Sunday, December 28, 2008

This is difficult to see well (and for a larger version simply click the image itself) -- taken from my front steps, this is a Cooper's hawk in the pine tree a few feet away, devouring a recently-caught sparrow.
Arriving home from my in-law's on Christmas Day, I stepped out of the car and immediately noticed a small quantity of downy feathers drifting on the cold breeze. As I helped my son out of the back seat more feathers tumbled past, and I realized they seemed to be coming from our front yard. Two pine trees stand close together atop a short hill, next to our front sidewalk, and the feathers were in fact falling lazily but steadily from the nearer tree. As I came up the sidewalk, the arrangement of the branches afforded a perfect view of the hawk: easily 12 to 14 inches tall, ripping small tufts from the carcass of a songbird and utterly indifferent to my stare. I took my son in the house, pointed out the hawk to his father, grabbed my camera and came back out to get a few shots -- the hawk hadn't moved, and ignored me completely as I cursed the inadequacies of my inexpensive camera.
A beautiful bird, the hawk, and hard to resent in spite of its taste for that which I strive to attract to our backyard feeders. Last winter I stepped out the front door and saw what at first looked like blood spattered across the snow -- it turned out to be many tiny cardinal feathers, strewn widely, the result of being taken with force on the wing. A hawk will dive swiftly and silently from a height, killing the smaller bird instantly on impact as it intercepts a flight path. My spouse once saw possibly this same hawk stoop to take a squirrel in the alleyway behind our garage, appearing suddenly huge out of nowhere as it scooped up the squealing gray squirrel and flapped a short distance away to pause and eat.
They patrol the space between houses in the city, gliding silently from yard to yard in search of pigeon or rodent. We saw an enormous Broad Wing hawk coming up through the trees just a few blocks away not long ago, and once I spotted a juvenile hawk sitting on the ground on the verge of a small, thick hedge, cocking his head this way and that as a group of sparrows shrilled at him from within the shrubs. He was doubtless wondering how he might get at them, there in the neighbor's front yard.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

nobody does it better: the National Anthem

Which is purely a matter of relatively-uninformed opinion -- BUT -- my husband and I spent some time listening to various YouTube renditions of Steven Tyler singing the National Anthem, and we decided his best effort shone at the 2002 Sox Home Opener. Seriously. The first time I heard him do it was at the 2004 World Series opener, the year the Sox broke the curse, and I was floored. Turns out though that he has hit that high note (for anywhere from one to three seconds) a bunch of times since 2000, and in fact, is the man you want at anything from hockey to baseball to the Indianapolis 500. He clearly takes it fairly seriously, and the 2002 version linked above has him taking special care to really sing all the notes in the melody and not just the ones we all know. Though he grandstands a little on the high note (always), he nevertheless NAILS it each time. While Tyler doesn't ever make my list of music's best voices (he can sound really weak at times), he's actually got quite the set of pipes. I honestly don't know how he hits that note without busting a vein in an eyeball -- AND, he genuinely seems to know all the lyrics!

there's more to life than this

...says Bjork, re-enchanting me from the imaginary depths of my new iPod (Turquoise!)

And, indeed, when I think of how consumed I've become over the past three years with the church and CP's vision for it, I'm inclined to reflect. Especially in light of recent events.

And today the spouse and I had a Big Talk -- final decisions were made, about whether to have another child, when I will go back to school, and what sort of work I'll be doing henceforth (or specifically, how many hours that will take.) SO I have a sense of what the future will not entail, regardless of what happens at church/work.

This simplifies things. A little bit.

But what's next: Ah, that's the big adventure. What could be next?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Jonathan Hamilton's Gallery Page

Artwork by Jonathan Hamilton; I own three of his works, really terrific paintings and sculpture/assemblage works. Enjoy!

Monday, December 22, 2008


For "Too Much Information." I love being labeled with a TMI problem, since mostly I'm saddled with a reputation for the opposite. Scrivener adroitly pointed this out in his comment (below), and he's half-right -- I can be pretty "cagey" in person. But the real deal is the knowledge that, once I get started, I will not shut up. "Never complain, never explain" as the lady said, and I try hard to avoid both, at least in person. Social skills are a much less pressing issue when you run your own blog (as we all know), and here I get to blab to my heart's content, about (almost) everything and (often) nothing at all. Thank you, gentle readers.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Whiney Whiner Blogs Instead of Doing Laundry

Since it's a Sunday night and no one is emailing, I'll just keep posting. Why not? Though I suppose I should work on the laundry, it's only 9 o'clock.

The husband went to bed after the Vikings lost, he's depressed (and had some wine with dinner.) The boy is likewise out, having fallen asleep on his father's lap at 6pm. Last night's bellyache turned into PukeFest at 1am, and after a few hours of that we were both exhausted. We slept in until 9am, skipping church, but surprisingly the boy didn't nap this afternoon. He ate sparingly and drank just enough today. He was smammed by the time I got home (coffee and a Target run with CW this evening.) I lifted him from my spouse's lap and carried him off to bed, and he's been quietly snoring away ever since, poor thing.

I myself have a little of whatever bug got the kid, but my problems are Downtown rather than Uptown, which I guess I prefer if pressed to choose. I'm also exhausted. But I'm not sure I'd sleep for long if I went to bed now, it's just too early. My back is still killing me, besides, so I'm not looking forward to the horizontal. I've evidently pushed my luck a bit this weekend, what with sleeping on the couch and in my kid's bed at various times for various reasons, plus other shenanigans. There are a few spots beneath my shoulders, near my spine, that feel like they should look bruised -- painful to the touch. I need a sympathetic pair of hands to set me straight, but tonight is not my night.

I hate Sunday evenings. No one writes, no one phones. And I procrastinate. Laundry, wrapping gifts, etc etc. Paperwork. Nothing gets done. I sit here and blog, because I feel chatty and social on a lonely winter night. This is Christmas week and everyone I know will be too busy to check their email, too tired at the end of the day to worry about it. I should start catching up on my Newsweeks I suppose. *sigh* Monday will come, more or less; no one's mind will be wholly on work this week, as we anticipate the long weekend, and everything that needs doing will consequently take twice as long. Wish we were having a party at the office, but nobody got it together. I suggested it, and was encouraged by the responses, but in the end I didn't have the wherewithal to set it up. And no one really cares, what with all the other obligations besides. Holidays are awful for workaholics like me. I'M A DOPE. Let's be clear on that.

oh the weather outside is frightful...

The Usual Suspects are all of them, all, bitching about the cold this week. From Canada to Texas, everyone is pissed and befuddled. Even JJ out in San Diego is sort of empathizing with her Moose, who apparently had to fly into Chicago this week. Moose joined Judy Coates-Perez and countless others as they curse and slap themselves.

So why not join the fun? Yes indeed, it is colder than a witch's tit outside, and windy besides. Last night I worked past dark at the office, and for once there was no one around by the time I wanted to leave, so I toughed it out alone. That means putting on boots, sweater number two, scarf number one, arm-warmers, long wool coat, chenille hat, hood, scarf number two, gloves. Wrap a messenger bag around the whole kit to keep it from flapping in the arctic gale. Trudge downstairs, feeling a little like that kid in "A Christmas Story" whose mom bundles him up so well that he cannot move his arms up or down. Step outside, gasp, curse, pull scarf number two up over my mouth to muffle my curses -- and off I go. Four blocks or so to the bus stop, and most of it is (no shit) uphill through a foot of unplowed, unshoveled snow. The bus stop is likewise snowed under, and at the top of a hill besides, so the wind is knifelike and shelter nonexistent. I meet a few other nondescript, bundled figures standing silently in wait. I think of those cattle on the prairie in the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder -- the cows who were frozen to the ground, their breath literally freezing into ice that bridged the distance from their mouths to the ground, then buried under a foot of snow. Mound after mound of hairy snow, motionless, deathlike; trapped, until Pa Ingalls goes to them one by one and breaks the cast of ice from their muzzles to allow them breath. They shake off the snow and run bawling away, one by one. These folks at the bus stop remind me of those cows.

Eventually, before we are frozen like some ill-fated Everest expedition, the bus comes. My glasses instantly fog over and freeze, completely occluded, as I climb aboard. I let them slide down my nose, meeting the top of the now-damp and funky scarf number two. "Free rides until 8pm" the driver says. I know it's because of some event downtown (a crazy parade they do in all weather, every night through Christmas, called Holidazzle.) But I'd like to think it's to encourage the frozen poor to jump on the bus, instead of walking up Central Avenue on a freezing Minnesota night.

the Playlist

Which, by the way, I can't listen to while posting -- is a Blogger-promoted widget called iLike. The encyclopedia of music accessible when designing the Playlist seems pretty broad, but one of my many friends with esoteric tastes could probably prove me wrong. The list currently posted is just an array of titles I'm enjoying lately -- this week, this year, etc. Some are truncated excerpts, and that might be an indication that I have to pay to play on some service (maybe Rhapsody) -- we'll see, I apologize for that. But my favorite song of the year plays in its entirety -- "Thinking About Tomorrow" by Beth Orton.

Recommend some tunes you like, and I'll update the playlist accordingly! I love recommendations, on music and also literary fiction. I'll try anything once, that's my motto.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


And then there are the times when, in the space of just a few hours, your outlook shifts in minute but profound ways. And nothing really changes, except the way you feel about things - your nearness to someone, your distance from someone else. It's hard to tell whether the change is for the better, or for worse -- but it's a change, and sometimes that's what's needed.

There's a stack of bills next to my laptop, cramping my holiday style. One of them is an uncomfortable credit card balance. There's a ton of snow on the roads and my son is in bed with a bellyache.

And yet, and yet, a little something happened yesterday that brightens my world a bit. Just a little something, but I'm grateful for it. It's not a solution, not a resolution of any kind, more of a distraction really. And that's just what I need at the moment.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Taking Steps

So, I called the church where my grandparents were members, and where the memorials were held. They're looking up the records, and hopefully will have the burial locations, though not all churches keep or have that information. To answer Alan's question, the church bulletins did not contain the name of the funeral home in either. Nor did my grandfather's obituary, and the only obit I could find online for Grandma was listed down in Port Charlotte FL, where they lived at the time. No funeral home noted there either, and my suspicion is that they would have purchased plots in or around south Minneapolis since that's where they lived for many years.

We'll see what Trinity Lutheran Riverside has to offer. And if they know, what then? Not sure who I would ask to go with me when I visit for the first time. I don't want to be alone; but it's kind of a test to put to someone. Will they be there for me the way I might want them to be? Will I feel unselfconscious enough to have an uncensored reaction to the experience when I get there? And how will I feel?

Will it even be a place I can go? What if they weren't buried at all? What if they were cremated, and the ashes are packed in a box someplace now? Then what?

It's an odd feeling, awkward, calling strangers to ask for this information. Certainly not a first in a world chock full of family estrangement, but it's easy to imagine the unasked questions on the other end of the phone line. Once, when I was visiting Luther Seminary, I decided on the spur of the moment to ask their records department if they had any files on my father. Peter attended seminary for a short time, though it would have been called Northwestern back then I think. In trying to describe the information I was looking for (Peter was already deceased), I wound up having to explain the sordid family history to a skeptical records employee. Privacy, I suppose. She wanted to understand why I hadn't just asked my father about his seminary attendance. How could I explain that we rarely talked in a personal way; that he rarely told me his stories? Whenever I learned something personal about him, by inference, or from my mother, I would squirrel that information away in my mental museum. I never asked him to elaborate.

It's difficult to explain why I'm so willing to maintain a largely imaginary relationship, like the one I had with my father. I think about it, because it's something I do with other people as well, from time to time -- willingly carry on as though a relationship is "normal" even though the standard reinforcements are merely sporadic, even absent. Lunch, phone calls, casual conversation, tenderness. I've always been willing to let my imagination do a lot of the work in my relationships. And when I'm unhappy with a relationship, I tend to just imagine doing something about it. I suppose a person would just assume I wasn't interested. But the truth is, I don't know how to ask. I can make it happen face to face, I can draw a person out most of the time just by listening and focusing on them. But confronted with someone who waits to be asked (like me) I'm somehow at a loss.

Of course, when I do open my mouth I often say the wrong thing -- I can be rude, I don't control my tone very well, and I've often already imagined what I'd like to say which means I come off very sharp-tongued -- it's the worst phrasing that's already planted in my conscious mind, rehearsed and invested with a lot of emotion. I should try to plan out a more tactful approach, but instead I let things bottle up, and when I finally verbalize it's overkill.

Something to work on.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"I've been ionized, but I'm okay now."

And it's Roethke, for the Book of Quotes. "I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow."
Here's a nice retyping of the poem, "The Waking," at Possum.

New batteries, lithium, for the digital camera = more updates soon at True Companion.

Remember "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension"? With John Lithgow, Peter Weller, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Lloyd.
"Lithium is no longer available on credit."

This truly bizarre, disjointed but hilarious and touching sci-fi cult classic was for many years consistently ranked in my Top Ten Movies of All Time. My high school friends just HATED this flick after a while, because I rented it constantly, probably purchased it ten times over just in late return fees. But honestly, how could a girl not swoon for Peter Weller singing "Since I Don't Have You" in a smoky bar? How could one not cultivate a secret crush on the gangly nerd and Hong Kong Cavalier wannabe Jeff Goldblum - "What's that watermelon doing there?" And John Lithgow as a brilliant physicist possessed by the life-force of an alien from the eighth dimension? Priceless. Hysterical! But it's Christopher Lloyd who gets the immortal line:

"It's not my goddamned planet, monkey-boy!"

Well, here it is, five days later. I have not been altogether graceful in my conduct this week. I'm communicating badly, I'm on the nerves of at least two of the people I'm closest to, I'm behaving officiously, I'm crying at the drop of a hat...I'm also behind on a few important projects.

And tonight, I started on my quest to find out where my father's parents are buried. Without calling my ex-stepmother before I have to. Eventually I will have to, because she knows the whereabouts of my father's ashes, though she hasn't told me. It's a long story for the uninitiated, and I can fill you in if asked -- in a nutshell, I have been estranged from my father's second wife and their family for many years. This week marked the five-year anniversary of my father's death, and I'm realizing just how incomplete and inadequate the grief process has been, due in part to information withheld from me over the years. I still struggle with anger and a profound sense of helplessness as responses to a long history of conflict within that side of the family. I need to do something about it.

As awkward and odd as it may sound, I'm actually considering having a little ceremony, once I find my grandparents' graves. Moreover, I'm considering requesting a small portion of my father's ashes (a request that will doubtless cause some conflict.) Because the responsibility rests with me to appease my own need for resolution of some kind.

I don't want to approach the process angrily, as tempting as it is to do so -- neither my father nor my stepmother treated me like a family member when the time came to mourn my grandparents, with whom I was close; and the same held true when my father himself died, though that situation was complicated by problems with my husband at the time. Still -- I want to somehow return to that history and rewrite it a little. I can't make relational connections where none are wanted -- my father's children barely know me, might not even recognize me on the street, have never contacted me. If they marry or have children, I most likely won't hear of it. And there's little chance of my former stepmother and I ever desiring each other's company. But at least I could have access, in the grief of missing loved ones, to some of the rituals people need in order to move forward.

I found the bulletins from my grandparents' funerals, but no reference to interment. If I have to I can call my stepbrother out in Cambridge, with whom my relationship is a bit warmer though very inconsistent. He could tell me. But I'm reluctant to do so. I don't know how much re-opening of old wounds I'm willing to undergo here. It's a fraught process.

I have a friend who has a death anniversary this week; his mother, gone I think 11 years now. This friend is heading north to his hometown tomorrow, to help with the funeral for the father of two close friends. And, I imagine, to visit his mother's grave. I wish I could do that, though I haven't always felt this way. My friend will doubtless have an emotional weekend, and I hope the funeral is at least a good one.

What sort of ceremony would be helpful? I wonder.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

in progress

Starting (finally) my turn at the first altered book in the Round Robin. Mailing date is December 15; and I wish my digital camera were working properly, I miss it so.

At left, one of the images I'll add to the "Book of Quotes." Though I haven't quite settled on a quote yet. Isaiah? Rilke? Maybe Patricia Hampl? Rilke might work best with the wintery image, which I'll layer behind some semi-transparent snowflake paper.

One of the gals from the paper class gave me some hand-made paper she'd produced at home. The sheet contains a fair amount of dryer lint, which is AWESOME. Have to come up with a project for it, and for my other dryer findings.

winter makes people mean

So my sister was laid off on Friday.
Which means that both of the most marginally-employed people I know are now unemployed. Both of whom have worked long years in seemingly secure industries, but both are merely disposable workers -- mid-management types. My sister was already working two job to get by a year ago, and now her unemployment will suck because she still has part-time (minimum wage) work at nights, and because it's Texas. Meanwhile, CW can't even get a decent wage as a temp, and there's apparently little available in her field. So far my sister still has an apartment, where she lives with her four-year-old daughter part-time (shared custody); but if she can't clear $1200 per month, she won't be able to eat, pay rent and pay her bills. I suspect she is already in default on a credit card or two.
Obama had better have something up his sleeve for these people. For CW, and Heather, and our friend MB who is about to lose his house. All single people -- and a single person is in danger in this economy.
Winter makes the people with the money turn mean.
Merry Fucking Christmas.

a sad day

Today was a very emotional day at church. We marked the Second Sunday of Advent, meditated on Isaiah 40, and beheld the full clinical dissection of the multiple-issue trainwreck that is the roof of the sanctuary. This week we move our worship activities to another space, another church building we own, and become a two-campus congregation. After Christmas we'll decide whether to try to save the sanctuary, which will cost all the money we currently possess; or if we should tear it down, and bide our time until we can build another, or sell the property.

Tonight marks the fifth anniversary of my father's passing, though his clinical death actually took place the morning of the 10th. Some time early in the morning of December 8th, between midnight and I think 2am, his heart stopped in an ambulance traveling from St. Francis to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. He was resuscitated, but never regained consciousness, having suffered an aneurysm in his brain that involved heavy bleeding. About 24 hours later doctors stopped his heart, harvested some donated organs, and so his life ended. I heard later that the lungs and kidneys were placed quickly, and live on in others, somewhere.

So I'm crying a lot today, and it's like the weather -- there's no cure, no need to try hard to comfort me, it will pass. This will pass. I miss my father, though we never knew each other like we should have, and I wish he were still around to play with his grandson. I know he would have been a terrific grandpa. He'd have done what lots of fathers do -- worked out his parenting mistakes by making it up to his grandkids. I'd have been happy to see it, too. But he's forgiven, was forgiven before he died, for not always knowing what was needed from him as a parent.

Better stop writing, or I'll start crying again. Sore eyes and a headache. :-)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

speaking of Jesus Freaks

After a business meeting at the bank, CW and I stopped at Diamonds, a Northeast hangout near to the arts district. While waiting for our lattes and breakfast sandwiches to appear (and shit, I am now realizing that I have no cash as a result of this visit), a guy appeared. We'd seen the guy earlier. He'd left his bag and his coffee on a cafe table near the counter, and CW and I had rudely plopped our own junk on the table next to his in his absence. He excused himself and began collecting his articles. CW, always social, made a polite apology and friendly remark. The guy turned instead to me and asked, "Did you go to Brown?" I said Huh? And he repeated the question. I realized he meant Brown Institute here in town, and denied having attended (though I thought about it at one point, another story.) "Did you go to MCAD?" he asked. OK, now I've apparently been ID'd. I acknowledged the affirmative.

"Yeah," says the guy, "I thought I recognized you. You're Jennifer, right?" Uh-oh, I'm thinking. Did I date this guy at some point? If you've known me more than ten years, you know it's genuinely possible for me to have completely forgotten about one of the guys I actually dated. Thing is, he's not my type, which makes me wonder if I turned him down. (Also awkward.) The guy introduces himself, I introduce CW, and we all stand around for a few minutes. The name does NOT ring a bell, I'm afraid. Still awkward...when does it end...but apparently we knew each other in the illustration department in art school, waaaayyyy back in the mid-Nineties. "What are you doing now?" He wants to know. We give each other the rundown. Neither of us makes art for money. "I'm not real good at it," says the guy. He's in school to be an electrician. Underemployed, not an uncommon problem. He has settled in Northeast. He wants to know where I work. I'm careful to keep pulling CW into this conversation, keep it light. I explain my church work, and the guy's eyes light up. CW explains that she works there too, "But I'm not a Jesus Freak or anything," she says. "We're not, like, all glassy-eyed about it." Evidently this is one of those days when she feels the need to add disclaimers. Maybe she thinks the Guy is cute.

Apparently, however, the Guy is not disinterested in Jesus Freaks. He starts talking about a new church he's been attending, up in Fridley -- the Substance Church. CW and I exchange a look. We've heard of this church, which has blanketed Northeast with direct-mail postcards and glossy promo stuff. Guy says they have an awesome, "spiritual" atmosphere -- he makes that distinction between being himself "spiritual" and being "religious." He says their worship service is very cool, very (I'm going to forget the way he phrased it) engaging and moving. He makes reference to the music etc, and I get the feeling this is a black church, though I don't know that. "You want glassy-eyed," says the Guy, "Those people are definitely glassy-eyed. But it's cool."

The sandwiches arrive. Guy sort of takes this as a cue, doesn't ask me for my info or anything, says "Hey, you should come up there some time. It's nice to bump into you." He splits. I'm still trying to envision even one exchange or occasion from the past that would explain the Guy, I feel guilty for totally blanking him. As we drive off, I can just vaguely picture what his artwork might have looked like (this isn't unusual, I can erase a face from memory with ease but often an artist's name will summon up a visual reference for their work. This happened again recently in an unrelated conversation with someone in Superior WI, who as it turns out knows a number of local artists with whom I'm acquainted.)

Substance Church. Hmmm.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

you can't not love them

I have stolen a moment at work for posting. It's been a while, in part because my evenings aren't leaving me with much after-dark energy these days.

I just finished writing "The Word This Week" for the church's weekly e-news letter. I haven't done one in a while. Glad to this week, though, since it's my favorite verse - Isaiah 40:1-11. It will appear on the church website eventually, maybe I'll post a link for you Jesus freaks.

I capped off the assignment by reading a Salon review of Carrie Fisher's new non-fiction, "Wishful Drinking," a new slant on Fisher's autobiographical tendencies, colored apparently by her recent resort to electro-convulsive therapy for her depression and bipolarity. There's a line from the book, a reference to her relationship with ex-husband Paul Simon: "I couldn't not love him. I apprenticed myself to the best in him, and bickered with the worst."

That nicely describes my relationship with my husband. And, to some extent, with a number of the people I love best. And maybe it is, in fact, the nature of relational love -- irresistible, self-centered, uncontrollable and hard to rationalize or recover from.