Monday, July 20, 2009

Gone fishin'

Not really.

I'll be away for a week or so. I do not plan on blogging. The reason why? Being in New York City, surrounded by old friends and close relatives, well, why should I spend any time on a computer? I don't have time right now to write what that might say about my normal life. . .Have a great week, folks.

Photo note: A bit of my garden I've been wanting to photograph for days (but had no batteries). Seems like going to a city at this time of year is crazy.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Language shapes thought, thought shapes language

I've been convinced for years that our thought is affected by what language we speak, and often constricted by it. There has been an argument about this idea for decades in academia; those who contend language shapes thought and those who assert we all think alike. This is an example of why I have sometimes little patience for academia; why does it always have to be an either/or proposition? The answer always seems to be only that a thesis or study must be about proof of one proposition. In this way, I could say that academia shapes our understanding of things, even if we're not academics; we see reality as a series of yes/no ideas. If you believe language shapes thought, one can't also believe that we all think alike, too.

The process of thinking in its most abstract sense is universal, but intuitively, I've always felt that language does shape the way we see and think about the world. I'm pleased to see new studies that prove this to be so. This week's Newsweek has a short, but very good article on the subject, and here is a link to a more in-depth article.

As a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, it has always seemed plainly obvious that language shapes ones' understanding of the world. The English language does get in the way of expressing many Buddhist concepts. Our language is inherently concrete as opposed to Chinese, where Zen first flourished. While Americans struggle with concepts that involve the oneness of all things and of time being non-linear, in Chinese these concepts are already built into the language. For instance, the characters for "thought" itself are many, and none of them are thought alone. The most-used character for thought is a combination of the characters for heart and mind. While we tend to intellectualize, try to think without including what's in our feelings, in Chinese that's nearly impossible right from the get-go, for these concepts are inextricably bound together. How could that not affect the way one thinks?

Another Chinese character for thought is one that implies thinking about the past. One does not say "I'm thinking about a bowl that I once had", but simply "I'm thinking about a bowl", and the listener, hearing the different word for thought, simply gets it without all the extraneous words. Speaking of bowls, it's interesting to me that we say "S/he broke the bowl" when a person accidentally breaks something by banging into it, but in Chinese and Japanese one would say something akin to "the bowl broke itself." Studies show that English speakers think back on these events and attach blame. Asians look back on the same events and think of the broken bowl, tending to forget "who" broke it.

I had mentioned just yesterday that I had a problem with attaching gender to objects, such as calling a boat "she". One person said that they always did, and that made sense, for their native language is Russian, where even verbs take on gender. Italian speakers think of keys, for instance, as feminine and pretty, and French speakers think of keys are masculine and strong. I think "key", and I wonder what key to think of. Gendered keys? Not in my mind.

For a good part of my childhood, my closest friends were the neighbor's children, who spoke English, Spanish, and some Portugese. I always wondered what language they thought in, and asked about it many times. Remembering this, I can see that language has always fascinated me, as has the process of thought. I had fantasies of a science fiction interface between brain and computer, where ones' thoughts could be read perfectly and projected onto a screen or made instantly into words or music. I used to walk home from elementary school conducting imaginary classical compositions in my mind while singing, but I could only play the cello, and not that well. I felt a strong sense of my brain holding all sorts of things that would remain forever only mine, locked away, unused, and never to be heard, all because I lacked the skills to translate them from my own inner dialogues and sound to some finished product that was impossible to produce without too many skill sets.

I also wondered if our thoughts were determined by what we saw. Now, this new study about thought and language shows that our very seeing may also be determined by language. It appears that we can see more color distinctions simply by naming them. In English, most people know only light blue and blue, whereas there are separate words for both of these in Russian. Russian speakers (and now one can say Russian thinkers) can identify these colors faster than Americans. No one has tested artists, but this leads me to think that artists will recognize an even larger array of colors. When I think see or think "blue", there is cornflower blue, azure blue, ultramarine blue, baby blue, royal blue, Prussian blue, and many more (but notice that the word blue never changes, but is only modified).

This is a rich topic. Can you name something that you know your own thinking about may be affected by your language? If you have a second language, or studied one, do you think it has added to your understanding of the world? I'd love to hear your thoughts (no matter how constrained they are by English!)

Photo note: Decadent Fibers yarn.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Learning to communicate

I've been having an interesting two days of olfactory hypersensitivity. This is not a bad kind of hypersensitivity, which I've experienced in the past, where everything suddenly smells terrible, but the opposite. Everything smells glorious. Last night I was intoxicated with smell. I was with a group of people, mostly in silence, and the first clue I had that something was different was that I could smell a dog come into the room before I heard her enter. I felt nearly blinded by my intense sense of smell. My other senses receded, or at least seemed to.

The dog made her rounds, sniffing everyone in the room. What I didn't know was that the dog is blind. When I found out, I was rather was rather stunned with a feeling of synchronicity. Of course, I have my sight, my hearing, my sense of touch, but my sense of smell was so strong that as I could smell myself and my surroundings at the same time so keenly (or seemingly so), it felt as if I was smell, not a self experiencing it. Aware of scent as sight, the dog served to illustrate that one can indeed see without seeing, as we normally think each sense is discreet and fixed.

Everyone I met smelled wonderful. I wanted to touch people. It was exhilarating and a bit surreal. When I spoke and listened, the words seemed strange, as if I should have lost the power of speech and hearing, too.

In the midst of this was something that was so trivial. Earlier, I had stopped into Marshall's to see if they had any great finds in the messy perfume sale section, and there was an open bottle of Armani Prive Eau de Jade that I sampled. I dismissed it out of hand and walked out of the store. A half an hour on the road later, I kept smelling my wrist. It smelled wonderful. And then, hours later, my surreal olfactory experience started.

Of course, I associated this with the Armani, but I also thought I detected a hint of the Chergui I was wearing the day before. Wanting to grasp at the experience, when the store opened this morning at 9:30am, I called to see if they still had the two bottles I saw amongst the mess. No. They had reduced the price of everything on sale at 6:00pm and the salesperson said that they only thing left was some Elizabeth Taylor stuff. I didn't want to believe him, so I called again at 3:00pm. The person asked, "Did you call this morning?" I couldn't lie, and when I said yes to the question I found out that that $175 bottle of perfume sold for ten bucks. Mind you, this perfume, which is essentially just a fairly good cologne, is not worth anything near one hundred and seventy five bucks, but I wanted it, and a bargain like that is a thrill. The lesson, for me, is both that I should not dismiss something out of hand because I have a preconception that's it's "bad" and that I shouldn't pass up a good deal that I can afford. I could always sell it on Ebay, right?

The other lesson is that nothing good comes from grasping. Not that anything untoward happened, but once again, I notice that I'm craving more than feels right, and that is not a good thing.

I'm wearing another unaffordable scent this evening, Chanel Sycomore. I hadn't tried it before. I've had it for a while, but didn't know it until I did my sample inventory a few weeks ago (or was it just last week). Earlier, it smelled heavenly, and I kept spraying more on, for I was loving the opening notes. It is as dry as a block of wood, or so I thought. As the evening has progressed, either my olfactory sensitivity has returned, or my being overheated in the sweater I'm wearing has made the scent blossom. At some point, I thought about scrubbing it off. I've got a sinus headache, but I'm not sure it's from the scent. Instead, I rubbed some lavender lotion onto my arms. That was a nice combination, but it didn't last. I then used some Weleda Skin Food, a thick hand and face cream, which has a strong natural orange scent. Again, it works very nicely with the Sycomore.

I must be craving the citrus of a good cologne (or just some citrus). The dusky and dusty scents I usually like are not fitting the bill right now, although I am enjoying everything. Yesterday, the scent of other people's shampoos seemed nearly thrilling, as did the smell of bogs, wet grass, dirt, even that overly strong Bath and Bodyworks plug-in thingie I've got in my bathroom (which is supposed to be sandalwood and vanilla).

I also realize that I can't describe scent well. I don't know if I'll ever learn. Is that okay? I don't know. There's a lot of things I can't communicate, and this has been something I've been thinking a lot about lately. There is much I feel, and much I know, that I've kept to myself for so long that I just haven't got the words. I can communicate through abstract art, but no one would get what I'm saying, so it amounts to the same thing.

Earlier this evening, I watched the film "Blindness", and I had so many thoughts that I wanted to express, yet I realized I could not express them. I didn't try, and I'm not going to (at least not tonight).

When I was a kid, I hardly spoke. Now I'm a blabbermouth, and when I write, the words flow in the same gush of free-flowing non-edited nonsense with some nuggets of truth in them. I'm rather attached to this "style", but I hope someday I will have one word to my twenty words, and I can get to the point (or even have a point). In the meantime, I'll keep on doing what I'm doing.

At least I'm thinking and learning. What would it be like if I weren't? I shudder to think of that condition.

Painting note: Mark Rothko - title and date unknown. The power of Rothko's work does not translate well into small tiny iconic images. Standing in front of one of his paintings, I experience color as feeling and the self lost, engrossed, in the act of painting at its purest. Here, it is like a nice ball of hand dyed yarn. Good enough!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A love letter to yarn

I've been working at Heavenly Sock Yarns on Sunday afternoons for a short while. I find it simply heavenly, indeed, to work there.

If I had to decide between perfume and yarn, I'd take the yarn and run. I may truly adore fragrances, but my love of yarn has been a longer love affair, and runs much deeper. I also know much more about yarn than fragrance. I've raised sheep, been a spinner, a weaver, and a life-long knitter. I understand how a yarn is made. In this way, my love for the stuff is properly more akin to a perfumer who loves perfume, who really knows it, and thank goodness I haven't been tainted by my few (failed) attempts to make a living with it.

I really find it hard to believe that I'm being paid to work in a yarn shop. Pointing out the merits of different yarn to people, helping them with their knitting, or simply being with other people who love simply holding a nice ball of yarn in their hands, well, it's pure fun. I've always dreamt of owning a yarn shop, but unfortunately I had these dreams before knitting became popular, and it was a losing proposition. But getting to work in a fantastic shop (and it is) is just as good, maybe better, for I don't have the worries and hassles of running the business. No wonder I'm thrilled!

This shop is a gem of a place. It's quite small, and it seems impossible that it holds such an extraordinary selection of yarn. Since I only work once a week, every time I go in there's some new surprise, and it's a bit hard on me, for sometimes those surprises scream "take me home!" Today, there was a luscious new Malabrigo yarn (pictured above) that was begging me to start knitting a new shawl. New shawl? I haven't finished the old one yet, nor have I even used the last skein of yarn that beckoned me so. I've got two unfinished sweaters and one unfinished pair of socks (in addition to the abandoned projects, perhaps a half dozen, that should be ripped out).

I don't feel too bad about all this. Whenever I'm in the shop, I hear the same thing from others. A standard request from a customer is this, "Please don't let me buy anything!" As if I can help them - I can't help but point out all the luscious yarns that they haven't seen yet, oh no. Others say "I wonder if I can get out of here without purchasing anything. I have enough yarn to last me a lifetime." I don't have enough yarn to last me a lifetime, not quite, but I certainly have more than enough. But like perfume, there's always something new to explore or old that hadn't been noticed.

This is not mere materialism. It's love.

There's nothing about a good ball of yarn that I don't like. I like the feel, whether it's as smooth as silk and merino wool, or scratchy with linen or mohair. I like the colors, of course, especially when they're hand dyed, or pure and natural, practically right off the sheep, camel, alpaca, or qiviut (but I am partial to sheep). Angora? Okay, there's one fiber I've never loved. Nor do I have much love for cotton, but there's some that are beautiful to look at. Bamboo, suddenly popping up in many yarns, is a lovely soft fiber.

I love the smell of sheep, but I've blogged about that enough.

A skein is a gorgeous thing. The way is twist and turns and drapes in ones' hands is a delight. Unfurl a skein and it looking gorgeous hanging down, draped over a chair, wrapped around one's hair, left in a bag, a basket, hung from the rafters or used as a swath. I could buy them just for themselves (and I'm sure I sometimes do, even if I've got justifications for a new project). Oh, why bother to knit anything?

I've never bought any Malabrigo yarn (though I suspect I'm about to) but I've always enjoyed looking at it. There's hanging skeins and piles of the worsted wool, the colors ranging from the most subtle to almost luridly vibrant, at the back of the store. It's slightly thick-and-thin texture cascades down the wall where it hangs from hooks. I can't imagine how anyone can pass it by without admiring (or practically salivating).

With all this gorgeous yarn, I'm always amazed when someone pull a project from their bag made of the ol' Red Heart acrylic yarn. Sure, it's cheap, but it's so ugly. When I was a kid, it was all one could get, and when I finally found a store that had something else, I thought I might faint with joy. I am not exaggerating; I would make sure I passed this store every day and go in to say hello. I couldn't afford any of it, but it didn't matter. I would just stand there and stare. It felt as satisfying and transporting as seeing the Flemish paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Did I say I love yarn?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A short and personal note

I had closed my laptop and thought I'd be going to sleep, Something was troubling me a bit. I thought of how often I mention my father in this blog, and how little I mention others who are important in my life, some even never. Some of it is too personal, even for an over-sharer such as myself.

I can speak from the heart about those who are dead, but as for the living, well, it's best to stay mum. My father, well, he influenced me a great deal, and much of that was not good, but those are the things I don't wish to dwell on.

But, I want to do justice to those who deserve it, and at the risk of embarrassing someone who actually reads this blog, I wish to say, to my dear Aunt, that she has taught me what true unconditional love is, how to laugh until I cried, enjoy stuffed animals without apology, and so much more (much more), and for that. . .I am without words.

For myself

I meant to write about this earlier (and perhaps I have and forgot), but I received a comment on Facebook about wearing perfume. An old friend, who's never known me to wear perfume, having missed the first love affair and left before the second one began, asked "who are you wearing it for?" The question surprised me. The answer was (and is) "for myself."

I had forgotten that most people think the wearing of perfume is for others. That never occurs to me. The only thing I think about others when I put on fragrance is that I must remember to wear a scent close to the skin. The smell of perfume has become akin to a crime (and is one in some places), even while we're subjected to all sorts of scent where once we were not. Every public bathroom stinks of canned sprays, and "classier" ones reek of baskets of fake rose petals, sticks and dried leaves that claim to be potpourri. Where once clean meant the smell of pine or chlorine, it now is too many things, most of them orange, or something that tries to pass for lavender.

I'm in no way against making soaps and cleansers that smell good. I use Caldrea dish soap and it is lovely. I even use a Bath and Body Works plug-in because it's better than smelling my cat box, which even with daily cleaning, smells bad in the summer.

But that wasn't what I meant to write about. I can't help but rambling, and editing, well. . .I don't do much of that, do I?

I'm finally breaking out of being a serial monogamist when it comes to fragrances. Lately, I've started actually sampling my samples. After I discovered I had more than 200 of them, it seemed the right thing to do. The way I was wearing fragrance, one would think I had half a dozen, at most. When I like something, I stick with it.

I'm like that with most everything. I eat the same thing every day until I'm sick of it, which takes a long time, sometimes even a year or more. One could easily say that it's boring, but I don't find it so. Of course, there's comfort in the familiar, but I also see it as a way of becoming truly intimate with things. Perhaps I'm overstating my case. The other reason I am like this is ol' nature and nurture. My father was the same way. He ate the same thing every day and I watched him savor it, absolutely relish it, and some days I felt a kind of jealousy, for he seemed to be enjoying himself far more with his two Vienna cookies at lunch than someone who's just eaten the world's rarest delicacy. Did I watch and learn or am I just like him because of some gene? If I knew the answer to that one, I'd win the Nobel prize.

I've always loved scent. And this, too, I learned from my father, who thought good soap was the poor man's delight, an affordable luxury. I know I've written about this before; the trips to Caswell Massey when it was an old and venerable place, usually empty, where we were treated like royalty for buying one box of soap. We'd spend outrageous amounts of time in there, and any store we could find that sold good soap, picking up each bar as if it held something absolutely precious, which it did.

Oddly, when I left the home of my father, I developed a love for Dial soap. I even went so far as to buy a case of it, those bright yellow-orange horrors, 100 hotel-size bars. I wonder if I'd still like the smell. These days, good soap is so easy to find. Any discount store, TJ Maxx, Marshall's, has all one could want. The packaging is luscious, but somehow the thrill is gone. The hunt was fun when the stuff wasn't so popular.

I read recently that it used to be that there were 40 perfume launches a year and now there are 2000. Perhaps this is why the niche perfume, especially for me, who lives in such a rural place, where the finest perfume I can find in person is Chanel, is such a treat. I am planning on being in New York City in a few weeks, and I marvel at how one can get anything there. Of course, this has always been true, but now, as a hick from the sticks, it amazes me. Yet, as I thought of who I might be if I lived there now, I thought how my perfume lust might get the better of me. Too easy to obtain, too expensive to buy, and perhaps I would never have swapped for samples with all the nice people I've "met" online. Maybe I'd be buying a bottle a week, feeling guilty about it, and also, forgetting what a pleasure I find the stuff.

Today I wore three different scents, and I'll be putting another on before I go to sleep. I've been wondering lately if others put scent on before they went to bed, and I thought "of course they do", but probably for their lovers. I always choose something I think will bring me good sleep, make the bedclothes smell nice in the morning, or soothe me if I'm needing that. I realized I've assumed that the poor man who sleeps with me will like it, because I do. Now, that is surely delusional, but a delusion I prefer to keep.

Photo note: And what does a ball of yarn have to do with this post? I googled the words "the perfumed bed" and saw this skein. Of course, I followed the trail, and came upon an online fiber shop called The Sanguine Gryphon. What beautiful fiber they have! Not only that, the yarns have names, such as "The Perfume Anointed Bed" (above), "Beyond Their Reach", "Beautiful in Your Garments", and for many, there is poetry (besides the titles themselves). What a treasure I have just found! Even if you don't need yarn, go have a look (and a read).

Friday, July 10, 2009


Ever since the end of public school, I thought the days of "being weird" were over. However, I seem to have a repetition compulsion, so I moved to a rural area where I'd be assured of always being an outsider and having to live with being "weird."

Shots from the land of being a weirdo:

One day a guy, who I knew had had a huge drug problem, told her girlfriend not to get tattooed by me because I was always high. I started laughing. I was never high! I had enough trouble without taking drugs on the job. I thought it the most absurd thing in the world. But, as funny as I thought it was, the guy was dead serious. He was convinced I was constantly stoned from my behavior, which was most assuredly weird. It finally dawned on me that that was all it was. My talk, my ideas, my entire demeanor, it was beyond his ken. I had to be a drug addict. And so I told him he mistook this all for being high. His girlfriend said I certainly didn't act like him, so I was fine. He skulked away, down a long flight of stairs, and one day came back to get a cover-up of one of his jailhouse tats, only to complain bitterly for years about what a bad job I'd done. I heard he was constantly scratching at it while it heeled. You'd think a junkie was used to itching, but no.

My neighbor's daughter called me weird one day after I told her I didn't like four-wheelers. She had told me I was weird before, and since, and most of this is because I speak in a soft voice and would prefer to stay inside, reading or making things. Reading is for school. Making things is for kids, and it's this latter one that seems to mystify her the most. Adults do not play. She has enjoyed playing with me, but sometimes adults do play with children. Alone, they should not. I suppose I should be sitting outside, doing nothing but drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Isn't that what adults do?

I bought a big black and white hat the other day. It's wonderful, made out of one long piece of ribbon, and can be squashed into a multitude of shapes. I put on some fire engine red lipstick and played with the hat. I rather longed for the days when I had perfect skin, so finely pored and porcelain, and my lipstick didn't run into the small lines around my lips. Still, I had a bit of fun playing "dress up" for ten minutes. The thought wafted through my mind that I was still a silly young girl, but even sillier, for I'm well past an age to be playing in front of a mirror.

But no matter, I was enjoying myself, even with the touch of sadness, and I liked the hat. I imagined wearing it while walking to the General Store, and that made me realize, of course, that when I do wear it inside that place, there will certainly be talk afterwards. Just a simple slightly odd hat can cause others around these parts to see one as an outsider, a bona fide weirdo.

Recently, a woman I know told me I was like a chameleon. I was dressed conservatively, and she thought I looked nice. But, she found it bewildering how I could dress in so many different ways, like a chameleon (as I wrote), fitting in anywhere by dressing the part. The truth is, I suppose I don't fit in anywhere. As for dressing the part, that's what others see it as. I'm not. I like to wear all sorts of things. I have no set "style." Again, I suppose I'm just playing. Clothes are fun. I'm glad I haven't developed such a firm sense of my identity that I took to wearing the same type of clothes for an entire lifetime.

How this makes me weird, I both understand and don't. I understand that most people congeal into a fixed state somewhere between 18 and 23. Sometimes they have some big upheaval, generally called a mid-life crisis, and take to doing and wearing inappropriate things. But, why this need for such rigidity? I don't understand that, but it seems to me, in this society, if one isn't rigid, the epithet "weird" will be given to you, and that will stick forever.

Thankfully, I am not weird to myself. I feel normal, even if I'm judged to be not by standards that are terribly confining. Luckily, I see a therapist who's not exactly normal himself, and doesn't find my saying that I'm "existentially fine" to be an odd statement, nor does he insist on confusing normalcy with conformity.

Image note: Salvador Dali - one of the diptych "Couple with Clouds in their Head", 1936. I find this image more compelling than most of Dali's work, which I have little appreciation for.

Salvador Dali is "weird", self-consciously so. His kind of cultivated weirdness puts me off. It always has done. There is something totally conformist about weirdness that is so calculated, and yet, those that are famous for their being oddballs continue to carry on this tradition, giving people what they crave in being so outlandishly "other." Perhaps this is why people still loved Michael Jackson, for we love our so-called freaks so much. I suppose they make the rest of us feel normal. What a shame we need to be reassured in such a manner.

A character in Nick Laird's "Glover's Mistake" said "Salvador Dali is an artist for those whom I suspect don't like art." I immediately agreed, but don't remember what else the character said.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The end of expertise

The web and computers democratize so many things that were once left for experts. That's wonderful for countless reasons, but there's aspects of it that are not, particularly for those who are indeed experts.

As a non-professional writer, I, of course, love that I can write this blog without an editor, and that you can read it. But I can imagine that seasoned writers may bristle at this, and I understand that.

Part of this is because many people have "paid their dues" in their fields and wish others would do the same, thank you very much. But the other reason is that suddenly we are all experts, and this is, in fact, not true.

We all have graphic design programs on our computers, but that does not make us designers. We are surrounded by both fine design on the Web and the worst imaginable. Just being able to manipulate the commands of a computer program does not make one a designer, not by a long shot.

I saw this play out as a tattoo artist, where once almost all custom work was drawn up by me. In the last two years I worked in the field, this had become uncommon, and it was frustrating. People got tattoo designs off the web, or would bring in their own or their friends' drawings. Even though I enjoyed pushing the boundaries of what a tattoo looked like, it was at times more than annoying to me. These drawings were not informed by a knowledge of what works as a tattoo or not. Even the "official tattoo designs" from the web were sometimes useless, as people printed them out (often) at sizes that were impossible to tattoo, and would protest when I said, "impossible!" with "but they're official tattoo designs. I paid 10 bucks!"

Seeing (and feeling) the respect for one's expertise slip away was disheartening. It also took a lot of fun out of the job (or more precisely, turned it into a job).

Dick's working with a designer right now on a logo and I can see his frustration, even as I agree with Dick's decisions. Type designers really know type (hopefully). They've studied it. They know what kerning is and how to use it. Typography is an art.

As I've said, it's wonderful that we all have access to being our own designers now, but with that has come a dismissal of expertise, which is a shame. Being an expert is now akin to being an elitist, which has itself become an epithet, nearly a dirty word.

I am an unabashed elitist. I do think that people who have studied long and hard in their fields know more than I do, and I respect them for that. Of course, that doesn't mean I have to agree with them. Sometimes expertise carries the toll of being insulated from anything else, or even knowing too much, which sometimes can suck the life out of art (for instance). The graduates of some music schools create lifeless musicians who make music that is purely referential, calculated, smart, and doesn't move any one except other schooled musicians.

Yet, in spite of my writing the above, I think this current climate of denigration of expertise is not a good thing. Folks love Palin simply because she doesn't know much, and I find that more than a bit scary. As I wrote about at some length during the election, I want people who wield political power to know much more than I do. Power is dangerous in anyone's hands, but it most dangerous in the hands of the ignorant.

If you think it's a big leap from talking about graphic design to politics, I disagree. The personal computer and the Web have made everything accessible to all. A great thing, truly, for, on the Web, we are equals, to some extent. But, there's certainly a downside to this democratization. Bad graphic design does nothing but offend (me), but the celebration of knowing nothing is more than offensive, it's potentially dangerous.

Image note: "Anatomy of type" from the website Thinking With Type. Great site.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sidebar news

I've added two new personal blogs in the sidebar. They're quite different. One is Zach Dickie's Unveiling The World, where you can see magic tricks and read sporadic posts about Zach's travels, mostly in Romania. The other is The Stupid Way, the blog of a translator and Zen priest, with links to many of Dogen's writings.

Today is July 11, and I have also added Perfume Shrine. There are too many more than wonderful perfume blogs, and I can't spend my entire day reading them. Perfume Shrine is an excellent addition to my reading list. I know it's already on many of yours.

Taking back our language

Dick pointed out to me when we were leaving the "Winslow Family 4th of July Celebration" that we should have known we'd be subjected to something distasteful because the word "family" was in the name of the event. He's right, but I hadn't given it much thought for I only cared about seeing a large fireworks display. He reminded me that every year there's a nearby bluegrass festival with the word "family" in its name, and when one goes to the website, one discover it's a Christian event.

"Family" has become a codeword for Christian, and extension of the Christan right's idea of "family values", supposedly wholesome, anti-gay, and anti-choice.

Just calling oneself a Christian has become problematic. If you're an Episcopalian, a Presbyterian, a Catholic, well, saying you're Christian could give someone else the wrong idea. Christian has come to mean you're born again, nothing less, and certainly much more.

The word "values", too, has been taken hostage. During the election, I was polled on the phone and asked how important values were to my voting on a scale from 0-10. I answered 10 and the minute I hung up the phone knew that I'd be counted amongst the "values voters", assumed to be right-wing Christians, of which I am neither. These values do not include my values. They did not even ask what they might be.

I'd like to take back the words "family" and "values" from the far right. For me, family means just that, a family, but my idea of family is broad, including both families of friends, married gay people, and the family of all of humanity. My values cherish everyone, not just American fellow-Christians who believe in the same exact things as I. I value life, but I'm more concerned with those now living, and don't think the poor's lives are so cheap as to entice them so shamelessly into military service for the price of one year of community college or some such. My values include ensuring that all people have access to proper health care, and that that's much more important than ensuring our children are told that evolution is a theory. My values say all of us are equal, no matter what our sexual orientation is. My values include finding it disturbing that many of our children are brought up to practically worship guns and violence. If I was a Christian, I'd be concerned about the connotations that the name of my faith now hold, and even as a non-Christian I'm bothered. I am concerned with how the rest of the world perceives us still, as a young country filled with religious fanatics who know nothing of history and the rest of the world, and are obsessed with magical thinking about the rapture, ghosts, and guilt-driven sexuality (and atonement).

I don't have to point out that language is quite important. We call a soldier a "troop", which distances us from the death of an actual person. Torture became enhanced interrogation. . .the list is very long. We should start calling things what they really are and speaking out when our language is used as code or to shield us from reality.

Photo note: I needn't point out that indoctrination starts young. When I think back to my early schooling, I'm shocked at how some things have gone backward. We had sex ed every year, good science classes, and even an elective bible study class which caused no stir.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The price paid for fireworks

Last night Dick and I went to Winslow for "Maine's largest firework display". It was pouring when we left, but we got a call from a very excited stranger that they were happening, rain or no rain. So, we went, with umbrellas and rain jackets in tow.

The "Winslow Family 4th of July Celebration" went on for 4 days, but we didn't see any of it, 'cept for the fireworks. They were good, as rural fireworks go. As I had written, I love my fireworks, and the finale was fabulous. We had a clear shot to the place where they were being set off, and that always thrills. I'm a bit of a firebug, I'd say.

The thing is, while this event was free, it wasn't entirely. We were not prepared for the price of propaganda, which put a larger damper on the show than the rain. If Obama is president, one wouldn't know it from last night's extravaganza. The fireworks, as many are these days, were accompanied by music, most of country, all of it patriotic, and loud quotes. It wasn't on the radio. It was being blared by giant speakers. It felt vaguely creepy, being subjected to this, and folks singing along, not to the national anthem, but to the country songs, with lyrics like "the guilty will pay!"

And then there were two long George W. Bush quotes. His voice, which I hoped I'd never hear again, and his justifications for the war in Iraq.

Earlier in the day, there was also "Maine's largest parade" and I just discovered that a local peace group was not allowed to participate, which raises many issues for all of us, about a public event, funded by both private donations and public taxes, which cherry picks the local community for what they consider to be "only that which is pro-America." I didn't know that questioning the deaths of our young people to an unpopular war is exactly what one would call un-american.

All those country songs about giving lives, limbs, eyeballs even, to live in peace and freedom, and a fairly large local group isn't free to give their point of view on a day celebrating this freedom.

The entire thing rankles me.

A highlight of the evening was overhearing a boy say to the girl whom he had his arms around all night, "Y'know, we're only American 'cause we were born here by luck. What's to be proud of?" To that, someone said, "Aw. Shut up dude." This was an ordinary-looking kid, not some "weirdo", and so it made me feel good that someone was thinking, especially when he looked far more interested in getting his hands under her t-shirt than anything else.

I still can't shake the voice of the former prez. Well, in spite of my little patriotic post yesterday, I'm glad the 4th is now over. But, I'll never drive through Winslow again without feeling shadowed by the sound of Mr. Bush's words and his absurd speech on the rightness of the war in Iraq.

I'm in a hurry: no visuals for this post.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day

I must admit, the 4th of July only means a few things to me, and none of them are deep. Fireworks is at the top of the list, followed by barbecue and hokey parades.

When I used to be a Quaker, I never went to Friends Yearly Meeting (which is sort of like summer camp for adults) because it always included a day on the 4th of July, for Quakers aren't supposed to celebrate war. Of course, that's the quick and dirty explanation. But seriously, missing out a such a day of fun seemed silly to me. I adore fireworks!

Dick is making some barbecued ribs and he said something that brought me back to childhood. Now, I'm thinking about the Holocaust.

It's interesting for me to note that thoughts of childhood usually bring up thoughts about that, and it reminds me that I didn't grow up around here. Around these parts, I doubt there were many (if any) people who had concentration camp numbers tattooed on their arms. But I grew up surrounded by people who did have them, and many families who had few relatives because of the Holocaust. That was my milieu. In elementary school, we played "Nazis and Jews" right along with Cowboys and Indians. I wonder just how many schools this game played out in; my guess is the answer is "not many", but I could be wrong.

When I was a kid, we knew, for the most part, which adults did and did not talk about it, which adults were emotionally scarred, and which ones were not. We heard stories about pre-Holocaust times, when many of our families came to this country to get away from the pogroms in Poland, Germany, and Russia. One of my great-uncles, I'd heard, had walked all the way from his burning village to the coast of France at the age of 12 or 14, and then got on a boat to the U.S. I have no idea if this story is true. There were many secrets. I don't think it was intentional. A kid also mixes up all this kind of history; it takes on a mythic quality and at some point all the stories fold up into a handful of heroic and tragic tales.

Whenever I hear the latest Holocaust denier go on and on, I think of my childhood. I knew two people who had been part of Dr. Mengele's experiments. I know these people did not make up such stories - why on earth would they?

And this is why people say "We can't forget." I don't go around thinking about the holocaust all the time, thankfully. But, I suppose it's people like me, as the survivors die out, that keep the memory of the truth alive.

On this independence day, I realize that living here, in the U.S., I am a very lucky person. There are many things about this country I do not like, but all in all, I must be grateful. I could go into a long semi-patriotic spiel right about now, but I'm not in the mood. You can guess what I've got to say.

Happy 4th of July.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I prefer the smell of damp sheep

I've been knitting a sweater with a plain off-white wool. When I first purchased the yarn, I hesitated, for it smelled like nothing. I love the smell of sheep. As knitting has gained in popularity, finding wool that smells of sheep has become increasingly difficult. For whatever reason, the new knitters have voted with their pocketbooks that they don't like the smell of lanolin.

I hadn't been doing a lot of knitting lately. On these damp chilly evenings of late, my knitting called to me. I was delighted to discover that the project that had sat in a plastic bag for a few months had gotten damp, and with the dampness, the smell of wet sheep blossomed. Hurrah!

This evening I ran out of wool and had to wind up a new ball. When I picked up the skein out of the basket it was in, it smelled like the worst sort of cheap potpourri. You know the kind - it's sold in crinkly plastic bags and is dyed in the worst sort of fake colors. Bright reds and pinks for roses, unnatural brown for vanilla, yellow for hmmmm (I can't think of what). . .anyway, it was simply awful. I don't own any cheap potpourri, so I couldn't imagine why the yarn smelled like it had been steeped in such disgusting scent. As I wound up the yarn, my nose started to feel irritated, my eyes felt heavy, and my tattoos started swelling up. These are all signs of allergy, of course. But why?

Once I started knitting, the smell lessened, for I had the big half of a sweater already done sitting in my lap. But once done, I looked at that overflowing basket and figured the offending culprit must be inside. What on earth could it be?

What's there? A leopard print crumple of tissue paper. Huh? I wouldn't buy that! I picked it up and out fell two carded samples of Serge Lutens Serge Noire. I sniffed the cards. Not wonderful, I must admit, but not the offending smell. But I wasn't done yet, for the leopard skin tissue felt too heavy. What's this? 12 samples of perfume? Yesterday I amended my samples list to 201 and now it's suddenly up to 213! What the heck is inside this ziploc bag, anyway?

I see Chanel Sycomore. Ormonde Jayne Osmanthus. . .but wait. . .I'm opening it right now. . . there's a leaker! It's, it's. . .it's leaked out so much I can't read anything but D___fume Sage. Ugh. You perfumistas out there - what do you think it might be? I want to take it outside and be rid of it! It has ruined my wool and made me feel ill. It's on my fingers!

I put the entire bag in another room, leaving this investigation for another day. The vial looked full. Maybe something else leaked, and I don't want to subject myself to any more vile smells from tiny vials.

Over 200 scents was the breaking point, eh?

Nah. Time once was that an episode like this would put me off fragrances for a good long while. Not any more. Fighting smell with smell, I just brought the unfinished sweater to my nose and inhaled deeply. That's better.

This is rather synchronistic, for earlier today Dick said he liked the scent on my wrist, which was Ginestet Le Bois, which smells of smokey woods, spice, a bit of warm booze, and vanilla. He wanted me to make a mental note that he liked it. He owns one eau de toilette and I think he's ready for something else. Sure, I'd be happy to get that for you, Dick, for I love Le Bois (and I'd be even more happy to share!)

A little while later, he popped his head in and said "What do you call a scent that smells like wood?" "Wood", I answered. He laughed and replied, "I'd like a perfume that smells like wood that's been sawed." I immediately thought of CB I Hate Perfume and Demeter.

I scanned CB's perfumes and found nothing, but then I looked at the accords list. There was Wet Sheep. Fantastic! Finally, a solution to all those odorless new yarns. Sadly, I'll have to go to Brooklyn to get some Wet Sheep. It's only sold in the Gallery, but I'm thinking next time I go to New York a trip to Williamsburg would not be a bad idea. But what about the wood? CB's got three kinds of cypress, for goodness sake. . . where's the freshly cut wood? There's Bonfire, complete with hot dogs! I am not kidding you. Well, if you know Christopher Brosius' work, you're not surprised, I'm sure. After all, the guy does sell Roast Beef accord.

I did find Pine Saw Mill. Dick says that sounds good to him, even though he did say "not pine" in the first place. The words "saw mill" sealed the deal, I'd say. We're going to Brooklyn, baby!

So, what does all of this prove? Nature wins? I dunno. This is another one of those posts where I thought I had a point to make, but lost it somewhere along the line and it just peters out. . .

I forgot about Demeter in all the fuss. There's no freshly cut wood, but there's Giant Sequoia, Poison Ivy ("without the itch!"), and Cypress (but only one kind).

Image note: The mosaic I made for my desktop earlier in this perfume crazed week.

Ugh. My hands still smell like whatever it is that I'll have to deal with another day. It's time to scrub.

The bride wore hangtags

Of course, I've abandoned my side blog "Just Looking." Before I wave goodbye to it, I wanted to post this photograph. This is why I still find haute couture fun.

Today is shaping up to be a day for the sharing of random things. Hey, everything is interesting - bridal fantasies and their pricetags (just how much is that Christian Lacroix?!), the surprise of a crowd of boys head-banging to cellos, more gray skies, my cold feet (literally), the way the red umbrella is leaning towards the red flower on my deck, the sound of Dick moving around the house (so different than the way I move), the stickiness of a floor four days after one has cleaned up the spilled maple syrup, and now, the sound of a vacuum cleaner. I'm glad it's not me vacuuming, however. I do not find that interesting, only tiring. And it brings back memories of my father lifting his feet as my mother cleaned beneath him. When Dick asks me to do the same, I feel guilty.

Wait, there's more. . .

Boundaries fall away.

Nothing else matters

It's that kind of day. See TMC's blog.

Stories of scent

This seems so trivial after my last post, but life is in the details, at least for me.

In haste, I dabbed my wrist with Serge Lutens' Un Bois de Violette right before I went to sleep. I had never sniffed it before. Even though I seem to have completely different taste than Luca Turin's (The Guide, again), I was seduced by his loving words for this scent. I was hot, sticky, and the idea of violets beckoned.

What I got instead was this bedtime story:

When I worked at the cafe, there was a man who came in every day at exactly 5:45. I could set my watch with him, if I had worn one. I had first thought he was Tom Wolfe, in his white suit and shoes, but I never knew who he was. I only waited on him once, after Jenn had finally had enough. He looked harmless and never spoke in a loud noise, so I really had no idea why she looked sour every time he walked in.

He always ordered top shelf single malt scotch, no ice, and sipped it slowly before ordering a small salad. He was what I think of as "persnickety", a word I would not utter aloud and looks silly in print. This man made much of everything - the proper placement of the white napkin on his lap, on top of his white suit, of course. He dabbed at the corners of his mouth continually as he slowly ate his salad. It was at neat as the scotch he drank before the meal.

I didn't work there every day, but I knew he ate there daily, always had, and yet no one knew who he was. He seemed otherworldly, rather like a Michael Jackson, who, of course jumps to mind since his death. I doubt I thought of him then. But this man was different than others and held himself aloof. He never had company. He tipped, but it was exacting. Exactly 18% was what I figured out. Not a penny more or less.

As I already mentioned, Jenn always waited on him, and she thought him distasteful, but she wasn't gossipy. Even though I figured he was gay, or asexual really, I assumed he had hit on her. She was a willowy thing whom all men seemed to fall for. And she was sweet, so no, she could never bring herself to join in fully with the busboys and waitstaff who loved to moan and gossip about our loyal customers, of whom we seemed to collect quite a few. It was a homey little cafe, a neighborhood place that served decent food and had a full bar with a good collection of Scotch. So, maybe we just attracted the Scotch drinkers in the neighborhood. I never gave it a thought. I hated waitressing, even in a nice place like that.

When Jenn left New York, I only stuck around another few days. I had thought of quitting since the first hour I started working. No matter how nice the customers were, for me, being a waitress felt like one long groan of humiliation, especially with women customers who gave lousy tips and treated you like you must be an idiot loser (for why else would you be waitressing?)

So, I waited on that man in white for a few nights. There was nothing wrong with him really. He was only a pretentious little man, who reeked of booze and Choward's violet candies. And he could really stand to brush and floss his teeth. He was polite, well-mannered, but the smell of him, well, it was too much, even if he was perfectly clean looking in all white. I used to eat Choward's violet candies too, come to think of it, after I took a smoke break. I wonder if they smell terrible on everyone's breath?

I found out later that Hans had put him at that corner table permanently after the first week he had turned up and seemed determined to keep coming back. He said, "No one should have to smell that man's breath. Prissy alcoholics should stay at home." But, he was a good customer, so Hans would never have turned him away. I wonder if he still eats there. Nah, he's probably dead by now.

Photo note: Tom Wolfe

And the other topic was. . .

. . .my increasingly firm belief that the only way to "cure" mental illness is through spiritual practice.

I was thinking this as I drove home tonight from my Zen meditation group. Then, I promptly forgot all about it.

About an hour ago, I found out that a person I had known briefly, but well, committed suicide. I'm thinking about her, and all the other people I have known who have done the same (too many).

I've been at the edge of that abyss, but I always knew that I'd never jump in. There are many things that have stopped me. The most trivial of these is the reason I call this blog "everything is interesting." No matter how depressed I've been, if there's something new to discover, I must keep going. And of course, there is always something new to discover. If I'm in the middle of a book, I want to finish it. I want to see the next good movie. I want to discover a treasure in my mailbox. I want to see what blooms in the garden, or what bird returns to my feeders.

But, none of this would matter if I didn't firmly believe that suicide is immoral. Yes, immoral.

Please don't mistake me; I do not judge those who choose to end their lives. Their decision was not immoral.

And yes, that is a conundrum.

I can understand wanting to put an end to ones' pain. But, as one persons' pain has ended, others' pain begins.

During the winter, there was another suicide I knew, and I remember a friend of hers, angrier than hell and hurting, telling me that she couldn't forgive, for she had been there for her, all along her path of recovery from a previous attempt. Was her friend lying about feeling better? Anger. Hurt. Sadness. From one person to another. It does not end with death.

We all suffer. I think there is always hope. I think there is always the possibility of change, and because I think this is so, suicide is not an option, even for the worst of situations. When every moment is an opportunity to be fully alive, even to pain (the ultimate learning tool), suicide is just not an option.

I'm sad for those who can not see any other way. I wish they could have felt what is the truth. Even the smallest life has meaning, touches others, sends ripples out in all directions, for we are all connected.

That is what makes our suffering, and what we do about it, a spiritual condition. Our interconnectedness is broken, irrevocably, even for one instant, when even one of us chooses to take our own life.

Painting note: "Ophelia" Paul Albert Steck 1895

A few more thoughts:
1. I hesitated using this romanticized depiction of a suicide; the beautiful young woman, finally "at rest."
2. I rail at the notion of finally being at rest in death. We can find rest in life. As long as we continue to push or believe the notion of pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die, people will continue killing themselves and others, whether it's for 72 virgins or solace.
3. I am sorry that I am unable to clarify the idea of "spirituality" cogently. I will continue to try. Life is abundant and transcendent in a speck of dust. That is spiritualty for me. And as long as that holds true, life is always interesting, and worth living.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Proof that celebrity doesn't buy one taste or even a decent tattoo.

Um. . .

I opened my laptop, thinking "which topic? I can't decide!", promptly got caught up in e-mail, and now. . .well, what was I thinking about before?*

Was it just the weather?

Some of it was. The weather is not unimportant. If I was a farmer, I'd be quite concerned. I might consider growing rice considering it's rained 30 out of the last 31 days and will continue, unabated, for who-knows-how-long (the weather guys are keeping mum).

I really don't mind because I am not growing hay, and whatever happens to my flowers, well, they're just for pleasure.

I really don't mind all this so-called gloom. It occurred to me this evening that I had a sense of relief, actually, that the longest days of the year were blunted by the overcast skies. I find these long days rather oppressive. I know I'm "supposed to" like them, but I really do not. In fact, I tend to get depressed at this time of the year, and I'm feeling more than fine right now.

Long bright days weary me. I feel an obligation to get out and do something. I don't like bright sunlight for too long. There's the threat of burnt skin. I feel oppressed; I must hide out as if I was a fledgling vampire. I always feel odd because, once again, I'm supposed to like it. I'm not a summer person.

It's not raining too hard to keep inside, and it's not sunny enough to need shades, sunscreen, or feel like a nutcase for wearing long sleeves in July.

What is everyone (outside of the farmers) complaining about? One can be outside on a gray day. It's not like it's so dark one can't see. The fog is beautiful. The grass is brilliantly green and glistening. The frogs are having a great time, judging from their vocalizations.

What am I saying? I know nothing of a frog's emotional life.

As for me, my emotional life is just fine. I've discovered that I just love this weather. So, I'll continue to say "it's perfectly nice out" to all those who are complaining (which seems to be just about everyone).

I'm rather dreading the return of the normal weather. Hmm. Is there still such a thing as normal weather?

Photo note: Not much more to say. However, I'm reminded of how, once, when I was in the midst of doodling a 3 by 3 block of gray squares, my roommate walked by, stopped, and commented on how beautiful they were. He said he could never "get" abstract art, but that now, while seeing someone make so much out of nothing, he did. I love doodling little squares. A lot of heart goes into them, oddly enough. Give it a try. It's something of a meditation and anyone can do it.

*I was just reminded of one small thing, that Newsweek's "what to read now" #1 book is Trollope's "The Way We Live Now", which has been on my mental top ten list of books for a very long time. It's been so long since I've read I don't remember why I loved it so. So, I must read it again, I'd say, but I can't find my copy. I bet there will be many people suddenly buying it, but I wonder if they'll actually read it, and I wonder even more whether they will enjoy it, for 19th century literature isn't exactly popular, is it? Would be a wonder if it caught on, now, in the 21st century. . .21st century. . .I still can't fathom that it's that.

What money doesn't buy

I can only imagine how much time, energy, and money went into the development of a Hermes scent. Chandler Burr did the research that gives us a glimpse into this exactly in his "The Perfect Scent."

What I want to know is how, after all this time, energy, and money, does Hermes' Eau de Gentiane Blanche smell exactly like a dryer sheet? Mind you, if it was a dryer sheet, I'd use it. But at 145 bucks for their smallest bottle, I'll pass.

Image note: From the "Secret Garden", which you can read, free, as an eBook.