the wheels keep turning

Today’s Writing Music: Hey Little Songbird, by Anaïs Mitchell, (from her album Hadestown).

Familiarity. Repeated motions. I’ve been across the border so many times. The lock is broken on the door of the first stall in the women’s washroom. The seat behind the driver has more space for a laptop, but no overhead light, so no reading once it gets dark. No fruit, they will charge you a separate fee for each grape, and bottles are more preferable to cans, which cannot be resealed for transport.

Back from a road trip, back from a wedding. San Francisco, Mendocino, Portland, Seattle. The steep curves of the Coastal Highway, the birdsong next to where we were stalled. Back from hours sitting on the side of a highway in a broken down car, back from driving through entire nights. A midnight food cart, a midnight tow truck. Visits with people I haven’t seen for years, visits with people I haven’t seen for weeks. Sleeping wherever I can find to rest. Priorities: power, internet. A slingshot back and down, around California, not quite enough for escape velocity. At least I wasn’t the one who was bitten by a tick.

Off the bus, I was only home long enough to drop off my suitcase. I’m still sleeping on couches, I’m already looking up ticket prices to get back, basic toiletries crammed in my laptop bag. I didn’t want to keep working as a writer, but it has let me keep moving.

the contrast between who I’m visiting and where I am

Denver is so beautiful from the air it crushed my heart. I stayed glued to the window for as long as I could manage, resenting my own breathing as the cold of the glass fogged from my breath. So far in the sky, the small plane that carried me would barely be visible from the ground, yet I could see down into streets, houses, everything. Bridges seemed like running rills of glowing LED jewels, even though the entire thing looked organic, as if the city were a vast glowing creature hidden within the darkness of a velvet cave.


Santa Fe is odd in that it feels perhaps smaller than it already is because all of the buildings are low, styled identically, and everything is the same three shades of tan. The ground and the architecture and all but the sky all seem the same tones, all taupe and dust and matte adobe, as if the city is an attempt to camouflage human habitation from some great predator. There is barely any colour in public, excepting a few painted window sills on what are obviously art galleries or the homes of eccentrics. (I am told that traditional adobe houses have doors and trim painted “virgin mary blue”, the actual name of the turquoise, in order to ward off witches, but I have yet to see any). I think of drones and how lost they might be in this place, unable to source a target. I imagine flying over in daylight and only seeing half of the buildings. It makes for few landmarks, and locals navigate by the shape of mountain ranges and give directions like, “turn left at the #restaurant-name”, instead of “at the green house”. I can sense the reasons for this might be deep and fascinating and potentially religious, but I am not certain if the questions that lead to that understanding are the sort that might occur to me to ask or try to answer.

(I can already tell I would not want to live here, though I like that the mountains are far enough away to allow for the illusion of a horizon).

The place I am staying is a double-wide mobile home, decorated inside like a cross between an unconventional shah’s palace and a set from Twin Peaks. I imagine anyone from this place who is not familiar with my godmother, Silva, would be actually stunned upon entering the home. I am told it is a mobile home because it is a structure with a Vehicle Identification Number, as a car might have, but there is no way to tell from the inside. The interior matches nothing of the surrounding culture or landscape. There are small, startling still life scenes scattered about, (a silver vase of metal roses alone on a blue chest of drawers, isolated and knife sharp in front of a wall painted the same blue paint; a menorah perched on a tiny shelf mounted close to the vaulted ceiling, perfectly framed against a blood red plate of small, shimmering tiles and haloed with five antique ornaments detailing five stories that melt Buddhism and Taoism together), and all the walls are richly ornamented with wall hangings of massive sequined tigers or hand-painted wooden panels that look like they might have been stolen from either a very expensive Asian restaurant or a First Nations history museum. The whole kit and ensemble is lush and gorgeous and profoundly unlikely, yet presents together in perpetually interesting ways. Silva has always nested in opulent surroundings, so it feels immediately familiar.

Outside the land is bleak. Across the frozen mud lane is a high security penitentiary and base for the National Guard. Nearby are other small houses, but not a lot, and many of them have cement brick shacks or broken down cars in what passes for their yards. Trees are scarce, all of the plants are dead, and the only breaks in the lines of the land are rocks.

The snow, however, is beautiful. We are so high that the snow come down shining like flakes of mica, each one separated from the others by a foot or more. It is as if a great hand were shaking glitter down from the clouds to slowly and deliberately hide the scarred ground with a blanket of soothing white.

Travel Diary Day One: May 15th, Montreal

I have just returned from a trip to Montreal for Dee & Freida's ish-wedding, (they eloped last year), and Madison for Karen & Pär 's ish-wedding, (they eloped 20 years ago), and WisCon, a feminist sci-fi writer's convention. I tried to keep a journal of the trip, an attempt to work towards fixing my awful stillness, sadness, and silence.

I feel like I should be taking more pictures, the signs are all French, there are blue and white flags flapping from storefronts, but it has been a very long day, stretched longer by my restless, nearly sleepless night and the dilation effect of crossing two time-zones. The plane ride was choppy, but comfortable all the same. Not enough passengers to fill every seat, so there was room to stretch, room enough to feel like we weren't crammed in a can. How flat this country is, how bleak, I thought, looking over the plains, but then the lakes began to appear. The lakes that freckle the country are still frozen stiff, even in May, small, tidy sheets of white that gleamed like I used to imagine diamonds are supposed to, blazing with the sunshine even as our shadow touched them.

My friends walk arm in arm, a married couple, beautifully affectionate, sweet and pretty. I adore them both, they make me ache to know the language better, so that I could be as quick and fluent with them as they are with each other. I remember their wedding, the sharp joy they gave out, like flares from lighthouses. They live together now by the Olympic Stadium in an apartment I had never been to before, shared with four cats, each with a distinctive personality, a greenhouse worth of plants, and books deeply piled on every flat surface. We are coming back from dinner, I’m to sleep in the front room, on a currant coloured velvet couch surrounded by novels, paintings, plants, and more art. It’s glorious. The building is old in a way that no buildings in the west are old, with painted over wallpaper raised in a repeating pattern of griffons and urns and dark wooden doors inset with stained glass. They are on the top floor, the stairs narrow, circular, and set with stone. It makes me think of castles and timeworn foreign movies. Someone shoots a gun, there are footsteps, someone running, but all you see is a hand on the rail. I love everything about it. I love everything about them. And underneath it all, a constant, the welcoming perfumed scent of sweet-smelling incense.

math is hard

70% of US federal spending reports don’t add up:

Today the Sunlight Foundation launched analysis that reveals more than $1.3 trillion in federal reporting data from 2009 is broken. These data inaccuracies account for 70 percent of the total $1.9 trillion in government spending data reported last year. Clearspending offers a critique on the reliability of data from, across three metrics–consistency, completeness and timeliness–and covers spending from 2007, 2008 and 2009.

While there has been an increase in the number of programs reporting to in the past three years, the reported data suffers from an abundance of errors, as well as problems with the data’s timeliness and completeness. Findings from Sunlight’s Clearspending show that a significant portion of the government’s data is unreliable and that has not fulfilled its legal requirement of providing the public access to accurate, timely and detailed information on how federal agencies fulfill their spending obligations.

a patriotic make-over for the USA’s favourite over-used ingredient!

A new name for high fructose corn syrup:

The Corn Refiners Association, which represents firms that make the syrup, has been trying to improve the image of the much maligned sweetener with ad campaigns promoting it as a natural ingredient made from corn. Now, the group has petitioned the United States Food and Drug Administration to start calling the ingredient “corn sugar,” arguing that a name change is the only way to clear up consumer confusion about the product.

“Clearly the name is confusing consumers,” said Audrae Erickson, president of the Washington-based group, in an interview.

“I’m not eager to help the corn refiners sell more of their stuff,” Dr. Nestle wrote in an e-mail. “But you have to feel sorry for them. High-fructose corn syrup is the new trans fat. Everyone thinks it’s poison, and food companies are getting rid of it as fast as they can.”

Although food label changes aren’t common, the F.D.A. has allowed name changes in the past. The ingredient first called “low erucic acid rapeseed oil” was changed to “canola oil” in the 1980s. More recently, the F.D.A. allowed prunes to be called “dried plums.”

a modern horror epic

video found via Kevin

Names Of the Dead:

Every year, more than 44,000 Americans die simply because have no health insurance.

I have created this project in their memory. I hope that honoring them will help us end this senseless loss of American lives. If you have lost a loved one, please share the story of that loved one with us. Help us ensure that their legacy is a more just America, where every life that can be saved will be saved.

A simple yet spooky and powerful little website, Names Of the Dead is collecting precisely what it says, the names, ages, and hometowns of everyone who’s died from being unable to afford healthcare. They scroll in a list on the left of the screen, white on black and gray, and it seems the names are almost endless, as every time you refresh, new names have been added.

I just signed Congressman Alan Grayson’s petition to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid demanding he move the Senate forward and pass health care reform now.

I hope you’ll sign too.

ready to shake my buttmachine

365: 10.02.09
365: 41 – 10.02.09

Thank you to everyone for the overwhelming response to my post regarding the potentially illegal use of my image in a pro logging campaign. Your support is appreciated and very welcome. I will do my best to keep everyone updated as information comes in. So far I have yet to discover what company it was or even when the campaign ran, but I’ve tracked down the photographer, (a very nice fellow I do not want to damage), though have not yet spoken to him, and have been promised a copy of the poster, which I will likely pick up next week. (I can already tell I’m going to feel uncomfortable having a life sized poster of myself in residence. Creeeeepy.) Everything else is going to have to wait until I get back from my weekend trip to the states.

Which reminds me…

Who here lives in Portland, Seattle, or Bellingham? I’m going to be there, and I want to see you!
Come out to a show, point us toward where the good food lives, or even just say Hi!

We’ll be arriving in Portland late tonight, probably too late for anything special, but should have almost all tomorrow free for exploration, meeting people, and general bumming about. Our current Things To Visit is a whopping list of two, (Sock Dreams, Voodoo Doughnuts), so we’re open to suggestions. I think we’ll head up to Seattle late Saturday morning or early afternoon, and spend the rest of our weekend there, with a quick Sunday gig stop with Mike in Bellingham on the way back. Bon voyage! I can’t wait to get out of dodge.

click the link to look and see how much of the world was watching

“As always, there is an excellent selection of images from the Inauguration over at The Big Picture.” link via mshades

Spectators in Times Square watch President Barack Obama take the oath of office during his inauguration

Residents of Kibera, one of the poorest quarters in Nairobi gather to watch the inauguration ceremony

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attend the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball at the Washington Convention Center

Guests at the “Biden Home States Ball” record the moment as President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dance

congratulations, he wasn’t shot

Today I felt it was more important to watch Obama’s inauguration through the magic of live streaming video from my bed than to get up get to work on time. (Oh future, you are so magical.)

My early morning head muzzy on time differences, I missed most of the show, but as the speech drew to a close, I could feel my eyes stinging with a rich mix of emotions. Pride, wonder, worry… but most of all relief.

Congratulations on your recent transformation, U.S.A. On your recent return to morality, decency, and fair play.

We’ve been waiting for you. It’s going to be a good day.

pictures from the south, surfacing

Liontamer at the abandoned bathhouse…

This is the very first photo Lung and I worked together in creating. We’ve never done anything like it before, but I’m pleased to say, looking at the finished product, that our first shot seems to be a winner.

Before, he would always tell me to go over there, stand here, tilt your head that way. Almost invariably we would end up with a result I didn’t like. My accusation, founded very fairly though a bit tongue in cheek, is that he can’t take an attractive portrait of someone he didn’t want to sleep with. He agrees, and so when we found ourselves at the abandoned ruins of the Salton Sea bath-houses, we finally took the next step, and collaborated.

It was a strange experience, as he chose the spot, and I chose the position, peering through his camera and deciding where I should be based on the light, then assembling myself while unidentified animals made chewing noises in the ceiling, trusting as Lung had me look over my shoulder just that little bit more.

I’m glad it worked. More than glad, I’m delighted, as I really wanted it to come out well. Our recent trip South brought us closer together than we’d ever been before, and to have tangible evidence of how our friendship is evolving is comforting. It’s nice that I can look at this photo and point to one of the exact moments we shifted, no matter that it was only one tiny step among many over a process of several months. It’s still a singular moment captured splendidly, and one with enough meaning for me.

An added bonus, too, is feeling completely justified that I dragged my Hallowe’en costume all the way down and back just to cheerfully wear it once or twice in highly inappropriate circumstances. Next had better come the boot pictures, where I dangerously tottered in stiletto heels along a shoreline beach made entirely of bone.