Thursday, February 25, 2010

A startled doe leaping toward me over a low fence, side-lit by camp lights. Hooves clopping down on pebbled cement in a brief flash of sparks. The staccato sound of its passage. Disappearing into darkness.

The darkness is already filled with Spring. The frogs know it. The air smells of it. I can feel it on my skin. Despite this, it is still cold at night. The wind still howls. At times, the rain pelts down. The moon blinks on and off behind the clouds. The world heals in green. The green heals the rest of us.

It is time, as always, to think of cycles. Of endings. Of beginnings.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Occasionally I'll spend time looking through my old blog posts. It can be fun to revisit what was going through my head on the same day during previous years. Recently, I rediscovered a blow-by-blow account of a day three years ago. The day was posted on February 22nd (although it was actually the 21st that I wrote about, so I've just realized I'm one day off. Oh well), so yesterday I spent the whole day paying attention to the details of my day, writing little notes down throughout. A lot has changed in the last three years, and it is interesting (for me, at least) to compare the days. So, without further ado, here is yesterday:

6:55- I wake up and realize it's not even 7 yet, and promptly go back to sleep.

8:45- That's more like it. I wake up again, and microwave some veggie bacon and make cinnamon toast. I pour out the coffee that has been sitting in the pot since before I went to Chicago. Make new coffee. I check e-mail while having breakfast, sending e-mails to Jen (letting her know I'll pick Willow up from softball practice) and Jeanine. I also read an update from David Tibet about the upcoming Current 93 shows in London, and decide I want to go. I follow a link to the Myspace page for Lili Refrain, and decide I want to get her cd. I pause to reflect on the hidden costs of the internet.

9:30- Gather materials to pack and mail the Anathema "We Are The Bible" 7" to a guy named Ross in Australia. This will probably be the last Ebay item I sell in awhile. I think I've made over $600.00 on Ebay over the last couple of months.

9:44- Unpack, looking for receipts from the trip so I can balance my checkbook.

10:00- Sitting in front of a pile of receipts, preparing to tally them.

10:16- Checkbook balanced. $165.00 left for the month. Time for a shower.

10:41- Getting dressed.

10:50- Stopped in the middle of getting dressed to crop photos and upload them to Flickr.

10:55- Decide to just crop and choose photos now, and upload later. Back to getting dressed.

11:00- Putting away clean dishes.

11:05- I return a call to Gabriel, who is the father of one of Willow's friends from preschool. We discuss potential playdate dates for the girls. I mention elephant seals, and Gabriel relates a story about how he went to see them but was turned back by some mysterious, awful stench - he describes it as potentially lethal.

11:20- Finish getting dressed.

11:30- Leave to walk to the library, Post Office, and grocery store.

11:40- Standing in front of the library, I discover that it opens at 2:00 PM on Mondays. Walk to the post office across the street.

11:45- At the post office, discover that there are no flat rate envelopes in the usual place, and wait in line with my unpackaged record to get an envelope from an employee.

11:55- I get an envelope, stuff the record inside, hurriedly address it, and mail it. On the way out, I drop a check for my car insurance in the proper slot.

12:00- Walk across parking lot to grocery store. Buy $40 worth of groceries, including bread, burrito supplies, hummus ingredients, and ice cream for Willow's birthday.

12:12- Walk home.

12:22- Put groceries away.

12:25- Make hummus and listen to the news on my radio/I-pod dock.

12:39- Eat hummus with bread, reflecting as I do that perhaps I put in too much yogurt or not enough garbanzo beans. It's too runny to make a sandwich out of, so I simply dip the bread into it. While dipping, I check e-mail.

1:00- Digest. Do dishes.

1:11- Start uploading photos to Flickr and editing remaining photos from trip.

2:26- Decide to stop editing/uploading photos, and walk to library to straighten out current difficulties (historical note: around a month ago, 9 items that I didn't check out appeared on my account, and the library wants to charge me late fees and replacement costs) and then on to nearby store to buy Willow some birthday presents.

2:35- Talk to librarian.

2:37- Talk to librarian's supervisor. She hems and haws for a bit, first trying to give me the number of somebody at the main branch in downtown San Jose, but finally relenting and waiving the fees (due, in part, to the fact that the missing items, being in Spanish, are very dissimilar to what I usually check out). I feel a weight lifted off of me, and depart with a spring in my step to round up some birthday loot for Willow.

2:40- Walk to nearby store.

3:04 - $40 later, emerge from store with doll clothes for Willow, and a new razor for me. Walk home.

3:11- Check mail. Nothing.

3:12- Hide presents on top of closet. Sit down and contemplate having a cup of coffee. Wait for photos to finish uploading (52% complete).

3:33- Finish choosing which photos to upload next.

4:01- Still uploading and naming photos. Perhaps now I will have some coffee.

4:03- Coffee from this morning is still warm enough to drink without microwaving. Yay! I drink it black to help preserve remaining warmth.

4:20- Tallying up how much I spent today. Sadly balancing checkbook.

4:30- $93.81

4:36- Drinking water and eating dried fruit mix. Blogging (transferring travel journal to blog).

5:00- Save blog without publishing, and name some more uploaded photos.

5:10- E-mail Jeanine.

5:20- More journal transferring.

5:30- More photo uploading.

5:48- Leave to get Willow from softball practice. Listening to Sheila Chandra "Abonecronedrone" as I drive. It is a promo cassette that I've had for nearly two decades, I think. My converter that allows me to listen to my I-pod and/or cd player in the van no longer works, but I'm enjoying listening to old cassettes for the time being.

6:00- I arrive at the softball field (at Willow's school) in time for the after-practice parent meeting. Jen is there, as is Nathan. Willow has a new haircut, and it looks very cute. She can hardly contain her energy as she listens to the coach talk to the parents. Nathan comes over to me and tells me what a good job Willow did during practice.

6:15- Jen hadn't realized that I was taking Willow for dinner (in part, due to the fact that me being gone threw off our schedule a bit, and in part due to the fact that she evidently didn't read the e-mail I sent earlier) but it's fine with her. Initially, Willow wants to go home with her mom because that's where all of her new birthday presents are (her birthday isn't until Thursday, but she had a party this weekend). I tell her I brought her things from Chicago, and that more or less changes her mind. Going to Jen's van to get Willow's street shoes, we run into Sophie. Sophie wants to come to my place too, so I leave with both girls in tow. Willow tells me about her birthday party as we drive.

6:33- Arrive home.

6:40- Make quesadillas for girls and show them some pictures from my trip. Break the news that it's no TV week, and that this includes DVDs. Make quesadilla for myself, with added hot sauce.

6:45- Eat, and get frozen peas out for the girls.

6:55- Attempt to prevent Sophie from smashing frozen peas into the linoleum.

7:10- Figure out how to pull a long stream of colored paper, magician style, out of my mouth (a giveaway from the convention). Watch girls play with the paper and try to stuff it into their mouths to emulate me. I inform them it is a one-use product.

7:15- Prevent girls from watching a DVD. Listen to Sophie make up funny insults. Girls' talk degenerates into discussions and demonstrations of farting.

7:20- We put Willow's blooming rock (a rock that grows crystals when submerged in vinegar) into a bowl full of white vinegar. I explain to the girls that it doesn't bloom immediately. Sophie asks if she can drink the vinegar. I let the girls smell it. They make disgusted faces.

7:22- I give Sophie the 5 olives she asks for.

7:30- Tickle fight!

7:35- Turn off laptop.

7:38- Sweep frozen peas off floor. Notice that there are still 4 olives in Sophie's bowl. I tell her to eat them. She ignores me.

7:40- Drink a half cup of coffee.

7:46- Finish coffee. Leave to drop of girls at their mom's house.

8:00- Drop off girls. Admire picture that Sophie painted for Willow. Head for work, still listening to Abonecronedrone.

8:20- Arrive at work.

8:25 Turn on heater to boys' cabins, and grab Night Talk board (a large foam board with explicit instructions for getting ready for bed - a visual aid for the students)to bring down to the amphitheater where the students are loudly enjoying the campfire program.

8:30- Play tarka and sing "Bats Eat Bugs" with Jellyfish, Bunny, and Falcon, then lead the cabin leaders away to have a quick meeting with them. I introduce myself and give them general advice about the nighttime routine, and give them a step by step description of what happens after the campfire programs ends. I answer some questions as well, and then we all return to the campfire.

8:50- Sing "Humble", the mellow closing song, with my aforementioned coworkers, then start the night talk. I give instructions for getting ready for bed, general advice, and answer questions. One student wants to know what would happen if an escaped robber appeares on the premises in the middle of the night. I move on from that one quickly, so other students don't start worrying about robbers too.

9:15- I dismiss students by cabin group and douse campfire with nearby hose. I arrive back at The Hub (camp office) and use the mic to remind students to walk. I realize I forgot to tell anybody about the second set of bathrooms. I use the mic to remedy this. Then, I walk around playing the tarka, using the mic tucked under my arm to amplify it.

9:25- I talk with 3 girls who got in trouble for "looking in windows", and then with a little homesick girl. After awhile, she seems to feel better, so I tell her to go get ready for bed.

9:50- I ring the 5-minute warning bell, and talk with the teachers who are signed up to do night patrol (walking around to make sure cabin lights are off and students are quiet). The homesick girl reappears and wants to talk with her teacher. They go off to talk somewhere.

9:55- I ring the final bell and wish the camp goodnight over the mic. I turn off the mic, and the teachers start the night patrol.

10:00- I plug in my alarm clock and my laptop, then meet with the teachers, introducing myself to the new ones. I recognize about half of them from last year. I then post the hopper (meal server) schedule for tomorrow's breakfast and lunch. Then, I show the teachers where the switch for the heater is located, and wish them goodnight.

10:05- Pour a steaming cup of herbal tea and check e-mail.

10:17- Upload more photos.

10:29- Two girls peek their heads in the door to ask if they can go to the bathroom. I tell them they can.

10:30- Finish uploading for now (80 more photos) and prepare to go check Riker cotton (cotton squares used for a leaf-mounting activity done later in the week) levels.

10:31- As I'm about to walk out the door, a cabin leader brings over a weeping, homesick boy. I give the boy a quick pep talk and send him back to bed.

10:38- Somebody has left the door to the old dining hall open. I go in, pick up the trash can that Raccoons have dumped, and check Riker cotton. There is enough so that I don't have to cut new squares tonight.

10:42- E-mail Jeanine.

11:13- Just spent a half hour monkeying around on the internet. I'll now go dig out my sleeping bag and prepare my place (dubbed "Crow's Nest") on the top bunk in the Hub.

11:28- Sleeping bag, pillow and blankets in place, I go out to walk around camp. I hear Raccoon noises.

11:33- Back in. There are a few frogs singing out in the darkness, and a half moon playing behind a thin layer of clouds. It is cold, although nowhere near as cold as the -51 degrees Fahrenheit reported by the broken weather gauge outside. Almost done uploading photos. Next, I'll name them.

11:37- Check online weather forecast. Rain over the next two days! Yes!

11:38- Start naming photos.

11:56- Done naming photos. Start uploading last batch.

11:58- Another walk outside while photos are uploading.

12:00- Turn off heaters to cabins (to be turned on again at 6:00 AM).

12:12- Naming photos as they upload.

12:18- Creating Twist & Shout photo set.

12:28- Done creating set. A male Great Horned Owl is hooting outside. I'm going to go out and listen to him. It's very cold outside.

12:35- I surprised a Raccoon in the process of sneaking toward the trash. He ran off. The owl is still hooting.

12:36- Turn off computer and go to bed. The heater in the Hub isn't working, so I keep my sweat jacket on. I'm still cold, but quickly warm up once under the blankets.

Monday, February 22, 2010

For the last fifteen years, nearly every time I've traveled, I've brought along a travel journal and written in it. I've just gotten back from spending the better part of a week in Chicago with Jeanine, and despite the fact that it would have been easier to bring along my laptop and just blog as I went, I stuck with tradition and brought along a travel journal instead, taking advantage of the occasional downtime to record my thoughts and impressions. Now, in the interest of making more work for myself, I'm transferring it to my blog:

This is the first time in roughly four and a half years that I've written in a travel journal, the last time being on the occasion of the shows in Seattle and Portland in September, 2005.

I'm not currently traveling, but rather sitting in my chair at home, listening to Flanders & Swann while attempting, for the umpteenth time, to download some old releases by The Stalin.

Tomorrow I'll be traveling. Jeanine and I, on separate flights (thanks to me booking my flight months after she booked hers), are both heading for the Twist & Shout balloon convention in Chicago. I'm getting up at 4am for a flight that leaves at 6:30. Jeanine's flight leaves at 6.

2/16/10 5:40am
The San Jose airport seems to be in a constant state of flux. Every time I find myself there, it is as if I'm visiting it for the first time. New fees are constantly being added as well. Passengers are now charged $20 to check bags. I tried to change flights so Jeanine and I could travel together, but was told it would be an extra $50 to do so. So much for customer service.

Now, there seems to be some confusion about the gate number, so I'm moving. So far, I've heard exit alarms go off on at least 3 occasions, and been given the wrong gate number once. I am filled with confidence.

I got up a little before 4 this morning, and Jeanine arrived to get me at 4:15. It was gloriously foggy on the drive to the airport. Now, it's getting close to 6. Jeanine has already boarded and I'm waiting for my own flight.

Some time later...

We walked across the tarmac, old school style, to board the plane. It was foggy and dark, with haloed points of light glittering around us.

On the plane, I discovered that my row was the only one with empty seats. Two of them! I quickly moved from my assigned seat to the window seat, and somebody else just as quickly moved from a nearby middle seat to the now vacant aisle seat. Nature abhores a vacuum, and passengers abhore being stuck between other passengers.

There is some sort of sports team aboard, or perhaps teen fashion has narrowed in scope to the point where they all dress exactly alike. Or maybe the pod people are starting to take over and are still figuring out how to effectively assimilate.

The orange splash of sunlight was beautiful, and I loved watching the light and fog interact as the plane started to swing to the northeast.

1pm Minneapolis

The pedestrian walkway, like a huge, angular caterpillar, has rolled forward, attached its artificial lips to the doorway of the plane, and firmly sucked out all of the passengers, pooping us out into the terminal.

I'm waiting for my connecting flight to Chicago. The ground here is sleeping under a dirty white blanket. I can feel the outside chill from my seat in the waiting area.


There was plenty of time to write on the plane, but this is the first time I've had the time and energy to write since arriving in Chicago

Actually, we're in Oak Brook, a suburb of Chicago, at the Marriott Hotel, where the 2010 Twist & Shout convention is being held. Our room is on the fifth floor, and there is a nice view the snow-covered golf course adjacent to the hotel, and also a nice view of the sunset. I watched the orange disc of the sun wink out beyond the horizon last night, painting the sky above as it vanished. It's strange to not be surrounded by hills, like we are at home. Today, I spent a little time walking around on the golf course while Jeanine was in a class, and discovered that the majority of what we thought were human footprints in the snow are actually goose footprints. Off in the distance, the silhouettes of geese could be seen, and the incongruous sound of their doleful honking filled the chilly air. I guess I'd be doleful too if I was standing barefooted in the snow. I tried to get closer, but my presence inspired a mass goose exodus to the other side of the course.

Inside, Jeanine has introduced me to more people than I can remember. Everybody is really friendly, and most of the attendees are very creative, funny, and/or bizarre in some way. There are balloon sculptures everywhere, including an old-fashioned car being driven by gangsters through the lobby, and a 46 foot Spinosaurus in one of the conference rooms. We've been spending most of our time in the so-called Jam Room, where boxes and boxes of balloons have been set out by the balloon manufacturers sponsoring the event. Jeanine knows just about everybody, and is a bit of a celebrity in this world. I, being a rank amateur, have been fiddling around, picking up techniques, and making giant, sloppy balloon invertebrates. I've made a few other things as well, drawing faces on creations abandoned by others.

Other highlights of the week so far include finding a pizza place where the pizza rivals Zachary's Pizza in Berkeley (my absolute favorite pizza place) and our train trip to downtown Chicago to visit the Art Institute.

To get to the train station, we got a ride in the hotel shuttle. Round trip train tickets were $8.00, and the temperature hovered around freezing. The train ride took about 50 minutes, and we passed through quiet, snow covered communities. I'm fascinated by the snow, and the subtle architectural differences between Chicago and the Bay Area. The most obvious difference is the wanton use of bricks. That would never fly in earthquake-ridden California.

The walk from the train station to the Art Institute was probably about a mile, and took us past the Sears Tower, plus countless "watch for falling ice" signs. Dirty piles of snow covered patches of cement around poles and against buildings, looking like giant, ghostly heaps of dung.

Upon arriving at the Art Institute, we discovered that admission is free in February, which saved us $18.00 each. We happily entered, and the first painting we found ourselves in front of was White Shell With Red, painted by Georgia O'keeffe during the year my mom was born. Staring at the hypnotizing spiral of the shell, I reflected that the most recent art print I can recall my mom acquiring was of an O'keeffe painting. Strange coincidence. Slightly later, Jeanine got a call from a woman named Durga, right before we passed an ancient statue of her namesake. Ha.

The Institute contains an overwhelming amount of artwork, including a great number of world famous paintings - such as the Monet haystacks, American Gothic, works by Van Gogh (the self-portrait is beautiful - prints don't do it justice), Renoir, Matisse, Magritte, etc. If I had to pick favorites, I'd have to say Georgia O'keeffe, Goya's etchings, Joan Miro, Dali, Francis Bacon, and other individual pieces painted by artists previously unknown to me (paintings by George Grosz and Margherita Manzelli spring to mind). Also on display is the Song Of The Lark (1884) by Jules-Adolphe Breton, a print of which graced a wall at home when I was young.

On the way back, we stopped to get some sandwiches and sculpt a strange little animal out of toothpicks, apple core, onion, and a pepper. Afterward, it was back on the train. Just as the train was leaving the station, it dawned on me that we'd gotten on an express train, which would bypass our stop. We got off at the next opportunity, and waited for the right train.

Once we got to our stop, we decided to walk the 3 or so miles back to the hotel. It was nice, and there were some impressive icicles outside the library. Near the hotel though, the unshoveled sidewalk made walking more difficult. No harm done though.

Now, it's Friday afternoon and sunny. I'm in the hotel room while Jeanine is in a class. I didn't bring my laptop along, but have been keeping up with e-mail through Jeanine's computer. This is out of step with my usual habit of being incommunicado while on vacation. In some ways, I like being cut off from the internet better, but it's nice to be able to e-mail Willow.

I think I'll wander back down to the Jam Room now.

2/20, 2:25pm

I'm definitely getting spoiled this week, getting to spend all of this time with Jeanine, not to mention sleeping on an actual bed. My bed at home is a futon, and the bed at work is a bunk bed with institution-grade mattresses.

This morning we saw a Coyote (or perhaps a mangy, emaciated dog - it was hard to tell at a distance) wandering across the snow covered golf course, perhaps looking for geese. I took some pictures from our fifth floor window.

Last night, we were treated to some balloon-related skits and magic acts. Some of them were really impressive, especially the balloon dance piece put together by a guy named Jack. He had created four life-sized balloon people, and tied them to a series of plastic poles, which ran horizontal to the stage so that the balloon people were standing upright in a line, connected at strategic points to the poles. Jack was strapped to the center position, and as he danced to music, the balloon people danced with him. It was very effective, despite the fact that the two balloon people stage left literally lost their heads. The balloon magic of Willie Monroe was another standout.

After the stage show, everybody wandered over to view the contest entries. There were three categories, small, medium, and large, the largest of which was the aforementioned Spinosaurus. In amongst the inflated entries were a number of uninflated balloon art pieces, some of which appeared to have been lacquered. The most impressive of these was the balloon pointilism copy of a Seurat painting. The pointilism effect was achieved using thousands of rolled balloons.

I've made a few more inconsequential things in the Jam Room too, including a large lobster hat. Still making large, ungainly invertebrates.

Now, I'm taking a quick break while Jeanine is taking a class.

2/21, at 2:21pm

I'm sitting at O'hare, covered in garlic powder from the pretzel I just ate, and no doubt reeking of garlic. I can see luggage carts crossing the tarmac outside, looking like lines of ants in the distance. Beyond the runways, the world becomes an indistinct, gray haze. Snow is in the forecast, but not until after my 4:10pm flight is scheduled to leave.

Jeanine left a half hour ago, but she has to change planes in Atlanta, so she'll actually arrive in San Jose a half hour later than me.

Last night was the gala banquet, which included announcements of contest winners, balloon clothing, and balloons flying everywhere. The vegetarian option was some sort of lasagna-quiche hybrid, wrapped in spinach pasta. It was very good. Bob Rumba got up and did some ventriloquism, using members of the audience as ventriloquist dummies as he told the story of Goldilocks. Very clever. He also did a hilarious bit with a small pink rabbit puppet (named "Pinky", if I remember right).

Afterward, we went back to the Jam Room (where else?) and played until around 3am. I've mastered the flat weave now, and used this new skill to create some sort of Precambrian invertebrate, which I later left on a decorative table near the elevators on the fifth floor.

We didn't get to sleep until well after 4am, and I'm now feeling like I could nap.

This morning, drawn to the window by distant honking, I watched a pair of geese slowly cross the snowy golf course. They stopped dejectedly next to an iced-over pond, as if confused by the solid water. When I looked again a few minutes later, they had vanished, perhaps to fly south like proper birds.

After saying our goodbyes, we shuttled to the airport around noon. Apparently, Illinois shuttle drivers prefer to lurk anonymously in their unmarked vehicles rather than announce that they are there to pick you up. Due to this mystifying behavior, we all waited in front of the hotel for an extra 20 minutes. We still managed to get to the airport with time to spare though, despite the lengthy security line.

Monday, February 08, 2010

I went and picked up my mom's ashes today, hugging to my chest the velvet bag holding the container as I walked back to my van. I even seat belted it in place as I drove home. Intellectually, I know that the ashes are just that. Ashes. This is the way I forced myself to view her body as well. This is not the woman who raised and loved me. This is not the mother I loved. This is just what she left behind, like a husk left as a reminder of a sudden, lonely metamorphosis.

What else can you do, how else can you think and feel, when you see your mom lying dead on the floor? And how else can you view a neatly packaged container of ashes?

Still, it was a strangely profound moment for me, hugging those ashes. After the maudlin confines of the waiting room at the Neptune Society, walking with her remains back to the van felt like taking her home one last time. Or not quite a last time, because eventually her ashes will be scattered out to sea, where she will intermingle with countless others, including my friend Sea Turtle, who died in 2008, and Dr. Seuss, who died in 1991. Also, since all oceans are connected, she'll be out there with Gandhi, and countless others. Sure, they're just ashes, but I'm comforted by the fact that all of those ashes are returning to the womb of the world and mixing together. Who knows where they will end up?

On the other side of me, generationally speaking, is Willow. I'm proud of her for the way she handled the news. Sure, she quietly cried for a time, but then she asked to go to the park. At the park, she walked right past the playground and made a beeline for a grove of trees she refers to as "the rain forest". Once there, she requested to be put up in one of the trees, and after I obliged, she talked with my brother and I about life and death, even going to far as to note that being at the park was helping her. I'm especially happy that she so obviously takes comfort in trees.

What would we do without trees?

Currently listening to: Philip Glass "Orion", which made its way here from my mom's collection. Let the music be heard and the books be read!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Judith Elaine Arnold Scharpen
Born 9/27/38, died 1/26/10
Rest In Peace

A week ago, almost to the minute, I got a phone call informing me that my mother had died. She died suddenly at home, surrounded by walls of books. Books have been a passion of hers for as far back as I can remember, and my brother, dad, and I have decided that a fitting tribute to her would be to donate the majority of her bookstore-sized collection back to the Cupertino Library, where she spent years working as a volunteer.

I'm still processing the fact that she is gone, and no doubt will be continuing to do so for quite some time.

I owe her my very existence, of course, and a lot of who I am today can also be credited to her. I will write more over the coming weeks, as things sink in and the process of wrestling with this new void in our lives unfolds. This is a time of sadness, but also of love and reflection.

I love you, mom. The world is not the same without you.