Wednesday, June 25, 2008

farmers market, etc.

I went to the farmers market and came home with two books(The Strand is dangerously close to Union Square); an ukulele, tuner, and how-to-play guide(so is The Guitar Center); tomatoes, carrots, romaine lettuce, lady apples, strawberries, blue berries, a sweet basil plant, Empress of India nasturtiums, a pink ivy geranium, and a pint of hazelnut crunch icecream. I did not buy the Psycopsis papilio orchid that I wanted to buy; this was not restraint, but rather a matter of the physical limitations of my arms.


I've been up and out of bed since early this morning, and scanning through blogs and news sites I decided I would use some of these beautiful morning hours to write a bit and get back into the political commentary game. I that james dobson was commenting on Barack Obama and spouting his typically narrow-minded Us vs. Them bullshit, and I was going to take the bait (and perhaps later I still will), but it can wait.

The sun is shining so I'm off to find fresh flowers and veggies and perhaps even a ukelele.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Red Queen

I almost put it down, but I'm glad I didn't. I grabbed The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature on a whim. I'm a bio nerd, and at the same time I had grabbed a couple of other books in a similar vein at the same time so why not? I've been consuming books like a mad man on this trip, but this one was hard to get into at first. Red flags went up when I was inspecting it before committing as I noticed that the blurbs about the book weren't from biologists, but rather from various newspapers. I don't care what the Boston Globe thinks about any science book unless a scientist wrote the damn review. And their review was crap anyway. This book was not "literary and witty."

Which is partly why I almost put it down. Until he finds his stride and gets out of laying groundwork and into the subject at hand, Matt Ridley's writing is more irritating than anything. He isn't a bad writer (obviously) but there are little things about the way he writes that kept irritating the fuck out of me for the first few chapters. Partly this is the irritable know-it-all in me that is sifting through the necessary groundwork of a science book written for a popular audience and bristling at feeling condescended to having all these basic concepts rehashed, but I go through that every time I read science from any author and I know that my memory is a big fat jumble and I like rehashing these ground rules before setting out on this journey with whatever teacher. Most bio writers don't get my back up like this when I read them, but this guy really did. Partly it was how he presented conflicting ideas as a sort of Highlander death match: "There can be only one." Biology isn't a clean pretty sort of clockwork science, particularly when we start talking about how this or that might have evolved or what selective pressures might have led to whatever. There might be various pressures playing out or different ones at work in different cases, but the tone at the beginning of the book was the opposite. There are answers and this or that is the correct conclusion blah blah blah. He was more nuanced the further into the subject we went, but his discussion of why sex exists was, though extremely informative and wide ranging, barely tolerable. That sounds harsh and it kind of is, particularly since I now think fondly of the book having finished it. I feel like I really took something away from reading it and plan on recommending it to friends, but I really almost just put it back on the shelf.

So if you pick it up, expect to do some trudging before it catches its stride; or if you have started it and put it down, consider picking it up again. It is well worth the effort.

Where are you?

I've been thinking about my dreams lately. My dreams have always been vivid and bizarre, but right now they are really striking me. This may be simple because I'm currently well rested and am sleeping as much as I can stand (though not always straight in a row).

Last night I dreamed that I been just woken after some sort of ten-year hibernation, which for some reason meant that I had to hang out with some lesbians talking about the photo book their talented friend had made of photos of them after they had all been in Usher's wedding, which was held during a timeout in a baseball game, out on the diamond with the players still on the field ("I'm not a player, I just crush alot..."). The book was ridiculously thick and had been simply titled "L", which one of them told me the producers of The L Word didn't like, but you can't copyright a whole letter, right? I just wanted to know where exactly I was and when i got to go somewhere else. I found my computer and was able to check my messages, and my inbox was full of messages from all kinds of people I wanted to hear from, but one stood out. My Liz had sent me a picture. No message, just a picture of her smiling and laying on a couch in a loose yellow dress. She used to avoid wearing yellow because her skin was so fair she said it didn't look good on her, but it did in this picture. I was preparing to send her a picture in return and more came from her. Her sitting, her again on the couch with a couple of friends, always smiling.

The pictures had that sort of over saturated color that pics from the 70's sometimes have. Before I could respond with my picture, stumbling trying to decide what kind of picture to send- old or shoot a new one, silly or just smiling, flattering or plain?-, she showed up at the door. What had sort of been a room in a mall like supercomplex was now a converted version of my grandparents old living room, and I invited her in and we hugged and began talking immediately. We stumbled over each other trying to explain the last few years that we have been apart (that whole ten year hibernation thing sort of evaporated like things do in dreams). Nothing really that we talked about was all that important, but I remember feeling so relieved to have found my friend again.

When I said "My Liz" earlier, I mean the Liz who I was friends with in highschool and became better friends with in college. I called her my Liz to distinguish between the other Liz's in my life, who became known as Mason's Liz, Lisa's Liz, and Sculpture Liz, each according to how I came to know them. Once Sculpture Liz took offense and told me she was going to make t-shirts which said, "I'm my own Liz" for all of them. I never meant to offend and don't mean to now. If I have ever met anyone who was their own person it would be her.

The dream was remarkable in how comfortable it was just sitting and talking and realizing how much I've missed her. I hope I can find her again.

fruit danishes, eating disorders, and Tom Cruise

I'm sitting in the galley at the square plywood table with astro-turf on its surface (this isn't as strange as it sounds; on these boats there is almost always some non-slip something on all the horizontal surfaces, especially in the kitchen) eating a strangely delicious pineapple danish. It is one of those not quite industrial but still too manufactured to call baked fresh. They aren't individually packed and sealed to last for months on shelfs, but rather the kind baked in mass at some big bakery then crammed together in an open-topped cardboard box and wrapped in cellophane and sent off to grocery stores. These then found there way into the ice-hold on a fishing boat and have only just come out to the inside refrigerator. Sitting eating this pastry and thinking about how intensely delicious it is and how delicious the apple one I ate yesterday was, I suddenly want to eat the whole box. Not just an expression, I literally want to eat the whole box and find myself thinking about eating disorders.

This isn't because I associate consuming whole boxes of pastries with eating disorders, rather eating has taken on a rather capriciously religious aura when I am on the boats: sometimes enthralling me, sometimes horrifying me. I've become much more intimate with food as a necessity and limits of it and what is and isn't luxury in consumption. And the strange appeals both of gorging and withholding. These are faint siren calls to me that don't have me particularly worried, but they make me think about eating disorders from time to time which otherwise I wouldn't be inclined to think about abstractly.

And then I found myself thinking about Tom Cruise. These two things are not related; he appeared from the ether as I sat eating and pondering because I found myself looking at the dvd case on the table. Almost every boat with anything of a dvd collection has Mission Impossible: III. Why that movie? I have no idea, though action movies are always popular. But this one has been on most of the boats I've been on and one day I'll watch the whole thing. I've seen the beginning and the end, seeing the end earlier today which surely prepped me to think of Mr. Cruise when I saw the dvd case sitting there. There is slightly more synergy to it, though.

There is always a weird unintentional synchronicity out here that I find myself noticing. Like the same actors showing up in every movie and I don't mean someone being a fan of one actor, like the Stephen Segal marathons I'm subjected to, but completely unrelated movie choices piling up, like me watching Alien by myself in my bunk, then someone putting in Holes (also starring Ms. Weaver) then Steel Magnolias (Tom Skerritt) and back to Segourny with Ghost Busters. Today's tangle was less spectactular: Mission Impossible: III on the main TV while I eat lunch and a passing Tom Cruise joke by Dan Savage on a This American Life podcast.

I've discovered podcasts and am in love. They are perfect for this time away from civilization and I didn't download near enough when I was on land this last time, but I did get one episode of This American Life. I've always liked that program on NPR, so I was psyched to have it to listen to here in my bubble life. In this episode, one of the commentaries was Dan Savage talking about portrayals of straight people on television, arguing that they are just as ridiculously stereotyped as portrayals of gay people. To make his point he was listing various straight characters from tv-land , reminding us that real straight people don't act like that. He naughtily adds in, "Tom Cruise on Oprah's coach: real straight people don't act like that." This got hearty laughs. I laughed too; it is funny.

But hours later, scarfing down a danish and thinking about eating disorders, I see the cd folder and suddenly wonder what Tom Cruise thinks when he hears these jokes. Sincerely, like actually wondering what he really thinks, not some kicked in auto-guilt response programmed in to be casually pondered to try to balance out my evil sense of humor. I suddenly really started wondering about it.

I mean, on the one hand, suppose he is gay. What the hell goes through his mind feeling attracted to men and feeling compelled to publicly disavow it but having everyone assume that he is gay anyway despite him taking on all the trappings of a straight identity? Ok, writing out that sentence reminds me why every gay man finds the possibility uber-tragicomic: most of us have been there. Repressive omnipresent evangelical religion into which your identity has been publicly and intimately intertwined? Check. Serious intimate heterosexual partnerships? Check. Feelings of being surrounded by others whose lives would be negatively affected by you going public with your 'secret'? Check. We could go on, but point being been there done that, so if I for a moment treat Mr. Cruise as a real person rather than simply a public figure then I've got to empathize for a moment with how this stuff hits against you when you feel trapped in the best-little-boy-in-the-world loop.

And what if he is actually really and truly straight, totally not into guys? Would it then all be funny to him? Annoying? Actually, if he is really straight, then who cares? I've always gone with the "if it ain't true, who cares?" approach to gossip and such, so if he is really fully total hetero then this gets boring.

He has a look in his eyes that says he is hiding something. His eyes scream it. This is part of why he is interesting as an actor despite over-saturation. There is something there; it might not be that he is gay and for that matter if he was and came out I don't think he'd look any less guarded and walled up behind those eyes. But something is back there and every one of these jokes pokes at it even if we've got our conclusion wrong, so maybe it could still be interesting even if he is straight. Anyway about he is a person and I wonder how he takes it all in. Does he just shrug it off and laugh? I imagine that's what he does in person if cornered and he can't just pretend like he doesn't hear or understand.

Is this whole mental game empathy or just a more vulgar and violating kind of voyeurism? I think I can honestly say that it originated in a sympathetic place, suddenly struck thinking of the actual person behind the facade of celebrity, thoughts of him and his feelings bubbling up from my subconscious. And I pursued the thoughts here in text from a similarly sincerely thoughtful place, just following the original quandry a little further, but at some point, perhaps the moment that this becomes a public musing and no longer a personal sympathetic pang, I can't help but feel that it tipped over into the same celebrity voyeurism that something in me had been reacting against.

Since writing this I've returned to land. In San Francisco I followed a random urge for a french cruller to a donut shop that I've stumbled into in the middle of the night after drinking at Aunt Charlie's, where I found in addition to the desired french cruller an apple danish which cried out for me to consume it. It was delicious and smiled eating it as I walked down the street and remembered how powerful the flavor was in my deprived weeks at sea, but I only wallowed in memory of the flavor and didn't think at all about eating disorders or Tom Cruise.

Monday, June 16, 2008

fucking idiot

You can suggest that much stupider things have been accomplished by someone attempting to come up with the singularly most idiotic action possible by a human, but at this very moment I personally doubt even the possibility. I have a bag filled with cords and cables: power cords for my computer, cell-phone, old cell-phone, external hard drive, USB cable to connect my phone to my computer and another to connect my camera to it as well. I have anywhere from three to five sets of headphones and two different battery chargers for my camera. But somehow, I managed to take the only cord which isn't a uniform black and forget to return it to my bag.

So I'm now out at sea, where the single most difficult part of my job is staying awake during long hauls and have the single most useful tool for keeping me awake, the i-pod, but not the cable to synch it with my computer and which is also used for charging it. On white little bundle of wires carelessly forgotten on my bedroom floor even as I obsessively downloaded songs and podcasts and audiobooks. So now I've got a half charged i-pod to dole out preciously over three weeks of 10-14 hr. shifts.



I should probably pay more attention to my dreams. It isn't like they are subtle. I've always been one of those people who dreams intensely. I know that supposedly we only dream for a few hours each night, but I have a hard time believing it. I've always felt like dreaming from eyes shut to wide awake was the way my body functioned. This may of course simply be perception, but there are times that I wonder.

I usually dream vividly, though I can't always recall the dreams themselves. I can usually recall the associated emotions, be it joy or terror or frustration or whatever. It can be disorienting to wake with an underlying intense emotion that is completely disconnected from your surroundings. Even more disorienting though is when the emotion isn't entirely inappropriate to the situation, but was somehow connected to it in the dream, like when I dreamed I've had a discussion the night before with the first person I see the next morning, which had in the dream been heated and I find myself sitting across from my roommate trying to reconcile my feelings that one of us should apologize to the other with their apparent complete obliviousness to what takes me a few groggy minutes to realize was all in my head.

Sometimes I can remember bits of my dreams and understand that they are telling me something. I knew needed to get out of my desk job when I would wake to realize that I had spent the entire night frustratedly databasing. I didn't like doing it in the day time; I really hated doing it throughout the night. Right now my dreams aren't screaming for me to find a new job, but they are stretching out and feeling around at different jobs. From last night's dream I can take away that I need to get back to diving and perhaps make moves which allow me to maybe move towards more adventurous employment. When I write "more adventurous" from my bunk on a boat in the middle of the ocean, I think I also mean more entertaining. There is a certain adventurousness to working on a boat in the middle of the ocean, but on the other hand it can also be amazingly boring. I'm required by my job to NOT take risks. Maybe trying more aggressively to get on board for collecting trips and maybe see if I can get my foot in the door with adventure film-making or something like that. Oddly enough, the other extreme that I see as a possibility is making this damn written word pastime into employment somehow. How, i have no idea, since writing is one of those things that I fiercely guard from outside encroachment. The opposite of guarding something is selling it.

"crooked-letter state"

I just read Kevin Sessum's memoir, Mississippi Sissy, and I'm for the moment speechless. Wow, just wow.

I have a bad habit of starting out to write about a song/book/movie that I've just heard/read/seen and barely mentioning that work of art before I basically just start rambling about myself. It seems a bit narcissistic, which I suppose it is (which I also suppose is exactly the adjective you should expect when you start blogging), but I also like to think there is something complementary in finding a stepping stone to self-reflection in someone else's artwork and only lazy people with book reports to write want to read someone else's synopsis.

So I'll skip over all the critical commentary that I'm sure someone else has already done better anyway; suffice to say the book was well-written and an engaging read. I had seen it when it came out in hardback and was immediately drawn to it. It was obviously written for me to read, but I refrained and patiently waited for it to come out in paperback, not -for once- so much out of cheapness as books and music for my trips at sea are currently considered life-saving expenses rather than luxuries, but because the hardback book was large and heavy and wouldn't travel well. When you typically bring an extra bag just for books in addition to those you cram in your duffle bag and other pack, such considerations matter. But after this long wait, let's say that the book was better than I ever could have expected.

I don't know what I did expect. I was drawn to it because I'm also something of a Mississippi sissy. I grew up straddling the state line between Mississippi and Alabama, born in the former and growing up mostly in the latter, but within a few miles of the border the whole time. So I suppose I was looking for someone else's story about growing up gay down there. And I found that, in spades. I ended up taken in more by the landscape than the coming out bit, though.

This is a different way of rendering the same landscape that I keep talking about whenever I go on about Faulkner or O'connor or most recently McCullers. This wasn't a fictionalized snapshot from some omniscient point above or looking in from outside through the eyes of a created character. The fictional accounts are only believable if the landscape feels familiar, feels realistic, but the difference between feeling realistic and being real can be jarring. I've said many times how much trouble I have reading Faulkner, because to me it is too realistic and too traumatizing most of the time so I've only made it a very short way through his catalog of fiction despite being a fan, but at the end of the day it is fiction and I can back away from the characters and argue with myself that he cast the landscape in harsher light to make these masterworks of tragedy.

Memoirs are different.

Assuming the writer is being honest, you can only explain away so much as dramatic lighting and theatrical staging. They tell their story, choosing their scenes, shaping the trajectory of the plotline, framing everything just so, but unless it is a fanciful retelling the backdrop is already there in each scene. This emotional/political/literal landscape is where the story already has happened, not a believable facsimile rendered to plant a story in, but a place to harvest what crop it has already brought forth. If the writer has any talent as a storyteller, which Mr. Sessums certainly does, the seams don't show and the background is just that: background. If I read this as more of an outsider I don't know that it would have struck me as anything other than an element in the story, but being from this same landscape it loomed large in my reading. Not distractingly so, but as I read about his experiences I couldn't help thinking how familiar or foreign everything seemed.

I'm from a younger generation. I caught the tail end of the Seventies and grew up a child of the Eighties. Integration had already happened and it was a very different South in many ways. But in many others not so much, and I recognized the people and pictures he painted in his retelling. The foreground was different for me when I was growing up there, but oh how I recognized all that swirled in the background. Sometimes though, recognition isn't enough. Once you've got something in your sights, its remains a thing apart until you've completed Adam's task and named it. This first and most slippery charge of humankind is where a writer's magic lies. The ability to present and describe is his power over our surroundings and minds. I've thought quite a bit lately about the power of names and language and how we describe things. Names can maim or contain or cut free depending on how they are wielded.

I could get off track and begin speaking abstractly about names and words and such (especially since I've just finished reading two books on the English language and am gurgling with thoughts about word usage in the current election), but I mention all this simply because Mr. Sessums finally game me the name for that landscape when the black lady who had helped raise him at his grandparents house remarks, "Love? Hmmph. It ain't never 'nough in a crooked-letter state like this."

"Crooked-letter state". Maybe when I read I leave myself wide open to being struck, but that phrase caught me square between the eyes. I had to put the book down for a moment and just breathe. If you aren't from Mississippi, you might not have been taught how to spell the state with the sing-song description: "M, I , crooked-letter, crooked-letter, I, crooked-letter, crooked-letter, I, humpback, humpback, I" but this is how we were taught and it still goes through my head each time I have to spell it. The childhood phrase turned into a scornful descriptor made it, for me at least, terrifyingly potent. It hits enough of a subconscious place that I wonder if it clangs in the mind of anyone else who reads it. The whole sentence is harsh enough, but the overt anger and frustration paled compared to what was said by her name for our landscape.

Kevin Sessums and I grew up differently and similarly but both of us grew up in a "crooked-letter state". Having found it so aptly named only made his rendering (and my remembering) of our common landscape so much more beautifully potent.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

"Go Don King! Go Don King! Go Don King!"

So I didn't watch john mccain's "speech" the other night. Dude is just a crazy old kook at this point...and actually, sadly, that description makes him sound like a more likable candidate than he actually is at this point.

Still, I kind of didn't want to believe that the speech was as horrible as everyone said. The guy used to be at least reasonably capable of speaking publically but apparently 8 years of bending over and grabbing his ankles while bush/cheney sodomized his credibility has damaged more than just his reputation (sadly the most likely comment that I am going to get on any post is someone berating me for perpetuating the attachment of negative connotations to homosexual acts -not that sodomy can't be a heterosexual act- or connoting sex and violence; and they will be right, but can you come up with a better description of his last 8 years in office?) and upon watching it tonight I realize that no one was exaggerating about how bad the speech was.

Other people have already made enough funny comments about that lame ass speech, so I'll refrain, but listening to the horribly staged crowd interaction -mccain's pregnant pause and giggling at his jokes waiting for the crowd to start clapping and their unified idiotic chanting and stilted applause- there was this awesome moment where the crowd starts chanting what one has to assume was meant to be "Go john mccain! Go john mccain! Go john mccain!" but they were a little off on their pronunciation so I had to sit for a second trying to figure out what the fuck they were saying and the only likable moment in this miserable lowpoint in the history of public speaking was the moment of pleasant absurdity when my occasionally non-sensical brain interpretted their cries as "Go Don King! Go Don King! Go Don King!". It honestly sounded more like that than the mccain's name and that moment of confusion was the only pleasant moment of the clip. (at 16:28 in the clip found here: )

I paused for a second and reflected on how much better Don King would be as republican candidate for the presidency. At least he knows how to speak in public and probably even knows how to pronounce "New Orleans".

Oh, and for half a second can we collectively roll our eyes at how many times he said "change". The democratic candidates hammered that word into the fucking ground and I didn't think it was possible for anyone to make it a more annoying soundbite. I stand corrected.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Breathe in, breathe out...

At the very top of the list of things that I never want to experience again is listening helplessly to violence involving a loved one from the other end of a cell phone call. Friends out on a boisterous night on the town, yelling at a passing car that almost runs them down, car stops, words exchanged, the sound of blows to the head, a quick good bye and brief assurances that all was well. And it all will be fine and they are probably laughing about the altercation right now, amped up on booze and adrenaline; I'm sure I would be.

But I'm helpless on the otherside of the world, too far from the situation to be able to laugh at it, with far too vivid an imagination, particularly for doomsday scenarios and snowballing calamities, to just let it be something that has concluded and relax about it. Listening to violence in realtime... I've got mother hen and big brother instincts from hell. I don't particularly worry about threats to my person; every concern I've ever had about personal physical violation is fossilized in the protection of a bowl, a cup, and a cactus (yes, crazy, but it works for me), but when it comes to others it is a whole different ball game.

I'd repeat my New Orleans hostage situation again without hesitation if I had to choose between that and this again.

This certainly isn't the most riveting subject matter for a blog, but at the moment this is the extent of what I can do, which may work only to amplify my feelings of helplessness but I've got to do something to try to talk this oncoming panic attack out of existence.