13 December 2014

JOURNAL: DEALING WITH THE IRREGULARLITY OF BUSES

The bus is regularly 20-40 minutes late, not on my way to work, happily, but the buses to take me home. It's going to keep happening and I really don't like being mad. It's fruitless and frustrating. There must be a good reason the bus is late, right? Just because I don't see any traffic and all the other buses seem to be running just fine doesn't mean there's not a valid reason. I just have to make one up.

My first thought was that maybe there's some sort of sparkly rainbow cat that holds the bus up and demands the driver and passengers dance around to annoying pop music until it's thoroughly amused before it let's them pass. It would be a traumatic experience for all involved so when the middle-aged, tired-faced bus driver greats me as I board I should give him a reassuring smile.

 

After thinking of that story the bus pulled up, I gave the driver a reassuring smile, and I gave up imagining reasons for why it was late.

 

This week I've completely fallen under the spell of Stromae, a Belgian human of pop amazingness. He's really popular in Europe so I heard him all the time last year and thought, "Oh yeah, this guy's pretty good but let's listen to some Bob Dylan." But this week I've been obsessed. Last night on my bus ride home (that was only ten minutes late) I watched this music video over and over and over, you should too. All of you. To give you a brief synopsis, one of the lines in the song translates to: "Everybody knows how to make babies but nobody knows how to make dads." (Which isn't true, I must say, I can't keep quiet on that. Some people do know how to be dads. I know some excellent fathers including my own marvelous Dad.) Now keeping that in mind listen to the music and watch the video and wonder at the layers of what is going on here. And even though you may not understand the lyrics, rest assured he's exceedingly clever at playing on words (at least according to this French novice who's typing this up) to say what he wants.



And in closing, I need to work on my bacon cooking skills.  

10 December 2014

JOURNAL: POLAND IS A LAND YOU MUST PAY ATTENTION TO

This is so incredibly important. You need, need, need, need, need, need, NEED to know about Franek Kimono. He's brilliant. Imagine Rocky if he were Polish and decided to record a disco album. 



My coworker and I discovered him during a morning absorbed in Polish music exploration, a pursuit I highly recommend. Time and time again I've found Poland is a frequently overlooked rich treasure trove.

Franek is actually the creation of a man whose name, Piotr Fronczewski, I cannot pronounce but nevertheless is an actor and singer who in 1983 decided to record the Franek Kimono album as a joke and stumbled into success. I am not in the least surprised, the album is incredibly delightful.


A longtime favorite Pole of mine is the film director Andrzej Wajda. His films are masterful and poignant and I am fully aware that's the least substantive sentence, I essentially have told you nothing about him. Let me put it this way: his films, from the first viewing, have reached themselves deep into the folds of my mind. I regularly reflect on them, tracing the outline of their images. Ashes and Diamonds (1958) and Katyn (2007) both deal with war from which I've pieced together histories we don't hear often. I never knew Poland was invaded both by the Nazis and the Soviets during WWII and suffered under each, the Soviet control lasting for decades.

Perhaps you're crazy and history and movies about the terror and tenderness that occurs during war isn't your thing. I still think you should watch them. Particularly look for a reference to Antigone in Katyn. In fact, brush up on your familiarity with Sophocles' and Anouilh's versions of the play, then watch Katyn. With a box of tissues. And some candy canes, for 'tis the season.

xoxo,
Marge 

07 December 2014

JOURNAL: MY OLD PERSON MUSIC TASTES + BUBBLES

Me and Bubbles the yeti whom we've been making at work when we get the chance. He's so hug-able.


Aside from the usual favorite songs like Lou Reed's "Perfect Day," Velvet Underground's "Found a Reason," and The Smiths "There is a Light that Never Goes Out," I've found a lot of new musical obsessions lately. In playing DJ in my office, I instituted cultural music mornings which my coworker heartily embraced and which have taken over the whole day. Some of our forays are more adventurous than others, like that time we tried didgeridoo music.

On stressful days we may put on the Chet Baker radio station; when we're peppy it's the Regional Mexicano station. Our lists of internet radio stations are ever expanding. My coworker is regularly calling out requests, we're both always looking for new things. Tonight I found a Russian songstress who sings in Russian I'm excited to delve into, and I believe I've figured out how we can listen to more of Benoit Quersin and Esole Eka Likota's Anthologie de la musique Congolaise. I bring all these up to spread the delight I find them to be, I think you should all be listening to them. Also, to point out that I am largely out of touch with whatever may be on a contemporary radio station. Don't worry, I'm really 87 not 27.

Accordingly, I've got two treats for you tonight you must immediately listen to.

One is the Accordion Tribe's "Waltz for Sandy."

Accordion Tribe - Waltz for Sandy (Klucevsek) from Boléro on Vimeo.

The other star is Nino Ferrer's "Les Cornichons." That translates to a song entitled "Pickles." The entire song is about food. It's largely comprised of lists of foods and condiments like mayonnaise, mustard, mushrooms, chicken, chocolate, etc.



That is all, now go about your ways with love and fascination.
xoxo

02 November 2014

JOURNAL: HAPPY BIRTHDAY NORTH DAKOTA FROM OUTER SPACE + A NOTE ABOUT ASPHALT

Today is my dear North Dakota's 125th Anniversary of statehood. In honor, you must listen to our state National Guard singing the state hymn:

Click here to listen to the North Dakota State Hymn

I'd had a meteor shower on the dance floor by this point so you don't get the effect of my asteroid. 

Many thanks are due to Elise for her clever whit and Janna for her sewing my arms in and all the other many, many things my lovely housemates do for me.

DEAR NORTH DAKOTA,
Even dressed as Outer Space for Halloween I felt a tether from the center of my heart to the folds of your dark earth and strange, beautiful streets. The Sheyenne River twists around my ankles, my knees are made of blizzards, mosquitos buzz in my brain, my eyes are full of Canada geese, and on each shoulder are little hairy bison with their melting brown eyes. Thank heavens for thee.

ASPHALT,
Yesterday I went to a yoga class for the first time in forever and after an arm collapsingly glorious session, while lying on my back with my eyes closed I realized it has been just over ten years since my cross country coach died. I thought of his gruff old voice, his patience, and the miles of asphalt I ran at his command. May those miles never leave me.


My heart is full.

31 October 2014

JOURNAL: SPILT BRAIN ON SPLIT LIP*

"Anyone lived in a pretty how town" says e e cummings. In sixth grade I tried to write my name on my papers in a lower case letters. I don't think I knew much of e e cummings poetry, I definitely wasn't much of a poetry fan in those days, but I knew of him and his small e's. My teacher asked me if my name wasn't a proper noun. Proper noun. What a strange term. I went back to capitalizing my name. 

There is another term, ambiguity tolerance, that in the context in which I learned it refers to how well you handle broad instructions on an assignment. Do you prefer itemized rubrics asking for a personal essay that's five pages long, single-spaced, Times New Roman 12 point font, making sure to cover the points of your birth, most embarrassing moment, graduation from high school, and how good you are at sticking to a grocery list? Or do you prefer the looseness of being asked to write a personal essay, taking as long as necessary to fully explain your thoughts?

Or, outside of the classroom, does your heart feel at peace when you read:

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did

Or, how frustrated do you become with my blog?

My ambiguity tolerance in liberal arts and the kitchen is usually very high. For instance, my ideas for Halloween costumes this year have been: The Beatles' "Revolution #9," Light as a feather/Stiff as a board, or a constellation which was such a concrete idea it quickly transmuted into Outer Space. (Which, in reality, just looks like I'm wearing a giant navy blue mumu and trying to be a wizard.) However, situations that are typically classified as straightforward are highly foggy to me. Like biology and this goals/performance review worksheet I'm to do for work. I've an email here with a list of questions to help me come up with goals. "What career goals do you have? What sorts of training do you need to get there?" Within the confines of the job I'm at now, because they require temps to participate as well, these questions seem the height of ambiguity and therefore must each require three pages of conjecture. Instead, I have a spreadsheet to fill in. This is a part of business that confuses me. "Here, human, tell me your hopes and dreams but in a succinct enough matter that it will fit in these 4 merged spreadsheet cells but compelling enough that we promote you, give you health insurance, and treat you like a human being."

Have I been dropped in an unfamiliar sea? In a place where the sun casts its light so evenly there's no telling cardinal directions and what land awaits me who knows where? Never mind, New Sea, I don't worry, I can swim.

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.
   

*from The Woman Who Laughed on Calgary by Heather McHugh
anyone lived in a pretty how town by e e cummings

17 October 2014

09 October 2014

08 October 2014

POEM: CATERWAULING

They made me a tiny violin.
Meaning,
they did not make me a gift
of a tiny violin.
No.
I am now a violin.
Tiny,
Screeching.
And there's a dreadful
din of caterwauling
coming from the alley
accompanying me.
I finally don't feel lonely.



This is part of a series of horrible poems that I'm writing as a 2014 New Years Resolution.

07 October 2014

JOURNAL: NEW JOB/ELEPHANT TRAINING

It's finally happened: I train elephants for a living. This new job is in the Business Service Center of an Amazon building so you might be surprised that elephants have anything to do with it, but I'm training them to walk quietly. They're showing some promise, it's very hard for them but soon they'll be ready and we'll be able to let them out on the floors to do the daily copy room runs on each of the floors. Of course they're also receiving training on using prosthetics in order to increase their dexterity but that's run through a different office. I'm in the 'walk softly' office. 

You see, imagine you're hunching over your computer screen and have hit a wall, you look up, and there is an elephant tiptoeing past. Wouldn't you find that inspiring? The hope is that if they walk silently enough they won't disturb anyone concentrating but those who need a break will get a burst of joy at the sight of our highly skilled elephants. It's all very experimental but we're really investing a lot here. We're replacing all of the existing elevators with freight elevators to create a workplace that doesn't discriminate against any of our employees. It's very important to us that the elephants get treated with the same respect and have the same benefits we do.

I've been taking the bus to work every day, soon––maybe tomorrow––I hope to ride my bike there, but so far I'm only taking the bus. It's great to have the reading time, though every once in a while I tear my eyes away from the page and soak in the view of the boats and the houses on the lake sinking away into the foggy morning.

In the afternoons I work with a gaggle of gnomes, teaching them how to sing in four part harmony. I've found this to be a demanding but incredibly rewarding task. Gnomes pitch fits quite easily but they're learning to appreciate the music I have picked out for them. Tomorrow afternoon I've arranged for the gnomes to teach me about their traditional music. I had to get permission for us to get access to the most secret basement level of the building, the gnomes tell me the acoustics get better for their folk ballads the more subterranean you get. They also tell me I'm supposed to dress up like a slimy worm, do you think they're pulling my leg? They're teaching me a lot about being a good sport and not taking myself too seriously.

Where exactly the singing gnomes will fit into this corporate landscape continues to remain unclear but it's important to think laterally and between the lines and boxes. Plus, now that I've started with this band of hellions, I want to teach them how to sing "Catch a falling star" until the day I die. It may take them that long to learn it, anyway. 

24 September 2014

JOURNAL: EMPTY NOTES, HISTORICAL REFERENCES, ***MY DESK***

I received an email sent in 1969. That was what my inbox told me earlier this morning. It said their was no sender, no message, but someone was trying to reach me in 1969. Later on, when my inbox woke up a bit more it pretended that had never happened, corrected itself by showing me an email sent last night from a service I subscribe to. I want the first message back.

In 1969 my Dad was in France or Belgium, my Mom was in Salt Lake, my sister and I and many of the people I know were still spirits and star dust spread across time and space. Also, the first Led Zeppelin album was released, the Soviet Union was sending space craft out towards Venus, Nixon took office, passenger railroad lines were closing, Elvis was making a comeback, the last Saturday Evening Post was published, the Beatles gave their last public performance, trials are being held on the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Harvard students are rioting, there's secret bombing in Cambodia, not secret bombing in Vietnam, and Charles de Gaulle is voted out of French presidency.

I remember reading about that, Charles de Gaulle being ousted, as a research assistant in university. I was reading the London Times looking for things that might have inspired Monty Python sketches. This past summer my French employer talked about Parisians, the youth, rioting in the streets, throwing pavets/cobblestones. I asked him if he'd been part of it guessing the correct answer that he hadn't. He was never much for joining in, never fit with the crowd like that, he told us. I learned from the London Times that this was the same era in which England was making a bid to join the EU but France was really not in favor of admitting them. There was also an article about an eye doctor who felt that sunglasses were dangerous and would become habit forming.

Everything comes back to Monty Python.

Anyway, as for present updates, my house is lovely, the people in it are perfect, this city is marvelous, I'm making a desk and am obsessed with this one fact, I will soon be starting a job that may last longer than two months, the rain has started, and for the remainder of this day which will be spent working on my desk, cooking, and crocheting, I will be imagining someone in 1969 trying to contact me, somehow magically getting access to email but in a bittersweet twist the technology can't handle the timewarp.

How are you?

31 August 2014

JOURNAL: ABOUT READY TO RENOUNCE NOMADISM...FOR NOW

Who knew I would miss Mediterranean beaches so much? It doesn't get much better than swimming in the sea with your mom while she describes to you family vacations from her childhood. On some of the beaches in France they have not sand, but rather small, smooth stones they call galets (pronounced kind of like gallay). They're strange to walk on, especially barefoot on your way down to the clear, blue sea, but much better as they never build up in the bottom of your swimsuit, nor will you be cleaning them out from between your toes for weeks to come. They're ever so smooth from being worn by the waves and when they sky is light grey and the stones are light grey and the sea is invitingly blue...

I took three stones from the beach in Nice. One for my niece, one for my nephew, and one for me. I love rocks. Someday I want to have a framed collection to hang up with beautiful little tags to label each rock: "Found on Aunt and Uncle's driveway," "A moon rock to some, volcanic to others," "A gift from Nephew."

It's near 2:00 a.m. here and I've had a second wind dumped upon me. I've already written pages in my journal and I'm still brain hopping about on ideas and excitement about being on the cusp of moving into my new home. In about 36 hours I'll see the inside for the first time. In about that time we'll all be moving our stuff in with the aid of many generous folk. We've decided it's fate that I haven't been able to see the inside yet. Of course, I took the word of J and E that we should sign on this place, I trust them quite a bit. But in the week I've been here there have been several instances where I almost got to see the house but something fell through. So we did rock paper scissors to decide on bedrooms and I'll see it on moving day. How fascinating that will be.

Still jobless but have a couple of prospects that look ripe and I've applied to more than a dozen others already. I did eight applications on Friday alone. On that same Friday I also discovered a nearby poetry bookshop, so my life is complete. Once I get more writing done here I'm sure I'll dive back into one of the books I picked up at the shop.

I also have a bicycle, a 1971 Peugot women's road bike with mixte handelbars. I got quite lucky with that, the mixte or hybrid handelbars are my favorite. Life is fairly complete. I just have to figure out a weather safe way to park my bicycle at my new house. Landlord says they're for outside or in the basement.

Next week I'll see a cousin and get a library card. Then I can finally read The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I've already seen the movie starring Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison a couple of times. I love it dearly. How could I not? It's got a charming ghost. I love those.

Well. You're wonderful, OK? Have a good night.

15 July 2014

JOURNAL/ILLUSTRATION/PHOTO: SOUTHERN FRANCE/GOODBYE



You haven't lived until you've tried to hang up laundry to dry in the Mistral winds of southern France. It's like flying a kite if your kite is a giant bed sheet that's out of control.

Mistral (meaning masterly in some dialect that has something to do with French) winds are sustained winds that last for hours or days and range in speed from 40km/25mph to 100km/60mph. 

As I'm pinning everything to the line the clothes and sheets billow into me, over me, and sometimes try to tear away to the heights of the atmosphere as I doggedly hold on to them, keeping them grounded.



Each time I take clothes out, I start by pinning them on the right side of the line, using three times as many pins as normal. When I go back a few hours later, they're all scrunched to the left, twisted amongst each other.



Once I left the laundry basket by the clothes line like I do on calm days. I found it twenty yards away in a corner of the yard.

I was thinking how, being from North Dakota, normally when I experience winds of this velocity, they're cutting and icy, blowing snow and burning your cheeks and fingers. Here the sky is clear, it's a pleasant 75˚ F (24˚ C). I barely know what to make of it.

There are also creature comforts to southern France. I've already stepped on one frog and found another one in my room. And last week we found a gecko in the house, a little tiny gecko. He was on the ceiling and none of us could catch him. Until a couple of days later when I found him in the bathroom I share with the teenage boys.

I share the upstairs of the summer home with the teenage boys. They have their room, I mine, and my shower is separate (and larger) than theirs. The toilet, a real water closet, we share though. The room is two inches wider than the narrow door and has room for a toilet, a standing human, and toilet bowl cleaner. I'm the only one who makes use of the toilet bowl cleaner. Incidentally, since being in France, I've been in elevators as small as this W.C. we share.

One afternoon I walked into the toilet (in Europe that is the name of the room not just the receptical) and saw the gecko skittle behind the cleaner. I shut the door and started the chase. I pounced (short distances, of course) from corner to corner yelling, "I'M TRYING TO HELP YOU!" Which is true because nobody should have to share a toilet with teenage boys. 

I was trying hard not to catch it by the tail, knowing it would rip off and serve no one, then I caught it by the tail and the rest of him scuddled away. The tail wiggled in my fingers, I decided I should keep holding it while I tried to to catch the rest of him, which I eventually did no thanks to the squirming tail. The poor little thing tried to bight me, but couldn't. He's free in the yard somewhere with his newly regenerated tail. I also put the tail in the yard enjoying imagining a lizard growing from the tail. He doesn't know it, but I saved him.




Today was my last day of work. Last of lots of things, not the least of which is doing the kids ironing. I was just delighting in this fact while ironing the young daughter's dress when I was overwhelmed by a sneeze and had to put the dress back in the dirty clothes. And I won't have to wash it. No, no, it won't be me who washes it! This makes me exceedingly happy. See, below is a happy face that happens to be my own:

 

Oh they don't warn you. They don't warn you when you're little and reading every book you can get your hands on and dreaming of your own adventures and world travels that once you step out the door, away from your home, millions of tiny holes will be ripped in your heart, first, for your home and then for every place you go, person you meet, and goodbye you say. 

29 June 2014

ILLUSTRATION: FLYING HIPPO

I had a really great idea! Flying hippos! Wouldn't that be the best?




In other news, I think my New Year's Resolution for 2015 will be to draw a hippo every day because I could sure use some practice.

24 June 2014

JOURNAL: A PILGRIMAGE, A MOON, AND BEAUTIFUL MOUNTAINS



This is my last week living in Paris so I'm getting in all of the last of my 'must do's.' I made a pilgrimage yesterday to see a graffiti memorial outside the former studio of my film idol. Though I've barely dipped a toe in the long list of films Chris Marker has made and worked on, it was watching his film Sans Soleil (1983) in my History of Documentary class that knocked me off my feet and brought me dreaming and gasping to a hopeful place. Here was proof that whatever is going on my my head and heart, the way I see: it has a place in the world. I drank that film desperately. I'm sure there are places where Marker and I diverge on visions and philosophies; I'll never be, never make things like him; but there are moments in his films that light little bursting fires of awe and delight and longing in my soul. Guys, instead of agreeing to the label "cinéma verité"––which is the name of a movement and style in documentary filmmaking which features an observational approach and lets the subjects of the film speak for themselves, the theory of the movement being that this would be a more truthful cinema (hence the name) than earlier documentaries with narrators who told you what was happening therefore controlling the message of the film. He liked "ciné, ma verité" or, in other words, cinema, my truth. Aren't you in love already and fainting in a 19th century swoon? OK, so you may be fainting because of my punctuation but whatever.




My Mom taught us an acre of lullabies and folk songs. When we're all together––Mom, sister, and I––we sing all the folk songs picking out harmonies, the lullabies are pulled out less often. I'd forgotten for a long time about one in particular...Bobby Shafto.

Bobby Shafto's fat and fair,
combing down his yellow hair.
You'll find him most anywhere,
pretty Bobby Shafto.

Bobby Shafto's gone to sea,
silver buckles on his knee.
He'll come back and marry me,
pretty Bobby Shafto.

I always imagined Bobby Shafto was the moon, you'll find him most anywhere. Which is possibly the first dream I ever fell in love with. That sketch doesn't do any justice to my dear Shafto, I need to extend my colored pencil collection or experiment some with water colors.



I was telling someone today they could extrapolate my family from me. Then I was talking about how my nephew, when he was two-ish, would sit amongst us, his family, and looking up at us as we sat around talking, he would circle his eyes with his hands so that he could see the world through frames as well. This was probably around the same time as when he would give us lectures from the giant paperback anthologies he kept carrying around. Sometimes he'd read to us from Washington Irvine, sometimes he'd pull up a cardboard box to act as his podium. Once he got a hold of Shakespeare and we played a game guessing what plays he was telling us about.

It's not as though we're a family of geniuses, hyper-intellectuals, nor do we pressure each other into ambitious pursuits. We're just odd.

My friend asked me if we were frequently giving each other lectures that little Nephew would learn this schtick. This is several years past my high school days when I had the affectation of only liking very large, long books, so can't be that. We possibly give each other some semblance of animated lecture when we've found a great book, YouTube video, or some delicious dish. This last week my Mom was passing along the tip to look up Lisa Stoll playing the alphorn.


 

18 June 2014

JOURNAL: I'VE GOT THE PROLETARIAT WRAPPED AROUND A MANICURED FRENCH GARDEN

Even when faced with a Wednesday––ask any current or former au pair about Wednesdays––I was feeling particularly peppy this morning. I danced with the mop to my Bryan Ferry 'Jazz Age' album, let music shuffle all over the map. Some songs, albums, and artists are linked to particular times or people or places. Beirut came up, I was obsessed with this band the summer I turned 20. Then, like now, I was cleaning––I only kept that job for a month cleaning a quiet portion of the giant library on campus. I was in the back where the classrooms are, which meant projectors, which meant putting on TV shows while wiping down auditorium seating. It's how I watched that episode of The Office where Pam walks across coals. My coworker would put on some anime show, I'd join her asking her lots of questions but was never quite able to follow along. It was good to remember a job where everyone loved me. I made them waffles for my last day of work party and tried to get them all to recite poetry for me.

I don't think I tell you enough how precious this time has been to me. Sure sometimes I wish I could have a debriefing session with my documentary friends ("You did what?!" "I know! I betrayed the proletariat!") but I wouldn't trade all my lost rambles around winding, narrow streets or any crêpe or any morning doodling monsters in my notebook during French class. Not even one ™£¢∞§ load of laundry would I trade.

Anyway, if you ever visit Paris, especially in the spring, you should take an evening to relax in Parc Monceau. There are perfect, full leafy trees; dark, velvet trees; greek-ish statues; and plenty of people to watch––but not, I promise you, too crowded. Nor will anyone try to force a bracelet on you, sell you a mini Eiffel tower for a euro, and so far no one has tried to hook up with me or follow me home. 

I live here for a week and a half more. Then there's a month and a half of never being in one place for more than two weeks, stopping through five countries, and then I will actually be moved to Seattle, with a temp agency holding my hand, a floor to sleep on, a best friend down the hall plus another new cool person, and many more notebooks and journals to fill.

I'm dying to see my my parents again, to hug them tightly. To see my sister and brother-in-law. To cuddle my nephew to infinity and to meet another pretty little girl who won't claim me as her real aunt but I'll love her just the same.

If you happen to play the accordion, though, will you visit me? I'll tell you what it's like to sit on a stool playing La Vie en Rose while I stand across from you on our imaginary bridge. I'll look out over the Seine, surrounded by tourists taking photos of each other and I'll tell you what it's like to feel like you're exactly where you ought to be in that exact moment, feeling the soft air, carving your surroundings into your heart so they won't ever go away.

Life is very, very full.

13 June 2014

KISS AND TELL: CONFESSIONS OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY, VIOLENCE, AND CRUELTY

Sometimes I go through cycles where I'm kind of going crazy and can't sleep and I've got one page left in my journal and though I've got another one slotted to take it's place as an appendage to my body as I'm quite obsessive over journaling and documenting, sometimes to the chagrin of those around me––I can't write on that last page. Not tonight. Tomorrow morning, maybe, when I make myself wake up early despite the horror of it, the welcome fatigue that will invite me to fall back on my pillow––tomorrow morning I'll force myself into an early start with journaling and fresh air and then a large bowl of oatmeal with maple syrup.

It is hard to find oatmeal in France, not impossible, but you must hunt it down in the specialty sections in grocery stores. That was a surprise to me. What was also a surprise is that what they translate as brown sugar is really cane sugar and seems to never have had a whiff of molasses.

Another surprise was that all my training in French class of learning "Je m'appelle..." (my name is...) and "Je vous présente..." (Allow me to introduce...) has come to null. Was it silly of me to expect that as a strange foreigner showing up in a house full of people that I would be formally introduced to anyone? Instead, complete strangers would walk up to me, kiss me on each cheek and say, "Philip" or "Christine." It was hard to realize through the cloud of confusion that people were telling me their names. I wasn't sure at first if I was missing some type of greeting or casual small talk, all French was blurring together in the first few months here. You see, it's as if a stranger walked up to you, and while shaking your hand said, "Apple." Did they just say 'apple'? you'd think. Why? What does 'apple' mean? Did we meet once before and apples were involved? Are they asking if I want an apple? What do I say back? And it takes you a few more hours before you realize they said "Alice." It feels a little like that. Because people aren't setting the scene, giving context by saying, "My name is..." 

And then everybody is immediately all up in and kissing your grill.  I couldn't figure out where the line was drawn. I knew people kissed cheeks here but I'd assumed it was saved for friends and family but then it looked like acquaintances were fair game and there were employers kissing employees and my mind was whirling wondering if there was anyone we weren't supposed to kiss. After I'd been in France for only a couple of weeks, while we were still at the vacation home with a steady rotation of friends and family staying with us, I saw a man arrive––he was wearing a plain polo, khaki cargo shorts, and was carrying a large cardboard box. A close friend of the family did bisous with him, that's what the kiss-cheek greeting is called, and I thought, We even kiss the FedEx guy?!?! It turns out this was my boss's brother-in-law who was just arriving and just happened to be carrying something in a box.

Sometimes I can't handle it. Sometimes there are too many people and I know I'll never see them again, they're not close friends of the family and even though they're kissing everybody else I say "Bonjour" and remain at a distance. This is one of the Americanisms I'm most conscious of and can't quite shake. I used to believe that I was fairly pleasant in most situations, if somewhat dull or tactless at times, at least we could say I was fairly pleasant. But now I've seen how easily I can unintentionally be rude or even cruel and there was that time a few months back when I threatened to stab someone with a kitchen knife while holding said kitchen knife only a few inches away from them because they insisted on calling me Emmy. That is in no way my nickname. That's another E's nickname. Anyway, I don't always have to be pleasant.

Now it's time for me to watch a strange movie and then maybe I'll fall asleep to what will really amount to a nap. 

***UPDATE: Watched The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947). I would like my life to be a remake of that movie, I really really really love ghosts. Also, when I was done Netflix suggested I might like Jesse Stone: No Remorse. Make what you will of that.

23 May 2014

19 May 2014

STORY: SHOPKEEPING: ANOTHER CONCERN IN POTTY TRAINING

A man thought he had a good thing. A shop in a new country selling household items, the star of which were his training potties. People never bought just one. Toddlers trained very quickly to pee and poo independently with his potties, so they really shouldn't have needed more than one. But their potties kept disappearing and the man's shop was in such a convenient location and he never ran out of stock. The drunks in the street could have pointed out that at 3:53 a.m. every day there were streams of plastic, pastel potties walking themselves back to the man's shop, some of them with pee slopping out as they waddled.

The man thought he had a good thing until the night a potty came back with a toddler still on it.

14 May 2014

POEM: Grapfeld the Antlered



Grapfeld the Antlered
wandering far afield,
felt cold in the knees,
nose, and soul.

He was looking
for something to do
with his life and the earth was
a wide place to be.

So he roamed
and he fell down a cliff.

26 April 2014

TO DEAL WITH GORE DELICATELY

Last night I googled, "How to know if I need stitches." The Wikihow link at the top of the list assured me there were only five steps to knowing if stitches were necessary. "Steps" seemed like an organized, simple process of elimination. "Steps" are reassuring.

Step one: With cloth or damp paper towel apply pressure to wound. If still bleeding profusely after five minutes, go to the hospital and get stitches.

Oh.

Isn't five minutes a little premature? Anyway, after twenty minutes I had stopped bleeding profusely and now several hours later my finger wasn't really bleeding anymore, of course it was going to bleed just a little when I bumped the side of my index finger into something. 

I read the rest of the steps and three out of five agreed with me, no hospital trips necessary, so majority rules. Right? It couldn't be a quarter of an inch deep, wouldn't that be half the width of my finger? And I hadn't seen any bone...

You see, I'd just wanted some fresh baguette. I'd picked up the baguettes yesterday afternoon, it's one of my favorite parts of living in France: going to my local bakery, struggling to explain myself, and walking home with warm delicious baguettes cradled in my arms. When I got home from the bakery yesterday, I was hungry. A bit of baguette and cheese sounded like a great snack. I was happily cutting the bread when the serrated knife slipped––

There are several rolls of paper towel out for use around the kitchen. This was convenient as my finger was starting to drip bright red drops. In fact, drip might be the wrong word as all the drops were connected into a little stream. It wouldn't do to fixate on that though, I pressed the neatly folded paper towel square onto the cut and thought about what my next step should be. Should I tell Marie and ask her what she thinks we should do? No, I should wash the knife, other people may want bread. 

I have an aversion to receiving attention about wounds. To have someone try to take care of me, see if I'm OK, or to tell me I'm OK and it's no big deal: that all sounds horrid. I would rather keep busy, move on. I stopped short of drying the knife. My next idea was to hold my finger above my heart, that should slow the bleeding down. I grabbed a few peanut m&ms with my other hand and decided that if I was still bleeding in twenty minutes...no half an hour...or maybe 45 minutes just to be sure– I would show Marie. I wondered if it was bad to wait 24 hours before deciding if stitches were necessary.

My finger looked horrible this morning but like the skin could mend itself back together barring its being ripped apart again. If you want to know what it looked like, I took a picture. I'm not yet sure if I'm being foolhardy, I sometimes don't know how to take care of myself, especially considering my high tolerance for pain. I wouldn't have considered stitches but I don't think I've ever cut myself this badly or bled so freely. I'm not really aware of how to take care of myself all the time, which is largely the purpose of this blog and half of my conversations with my sister: to learn how to be a functioning human. But really, it feels better to be scarred and to have toughed it out. Now I just have to force myself to wear bandaids for a very long time. I hate bandaids. Do you think I can find superhero ones in France?



Ironically, I bought a shirt in London last week with the image of a finger spurting blood.

15 April 2014

IS IT THREE QUARTERS OR TWO THIRDS? MATHS!

The Queen waving and saying, "Y'aright?"

Well I'm getting ready to take my fourth trip to England, no big deal.

Rachel, Meg, and I got matching caps in February. I think these were our "Goodbye Meg" faces and for some reason this translates as mischievous for Rachel. Photo credit: Meg
I'm going to miss that so much. I'm going to miss that in just two and a half hours I can pop up in London and wander around wondering which of my favorite detectives is out there on a murder mystery, I'm going to miss the English countryside that is packed with sheep and people in wellies, and I'm going to miss struggling with British currency and once I figure it out the shopkeeper responds with "Cheers!" I know there are loads of countries accessible to me right now but I just cannot get over England. And there's so many places in the UK I haven't been yet! Wales! I really want to go to Wales! And Scotland! I found my dream vacation cottage on the sea shore of the Shetland Islands. Someday I'm going to go there all by myself and spend days staring out the window, collecting stones from the beach, and biking along country lanes just being quiet.

"To tear" in French is dechirer, a word I review every time I walk through the metro
I'm going to miss the accordion players on the streets of France. I'm going to miss the feeling when I realize more French vocabulary has embedded itself deep enough into my brain that it feels familiar and primordial, not like a stilted translation of what I want to say.

And I cannot stop thinking about visiting the Baltic Sea in the darkest night, the closest I have ever come to experiencing the abyss of expanding space.

Yesterday was my nine month anniversary. Only four more months of Europe.

08 April 2014

POEM LE XII*

modified from original source


Everything fell apart
Once they realized the moon was filled with gak.
The people from Nickelodeon,
understanding the industrial components of gak,
felt like life had lost its magic.
Everybody's zest grew stale and
blew away in the wind
causing dust storms in unlikely places
like aisle seven of McGruff's Family Grocery
and between the toes of certain sailors.
Civilizations get shanked by the most unlikely things.


*written 12 January 2014

26 March 2014

LUCIDITY, DRAGGING, AND MEMORIES

I've reached a certain place of lucidity about what happens in the next stage of my life. The time for my few acres, giant garden, and possibly some goats––I don't know why goats, it just seems like a thing that would be character building––has not yet come. (That will come though, right? In Montana or even still my brow-beaten North Dakota?) But I know some things that are next. And I'm surprised, but not surprised, to find the clarity has come through fire, through the perpetual forcing of this introvert out into the world until she loses much of her sense of terror, past the fields of breathless anxiety. I am surprised at the amount of discomfort this has taken. Before I supposed I would work through discomfort to a place of comfort and then triumph! Now I'm learning to fall in love with the sense of falling. Are you aware of that team-building practice of letting yourself fall backwards trusting the person behind you will catch you? Forget the team-building part for the moment, and the person to catch––I'm falling in love with the sense of falling and trusting. Trusting without knowing when I'll stop falling, what will be there to catch me, or even if there is an end. Even if I fall flat on my face, break my nose and several ribs...

I've reached a certain place of lucidity about what happens in the next stage of my life. I don't much want to speak of, or define things yet. There are these sprouts coming out of the ground and we'll all have to wait to see what arrives.

The empty feeling still drags at me regularly. This is just a thing I think I must accept. A part of me that will greet me on many mornings, lay me down to sleep many nights, and haunt me through long afternoons. "I'm in Paris!" I tell it. "Go away! I just toured three different countries, did well on a French test, and ate all my fruits and vegetables!" "I just went to the Louvre! Can't we be delighted and exalted? What is wrong?! How can I feel empty after that?" It spurs me on in it's own way. Writing has become a lifeline, not to keep me living but to keep me healthy. I certainly am excited and grateful for this opportunity, for these people I'm meeting, the things I'm seeing and doing. For all the hollowness in my heart there is a fullness and wonder that breaks forth and eats up this world with joy. Accepting joy comes easily though, while it is hard to not greet the empty feeling with guilt. Guilt that I can't shake this stain of sourceless sorrow. Guilt that I must be doing something wrong, I must be sinning, I must be failing to cause this emptiness. It is the guilt that must be shaken off, it is the true devil here.

Let me take you back to a wonderful place, though. Let me lift you up out of the murky recesses you may have slipped into, and let me share with you a few brilliant things. 

A FEW BRILLIANT THINGS:
As recommended by my sister:


This song:


And two last, most important things: 

Memory One: A memory of my mom, I was probably in high school and she was probably in the middle of making bread, and she stopped what she was doing, drew me into the kitchen to listen to Camelot with her and to explain the significance of the song.

Memory Two: Enjoying a sunny Sunday lunch with a French family and friends, gathered around the table singing Beatles songs together. At one point assuring them that "a hard day's night" is really a sort of nonsense phrase. 

Do you have dear musical memories? Have you ever tried on Shaq's coat? When's the last time you had horchata? 

23 March 2014

Conversation with a 14 yeard boy

After the manner of my friend Becky's hilarious blog posts of conversations she has with her twin boys, Conversations with 3 year olds, I have one conversation I must share with you that happened yesterday with the 14 year old in this house. To give you some context: I'm an au pair for a French family. I speak to them all in English as that is my main purpose, to help them all speak English fluently. They're all quite good, however, sometimes really fantastic things happen.

Me: I really think yoga would do you good.

C: You know what our neighbor told me about yoga?

Me: What?

C: That when you do yoga your anus passes gases. 

11 March 2014

TINY DANCER

You are possibly familiar with Elton John's song Tiny Dancer and maybe even Joseph Gordon-Levitt's amazing job lip syncing to said song. While listening to Tiny Dancer almost every day in January (not all day long...just half a day or so...) I kept imagining this scenario of a sweet, belittled young man who's missing a finger and the stumpy knuckle has a few inexplicable holes in it. One day as he's walking along, in the grit of the street he notices a little ballerina figurine at the base of which are a few prongs which perfectly fit the holes in his knuckle. Now he's got his tiny dancer in his hand, always with him. He's not lonely anymore.









10 March 2014

ON IGUANAS AND WEATHER





Bottled here is a taste of spring which arrived in Paris last week. Inside is the sight of flowering trees; the song of birds chirping loudly all day, calling you out to lay in the grass and soak in the warming weather. There are also memories inside, memories I’ll happily share with you of walks along canals lined with Parisians out to soak up the sun––they come out like iguanas, say my friends from Columbia. Can you feel the warmth on your freckling cheeks as you sit outside at a cafe table having doffed your coat? Can you feel your soul lifting and relaxing in the spring air?

Let me apologize beforehand if by writing this I curse someone somewhere, if I bring winter back upon our heads, let it be known I‘m sitting next to the wooden beams that hold up my ceiling and I knock upon them now. Here’s the thing: I can’t believe I’m going a whole year without snow. I’m a bit dazed, I’ve never had a year without snow in my life. I suppose many people would find that wonderful, certainly many who’ve suffered the polar vortexes back in the States, and as a proper North Dakotan I don’t want to seem ungrateful…I just feel…dazed. This winter didn’t rage around me, dominating my life giving me snow days that I treasure as a sweet blessed relief from routine. This winter I was never blinded by white as I looked out the windows of my home. And no one has been able to understand how I’ve been the happiest on the rare nights when the wind howls across the roof that’s two feet from my head. This winter, plus spending a month and a half in the horribly hot Mediterranean last summer really cemented how much I’m a woman from cold northern plains.

Recently I had my two week vacation which I spent traveling Europe. I’d harbored secret little hopes that Germany or at least Denmark would have a little snow. Denmark did have a more bitter cold and less daylight than anything else I’ve experienced this winter but still all I got was some light rain. One night, when there was no rain, we drove out to a beach. It was seven or eight at night, pitch dark with no stars or moon breaking through. The pale sand faded away not far from us into the sound of the Baltic Sea we couldn’t distinguish from the black sky. It was like standing at the edge of a terrifying and beautiful hungry nothing. With everything so dark, would you realize how close you were to waters edge before it was too late? Before it ate you up and sucked you into its lonely vastness? It was as close as I’ll ever get to my dream of returning to earth in 10 billion years to see the blackest sky that envelopes when the stars have drifted too far away for anyone but butterflies to see their shining light. The Baltic Sea at night was possibly better, though, because of the sound of waves rolling invisibly in and out.




PS. Here's an actual photo from my trip to tide you over as I slowly pull myself together.

Corsham, England

16 February 2014

THINGS YOU MUST LISTEN TO TODAY



because I can't stop thinking about the character of Gertrude Stein in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris (2011) saying the job of an artist is to find an antidote to the emptiness of existence. I would say Existence is not empty, but that we live emptily. So listen to the First imagining you're with me sitting on a living room floor at the foot of the record player, eyes closed and sharing a drink. Listen to the Second for words most beautiful about love and searching ("I will love you...til the ocean is folded and hung up to dry // In headaches and in worry / vaguely life leaks away"). Listen to the Third being quiet and still, remembering moments you're grateful for. 






09 February 2014

RATATATOOT




Let’s just sit down in this cozy corner here and talk, yeah? It’s been ages since I’ve seen your face, seen it without a screen of pixels, heard your voice without the shred of distance. There’s water boiling for ginger tea and this cheese plate will not disappoint. Did you know that taxi rides through a Parisian night are not always beautiful? I did forget to download some Hemingway to read in hommage to Midnight in Paris (2011) but that wouldn’t have changed the fact that when I’m up in Montmarte the route home is all industrial and/or Euro expressway tunnels. The expressway tunnels feel particularly European because I’ve never driven through such things at night in any other country. At least not ones so large with such narrow lanes and narrow cars.

Last night––before the taxi ride but after I forced myself out of my house even though I was tired and it was 9:00pm and I felt like a crazy person for leaving my inviting bed nook, books, and the Sherlock episode I was rewatching––I was on the RER into Paris, looking around singing to myself, “I’m in France. This is France. This is a French train. How does it feel to be in a French train?” It feels surreal. The world around me is functioning in a banal way and I’m having what they call an adventure. Did you know that the root meaning of the word adventurer is “one who gobbles banality and toots glitter”?

In practice, it is not always gobbled and glitter is not always realized. Though tooting is a regular part of life adventure or no. The surreality and the reason for singing to myself is because it’s hard to remember I’m living a dream. My brain and body want to function at a mellow, drone-like pace, letting my soul take frequent naps. This is why I force myself out even when it feels painful to set aside my obsessive desire to be a hermit.

So last night I spent some time at a bar where there was not any couscous as had been planned but there was a hearty sing-a-long to the Spice Girls’ “If you wanna be my lover” and at a second bar which is named after the lead singer of Metalica. I missed going to the house of some new friends but since Sundays I must be up by 8:00 and the possibility of a nap is slim, I took my taxi out.

P.S. I now say my postal code like a pro. Glitter toot.

04 February 2014

HONESTY: SHWOOP!

Last Thursday I developed a game called OPERATION: THERE ARE NO PEOPLE. Do you ever feel like running, how glorious it is to get lost in winding French streets, to see the swans on the river in the afternoon sun, to feel like you're flying along like a space ship to a soundtrack of Daft Punk, or to sometimes listen to the ever comforting wind. And to stretch your lungs! Then later on to be rewarded with that satisfying ache in your abs. You're about to jump into running heaven but then you're dragged back down as you think about all the people that are out in the world. Their eyes weigh down upon you as all the humans leer over you. I'm not concerned so much about their judgment as I am about their mere existence. I sense them out there, everywhere and it drives me batty like when something is making your skin crawl because it's not quite touching you but you can sense it. THEY'RE OUT THERE! THERE ARE PEOPLE OUT THERE EVERYWHERE AND I CAN'T THINK OF EVEN ONE ROAD I CAN RUN ON WITHOUT THE RISK OF SEEING ANOTHER HUMAN BEING.

It's the worst.

It's the incarnation of the nightmare where you're running away from something and people keep looming into the picture. They just won't go away.

Now personally, truly deeply, I like people. Nay, I love people. I cry at the end of It's a Wonderful Life not as much for the story itself (though I do find it a bit depressing despite the really great ending and Clarence's funny voice. Can't the Bailey's ever get out of Bedford? Just for a vacation? Please?) but because I think of all the people who worked on the film from Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart down to the Continuity Girl and Best Boy and every uncredited P.A. And on top of all that, there's all the people who have watched it over the decades. Decades of people united by sharing that story, the tender moments it procures, and then it gets absorbed into their lives. ALL those wonderful lives. There are so many, so so many.

But sometimes I just want there to be nothing. The universe is expanding and someday, maybe ten billion years from now, stars will be so far away we won't be able to see them. I love stars. I love joining in with my family in struggling to get my dad's telescope set up at our cabin in the mountains so we can see more stars, see more of the moon, imagine ourselves in deep space. But I'd really love to come back in ten billion years and take a walk through the darkest nights. It sounds like a whole other realm of beautiful and peaceful.

But last Thursday, I realized there's no reason that can't be happening now inside my strange brain. When the nightmare of streets lined with square trees and people looming about appeared in my mind's eye, shwoop! I wiped them all away. I pulled up another street, shwoop! All those people can be gone too! NO MORE PEOPLE! I CAN WIPE THEM ALL AWAY! And then when needed, I can pull down a canopy of starless night and fly into my sweet abyss.



(For those wondering, this follows closely on the heals of OPERATION: I'M A WHALE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE ARCTIC OCEAN and OPERATION: PEOPLE ARE LLAMAS TOO.)

What operations have you had or conducted in your life? Are you a fan of general anesthetic? Do you have any embarrassing stories you need to share with me? I'm here for you.

02 February 2014

MORE ARMPITS

There's an 80 year old woman who's shorter than my armpit. She's sometimes on the same morning train as me and I know for a fact she's shorter than my armpit because on one particularly packed-train day I had to reach over her to hold onto one of those stability poles. I wasn't reaching over her shoulder, I was reaching over her head and it wasn't hard. I suppose for this to having the surprising mental impact I would like to punch, I should point out that it didn't look like she had dwarfism––is that what it's called?––she was just really petite. More so than LaQuina's abuela, an amazing Spanish/Galecian woman who would tell me to make up boyfriends.

This system of measurement is my new fascination. As I walk around Paris I take note of everything around me: // that fence is taller than my armpit and so is he. That bush is shorter than my armpit and so is that bench. // I like stating obvious things, I find it really relaxing. // I am ironing now. // I'm walking to the train station now. // I'm riding the bus from a failed attempt at finding the restaurant I wanted to go to.

Stating the obvious lets out all the pressure of something, though heaven knows what. // I am sad now // is said and suddenly a weight is lifted from my chest and I can admit to being sad and stop frantically clawing for an escape that never comes. The immediate relief can be so great sad almost feels happy. With the weight is gone I can try on sad, walk around in it, and at some point later sense it dissolve as some other feeling comes to take it's place.

Perhaps this allows me to let go of the feeling I need to be (doing) something other than what I am, something very amazing and clever with the finesse of a meme-generator-who-gets-a-book-deal. I don't need to find everything I'm looking for, looking was a good thing. I don't need to be having a wild adventure, walking to the train station is enough. I don't need to be happy, not all the time anyway. It's like that feeling of returning home and being really comfortable but taking that feeling out of doors, into the expanse of the universe and yelling, "I'm just going to be me now!"

Stating the obvious also works to focus your brain and keep you from tripping and dropping glasses.



What are some obvious statements you make? What are your thoughts on Dante's Inferno? Would you like to be in a Muppet musical?