Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In the Moment

Don't look
too far back
nor too far forward

Stay right here,
in the moment
stay here

The future
isn't written in stone,
don't believe anyone
who tells you differently

The past
ain't nippin' at your heels
it won't hold you hostage
no its back where
you left it

Locked inside your head
out in green pastures
in ancient classrooms
under forgotten beds
that's where the past lies

Stay right here
in the present

Stay right here
in the present

Stay right here
in the present

Arcade Fire

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bit About Yourself

   Have you ever had someone come up to you at a party,  and ask this simple question, "Can you tell me a bit about yourself?" Or perhaps it was a bit more of a command, an entreaty. Like me, were you utterly lost at where to start? Perhaps you stood wondering, what bit of you did they actually want to know about? Maybe they wanted numbers and figures like how high you scored on the ACT or SAT, a recent GPA,  or a performance review at your job. Maybe the question actually was inferring a desire to know about your ambitions or future career. But how much do those answers actually tell about a person?

   I think one of the hardest things to do can be talking about oneself. I also think that being able to to it well is probably just as important a skill as active listening. If you can speak about yourself confidently and humbly without resorting to braggadocio (no one appreciates a braggart) or becoming timid, that's where the key lies.

  But again, what do people really want to know when they ask that question? Is your inquirer wondering what's new in your life right now? Would you then say how you've bought a new pet rabbit who you named Roxie? How you're teaching Roxie tricks, like how to jump through hoops, but she mostly likes to eat the spice garden you keep on the windowsill. Though now it seems like you are talking about Roxie instead of you.

  Well maybe the question was asking about your childhood. The size of the town you grew up in. The number of friends you had growing up. The time you embarrassingly wet yourself on the playground when you were scared to tell the monitor you had to go. The rolling hills that surrounded your town, encircling it like protective guards. The basketball team you played on in middle school with the absurd mascot. The hoot owls that lived in the woods and kept things from getting too quiet. The time in fifth grade when you played tag by the base of the water-tower and ran head-first into one of the steel supports while evading Harriet Elford who you had a crush on at the time. So you had to try extra hard not to cry in front of her, even though you lost one of your adult front teeth.

  And then again perhaps it was a desire to hear about your favorite things. Your favorite dinosaur. Your favorite color. Favorite animal. That time of day you are most fond of. Your favorite sibling. Your favorite subject in school. Your favorite type of tea to have in the afternoon. Favorite pizza toppings. Your favorite Ninja Turtle. Your favorite way to spell favorite: favourite. Your favorite book and subsequently genre. Favorite spot to lounge in your house. Favorite musical between the years 1975-1989. Your favorite dead musician. Your favorite haircut/style etc, etc, etc.

   Or what if they want to hear about the little almost inconsequential things about you?  That you secretly love the way that onions make your eyes water. How in spring you still cut holes in mason jar lids and catch as many lightning bugs as you can. Only to release them an hour later. It's catch and release, but with living light. That you prefer fresh ground pepper, but you would never in a million years complain at a restaurant if that's not what was offered. How you set extra sugared water out for hummingbirds in summer, hoping to see brilliantly colored ones. When you're alone how you only let fractions of songs play before skipping to the next one, scared of time wasted not listening to just the right thing. The way you hold your utensils just slightly differently than anyone else while eating. That when streetlights pop out overhead you whisper, "Dumbledore!"(That one I do). The way you use napkins daintily when others are around. And when they ask where you learned such refined manners, you always lie, hiding the truth that it was tea parties with stuffed animals when you were six.

   Maybe the questioner wants anecdotes. Like the perfect night out with friends one May that ended up with spontaneous fireworks over the city and a free meal. Or the Halloween you stayed in after all your plans fell through, but it wasn't uneventful. You ended up assisting your neighbor put out a minor fire to his dining room table and finding out that he brews his own beer. The time you woke up before dawn and decided to walk through the city and catch the sun rise. The problem was you got lost, in your own hometown no less! Fortunately getting lost led to finding a farmer's market that only came for two hours once a month. The rest of the morning was spent eating fresh bread and apples watching the sun climb into the sky.

   But maybe, just maybe, the truth is that the person at the party asking you about yourself doesn't know what they want out of your answer at all. Maybe they need a good surprise tonight.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Let's Not Try to Forget

All is forgiven but,
alls not forgotten
All is forgiven but,
let's not try to forget

Now Eliza,
come set the table
and dear Mary
don't dither, not if but
for a second

All is forgiven but,
alls not forgotten
All is forgiven but,
let's not try to forget

Oh, sweet Sandy,
might I sit down
here by your rocker?
Let's try maybe just for tonight
to play it off like
it wasn't the way
that it might be

I remember your father,
and my father too,
workin' down at the old quarry
workin' all day
and brawlin'
from nightfall 'til dawn

All is forgiven but,
alls not forgotten
All is forgiven but ...
but don't go tryin'
to leave me
here to my memories

Oh fair Melissa
you'll burn youself
there by the fire,
and old Jack,
you wiley tomcat,
though you seem
 to be apurrin'
you'll always be
the most fearsome lion
I ever did know

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mad Departures

   He sat in the armchair by the window, looking out at the silver bit of moon hanging in the sky. His breath came out in short bursts from his mouth, fogging and unfogging the window with each exhale. She came over and ruffled his hair, disrupting his angst-filled reverie. "Why don't we go out tonight? To McGaffery's Pub or Angela's party?"

   "You know, I'm still made at you for all the melodramatic ways you've left parties this year since the fourth of July.", He replied

  "Pffft! Melodramatic? Name one time," She demanded, "I"m cool as a cucumber, Drama is a class I got a D in. Name one event, time or place you could remotely link me to so-called drama and festivities."

   "Okay for starters, December 10th at Jason's 80's party. Not only did you steal Jason's screwdriver from the garage-"

   "I maintain that the screwdriver was a party gift."

"No one gifts tools to party goers, except in the case of woodworking or graduation parties. Continuing on- you then used the aforementioned tool to remove the coat-rack from the entrance way. After which you departed the party with coat-rack plus many jackets belonging to all the blissfully ignorant party-goers. And your reasoning, if I recall correctly, was that you could not find your coat."

   She didn't have a retort, but instead left his side and crossed the room to put the needle onto the groove of the record, letting music flow into their apartment again. "You have to admit though, it had to have been pretty funny to see their faces when all the coats were gone."

   He laughed, "That part was priceless, you're right. But what about Martha's birthday?"

  "I remember it being a party with a lot of pizzaz. I had a great time, marvelous even.", She replied swaying to the beat.

   "Oh it was a great party, up until we were singing 'Happy Birthday' and just as Martha was about to blow out the candles you cried, 'Not this time!' and flung the entire sheet cake off the table onto her kitchen wall."

   She held up two fingers, "Here are the problems with that one: first that cake had hazelnuts, which we both know Martha is deathly allergic to. Second: that wasn't even a departure."

  "Hmm, well, yes in the end you could have handled the cake debacle more discretely, but it did save Martha. And no that wasn't a dramatic exit, but after throwing the cake you covered all the shoes on the floor-mat with your cake covered hands. Then you slammed the door and dashed out into the night."

  She held up her hands in self-defense, "Nobody likes to have cake hands. No one."

  "Fair point, but can you possibly explain away that night at Jeremy Atterton's house when we were celebrating his submission of his doctoral thesis on the quantum mechanics of quarks under the the influence of melodic sound waves."

  "That thesis paper...Jeremy did something revolutionary with that one.  Although he still won't admit it, I believe he was testing his hypothesis he posited in his paper by subjecting us to unique melodic structures to see what we would do when our bodies reacted in a quantum fashion."

     "Really? It was our bodies reacting in a quantum fashion, was it?  Let's see here, you ripped the leather covvering off half his couch, took off your top and swung it around your head then took his fig tree and threw it through the dining room window. We were in a bit of a state of shock at this point, but that didn't mean you were done. You jumped through that same window the fig tree had just been defenestrated from, then you lit the tree on fire and sang 'I'm the emerald queen of fig tree fires!' "

   "Elevator music will do a hell of a number on a girl when played outside of an elevator, "She winked, "Besides, Harry, the party was more than a little stiff, the air was just about filled with fabric starch. I was just breathing a little life into things."

  Harry sighed from his chair, closed his eyes for a moment and siad, "Caroline, I just wish you would fill me in on your plans to "breathe life into things" once in awhile. I want to be included..."

  Her eyes lit up,"Why didn't you say so? Let's go cause some mischief."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Almost Not Quite 3

  Late 2011 Feist came out with her album Metals. It is an album I like quite a bit. More somber, a little darker than her previous efforts. There's also a living beat that fluctuates through all the songs on the record, as if at any time the bad is waiting for the cue to morph the melody into improvised Jazz. But for the most part things are more subtle.

   My problem, if I have one, is with the video for her song "Graveyard".  First of all I would like to say that I think most of Feist's music videos are beautifully shot, crafted and imagined. "Mushaboom" is a dream-like sequence where Miss Feist has a hard time keeping her feet on the ground, quite litterally, and her toast have acquired wings. The point is not that the video is whimsical and fun, which it is, but rather that it is and whimsical and well executed.

   In "I feel it All" she has gone for a night hike, only to come upon a hill with a series of metal barrels atop. Feist, seeing these mysterious barrels, takes the opportunity to choreograph a pyrotechnic show, tapping each barrel in turn to have fireworks spring forth.

   "Graveyard"on the other hand takes the chorus "Bring them all back to life"as a central theme, but not with the magic or "life" that is very much there in her other videos. We start with a grainy, gray-filtered landscape shot of an unremarkable field. The camera pans out further and further, leaving the musicians ant-like on the barren backdrop. Throughout the song other musicians pop into the landscape, some coming with shadows, others without. The introduction of each additional musician can be interpreted as a summoned ghost, called forth by the plea of "Bring them all back!". But these "ghosts" don't seem to have any life to them for two reasons: 1) the panned out camera which prevents seeing anyone very well 2) the digital method that the spectres are projected onto the field. Perhaps the overt digital effects combined with the chorus are showing how we have become trapped in our digital lives, chained to our computers. A message that we need a jolt to bring us back to life..But I don't know.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Half Decomposed

In the snow
buried under clear ice
there lay a small
dead animal,
half decomposed

I thought it said
something poetic about the world
though what, I cannot say

I pointed to the spot
in the snow,
you looked,
then shook your head
in sadness

For one reason or another
I always thought
 you to be the
one with macabre sensibilities
but no,
perhaps its me
   maybe its me after all

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Herding Sheep and Such

  A little over ten years ago, in the fall, one of my mom's co-workers was surprised to find that her dog had given birth to a litter of Bearded Collie puppies. My brother had always wanted a dog and now the opportunity had been placed right in our laps. It was up to us to provide one of them with a loving home...hmm at this pace the story I actually want to tell won't get told...so I'll speed things up. My brother, having a soccer game, was unable to come pick out a puppy, so it was up to me instead. This also meant naming our new dog would be my job as well. I picked one of the bigger pups who had a neat marking of a white streak right near his neck, like a bandana.  I named him "Charlie".

  Over the next decade we learned a lot about both Bearded Collies and Charlie, from research and experience. We learned that Charlie's favorite food is bread, especially freshly sliced breads. We learned that Beardies are an extremely high energy breed; this was evidenced through literature and also through the fact that some days we might walk Charlie two or three times and yet he will still have a bunch of energy later on. We learned that Charlie loves the winter when the snow comes so he can bound through the snow drifts fearlessly. We learned that Beardies were originally bred to be herding dogs, this clearly explained the high energy bit.

   Through the years we've always joked about getting a few alpacas, or sheep, or geese, or even chickens to keep in the yard so Charlie could be the herder he was meant to be. We never ( or rather have not yet) got a small flock of animals for the yard. No, but this weekend we did something almost as cool: we went to a farm an hour south of here where they have a flock of sheep that they use specifically for herding clinics. There were seven dogs including our own. Those seven included two Beauvais (they look like small bears or bulls, but more fluffy and less intimidating) they were owned by two couples, then there was a golden retriever/Labrador mix owned by a young man who lived in the area, there were two miniature Australian Cattle Dogs owned by a bespectacled woman, and a full sized Australian Cattle Dog, owned by a young woman who goes to college in Minneapolis, and there was one Bearded Collie who came with us.
  The day started off with introductions and a lecture from Judi, the woman who runs the clinics and the farm itself. Judi, who looked to be in her mid-sixties, was just as full of energy as the dogs she works with. She effusively told us facts about herding with a big grin on her face. She told us how there are two methods that different breeds naturally practice (the strong-eyed technique and the loose-eyed technique), how herding is a competitive sport practiced across the country as well as internationally, how herding has its own unique lingo and vocabulary, how herding originally comes from the wolf pack instinct to drive a wild group of animals in a certain direction until one of the prey gets tired and falls from the group -the killing part of this instinct has been bred out of the dogs through the years, and we learned how there are tools to this sport: the staff and the crook.

   After the lecture we went into the barn where Jerry, one of the other trainers at the farm, held a sheep in place while one dog and one person went out to let the dog say hello to the sheep. Most of the dogs were city dogs and had never met sheep before. How does a dog say hello to a sheep you ask? The same way a dog says hello to another dog, by sniffing the other's butt.
Jerry holding the sheep

One of the beauvais meeting the sheep

Charlie meeting the sheep
  Then came the first round of herding. Jerry would stand in the center of the pen with the three sheep, holding a long thin staff. Dog and owner would take a lap around the pen with leash on, upon reaching the corner of the pen the dog would be let off the leash. Here was the down-right amazing part; these dogs who had never met sheep before, who had not herded before, they sprang into action as if they had been doing this their whole life. The dogs would herd the sheep methodically, first almost in a circle, then to one side of the barn. If the direction that the dog was taking wasn't going to be as effective as another Jerry would put the staff down to block that path, forcing the dog to change tactics. This all was happening so so incredibly fast too, at times it was hard to follow.

One of the Miniature Australian Cattle dogs herding the sheep

Charlie herding some sheep

  Once each dog had had a turn it was time for lunch for the humans and a break for the hard-working pooches. Lunch was a potluck meal consisting of two types of chili, pepperoni bread, chicken salad sandwiches, tortilla scoop chips, and many wonderful desserts. It was all delicious, and though outside it was unseasonably warm for early January, it was still cold enough that I was extremely happy and grateful that some people had thought to bring warm, spicy chili.

   With the dogs and sheep rested, and our stomachs refueled, it was time for round two. This time the dogs had an initial experience to work with. This time they would be able to use that experience and correct the mistakes they made earlier. This time the dogs didn't let their excitement overtake as easily. There were also some other differences the second time around.  One of the miniature Australian Cattle Dogs didn't seem as interested in the sheep.  He didn't lose his turn, instead the sheep got a nice break and five of the farm's ducks were fetched in. The little dog seemed much more confident, much more excited with this change. And it was fun to watch the ducks get herded in circles, quacking in protest all the while.

"I really get to play with ducks?!"

   Judi explained that some herders naturally like to work with one type of animal over another, be it cattle, sheep, ducks/geese, or anything else. A herding dog can be trained to work with just about any type of animal, but there will always be the one kind that they are most comfortable and confident with.

  Charlie's second round was a success. He seemed more sure-footed about which way to take the sheep, as if  he'd been mulling it over while we were all eating.  It  also looked as if he was having the time of his life as his tail was in full swing the entire time.

Charlie: round 2

seriously, they were moving fast

   It was a learning experience, both for the dogs and their owners. I really think that was one of the coolest things I have done in a long time. I wish I had natural instincts like these dogs do.

Lies in the Dark

When you tell the stories
you always make her out
to be the bad one

But I heard last week
you stabbed that guy
five times in the alley
behind the bar,
that don't sound
so angelic

And I heard on
that same night
she was teaching
blind kids to read,
no that don't sound
so bad

Now who are we
to trust,
when you're selling lies
in the dark
And all your stories
seem like shams

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Wild in the Woods

  The three boys hung from one of the mid-branches of the elm tree, hidden in the dense forest. With their legs locked over the branch, the trio gazed out over the inverted woods. Peter broke their silent revere, "Y'know guys, we always have such crazy adventures out here, why don't we ever bring a camera? That way we could take pictures of moments like this and save them to show to people?"

   Peter's best friend James didn't say anything. He just kept gazing out, watching a snail's progression two trees over. For an animal that carried its home along everywhere, that little guy sure was inching along at a heck of a pace. James was lost in thought, cheering on the little slimy creature's progression.

  "Peter, I like that idea, I do. We could make whole albums of us hanging like opossums or charging through dragon territory in search of golden goblets!", James's little brother Willy was fully of excitement.

  "Not to mention jumping off the rope swing into the old Greyson Creek."

    "Or taking our bikes off jumps through the overgrown vineyard."

"Or practicing our flips between the trees"

 Peter and Willy swapped ideas adding to their excitement and generally concluding that a camera could only be a good addition to their adventuring supplies.

   James blinked a few times as if waking from a particularly vivid dream. The snail had made it from the base of the tree, winding up the trunk to a half-hidden nook of a knob near the top. James thought to himself that the snail looked happy, if that was possible, like he was glowing with the pride of a marathon runner. For the first time since they had started hanging on the branch James spoke up, "Nah guys, I don't think so."

  "About what James?", his brother asked

"I mean about the whole idea of bringing a camera along for all our adventures.", James flipped himself right side up then launched himself onto a parallel branch a tree over. He stood, a barefoot tight rope walker, ready for his breath-taking act.

  "What don't you like about the camera idea, James?", Peter asked, "We didn't think you were even listening."

  "Its like this: our lives are like rivers. They keep flowing and moving. And right now it seems like the currents not super strong. The school year drags by like molasses." They all agreed that school seemed to go on forever when in session even though summer would disappear the second you stopped looking at it. James continued, "So let's say we brought cameras, right now it'd be like taking a picture of the Mississippi river when we capture our adventures. I bet you that when you take a picture of that giant of a river, well its so big, it'd look like it wasn't moving at all. But underneath that stillness the river's still moving, there's a current driving that beast sure as I'm breathing. If we started taking pictures of all this, our moms and dads and everyone at school would see the stillness of that moment, but not the motion that keeps us going."

   To prove his point, James somersaulted down the branch to the trunk, then grabbed the trunk like an oversize flagpole and slid down to the next foothold.

  "But aren't moments important James? Life's nothing if not a whole series of moments jumbled together. And with photos we could show people our fortress without having to bring them out here", Willy retorted

   "Moments are definitely important. You're right, Willy, but sometimes moments lose power without the context of a story or memory. Not always, but sometimes...I think you're also right that we need a few photos of La Fortaleza de Madera. If we don't photograph it, then no one will sincerely believe we built it twice the height of the Wilson mansion."

  Peter flipped off his branch and tumbled deftly through the air, tucking and rolling in the last instant to soften the landing, "Yeah James, if my mom saw me do something like that...I don't think she'd let me out of the house for a long, long time."

  "Once in awhile then, for unbelievable stuff that needs reporting, like the fort?", Willy asked.

"Yep, the sorta stuff that won't get us in trouble and won't look stale later on. Some stuff needs to be photographed, other stuff maybe not. Like the snail earlier. A picture would have been alright, but it wouldn't have shown his struggle and endurance to get up the tree like I'll remember it."

They decided that was that on cameras, memories, rivers and moments. The rest of the afternoon was spent swinging like monkeys, branch to branch and planning how to stay underwater for ten minutes at the creek.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Not Some Desert Rat

Finger comb your hair
before the guests arrive
Finger comb your hair
but not too neat

not too fancy
not too neat
you're not some desert rat

So show just a bit of class
for these delightful strangers
who came to spirit
you away

They like you for your mind
that's what they said
and they seemed sincere
so spark up,
smile for once
it'll be okay

Finger comb your hair
before the guest arrive
Finger comb your hair
but not too neat
of course

You're not some desert rat
so spark up,
smile for once
it'll all be okay
least that's what they said

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Recipe for Building Snowmen

    Wear five layers to prepare yourself for the cold, or wear just enough for warmth without restricting movement. You don't want to get outside only to find you've bundled in such a way that you are now the younger brother from A Christmas Story; only able to waddle feebly. Put on your big snow boots, the ones with a rubber coating, the ones that go halfway up your calf. Sneak past the dogs eager to play, that will come later, and step outside.

  Take a second before starting, let the blank canvas of perfectly white snow sink in. Imagine you are in Alberta, Canada or frost barren Siberia or the Arctic. You are an explorer here in this foreign land as you take your first step into the white. Hear it crunch beneath the weight of your foot. Savor that first sound, that first movement. Okay, now its officially winter, you are ready to begin. Ready to sculpt an army to help you with your explorations in this alien world.

   Even through your gloves the snow will be bitingly cold. That's okay, it'll keep you moving. Roll your ball of snow first right to left, then forward and backward until the small snow ball grows bigger, pulling more available snow in like a burr to velcro. Once its at a good size push it with both hands, zig-zag a path. Create a respectable base. Be sure to switch directions that you roll here too or you'll end up with an oblong boulder that simple won't be round at all.

   If you're satisfied, or cannot roll your base any further, leave it and move on to the next section. It is basically the same process, but this time the key is to stop before it grows just as big as the first. Stop instead when the second section is still small enough to lift reasonably. This measurement is harder to eye-ball than you might think. The snow is always going to be just a little heavier than it initially looks. When lifting, remember to bend at the knees downwards, not with your back. If you bend at the waist or back, you probably won't be able to lift your second rock of snow. Also you'll probably hurt yourself. Don't hurt yourself.

   Your second section might crash or smash upon connection. Don't despair; there's more snow. Rebuild, reuse, recycle. For the head, roll a ball that is 2-4x the size of your average throwing-snow-ball. Attach it, or attempt to attach it as this one will probably be uncooperative as well. Add a hat, scarf, pipe, etc. if you want, I think snowmen are just as fun plain.

The snowmen, sorry if its a little hard to see them

   What now? Enjoy your success. Then repeat the past few steps as desired until you have an army to protect your yard. Also you'll have many more things to hide behind if a snow ball fight breaks out. Extra cover is always a plus.