Wednesday, December 29, 2010

nothing new under the sun

I can't seem to get warm, even with the space heater and the heat turned up to almost 70, which makes me want to sleep, but I've been sleeping a lot and sometimes I just want to have something to show for this massive amount of time I have to play with besides having the flu.

Ryan came up yesterday for what's become a wonderful annual hanging out tradition. We went to the Art Museum to see the "Treasures of Heaven" which is totally stuff I'm geeky for because of that weird convergence of religious devotion, body parts of dubious origin, and medieval bling. And they had a corresponding illuminated manuscripts exhibit downstairs so I was in artistic heaven.

It was even more fabulous than I thought it would be, with a lot of Byzantine and early German and Irish artistry with this sense of seriousness, beauty, and ancientness that doesn't seem far removed from the time when my ancestors were still painting themselves and running around naked in the woods throwing people into bogs to ensure a good harvest.

Even as weird to our jaded minds as it seems to be taking trips to see the enshrinement of John the Baptist's tooth or the skull of one of St. Agatha's 11,000 virgins, I get the feeling that while some people did the pilgrimage for the whole religious experience but for others it was a chance to get out of whatever village you were stuck in and have the excuse to go somewhere warm like Spain and party at taverns and maybe shave a few years off of purgatory. I get why the Calvinists were pissed off because the whole shameless revenue of this enterprise must have been hard to bear.

It's not unlike the way that people now do spring break or take road trips out to the middle of nowhere America to see abandoned buildings, eat at weird diners or places like the Cathedral Buffet and take photos at roadside attractions with giant dinosaur sculptures. Or the people who go to Graceland or the gravesites of Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain. I wonder what Chaucer would make of us and our strange mess of European culture with its own agnostic mysticism.

We were talking about some of the conversations heard around the table at Christmas, where our relatives who listen to a lot of Glenn Beck are freaking out at the state of society and how it's on this continual slide into the morass of something or other, and how back in the day it was better.

But it wasn't. There's always been wars and power struggles and corruption and moral degeneracy as long as there's been people. Peace is the punctuation between war not the other way around. It's just that now there's the Internet and bigger guns and nuclear bombs instead of cuneiform and spears. Is 21st Century America really worse than Nero's Rome?

It's not surprising to me that Ecclesiastes doesn't get a whole lot of coverage on Sunday mornings with its despairing existentialism that resonated with me in my teens when I wasn't sure if I believed in God and if He/She/It existed, did it really matter, but the way it describes human nature and the patterns in society and culture could have been written yesterday, they resonate so strongly with what I saw around me in a way that more esoteric texts didn't. It was a visceral truth that was reassurring in its lack of platitudes.

There's nothing really new, just repeated patterns and revisions.

There is a time for everything. Most of our pursuits in life are dead ends. Politicians are greedy and corrupt. Sometimes good things happen to bad people and vice versa. The eye never has its fill of seeing and the ear never has enough of hearing. It's foolish to talk about the good old days because they never existed and it doesn't do any good. God gives meaning to existence but that doesn't always make it easier to understand or bear.

I'm sure if this got thrown into the conversational fray I'd probably get some funny looks but whatever.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

the breaks...

Christmas was wonderful this year with no car crashes or drama, even though we all got the flu one day after another. We did the traditional Polish fish and kluski, breaking the oplatek together before us 'kids' split off for Apples to Apples.

I wasn't expecting everyone to still be hanging out when I split to go to Midnight Mass with a friend from church. We both grew up Polish and Catholic before our search for God took us to the same place, but those roots run deep, that staying up late to sit there and listen to the choir, bask in the echoing quietness, the incense and candlelight. If anything we believe more than we once did.

Most of my cousins on the other side came in on Christmas and we joke that the alcohol consumption has gone up massively in the past few years, which has something to do with all of us getting older, and I got some family history about relatives who were in the IRA and how everyone ended up where they did way back when because back then no one else talked about things.

But it's a week off, and I've got some fresh stuff for my show to get a good world format going again, and friends coming in to visit, and hopefully a trip to the art museum to check out that medieval relics exhibit. It's nice to have a winter break again.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

let all mortal flesh keep silent

This, while being too melancholy and dramatic for the radio, is one of my favorite Christmas carols, especially when sung in a huge old stone church by an epic choir. Stay safe and blessed this season whatever your way of doing is... much love!

eve of the eve

With a Christmas vacation pending for the first time since my high school graduation, I am so ready to go home even though I'm watching a friend's dog and haven't totally finished shopping as my plans for DIY gifts for almost everyone are still sitting in a kiln and unfinished on shelves.

And I can't wait until I don't have to hear any holiday cheer sung by Wham!, Billy Squier, We Are The World, or Wings. I do find a pleasing poetic justice in that Bob Geldof will have to hear his creation sung by snarky carolers at his house til the end of time.

I need to get some more coffee for certain individuals, wrap some things in brown paper (possibly will put the lino print blocks to good use), maybe make some candy or something. My grunge buddy's band is playing out on the east side, but I don't know if I'll make it out there tonight even if I'd love to hear a Mudhoney cover or two.

With all this to do, I don't want to deal with any kind of bar scene and anytime he's dating someone it's awkward because me and him have been chummy on a totally platonic we-like-sports-and-music level for the last decade or so which makes things awkward especially when said girl usually could care less about obscure 80's Pacific Northwest sludge and usually prefers country.

Speaking of obscure Pacific Northwest sludge, if all goes well I'll be guest-DJ-ing with my fellow english major/rap battler/punk rocker extraordinaire partner in crime on New Year's Eve from 11-12:30 in the afternoon playing all sorts of 90's grunge also-rans. Expect to hear some Green River, Seaweed, the Gits, Love Battery, Mudhoney, and Melvins. I'm sure those expecting more class of '77 sounds won't be thrilled, but it should be fun.

and the pills that mother gives you...

Back in my Kent State days, I was a library shelver who later moved up to the circulation desk, which enabled me to read all day, get my homework done, and pick up 30 hours a week on top of going to school full-time, most of those hours being between 11pm and 1am involving watching clips of Kids in the Hall and The Young Ones and listening to the Red House Painters and the Talking Heads with my boss at the time, making weird collages on the copy machine, and getting hooked up with day-old muffins from the kid working the coffee stand.

I will never have a job like that again and I knew that at the time. I was allowed to wear whatever I wanted to work which was mostly old band t-shirts and hoodies and I had a cassette walkman and a stash of early 90's thrift store cassettes and mixtapes full of Sonic Youth and the Buzzcocks.

"Your job looks like it's so boring," people would say, but I loved it.

Most of the other students hated the 10th floor where the Government Documents were. They were classified differently, and it was isolated and creepy with the blinking florescent bulbs and row after row of paper copies of congressional hearings including the PMRC ones with Zappa and Twisted Sister, and volumes with titles like "The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report" "Wool Production in New England," and "School Bus Rollover Fatalities."

Oh, and Fat Albert and the Cosby gang don't want you to be a commie.

So I've been hooked on Bibliodyssey for a bit now, and their links are pretty fabulous too. Here's a collection of more guvvermint propagandism via comic book. All sorts of good stuff about the War on Drugs, the Invasion of Grenada, a Europe without Borders, and a bunch of 80's teens learning about the banks.

I've never even fooled around with drugs in my life but I had a lot of friends who did, and I think that along with heavy metal, horror movies, and Big Chuck and Little John, stoner humor was part of growing up in the working class burbs. Having very long hair and a love for Led Zeppelin and the Seattle bands meant that a lot of my high school teachers thought I was one of those smart kids on drugs anyway.

Since then, those "Mexicanized dishes" might be sending me down the road to perdition. That and the caffeinated beverages and the stoner rock. I've seen these guys below three times, (opening for both the Icarus Line and Sleater Kinney and then headlining) and the whole trippy shoegaze meets Sabbath thing rocks my world. It's a shame that I have yet to pick up any of their records. Might do that this weekend.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

obligatory what did I listen to this year post

End of the year music.

I'm constantly late to the party, and I tend to like stuff by people who are dead or don't live on the same continent or stuff that came out last year that I just got around to checking out. There were a lot of albums where I loved maybe three or four songs but I couldn't get through the whole thing without skipping and therefore they don't make the cut. Here's what did.

Jimi Hendrix - Valleys of Neptune

Usually I'm wary of posthumous releases of "unheard material" which usually means junk from the vaults snatched up by nostalgic boomers that stayed buried for a damn good reason. Hip-hop fans are also guilty of this syndrome as well (hello Tupac!).

Still, while most of these are demos and such, the release is incredibly solid (even though I would have loved to hear vocals on 'Sunshine of Your Love') and having his watercolor paintings in the liner notes is a nice touch and it makes me remember how tight his band was and the guitar playing that is still stunning and incomprehensible. "Valleys of Neptune" is more mellow but stands up to the best of "Are You Experienced?" and the wailing guitar on "Bleeding Heart" and the instrumental "Lullaby for Summer" give me the shivers down my spine that all good music should.

Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here
I can't do Gil justice, but his first album in forever but his now aged and craggy voice reminds me of old blues records and the dark minimalist production fits it perfectly. It doesn't sound anything like "Whitey on the Moon" or "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" but I hope he gets clean and keeps the bleak and beautiful coming.

Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid

I really don't know who to compare Janelle to, but there's so much in here that I can't even classify it, the classic retro feel with the sci-fi concept album that namechecks Phillip K. Dick, and gets pigeonholed into a genre known more for slick videos and no sonic substance.

Even Diddy couldn't screw up this sprawling epic that bounces from classical interludes through some amazing pop songs that would be on Top 40 radio in a perfect world, not to mention the Fela Kuti-esque funk of "Dance or Die," psychobilly freakout of "Come Alive," the deliriously trippy "Mushrooms and Roses," and the Renaissance sounding "57821."

Bonobo - Black Sands
This got some serious play on my show this past year, sounding incredibly good at 5 in the morning and also painting late at night. For those of us who miss trip-hop, this could be construed as background noise but I love the mixture of organic and electronic, violins, and ethereal yet soulful female vocals that also makes it a formidable live act.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - I Learned the Hard Way
This was a crazy year for me, starting out with having to kick someone out of my apartment, a hefty dose of unrequited love (or crush at least), a serious bout of depression, and then my youthful indiscretions/creative aspirations landing me in court, and then watching my living situation implode in a matter of weeks. There was a whole lot of crash and burn that happened this year. In the meantime, the song below became an anthem of sorts for me, a kiss-off and catharsis all in one, to not let lousy people ruin my life.

Charles over at My Mind's Eye hooked me up with tickets to see her live with some friends and their grandma and not only was it a fantastic show, but the antics of drunk suburban crackers on their one night out just made it even more amazing.

Honorable mentions go to the Roots - How I Got Over, Vieux Farka Toure's live album, Bassekou Kouyate's 'I speak Fula," and probably others that I can't think of right now...

let fury have the hour...

Last year on this day, I did a Joe Strummer tribute show on the anniversary of his death that generated more phone calls and requests than I've ever had in my 5am time slot. I came late to the Clash party, between his work with 'The Only Band That Mattered' and his Mescaleros project, it only makes me sad that his second creative wind was cut so short.

His sounds were a gateway into all sorts of other sounds that I delved into later on: reggae, dub, and the non-cheesy sounds from all over the world that became mix CD material and radio station format sounds that were at once familiar and refreshingly new. Looking at his playlists, it echoes what mine evolved into: classic and underground rock, vintage soul, African pop, roots reggae.

This year, I decided to turn it into an annual tradition because there just isn't a whole lot of good Christmas music in my format and you can hear that stuff anywhere else on the radio. I got one request for "Get Down Moses" and another caller who was mad that I wasn't playing Master P. Can't please 'em all I guess.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

faking it

As much as I extol the virtues of being an efficient low-level flunky, there are downsides too, such as squirming awkwardly as we go over personality types and things that would never work in the real world if you deal with jerky people who are in power over you and know how to bully using their credentials and ability to sweet talk to the people who do have the clout.

I've gotten to the point where it doesn't bother me what so-and-so thinks of me because my self-esteem is not tied up in my job. I don't expect to be respected because I don't have any money or power and don't choose to schmooze. I do my job without expecting anyone to notice if I'm doing a good one.

And some of this stuff sounds fake as hell... with all this talk of making oneself more likeable by "preparing interesting conversational vignettes."

This totally reminds me of Mr. Collins in 'Pride and Prejudice,' who thinks so highly of himself and his position, enthusiastically sucks up to the rich and powerful and is unsufferable to anyone with sense.

"They arise chiefly from what is passing of the time. And though I do sometimes amuse myself with arranging such little elegant compliments, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible. "

I wonder what it'd be like if Jane Austen was sitting there. I could imagine her scribbling on the back page of her notes with snarky comments while still maintaining an air of utter decorum.

Maybe I should start working on a success journal instead of the Great American Novel.

vikings and stuff

Being a bit of a geek for mythology and a bit of a Kenneth Branagh fangirl, I'm interested to see what he does when he takes on Norse lore and find it hilarious that a bunch of losers who live in their mom's basement and blame their loserdom on abstract hatred of people that aren't Aryan.

Branagh's cast Denzel Washington in Shakespearean Italy before so it's not like Idris Elba as Thor is all that out of the ordinary and I find the whole indignation funny because what better way to mess with wacko crackers than to do the whole Nordic mythology thing without someone with the complexion of Brad Pitt in a leading role.

At least he's not messing with the plot like Julie Taymor is with 'The Tempest.' I'm all for getting creative, but dammit, why does everything have to be turned into some Womyn Power thing?

Still, on the subject of mythology and high culture, here's the very awesome Best Operas in 10 Minutes, complete with Monty Python-esque animation.

Monday, December 20, 2010

put the art in party

I spent Friday night watching little kids dressed up like angels run around as the adults are telling great stories and me and a fellow academic denizen are discussing good music, favorite writers, and our irritation at a great majority of the Beat writers. In case I ever have to look for other employment, one of my friends told me she has a sister who can get me into a factory where they make industrial kitchen equipment so all hope is not lost.

I thought that my first Christmas without living with anyone would be depressing, but it's been so good to go out and be around others without the stress of entertaining a whole lot of people and to come home where it's peaceful and I can look out my window and see Christmas lights in every direction.

The radio station had their celebration the next evening at a west side bowling alley with free food, beer, lanes, and pool tables, and flying solo to an event where people bring their dates isn't so bad because I could eat sushi and drink Great Lakes Christmas Ale and hang out with whoever I wanted.

While the bowling throwdown between the metal vs non-metal djs never happened, I had a good time (a certain personality to be left nameless notwithstanding) and stayed way later than I thought I would. We threw gutterballs, talked Southeast Asian garage rock, with a soundtrack from someone's iPod that included lots of Metallica and unhipster classic rock in the best way.

And last night I got my introvert on and got back into fooling around with linocut printmaking. While I'm a quiet kid at heart, I sometimes come down off a lot of socializing with some degree of angst, but art making has always been good for my soul. While I was waiting for some sheets of acrylic transfer to dry, I got out my inks and messed around on some scrap paper with results that were better than I expected. I always felt like I irritated my previous roommate who would come home to a cranked up stereo and me doing projects on the kitchen table but now I don't have to worry about that.

I get to go back to the ceramics studio tonight to hopefully finish up some DIY Christmas gifts and then meet up with the pretty-much-family-inlaws of my sister to find out what the gender of my future nephew/niece will be.

Friday, December 17, 2010

ain't gonna work for a soul-suckin' jerk

My inner cynic wonders if the pending budget cuts will result in yours truly having to seek other legal means of income. It's not that I mind the prospect of factory work, mopping floors, or delivering pizzas, it's just that I enjoy my employment so much because it's enabled me to not only sustain my minimalist lifestyle, but to continue to open my world in so many ways and not to feel like I've sold my soul. That is so worth it to me.

And I work with a pretty awesome crew. I might get snarky sometimes but I really do love the students and my compadres and am glad I don't have to wear a power suit and heels. Being a cultural if not biological Gen-Xer means I've cultivated an amused and sometimes snarky attitude when it comes to motivational maxims and Orwellian jargon. I don't see why the Powers That Be want to know my religious preferences and musical tastes and if I'm prejudiced against anyone. That just seems like a bad idea all around.

I wonder if my inability and aversion to general brownnosing and ladder-climbing will be the death of me, but I'm hoping I can float through under the radar like I always have, because at this point, I want to stick around awhile.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

the customer is always...

The first time I saw 'Clerks' I was in a Kent State dorm room with a guy I'd just met right after I transferred from a school where the only permitted R-rated movies were "Braveheart" and "The Passion of the Christ" and where if you were in a guy's dorm room you had to have the door open, feet on the floor, and the lights on during certain visiting hours. It's no wonder I didn't last long there in the middle of nowhere.

It felt weird knowing that such bizarre rules did not exist, moving from there into what was almost a condemned building (broken windows, destroyed bathroom fixtures) with bushes covered in cigarette butts and all sorts of general debauchery and substance abuse.

But there's a place in my heart for Kevin Smith's characters, because unlike most movie characters, they reminded me of real people in a real setting that didn't seem all that far removed from my own economically depressed suburban world, with its dead-end jobs, unluckiness in love, obsession with pop culture ephemera (classic rock in particular), and lack of interest in upward mobility with a preference for perfected slacking.

Having always worked in customer service as a zoo ticket taker, seasonal retail salesgirl for two dreadful weeks when I was 19, and public sector peon for most of my life, the maxim that 'the customer is always right' is often wrong.

Though certain individuals claim to have "adopted" some of my coworkers, at least they don't have the option to do this, though it would be entertaining. I understand the whole respecting other people and cultures and lifestyle choices, but sometimes this gets a little pretentious or assumes that we're more narrow-minded than we actually are.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

hell and high water

While the vermin are in the process of being vanquished, evidently my shower water missed the plumbing and ended up pouring into my downstairs neighbors' house last night and I felt really
bad. I mopped up as much water on the floor as I could and thankfully my landlord is on it so hopefully it'll be fixed by now. Clawfoot tubs might look glamorous and Victorian but they're a pain in the neck. Also, just because a house is old does not mean it's built the greatest.

It's a busy time of year for us peons and I nearly used my little interweb soapbox to rant about incompetent and lazy people who get away with things because they're in good with the legal mafia union made up of angry women who think the 60's never died. Sometimes this is cathartic and other times it just gets me more mad so I'll leave it at that. I guess this means I have issues with boomers of a certain kind and it just is what it is.

I used to be really quiet and then I got older and somehow ended up with a big mouth that I need to keep in check. And it's not just a big mouth, there's the whole issue of colorful language that occasionally gets me in trouble. Most people who don't know me don't believe me when I say this.

But I guess after all those years of being put down and realizing finally I don't have to take it the way I once did, I'm still figuring out when it's best to be blunt and say what needs to be said and when it's better to hold my peace and know that I'm at least not on the level of that other person.

But on a lighter note...

The day off yesterday was nice and after my Arabica study session I went thrifting and scored a bag full of amazing Christmas garland that's probably older than I am by at least fifteen years considering it was all made in the USA, and one box that looked like what Run-DMC uses to decorate their tree.

Heck yeah.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

take a picture here, take a souvenir

I got the day off today because of the weather though it's honestly not all that bad... I did my show at the station so I had to go downtown anyway but did get to go home and catch up on my sleep.

I missed the first onslaught of snow because I got to go through another round of dentist hell and zoned out with a head full of Novocain to watch movies, which I never do, but my coworker loaned me "Clerks II" and I had "Sleepwalking Through the Mekong" and "Alice in Chains Unplugged" to keep me entertained in my numbness.

While Kevin Smith has a sometimes different sense of humor than me there's something about his characters that I love because it reminds me of people I grew up with and hung out with and conversations that seem so eerily familiar.

The roads are clear, it's cold but that's the way it is in Ohio in December. I don't have Internet at the apartment so I'm up at one of my favorite coffeeshops where the people are chill and unpretentious, the citrus green tea is delicious, and the manager is listening to old school REM that my dad played all the time when I was a kid and I realize how long it's been since I listened to Michael Stipe's amazing voice and I always find it funny how he pronounces the name of our river.

I have a final to study for and can't seem to focus on economic policy and Latin American revolutionary movements, having always enjoyed just sitting in class more than taking essay exams. And the space heater is still on at the apartment so hopefully it's not burned down or anything.

I find a weird beauty in these kinds of days when the sun comes through the clouds and the snow makes everything blue and glowy at night. Even the early darkness doesn't bother me. I strung Christmas lights across my kitchen and over the front windows, light candles in the kitchen and plan music for the Christmas program we're going to have at church this year. There's nothing more hilarious than little kids in bathrobes and homemade garland halos singing carols out of tune.

I've got my grandma's papier mache creche underneath the little tree covered with her old glass ornaments and I miss her a lot right now when I think of how much she would have loved to see my sister married with a kid on the way, and her weird sense of humor, and Christmas Eves making Polish food and singing carols with her in a language I can't usually speak.

Friday, December 10, 2010

movers and shakers

F. Scott Fitzgerald once described the very rich as "not like you and me." Hemingway disagreed, saying the only difference is that they have more money than the rest of us. I'm sure there's an element of truth in both of these statements, but sometimes I'm reminded just how differently they live.

This guy is retiring and is going to be an "executive in residence" and make $75,000 a year for 24 hours of work because "His BlackBerry contains 1,300 names of movers and shakers in Northeast Ohio."

I wonder what kind of work this involves, or if they're simply hiring his Blackberry. I also wonder how you end up with over a thousand phone numbers and what happens if said device gets stolen. I wonder if these people were such movers and shakers why nothing seems to be moving or shaking unless they've been raking in graft like the rest of the upper echelons have been, but my guess is they live in the suburbs or the really exclusive parts of the city in a world far removed from my own.

One of my great-uncles told me that when I went to school I should figure out who the rich and connected kids were and hang out with them because then I would go far in life and be successful. One of my uncles dropped out but his fraternity connections have taken him everywhere and he's pretty well off. I hear other people talk like this, and it's not like they're bad people, it's just such a different mentality than what I was raised with and how I see things.

I didn't do so well at this, majoring in English and an unfinished art minor, and the rich kids I knew were all pretending that they weren't from Shaker, Solon or Hudson, dumpster-diving and sleeping on mats and being fake Buddhists, talking about anarchy and consumerism while spending loads of money on concert tickets, drugs, surround sound systems, Apple products, and eternal grad school.

It was so weird to be eating at vegan potlucks as kids whose dads made six figures talked about "workers of the world" and how that world was far removed from my own, where you either did community college or got lucky and went to a state school if your grades were good and you got some scholarships or financial aid, where your "ethnic" last name shows where you are in the social strata especially when you get outside your city.

I could theoretically move and shake at my place of employment but I enjoy my fellow peons far more than most of those who have letters after their names who only associate with others on their level.

I don't tend to trust most people in suits as it is, since it seems like most of the evil in the world is perpetrated by the well-dressed. The men that I grew up admiring are people like my dad, coming home after working 12 hour days, with cracked hands covered in dirt and salt, wearing old hoodies and thermals and work boots, who listen to the Rolling Stones and NPR and reading all sorts of books, with a lack of interest in affluence and a preference for good music and maybe a baseball game or two.

My dad once told me he couldn't work behind a desk and dress up for work every day. It's something I do but I don't have to bother with power suits or trying to sell things. I've gotten to know a lot of people between where I live and work and worship, and so does he. It's just that the people he knows are Palestinians, Pakistanis, and Vietnamese families who run the corner stores, the Puerto Rican kids who stock the shelves at Marc's, and the people he plays music with and goes to church with.

That's what I know best and am attracted to most, and I'm sure that sometimes I judge those outside that circle a bit unfairly if I'm honest. It's a world that is both closed and uninteresting to me that seems so calculating and ungenuine.

And in the wake of more major political shenanigans and shadiness on a large scale, I'm more and more convinced that C.S. Lewis had it so right here:
"The greatest evil is not done in those sordid dens of evil that Dickens loved to paint but is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

the ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in...

So I've survived the first great snow of the year, exiting a crowded bus to walk downtown past almost a mile of complete gridlock to catch the train home. I brushed about 6 inches of snow off the car, gave a lady at the stop a ride to the church on the way to Save-A-Lot, and was thankful for the delays because it gave me more time to prepare dinner for some friends.

People act like it's the end of the world when it starts to snow but these are the times when I love public transit the most, especially looking at how my car insurance jumped in the last year between a crash last year, 2 tickets, and living in a city where cars get stolen all the time. When it's icy and gridlocked, it's nice to have someone else driving so that I can be amused by the antics of high schooler and work my way through Patti Smith's "Just Kids."

But once the heat is turned up and the stereo on, the red novena candles are lit, and the kitchen smells like curry and cinnamon, and I'm surrounded with those I love, drinking tea and snacking on egg rolls, it's a beautiful thing. We talk and laugh and share our joys and sorrows and stresses, help each other get through the hard times.

We've had a lot of hard times these past few years, stressed about work or lack of it, family, friends, relationships, ourselves. It's so easy especially in our culture to get into these romantic notions of being a loner and struggling through by oneself, but we need each other way more than we'll ever admit to and more than we'll ever know.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

history is people.

I had an amazing history teacher in high school who gave me a love of the weirdness and strangeness of what people do and ignited a love of all things strange in regards to world politics. He told us about Watergate-era pranks and the foibles of various world leaders which made it come alive and gave it this surreal human element that was much more interesting.

He never tried to indoctrinate us into any political belief system even though we begged him to tell us whether he had voted for Bush or Gore. Instead, he taught us to think for ourselves, how to argue a point of view and back it up with facts, had us reading primary sources and debating issues in class like our colonization of the Philippines or dropping the atomic bomb and didn't shy away from the more unsavory chapters.

He took us on field trips to the local cemetery and the art museum, we listened to campaign trail music from the days of Andrew Jackson, watched clips of civil rights marches, "Birth of a Nation," "The Great Dictator," "Dr. Strangelove," and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "Amistad," to give us context.

He told us that we were cogs in a Henry Ford-esque assembly line, given what we were perceived to need to become productive members of society, and that even though this was how the education system was set up, he wanted us to see it for what it was, and to be able to think things through for ourselves.

Yesterday we went through some Human Resources training and using Mr. Sketch Markers and giant Post-It notes reminded me of being in AP History again, having to come up with things to present to our group and us snarky slacker Dead Kennedys-loving honor students in thrift store hoodies and punk band t-shirts writing nonsense like "Those Damn Socialists" as a cause for this or that, only in this case, conformity was encouraged rather than railed against.

At a previous job, I didn't do so well with diversity training during an exercise where we were shown photos of various people and were asked to make assumptions about them and rate how nice they would probably be on a scale of 1-10. I put straight fives all the way through because they're just photos and I know nothing about the person unless I talk to them.

Evidently I wasn't supposed to do this. But really now. That intimidating biker looks like one of my uncles, the young black male looks like a guy I once dated, the Latina lady looks like my next door neighbor. You just don't know anything about people unless you get to know them.

I still sometimes feel like I'm straddling the cusp of the world of young people and the world of "grownups" when I hear people talk about how "weird" these young kids can be with their sagging pants and piercings and bizarre haircuts. That's one of the things I enjoy to be honest because it makes for great people watching.

I like seeing mohawks, afros, dye jobs, dreadlocks, and hi-top fades, the way that subsequent generations resurrect and remix past eras, the golden age of hip-hop, the eternally timeless rockers with long hair and Zeppelin t-shirts, 70's punks like it happened yesterday, and the kids who you can tell just discovered Bukowski and Kerouac or conversely Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey.

Maybe it's just me.

I couldn't imagine spending my life going to workshops and speaking this jargonized motivational corporate language yet hardly ever work with actual people. It's assumed that we'll make judgments based on skin color or whether or not someone has a blue hair when if anything I've had more of a problem with creepy old men of all ethnicities and dramatic middle-aged women.

I find myself marveling at the reverse Orwellian jargon that says something in a way that's supposed to be less abrasive but only obscures the meaning. If anything, instead of reducing language, we've just learned how to describe things in ways that sound more bureaucratic and acceptable. "Policy" becomes "Strict Guidelines," "Torture" is now known as "Enhanced Interrogation." Whatever. It is what it is and calling it as it is isn't going to kill anyone.

And for the record, besides Mr. Rollins himself, this is my favorite kind of HR:

Friday, December 3, 2010

so I'm probably totally on a watchlist now...

... based on my Internet consumption.

We've been having a lot of fun with the newest batch of Wikileaks files due to our amusement regarding the antics of grown men and women with lots of money and power talking smack about each other.

For someone like me who prefers to follow the antics of Hugo Chavez, Silvio Berlusconi and his "bunga bunga parties", Muammar Gaddafi's fabulous wardrobe choices and long speeches, and Vladimir Putin's PR campaign of manly manliness, this stuff is pure comedy gold in a gossipy "did you hear what so-and-so said?" kind of way. And headlines like this are awesome.

It's like a gigantic geopolitical high school notebook passed around in class where everyone's dishing dirt on the cool kids and the weirdos and no one's holding anything back and there's much more at stake and Hillary Clinton evidently types in capital letters ALL THE TIME. As regional as this little outpost on the Internets is, I love reading about places that I really don't know much about especially since I don't know if I'll ever get the chance to travel to Kazakhstan.

For all this hope and change talk we get from our Kindler Gentler Machine Gun Hand, the same shit different day approach to foreign policy and national security makes me really glad I voted third party in 2008, what with the TSA molestations and new checkpoints and Gitmo and the School of the Americas (renamed the very reassuring Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) being still open and us being in Afghanistan even longer than the Russians.

Besides, U.S. Government, you're depriving me of some damn good reading material here about Central Asian weddings involving men with golden guns and "jet-skiing under the influence."

It's infinitely more interesting than celebrities who are dying digitally by quitting Facebook and Twitter to tell us that AIDS kills people. No duh. Also, Janelle Monae, you are way too awesome to be a part of this ridiculousness. And L7 beat you all to it anyway.

It must be nice to feel like you've really given up a part of your life for a cause by just not being on the Internet for a few days. Way to really sacrifice. Aung San Suu Kyi would be so proud of you.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I'm working late tonight so I'll miss all of the drama that will go down a few blocks away from me. It seems like people are getting hyped up but since the Indians lost the World Series in '95 and '97, it's hard for me to get worked up too much about Cleveland sports. There's enough sadness in the city enough to grieve over without factoring in the antics of multimillionaire athletes.

And I can't stand Mr. Loan Shark Bloodsucker I'll-Put-A-Parking-Lot-in-Your-River Mr. Comic Sans Dan Gilbert.. But that's another rant for another time.

ESPN did a surprisingly good writeup of our love/hate relationship with our sports teams and ourselves that's really worth a read, especially if you're not from here.

And I love Harvey Pekar, because he tells it like it is. He wrote this 10 years ago in regards to the Rock Hall, and it's so true.

"Reason No. 1 is because it's supposed to exemplify Cleveland, the comeback city, the city that bounced back from the Cuyahoga River catching on fire. But Cleveland's not a comeback city. So what if there are more clubs around downtown. That's papering over the problems. Unemployment here is relatively high. There's a lot of poverty, which leads to poor school performance and more poverty. I would hope the performance of Cleveland school kids, which was the worst in Ohio, would mean more to local residents than a rock n roll show in a football stadium. But it doesn't. The connection between boosterism and the Rock Hall is nauseating..."

Speaking of boosterism, nothing says regional culture like Mr. Michael Stanley singing about our basketball team. I still hope that someone revives the production of Michael Stanley Superstar someday.

frail children of dust...

It seems like every other parish church is boarded up now, and from what I hear, it's very hard to buy them. I think about St. John's Byzantine in the heart of the east side, with its beautiful murals and the light streaming through its missing windows. There is still a peace there even in the ruins. It makes me sad to see these places fade from the memory of their neighborhoods as the reverberations of white flight and lost faith continue to manifest themselves.

Every ethnic group had to have their own building and when most of those ethnic groups cleared out, they left so many places behind. It might have been "one holy Catholic church" but my Irish side of the family couldn't get baptized at the neighborhood Slovak parish back in the day.

I listened to people talk this week about new congregations and new communities and new directions forming in different neighborhoods and I was frustrated because as beautiful as something like this is, I still felt like I was being sold something. I get squeamish when I hear about five-year-plans and growth projections and recruiting charismatic individuals who will be catalysts in their communities.

It seems too business-like, too franchise-ish. The best people are not always the ones who know how to shake hands and kiss babies. I don't trust a lot of charismatic people because it seems so often that people are so easily blinded by their light and that they themselves can't always see beyond their own halo.

Maybe it's just that my weirdo artistic mind doesn't work that way and I'm being a bit harsh. If I read these words as true that we all say are true, we can do planting and watering all we want, but only God can make anything grow. Somehow that gets lost in the conversation.

Conversely, I don't know how I feel about churches that are trying so hard to be different and not like the often graceless sociopolitical force that came out of our parents' radios, but it ends up being just a bunch of social services where God is a spice rather than the sustenance of our existence. It's easy to feed the body in this society with so much excess but our souls are starving.

It all seems like a business enterprise or a "We Are the World" endeavor rather than something that has a whole lot to do with the Divine. We seem to make so many plans but God with His infinitely strange and fascinating sense of humor seems to turn them back around constantly because it's all about Him and not us.

Somehow it seems like we stopped talking about God and started talking about us talking about God along the way. We act like our stories and sufferings are so damn unique and important, that our generation "gets it," and is going to "change things" but as I look back and listen to those older than me talk, look at movements throughout history, and it's the same things and same cycles with different haircuts and pet causes.

He continues to do His work through so many reluctant ones, people who made bad decisions and made excuses and ran away and got profoundly depressed. It wasn't the best and the brightest and the coolest. I love that. There's a humanity in the scriptures that just resonates with me because these weren't perfect people being awesome all the time, they were just as messed up as anyone I know.

They get mad at God, they question Him, doubt Him, and praise Him, and get fed up with the messed-up-ness of the world and repeat that cycle over and over again.It resonates so deeply because I understand those feelings more and more.

There is nothing that I read that says to blindly follow, to believe everything someone says. It's loving God and others with heart, soul, mind, and strength. It's the difficult path of an intellectual engagement with something that empirically unprovable and yet deeper than I ever dreamed even if I doubt I'll ever have all the answers I want or be able to comprehend everything I see in front of me, but to know that others have been there is so beautiful and reassuring even as it seems like the world grows more cold and everyone around me falls away.