Monthly Archives: March 2008

The Things That Email Brings

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Writing is such a solitary pursuit. Or rather, it is solitary only in a sense. I need utter stillness around me, and writing within that stillness I find all the ways I am connected with everyone else.

I was at it the other day, and then my thoughts turned elsewhere. I received an email relaying the sad news that my cousin’s son had been killed in a car crash. Another 20-year-old coming to a tragic, untimely end: a handsome kid that had just met his West Coast cousins a year previously, at a family reunion.

News like that, laden with the otherworldliness of grief, takes several days to work through one’s system. After a couple days I noticed that the torrent of feelings had become manageable. Then, a post from Great-grandmother’s headstoneanother cousin who had gone to the memorial. Along the way he had stopped at the family cemetery in northern Pennsylvania and enclosed a couple photos from his visit. Which is why my writing ground to a halt for the afternoon after viewing this headstone.

Annie Chapman Hill was my great-grandmother, the woman I was named after. My grandfather once said I was the spitting image of his mother, except with brown eyes instead of blue. She was the latest of all my ancestors to emigrate, leaving Somerset for Susquehanna County as a young woman. Her eldest son did the typical thing for first-generation children of immigrants: left the family farm, went to college, joined the Navy, anything to divest himself of the old world and embrace the new.

That day I had been writing about dreams, so having my great-grandmother’s headstone appear in my Inbox automatically transported me to a dream I had of her years ago: she in the kitchen of her old farmhouse dressed in white, staring at me intensely, some unspoken challenge in her stance, while I became unnerved and fled through the screen door.

What do dreams convey? I think they reference the future as much as the past, and speak to us of the collective as well as the changes underway in our own psyches. Discerning which part is which is both the art and science of dream interpretation.

Gibson cemeteryComing face to face, so to speak, with one’s namesake is a dreamlike occurrence. But then my cousin helpfully provided a panorama of the scene: stern white church on a cold day in late winter, gravestones scattered like memories across a barren field. It could be Rockwell or Hitchcock, depending on your mood. Maybe a little Country of the Pointed Firs thrown in for good measure.

As a writer alone with my thoughts for the afternoon, I experienced an almost unbearable intimacy between my surroundings and the unfamiliar landscape of my family’s history. A conjunction between destination and point of departure that defied physics, as well as my attempts to brush it off and “stay focused.” I too was viewing the panorama surrounding my life as a dreamworker and writer, and it was filled with other lives both remembered and imagined. All were real, and in motion, and every so often mine and theirs would collide.

What I had felt as a disturbance in the force—the surreal news of death, the gravemarker of my namesake who I had only met in dreams staring me in the face—was the force itself, it turns out. And it is far greater, and far more ordinary, than I ever anticipated. Even through email, the medium we love to hate, the numinous appears. Even when we least expect it, what is remembered lives.

A Job for Chrysentia

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My paternal grandmother was a Naval officer’s wife, and through the years she spent travelling with her husband and sons from base to base, she always employed a housekeeper. The last of these, when she and my grandfather were in their late 70s and living in a modest apartment in Oakland, was a woman named Chrysentia.

Nana was a cipher to me growing up. The second to last child in a large Catholic family from New Jersey, her ancestors had emigrated before the Revolutionary War and were part of New England’s “blue blood” families. Haughtiness was something that came naturally to Nana, along with an effortless look of disdain, extreme neatness and a preference for well-mannered grandchildren.

My mother, with her own Protestant pretensions and East Coast pedigree (and a vehemently Masonic, anti-Catholic father, but that’s another story), often bristled at her mother-in-law’s manner. At one point my parents had borrowed a piece of furniture which for some reason Nana asked to have returned. When my mother brought it back to their apartment Nana took one look at the piece, sniffed ever so slightly, and said, “this looks like a job for Chrysentia.”

I never met Chrysentia, but undoubtedly the most difficult part of her job was coping with Nana. Other than that, being their housekeeper must have been pretty easy: two old people with plastic covers on the sofa, and no one tracking in mud. Of course, my mother’s rejoinder to Nana’s insult was to insult Chrysentia, saying all she ever did was smear Lemon Pledge on everything. Touché. Poor Chrysentia has therefore blended in my mind with the character Lupita from the great Showtime series Weeds—riding the gravy train until someone croaks or gets arrested.

Probably due to my mother’s constant re-telling of that story, the phrase “this looks like a job for Chrysentia” has become something of a standing joke among my sisters and I. So it was no surprise that this week, barely coping with the work of painting my living room with deadlines looming, I found myself muttering “where the [bleep] is Chrysentia?” more than once. Okay, a couple dozen times. But now my living room is a lovely shade of pale peach, free of dog hair, swept and mopped, dusted, no cobwebs, windows washed, artwork re-hung, curtains hemmed, baseboards cleaned, and so on.

Balancing domestic and work-related tasks is rarely easy, and I have been up against it quite a bit this month as I chip away at several maintenance projects on my property while juggling at least as many writing and business projects as well. I don’t have a Chrysentia to do the drudge work, it all falls to me. There is no real solution to this conflict other than more hard work, but putting things on Chrysentia’s to-do list does inject a little humor into the situation.

So that is my tale of striving for balance on this most serendipitous of weekends: a gorgeous full moon, Spring Equinox and Easter all rolled into one. On Sunday I am having some very good friends over for brunch, where we will feast on sweet and savory, and leaven the holiday with the best of tonics: laughter, conversation, love and trust.

Blessed Equinox, everyone.

Good News, Bad News

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A friend of mine lives right down by Ocean Beach in San Francisco. From the picture windows in her third floor apartment you get a panoramic view of the wild surf that animates the City’s miles-long beachfront promenade. The place is simply stunning. To sit there for an afternoon meeting and have as a backdrop the crashing waves and rip currents, sailboarders and sandcastles, while the sun makes the metal-gray water glisten like ivory, is just a sublime experience.

Every time I go there I remember and then forget to bring my camera. But this weekend I remembered and then put my camera into my bag before I forgot again. I wasn’t after a picture of the surf, because really that is too vast an expanse to translate well onto film, least of all my point-and-shoot camera. No, it was to capture this sight which greets the stray visitor who happens to tear her eyes away from the ocean and look east up the gently sloping hills of the City.

Does a sign like this fill you full of confidence, or make you feel vaguelyTsunami evacuation route nervous about where you are standing? For me, it evokes all the dreams I have had where I am at the ocean and suddenly there’s a huge wave coming and I barely have time to grab the children and make it to safety before it hits.

I spent years working on these dreams, until I finally was able to recognize while sleeping that the more fearful I felt, the worse the wave would be. Now I have ocean dreams where nothing bad happens. But to be confronted by the spectre of this dynamic in waking life, in broad daylight, when I still have so much to live for? Frankly, I find it ever so slightly unnerving.

If, heavens forbid, a tsunami ever does giochi casino gratis on linecasino bonus gratiscasino on line condei casino onlinecraps in lineavideo poker pccasino gioca gratisvideo poker freewarecasino pokerregole gioco rouletteroulette on line gratisdownload casinobonus enquête casino on net,enquete casino on net,casino on netvideo poker gamecasino on line con bonusgioco in lineacasino giocakeno in lineablog casino online,casino online gratis,casino onlinei casino onlinecasino on line roulettecasino sanremo onlinecasino online autorizzatistrategie roulettewww casino gratiscasino paypalcasino gamingvincere casino onlinecasino gratis senza depositoregole baccaratroulette gamesmigliore casino onlineslots onlinekeno gratiscasino online italiacasino per pcvideo poker jack or betterroulette casino,casino on line roulette,gran roulette casinogioco video poker gratisdownload giochi roulette,giochi roulette,giochi on line roulettebaccarat gratisgioco roulette gratis,roulette gratis,roulette da scaricare gratisi migliori casino onlinecasino on line italiagiochi roulette gratisonline casino gamescasino no depositcasino gratis slot machinenoleggio video pokervideo poker machine hit the San Francisco coastline, will people really search for the streets which have the helpful “Tsunami Evacuation Route” signs posted on them? Won’t any street headed uphill suffice? Or are these for the benefit of those who lack the basic instinct to head for higher ground when a wall of water approaches?

I live near the ocean, but separated from the surf by a peninsula which would bear the brunt of any freak wave that happened to hit. Choosing this location was not entirely a matter of chance, either. I suppose living right on the ocean would sharpen one’s instincts to the point that if the event were to occur you would somehow be out of town for the day. Intuition and premonition are marvelous things, not to be underestimated. Still, I am glad I don’t have to worry every day about sharpening that particular instinct.

I guess the fact that San Francisco has had the forethought to create tsunami evacuation routes is very good news. Hopefully this little sign signifies a whole shelf full of emergency response plans and procedures that have been taught to all the staff of all the relevant agencies. That alone could set the mind at ease. On the other hand, the bad news? San Francisco has a tsunami evacuation route.

The “I Dream Of” Genie

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I ran across an interesting little article in the latest New Yorker this evening, about a Canadian Hillary in pineappleswoman named Sheila Heti who became interested in what people were dreaming about the presidential frontrunners. She has created a website, The Metaphysical Poll, explaining her project and linking to archives of the dreams she has collected so far. From her website:

The question we’re asking here is: what role do Barack and Hillary and John play in the collective unconscious? What can that tell us about where they might lead us — and which one does more coke when we sleep?

You can sign up for her weekly newsletter analyzing the dreams she’s received, or visit one ofBarack in gum drops the three different blogs filled with dream reports: I Dream of Barack, I Dream of Hillary, and I Dream of McCain. The dreams are fascinating to read, especially because their titles give a brief description of the people who submitted them: Tech Start-Up Geek from California, A Liberal Feminist in Kansas, A Kickball Player from Florida, A 42-Year-Old Man With No Discernable Politics.

Dreams bring out the shadow projections we have of public figures. I don’t know whether conclusions can be drawn from this aggregation of dreams, but just knowing that someone is out there collecting them makes me feel fairly certain that I am going to start having dreams about the candidates. Oh joy. But my unconscious is highly suggestible. Is yours?

A Rage for All Seasons

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Well there I was, cordoned off from polite society for a week, chained to my desk in order to meet a ridiculous self-imposed writing deadline. In such circumstances, the mind is incredibly adept at finding amusements to pass the time in lieu of working on one’s appointed task. Mine certainly rose to the occasion, as I kept thinking about the saying my friends and I had come up with for a Pantheacon ribbon for next year.

Baby RageEventually I found myself soaring on the euphoric streams of wireless internet over to a site called, where you can create swag—t-shirts, aprons, calendars, that sort of thing—with a wide range of styles, colors, and fonts to play with. Here is the t-shirt design I came up with. Is that, or is that not, the cutest baby suit you have ever seen?

Lady RageAnd the fun didn’t stop there. Zazzle has a pretty good selection of t-shirt styles and models to choose from, so I was able to try out my new logo on a couple different faceless torsos. Here is my original design, in the trendy pink-on-brown color combo.

When we were yukking it up on Saturday night at the con, we bumped into Dominic Elemirion and told him about our brainstorm. He responded, “but I’m a gay male!” I’m not sure whether he was trying to protect himself from a possible oncoming feminist ragestorm, or claiming that this disqualified from feeling such a thing and therefore he would never wear our ribbon.

Gentleman RageMindful of this massive delusion, I have helpfully enlisted this handsome model to show just how needless Dominic’s defensiveness was. You see? Doesn’t that just work on all sorts of levels?

I did eventually get back to my writing project—after sending out email announcements to friends, listing my t-shirt in the “Inspirational/Truth” category on their site, and other fun diversions. So be the first one on your block, etc, etc. I plan to order one just as soon as I complete a couple more unpleasant tasks on my to-do list. I can’t imagine a finer “job well done” present for myself!

Who You Gonna Call?

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One thing I know about cities is that you can really read their vital signs by paying attention to the posters stapled to telephone poles. Looking for where the reggae fans hang out? Search for the neighborhood with the largest number of reggae show posters on the phone poles. Want to hook up with the jazz and poetry crowd? Check out the poles outside a random sampling of coffee houses, and you’re sure to find the spot where most of the cool cats meet.

The same is true for churches—or, if you prefer, darshans and Buddhist retreats. Find the area in the city that sports the most posters advertising a certain faith, and you are almost assured of meeting like-minded folks there. You can tell a lot about the spiritual make-up of a city by the diversity on its phone poles. Which is why I am so enamoured by a recent development in Portland, OR.

Surely you’ve heard of Portland. The relentlessly groovy, happier than Seattle yet drearier than San Francisco, coffee-swilling, independent-bookshop supporting mecca of the Northwest. As my son has mentioned on more than several occasions, Portland even has a vegan grocery store called Food Fight. Is that demographic genius or what? It is a young city—I have never in my life encountered so many adorable babies in one place than at a Sunday farmer’s market in Portland.

Ganesha AltarApparently, Portland is precocious in all ways. A friend of mine sent graphic evidence of this the other day. Never one to be outdone by the evangelical Spanish-speaking churches or Cambodian Christian outreach missions of the Bay Area, Portland has decided to wear its Pagan heart on its sleeve, so to speak, by stapling actual altars to different gods on telephone poles throughout the city.

I’m not sure you’ll find Ganesha hanging out in a local burrito joint near this telephone pole, butBuddha Altar then again you never know. My sources close to the project say that none of the altars erected so far have been disturbed. And I know what you’re thinking, Buddha is by no means a Pagan god. Well if that’s true, why are Pagans going around sticking Buddha altars on telephone poles in downtown Portland? Powerful icons are powerful icons, I suppose, and free public art is always a good thing. Plus if you tried to separate all the Buddhists from the Pagans, you would have a lot of people cleaved in two. Kids, don’t try this at home.

I think the gauntlet has been thrown down for all of us living in cities other than Portland. Are we going to let them have all the smug, Utili-Kilt wearing, bohemian Earth lover organically grown fun around here? I should hope not! Photos! I need photos! Do not let Portland get away with this—they’ll be impossible to live with. Even if they do have really good coffee, and pastries too. And Southern food, for that matter. Oh man, they have great Southern food. You see what I mean? This is critical!!!