Saturday, March 19, 2011

The harsh reality of the world is really making itself apparent this month. As I type, rain is beating down in the darkness outside. A few water droplets have even found a way to navigate downward through my ceiling, to land with unspectacular little splashes here and there on the table and floor. Tomorrow is the equinox, seeming to come too quickly on the heels of the Winter Solstice.

Rain and darkness aren't harsh though, but the destruction of much of Japan's east coast most decidedly is. This being the modern age, I've watched countless online videos of black waves pouring through city streets and debris-choked mountains of water oozing their way across farmland. The videos make me feel twice removed, once by the distance of the camera operator from the scene, and once again by the electronic filter I'm currently sitting in front of. It's no wonder that many commentators have mentioned that it's like watching an epic Hollywood disaster movie. Diving through the filter with heart and mind, I can more properly take a moment to think about how many lives were either lost or otherwise irreversibly changed by the earthquake that triggered this mess. When one adds the damaged nuclear reactors to the equation, things seem even less fair. And now, it seems that the U.S. and Britain have entered the fray over in Libya, adding more war to the tragic global soup already containing earthquake, tsunami, and potential nuclear meltdown, not to mention the countless individual horror stories all swirling around in it.

It only takes a moment to be ripped from your routine forever, to have everything you know pulled out from under you. I'm sure many people are finding internal strength they never knew they possessed, but sometimes all of the strength you can muster still isn't enough. Nor should it have to be. We are social creatures. One of the benefits of living in a society is that we help each other out. It's too bad that many people still don't realize we're a global society.

In a strange coincidence, on the same day that the much reduced tsunami hit the California coast 30 or so miles from where I'm typing, a package from Japan showed up in my mail. It was a record, of course, because packages that show up in my mail nearly always contain music. Music knows no borders. It's an international language. In the spirit of music, it's time to open more doors and extend our hands outward.

Currently listening to: Godspeed You Black Emperor recorded live at The Great American Music Hall, 2/21/11

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The first dream I can remember having was of uncontrolled fire. I was lost in a blazing orange landscape. If I were Christian, I might interpret it as a vision of Hell.

I hadn’t thought of this dream in years, but reading Stewart O’Nan’s book, The Circus Fire, reignited the memory. In the pages of The Circus Fire, O’Nan relates the true story of the 1944 Hartford Circus Fire, a sudden conflagration in which 167 people, most of them women and children, lost their lives. Generally, I don’t even like reading fictional accounts of children in jeopardy, especially since becoming a parent. Willow’s face flashes in my mind as I read, and try as I might, I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to lose a child. Despite that, and despite the heartbreaking nature of the story, the book proved to be a fascinating window into another time. In amongst descriptions of corpses fused together by the heat and eyewitness accounts of the fire itself, there are some enduring mysteries, including the origin of the fire and the identity of a little girl, virtually untouched by fire, who is known only as “Little Miss 1565”. I recommend this book for anybody with an interest in history and a strong stomach, not to mention a certain amount of emotional fortitude.

I probably wouldn’t have read this book at all if it weren’t for my personal connection to the story. On that humid summer day in 1944, my mom was at that circus with her mom. She was only 5 at the time and obviously escaped. She wasn’t burned or trampled like other small children were that day. Now that I’ve read the story though, I wonder if the fire actually did leave another kind of mark on her. One of the things I’ll always remember about my mom is that before leaving the house, she would always double and triple check to make sure the stove was off. Being in a fire often has the effect on survivors. Of course, she would always double check that the door was locked too, so maybe I’m making a connection where none exists.

As for me, I find that I’ve picked up my mom’s habit of checking stoves and locks. This may or may not be due in part to a fire that happened nearly a quarter century before I was born. As for my childhood nightmare of fire, it probably happened when I was about the same age as my mom was when she experienced her own very real version of that dream.

It’s also interesting to note that I owe my very existence, not to mention Willow’s, to my grandmother’s choice of seats that day.

Currently listening to: The United Sons of Toil "When the Revolution Comes, Everything Will Be Beautiful"

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

I often complain about the fast pace of modern living,and I've always felt that most of our time-saving devices usually just free up time for more work, making them a moot point. So, in the interest of constructive problem solving, here is a short list of ways to slow down the pace of life:

-Don't use the microwave.

-Take the scenic route.

-Walk or bike when possible.

-Don't watch TV.

-Ditch the cellphone.

-Don't do things out of habit - think about what you're doing.

-Don't worry (especially about things beyond your control).

-Start projects that take a lot of time to finish - try not to do things in one sitting).

-If you must use new technology, do so in moderation.

Some of these I need to work on. I spend too much time on the computer, and I often find myself doing things out of sheer habit. I also have a cellphone, but only because I have a child. This is by no means a complete list, but it's a start. This post was inspired by the fact that, as I grow older, time seems to be speeding up. It would be a shame to end up missing my own life because I wasn't really living. Doing things out of habit or sticking to any kind of mindless routine isn't really living - it's going through the motions. I think that's the main reason life sometimes seems to pass by so quickly. It's because it's not being lived at all.

That said, I find it ironic that the only other time when time seems to go by too quickly is when I'm doing something creative like writing or drawing. At least in this case I have something to show for it though. I have a record of my past. I have evidence of time well spent. It would be hard to say such a thing after an evening of surfing the web or watching TV.

Currently listening to Carol Anne McGowan "Songs from the Cellar" Appropriately enough, this is music for stretching time. It was recorded in a 500 year old wine cellar and sounds like it. Think June Tabor or Marissa Nadler. Beautiful.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Suddenly it's March. I must have blinked.

I'm watching clouds flee across the sky as the trees shake their leafy fists at them. Despite the cloud cover, as I emerged from the apartment this morning I had to blink my eyes at the brightness. This is partially due to the fact that I didn't set foot outside yesterday, instead electing to stay inside reading and writing while Willow lost herself in Playmobil land. I feel it necessary to occasionally treat myself to a day of nothing in particular, and Willow feels the same way, especially after her busy Saturday of softball events and Brownie cookie sales. Now, we're recharged.

It has been exactly a month since my last post. In February, I went to Boston with Jeanine so we could attend the Twist & Shout balloon convention. Basically, we played with balloons at a hotel for several days and I honed by skills at twisting them into large bugs. While there, I had a chance to reconnect with my aunt Marilyn and my cousin Peter, whom I hadn't seen since 1982. I also got to meet Peter's wife, and we all had a good time sitting in the hotel pub and talking. Marilyn is my mom's younger sister. It seems strange that almost 30 years have gone by since we'd last seen each other, but that's sometimes how it works in this family.

We didn't spend too much time outside of the hotel, and when we did go out we found many sidewalks covered in mounds of snow. Still, we did take a couple of walks, and during one such venture we were treated to forks of lightning poking the horizon as thunder boomed in the distance. It made me remember visiting my grandma as a child, although then my opinion of thunderstorms was a lot less positive.

Upon our return to California, Jeanine and I took a quick road trip to Sacramento so she could be on a TV program. We used the trip to visit my dad and nearby Sutter's Fort. The side trip to the fort came about because both Jeanine and I had recently completed reading a book on the Donner Party, and Sutter's Fort is where the survivors temporarily ended up. It's interesting to imagine the fort as the only building for miles around, especially now that it has been consumed by a modern city. As we wandered around inside the fort, we found ourselves surrounded by diminutive pioneers who soon proved to be members of a visiting school class. As for my dad, he celebrated our arrival by picking out a vegetarian restaurant for us to go to. He picked well. For some reason, despite the fact that we were in the suburbs of Sacramento (Citrus Heights, to be precise), there were roosters wandering around expectantly, waiting for an unwary diner to drop some rooster food.

Continuing with the historical theme, this past week I helped chaperon Willow's field trip to a nearby history park where we visited reconstructions of a late nineteenth century schoolhouse, home, and barn. The kids got the biggest chuckle out of the outhouse, of course. Willow liked the schoolhouse best, since that's what she could most relate to.

Now, it's Monday again. Suddenly.

Currently listening to: Natural Snow Buildings "Waves of the Random Sea" 2LP