Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 20

I just watched another YouTube post of the tsunami in Japan, this one footage from a dashboard cam (supposedly the driver survived) as the first wave crested over a coastal freeway and briefly submerged the vehicle, before washing it into the strip mall adjacent. Not long after, I checked in at one of my favorite blogs, only to find that the suffering and environmental devastation in Japan has caused the blogger to cease writing -- protesting the self-centered, individualistic triviality of the blogosphere. Most of my favorites have continued in some way discussing Japan, which in various ways has captured attention from the world less noticeable after the quake in New Zealand. And grief, and sorrow. Anger.

The scientists have weighed in, the seismologists and the oceanographers, the ones who predicted the eventuality of such an earthquake as Japan's. And the deep -- really, bone-shaking -- origins of Earth's periodic shudders are unavoidable, ineluctable, time-transcendent. The tiny people flee from the scale of the Creation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

a short walk

Way past tired at a mere 9pm, Daylight Savings kicking all our asses as usual, everyone dragging.

And yet it rained today, and I was out in it. I walked fifteen minutes in what was admittedly a mere sprinkle, barely a shower; and ate my chipotle turkey wrap from the coffee shop as I walked. Late back from the bank, heading for the office. Failing in my Lenten resolve not to shop until Easter, I stopped at the Saks discount and spent what I shouldn't have on a pair of cropped pants (Seven for All Mankind, striped Eighties denim), and two tops (one lacy black Juicy, one tie-dyed gray - I know it's spring, but my wardrobe is comfortably composed of black separates.) I concealed my purchases in my purse and juggled my sandwich as I crossed the railroad tracks in the rain, hood up. Considering how long it seems to have taken this Spring to arrive, it was a sublime few minutes.

The melting snowbanks reveal their archeological layers, and the first rains of March wash the accumulated carbon grit and sand down the brimful storm sewers. This reminds me of a song that I love, "Waters of March" by David Byrne and Marisa Monte (here).Yet is also reminds me of Japan, of Sendai, and the unstoppable waters of tsunami. "A drip, a drop, the end of the trail."

I can't help myself -- the longer I walk (and it's been years), the longer I look, the more the wrack and ruin of city streets appeals. The dirtier, the better. I would like to start carrying rubber gloves in my purse so I can lift up the tattered, mud-caked layers of the anonymous world, and rinse them off, and make a city quilt of them all. Gloves because while I love to see the streets I don't especially want all that under my fingernails. I think though again of Sendai, of Japan, and the acres of lost belongings and torn-apart things once cherished, and desolate filth -- the wrack, and the ruin. And I think (in spite of myself) look at the photos of the burning house floating down a river of mud and tree roots -- look at the wasteland of rice fields strewn with buckets and corrugated metal and a boot and a book and some twisted cotton shirts -- look at the sad bright child in his only coat clinging to his mother's back as she picks through what's left of her seaside home -- LOOK. Even in suffering, everything God made is beautiful. Christ ease their suffering. And forgive me for looking, when perhaps I really ought to look away.  

I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for Art Adventures training last week, and was treated to a lengthy docent tour of certain works while learning how to talk to children about these -- Picasso, Tanguay, and several others, learning how to elicit thoughts and interpretations only, not to judge, not to historicize -- only to treat children to the pleasure of consuming with their eyes and realizing with their imaginations the creative process, the narrative of thoughts and marks and colors and shapes, the interpretations of the world around us. It was a privilege.

It makes me want to look at the rest of the water-logged world this way.

What do you see? What do you think is happening here? What's going on in this picture? Yes. Yes, that, and what else?

Frame the neighborhood with fingers and thumb in a square, the old L-7. What's going on in this picture?

Thank God for Spring. Protect Japan from the worst depths of possible suffering. We rejoice, and tears fall.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sorry: Reflections on Japan

Juxtaposition: spring cleaning at the homestead, a kid splashing in the tub, snow still crusted over the lawn and rooftop. Videos of tsunami waters ripping through Japanese towns, cars and homes adrift in deep fast-moving currents, the water leaving behind trees festooned with garbage, clothing, odds and ends. Lent, an Ash Wednesday recently passed, Sunday School tomorrow and a lesson-plan to fine-tune. Sirens in the distance. Bread cooling on the kitchen table. Soon we'll play "Sorry" and probably eat some popcorn.

I took Oceanography in college, and I understand plate tectonics. I know that the "Ring of Fire" is not just a song by Johnny Cash, and realize that these things happen; earthquakes, tsunamis, loss of life. The epicenter of the earthquake in Japan was so close to the coast that the Japanese had a scant 15 minutes to collect their thoughts and their belongings, their children and cars and pets, before the waters came. Improved warning systems are fine if you have some distance between your town and the seismic event. Time and space --

and Luck. I just won at "Sorry," a barn-burner of a game in which all three of us wound up vying for low-numbered cards as we attempted to get our last pawn Home. After reshuffling the cards three times, I finally drew the low number. My seven year old son is learning how to calculate odds as he plays -- which pawn has the best chance of making it to safety first? Which player has the best odds of winning, and needs to be sent back to Start ASAP?

As I consider the probability of the Japanese death toll numbering in the tens of thousands, it occurs to me to wonder whose job it is to recalculate the economic health of a region, after a sizable percentage of its population is swept out sea? It depends, doesn't it, on how many of the victims were women and children; on the industrial base for local employment; on whether a coastal town relied more upon fishing or farming. If a significant number of the dead lived in poverty, is the nation improved? Does the math of clean-up costs versus medical expenses make human survival more or less helpful?

What about the long-term prospects of the inundated region? Are the fields more fertile, or are they damaged by industrial pollutants and sewage? What about the explosion and near-meltdown at that nuclear power plant -- what are the prospects in that company town now? What was the environmental impact of the fires at the oil refinery? Will whole towns abandon their former neighborhoods and prefectures and flee to the cities, where they can live amongst the relatively sturdy urban highrises and find subsistence work where infrastructures are still relatively intact -- are they the new Tokyo underclass?

What of the children? Like those Haitian orphans, mud-covered, naked, lost from their families. Who is wandering the desolation, looking for a single face, wondering if it's the end of the world? Someone, somewhere in Northeast Japan. Odds are.

Lent is a time to be grateful.
Do we thank God that we are from the Midwest; that we struggle merely with long winters? Do we thank God that we live on the high ground? God be merciful to me, a sinner. To whom can we send our blankets? 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

wide-awake ticks from Missouri

I have a close friend who is in the dog rescue biz. She runs a regular railroad between Sioux City and Minneapolis for dogs (mainly labs and bully breeds), placing them with other rescues and with foster families to await adoption, getting them fixed, updating vaccinations and the like. Today, her birthday, she had care of a dog named Samson. A dog possessed of many "wide-awake ticks from Missouri." I can only imagine the courage it must require to invite unknown numbers of ticks into your home, however unwillingly, in order to save a dog's life. Ticks that would undoubtedly like to get to know you better. Blah! Cathie, my hat's off to you.

I have another friend who knows all too much about such matters. She and her family deal with chronic Lyme Disease, a maddeningly pernicious condition that doctors are still squabbling over. Tick season is commencing, people. And again I say, Blah! 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

the difference between the two?

There's a line in a Paul Simon song - 'and sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears.' It gets me thinking lately, about the places where art and life intersect, and the purposes of creating visual work, compared to the purposes of writing. And particularly, blogging.

I haven't been able to put my feelings into words terribly well lately, in fact feel impatient with the notion. What's the point? Who gives a damn? Instead, I'm collaging and drawing quite a lot in the Japanese sketchbook (Moleskine) -- on the bus, during meetings, on the train, at the family reunion. Words come through there too, in places, but they are happily buried amongst images and textures. I lay them down, tear them up, lay them down again, until the page looks like a rotting billboard. That's more like it. That's the world I see, the one I live in. Not a place where feelings can be articulated in a meaningful way.

I will see friends and coworkers this week, they will say "How are you today?" and "How was your weekend?" As I lay in bed (terribly tired, sore neck, etc) this evening while the boys watched a movie, I thought about how I struggle to answer those most basic everyday inquiries. I know darned well most folks aren't looking for anything deeply personal in response, it's just polite exchange with people who care in a general sort of way. But I'll see a few friends with whom I feel a real bond and I wonder if I'll take advantage of the opportunity to disclose something really authentic, or if I'll just waste another moment of relationship?

Most of my friends, if they read this, would say Who cares? It's not that important to be truthful every moment of the day. Even if you don't tell the truth about your feelings, the Fate of the Free World doesn't depend on this. If you are not in crisis and are merely struggling for a handle on things, well, so are we all.

And they'd be right.

What's the difference between expressing myself with images and doing it with words? Besides the obvious.

Images reveal my feelings to me gradually. I don't like to sketch from life much, preferring to pull abstract pieces together to form juxtapositions rather than sentences. A sentence almost always requires a point, a fact, if not a revelation. But an image suggests, in this case. An image contains within it infinite space. Space in which to see something beautiful, that I can associate with my Self without feeling vain; or space in which to see something ugly, and own it or confront it. The blog requires a degree of certitude, without which the writing feels pointless and lame. Not so an image.

The other thing, speaking from the heart probably shouldn't be a new story every week. I know someone whose heart is constantly on the move -- who said something like, "I claw my way out of the blazing wreckage of one relationship, and into the blazing wreckage of the next one." These days we talk about hard times and antidepressants a lot.

An image, unlike a blog, promises nothing in advance. You can take it or leave it.

But here goes: I balance emptiness with gratitude each day. I yearn foolishly for what I can't have. I try to say things that are helpful, or at least not hurtful, and I hope I'm doing my job as well as I can. I don't know if there's anything unique or significant about any of it. I don't know why we go on sleeping and waking, sometimes, except that this is living and this is the only life we get.