species. Jeffers perspective is appealing because it seems factually correct, but also because it resonates with my own personal experience. It has helped me reconcile myself to people in times when I have been repulsed by our shortcomings.

On the other hand, I don't think my own worldview is as thoroughly ecocentric as his. It may be (and seems to be) that humanity is not particularly "special" in any satisfactorily objective sense, but looking at the world objectively is a cold and sterile practice, and not the only option available. The most exciting and meaningful bits of life often go hand in hand with a decidedly subjective perspective. My family may not be objectively more valuable to the universe than anyone else's, but it is more valuable to me, and I love it most. The same goes for humanity. It might not be exceptional in the bigger cosmic picture, but by god, it's my species and I care about its survival most. In the end, the earth and all the people and species on it will be engulfed by the expanding sun. For meaning and purpose, we have to turn to our own -- and each others' -- subjective experiences.

More on poetry

I have a partially-formed idea up my sleeve, and I need your help. If you have a favorite poem, please send it to me (either as a comment on this posting, or by email) along with a line or two about why you like it. Don't forget to include author and title if you know them. Thanks!

By the way, if you want to see the official press release about the NT Literary Awards (including a photo of me receiving mine), look here. Thanks, Greg, for pointing this out.

The local Katherine paper (a weekly) published an article about me which contained errors in the headline, the photo caption, and within the body of the article. Impressive really, to make so many mistakes in so few words. Might be seen as kind of an art form in itself...


Now that we have ways of transmitting pictures and sounds over long distances with relative ease, I wonder when we will be able to share smells? I guess we're stuck with the entirely inadequate medium of language!

The smell I wanted to share with you was the amalgam of scents I encountered one day on my way home from work this week. We'd gotten a decent rain during the afternoon which my students and I had enjoyed, first, by hearing it pound on the tin roof, then by watching it blur the view through the window, and finally by going out and feeling its effects on the air in the covered patio.

By the time I was riding my bike home, the rain had been done for at least half an hour. The sun was out, but low in the sky, and the ambient temperature was comfortable. Post-rain smells are relished around the world, I think, but it's amazing how different that post-rain smell can be. I was conscious of that as I rode along the riverbank, thinking of how the first rains in California smell after the long hot summer.

Although this is also early rain after a season without rain, it's a different smell. There's something tropical in the smell here, even though the landscape may look similar to California's golden dry grasses and gray-green trees. I felt, as I was riding, that I was smelling the potential of the thick green foliage that will come with a few more rains.

Probably the key difference is the amount of humidity in the air which, combined with temperatures in the 80s (F), bring a different smell. When I think of that first rain in California, I think of a sort of dustiness relieved, rain dropping into hot dry air and transforming the ground and the air into something clean, clear and fresh. Here, I felt that the rain was evoking tropical fucundity, rotting wood, tangling vines, water sitting in curved leathery fallen leaves.

As I rode through a small park area, I also got the thick heady scent of frangipani, whose white blossoms covered the trees and littered the ground beneath. It infused the other post-rain smells in an almost intoxicating steam.

I wish I could send you this smell.