Monday, July 31, 2006

Hasta la victoria siempre!

Oh. My. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Fidel Castro is having surgery. He's temporarily HANDING OVER POWER to his brother Raul Castro.

Many of you will understand exactly why and how this affects me as it does.

Conveniently, Dubya is in Miami and has recently announced plans to have a transition team in place to bring democracy to Cuba when Castro goes...

That W. is an evil, evil thing.

God help us all.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

And if you ain't got 'em, you hit rock bottom!

Smoke 'em if you got 'em...or not, eh! Get this. The illustrious Marriott corporation has announced that all of its U.S. and Canada hotels will become entirely smoke-free as of this October.


That's everywhere, in every hotel. Every Marriott, every Residence Inn, every Fairfield, every Courtyard...every every one. That is mind-blowing to me.

First of all, because it's so all-encompassing. Secondly, because it's so bold. Clearly the non-smokers' voices have spoken louder than the smokers'. (Understandably so, as the smokers probably are a little raspy with a cough and whatnot.) Particularly interesting to note is that it's just the U.S. and Canada -- this still won't fly in Europe and Asia, is the message I get.

I don't know, man. I shake my head at things like this. I know some people passionately believe this is the direction the world is going and those who light up need to either jump on the train or get the hell out of the way - but do extinguish your cigarettes first, as there is likely no longer a smoking car!

I was a smoker. I quit. I am very, very proud of my quit, as it turns out. I barely ever even think about having a cigarette, and that only happens when I'm conversing about cigs with a friend smoking in front of me. I never have dreams about smoking anymore. I have made my 1000 days and then some. I have in fact just passed my 40-month anniversary. I think my new goal might be to go as long without smoking as I smoked (roughly nine years as a habit, though it was off-and-on the first year or two).

But I just don't care if other people smoke at the Marriott Hotel.

Or in a restaurant. Or bar. Or CASINO for criminy sakes. Or in the airport, or at the bus stop, or in a box, or with a fox...well, OK, maybe with a fox, because smoking with a fox would be just plain weird. But seriously -- any-bloody-where in front of me! Don't care! I've thought about what it would be like to care. I can get passionately worked up about so many things that you'd think I could get worked up about this one. Alas, no.

In fact, the last time I stayed at a Marriott Hotel, I even let the smokers smoke in my non-smoking room sometimes. Aren't I a troublemaker! Whatever, they smoked out the window. I was more upset when they broke a glass on the carpet, hello.

The point is -- hmm, what is the point? That I suffer from apathy? They say there's nothing worse than a reformed drunk. (And I might be testing out that theory soon!) But apparently the reformed smoker thing is not the same.

I recently watched the movie Thank You For Smoking and I thought it was hilarious! Fantastic! Sarcastic and witty and intelligent and no-holds-barred and packed a punch and -- the best thing about it -- it took on both sides of the debate. It pointed out some of the obnoxious qualities and fallacies of those on both sides. I mean, it definitely made its anti-tobacco-company-politics point. But it was not sanctimonious about it. I think that's the worst thing about all the anti-smokers: they're so holier-than-thou! I think possibly more so than any other issue. I love that we are allowed to have a "debate" about the merits of war -- war! War!! Literally killing people with the stated goal of killing people with no pleasure or particularly social aspect and definitely expensive and takes a toll on our resources and the healthcare industry and so on...yeah, war is all right. But smoking? How could you even suggest it's not the worst thing ever? Oh, no.

I wish more of the smoking debate were like Thank You For Smoking.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Greener Valleys

A rainy evening. The thunder and downpour erupted over Davis Square as I left 'Orleans' grill to head for my bus. Dozens of commuters huddled under the safety of the station and busway roofs, cell phones blazing in an effort to rustle up rides home through the squall. I found my roommate on the bus and we rode home, amused by the storm. When we crossed the street after disembarking, the rain flooding the gutters rushed my ankles with such force it swept away one of my flip-flops and I had to chase it a few yards down Winthrop Street.

Things flood us from time to time.

Now we sit in the darkened living room, purple-gray evening outside, and white-gray electronic glow inside. My roommate is watching War of the Worlds and I am catching up with far-flung people.

When some of the things currently swirling around my head and heart are resolved, I will encourage you to revisit this blog entry. I feel an aching in my chest right now that matches the sweltering night--sheets and desk and wood floors hot to the touch, but the tones and colors of the night all shades of cool. My inner turmoil mirrors that. Hot and cold is just the surface.

There's news of cancer, breakdown, a breakup, betrayal, moving, seeking, financial strain, interpersonal strain, heartsickness, a fuzzy haze, powder, prayer, departures to foreign lands, and desperate attempts to stick around...and those are just the ones I am allowed to write about. There are so many people's stories who are not mine to tell. But we flow into each other, don't we?

I promise it will make more sense when I can detail it all, after I can process it all. Today I watch the rain flood my neighborhood and my world and I think about us all under a sky that at any time can pour itself upon us with no thought to what we need. Or what we heed, come to think of it.

What it is, is, we find people in this world in a variety of ways. We connect to them through the great tapestry in a variety of ways, and sometimes we find them later, much later, when we didn't know they were coming. Other times we find them too early, and we're not ready, or we don't think we're ready. Who can be ready for a storm like this, though?

And then at the end of it all life, squelched for a time, can breathe, replenished, rejuvenated.

Meanwhile, my Indigo Girls run through my head:

"I'm heading back to the flatlands, and you're heading up to the hills
The rain brings you home in the middle of July.
I guess I just got lonesome, when I think about how you feel,
with six months gone and no one to dry your eyes.
I said nuevas senoritas, are you gone to brighter days?
Have you found your greener valleys?
and the place where your heart lays?"

-- amy ray, 'nuevas senoritas'

Friday, July 21, 2006

See? I told you!

It's nice to see my theory in print! This was spotted in the Boston edition of Metro, the free, global, largely commuter-read newspaper.

The headline: Harvard students evacuated from Beirut
Written by one Laura Dannen of Metro Boston

It begins, "Six Harvard undergraduates are among the thousands of Americans evacuated from Lebanon as fighting between Israel and Hezbollah enters its second week. As of Monday, the students - who had either been studying or doing research in Beirut - had safely dispersed to other countries, including Turkey, Switzerland and California, with the help of the university."

OK, people, seriously. It's cool, powerful, populous, and significant, but California really still is just a state, not another country. But I swear that's how people in New England think of it! People, I might add, who have NOT been there but feel absolutely well qualified to tell me all their judgments about it nonetheless. I used to joke when I first moved from L.A. to Boston that I was a foreign exchange student. Now look how the Metro supports my theory! I love it when that happens.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Here's to how the wind blows

I have been on a quest for a couple of years to "get rid of all my earthly possessions." Trouble is, as a major packrat I have quite a lot of things, but then again they're not particularly valuable or anything. I'm just attached to them. Far too attached. That said, I purge each time I move, and I did pretty well last year as I was preparing to leave for Korea. The biggest sticking point with me is: MY BOOKS.

CDs and books are the only possessions I really don't want to get rid of. Nothing else seems particularly necessary, justifiable, philosophically worth it, etc. But music and books = lifeblood. As anyone who knows me knows, I have acquired a lot of books over the years.

My roommates were the caretakers of my library while I was in Korea. I left my books here in the upstairs middle room, with the promise to attend to them when I returned. Of course at that time I didn't know I'd be returning to live here for two months, so residing in the house this summer is just an added bonus. Yesterday I spent hours upstairs going through all of my books. And you know what I've decided to do?

Get rid of them.

I know! I know! You don't believe it. It's really me, I promise. I am not an impostor posting to this blog. I just think about dragging boxes and boxes of books with me - again - when I leave for Hofstra and as I travel the globe and you know what? No.

Yes, it still feels strange to type these words, to truly be thinking about and ready to get rid of my books. But it's really true. I am such a new person these days, I swear.

So I went through and organized them and I touched every book I own! Every book. That in itself was a fascinating experience. It was such a trip down memory lane, and furthermore I found the most interesting things IN the books, like bookmarks, old pieces of paper, cards, phone messages taken by former roommates I'd at some point used to keep my place...

(side note: there's a used bookstore here, in Cambridge, called Lorem Ipsum Books that decorates the bathroom walls with bits of paper like bookmarks and notes and such from the books it sells. how awesome is that?)

Anyway, I do believe I am going to sell my books. And you know what? After years of accumulation, I have a number of really interesting books!

Now, I have sold books to used bookstores before, actually. Several times over the years I have traded in a dozen or so at a time...but this time I am having a major sell-off. The ones I am keeping? At this point, I am only allowing myself to cling to 1)the gifts from friends and exes and such (surprisingly few) 2)the signed-personalized 3) a few in foreign languages, for practice 4)the cool special editions of Candide (my favorite book - I have six different editions of it) 5) and my Pulitzer novels library. But I might try to purge still further from those lingering groups as well. Like, do I really need to keep the books people gave me just because people gave them to me? I bet other people don't feel nearly as guilty about getting rid of a book I've given them!

It occurs to me I have other books floating around my parents' houses -- forever on my Things to Do list is the task of getting all my earthly belongings from their places -- but the tally, as of today, here in this house: I have 615 books. I have read 247 of them. (That's 40%.)

Hey, that's not so many, really!

"The key to traveling light is to not need very much..." Mary-Chapin Carpenter, 'One Small Heart'

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Wait for no man

Yesterday marked the one-month annviersary of my return to the United States!

Oh, you thought I'd stop talking about time, did you, now that I'm out of Korea? You thought perhaps I would stop counting weeks and months and years, stop noting fractions and segments completed, stop observing the passage that is undaunted by anything we do? We can kick and scream and tug and beg and pummel time with our fists of outraged procrastination but it just keeps moving, shrugging off everyone equally. So indifferent. Mary-Chapin called time the great equalizer. Or, wait? Was that sex? Love? It was her album Time*Sex*Love...oh, hold on, now I've got to go check.

I had it wrong! What a bad Mary-Chapin Carpenter fan! "Time is the great gift, sex is the great equalizer, love is the great mystery." Her bandmate/guitarist/co-songwriter/ producer/musical partner/lifelong friend John Jennings originally said it; that is the full title of the album Time*Sex*Love. Hmm. Well, now, time is the great gift. That part I agree with. I think it supports my point about time: that after Korea I'll never take it for granted again. Therefore, I continue to notice it.

Now let's talk about titles with asterisks in them. There's Time*Sex*Love and there's -- the big one! come on! you know it! -- M*A*S*H. Ahhhhhhhhhh, sighed the girl newly returned from Korea, as she promptly logged on to her roommate's computer and rejoined Netflix.

Here's a great thing that happened: Netflix kept me in its system, waiting patiently, just knowing I was bound to return from Korea and reactivate my membership. And it was right! I think that was one of my first acts as I settled back into this Medford house. The 200+ movies in my queue were right there waiting to be sent to me in succession, just as I'd left them, but I added all of the M*A*S*H discs in order and moved them to the upper echelons of the queue. That was a lot of DVDs. Each season is three discs or so, so now my queue is basically M*A*S*H after M*A*S*H after M*A*S*H. I've been out of town a lot this past month, but last week I watched Season 1 Disc 1 and it was -- well, it was what I thought it would be: strange.

That disc had the first eight episodes of the first season, and as any M*A*S*H fan knows, the first season is nothing to write home about. It was largely movie-derivative and as far as my Korea-ruminating purposes go, these particular episodes were too Vietnam-esque, to the point they were making any statement at all, but there were some Korean moments. There was Young-Hee ("I am also beautiful!") and that resonated much differently with me than when I viewed the show in my youth. I now see the whole honor/dishonoring the family thing matter-of-factly, instead of exotically.

That, I believe, is the first of many lessons I'll learn by watching the entirety of M*A*S*H in order as a post-Korea project. By living in another country, no matter how beautiful/wacky/grueling/ unsettling/enlightening, you enable yourself to look at it matter-of-factly instead of as some exotic Other. Agreeing or disagreeing is not the point of living abroad. Understanding is.

Speaking of living abroad, on Sunday I happened to go on an artist's date (The Artist's Way -- that's another post for another day) in the late afternoon to the beach in between the Wood Island and Orient Heights stops on the blue line. I wandered a bit and then sat for quite a while on a bench, watching the planes take off from Logan Airport. This, of course, made me think of "Winthrop," the Indigo Girls song that begins like this: When we get back to Winthrop, a few miles from the airport, on a plastic chair on a deck where my friends live, I watch the taking off airplanes, I watch the ocean waves crashing, and with all of this movement something's got to give. Down at the high tide, passed down through the family, the fisherman gather to complain about the catch. They talk about time and they talk about tides...I listen to them, and I listen to you, and for someone there is something never coming back.

So I sang it, and then I sang another Emily Saliers song, and another, and another. Just me and my inner artist, on a bench, singin' in the glorious light as the afternoon waned. I mixed in about one and a half Amy Ray songs but I kept going back to Emily: "Closer to Fine," "Love Will Come to You," "The Wood Song," "Watershed," "Mystery." It was rather nice, and passers-by didn't even seem to much care that I was just sitting on a bench singing by myself (but I wasn't by myself, you see, I was on a date with my inner artist).

Just then, Italy won the World Cup. There is no shortage of Italians anywhere in Boston, but I was in a particularly good place there. Cries of joy, honking horns, people spilling onto the streets waving Italian flags and biking along the sidewalk adjacent to the beach crying "Italy!!!" An Italian couple, maybe in their early 60s, joined me on my bench. They spoke mostly Italian with some English mixed in, but even with my extremely limited Italian skills (read: I speak French and Spanish) I could decipher that they were talking about the game and discussing the 1-1 score ("una a una" - that was easy) and the penalty kicks and so forth. When the jubilant cries started, I'd used my cell phone to get the World Cup update from Google text messaging, so I knew what was going on, even.

Other Italian friends of the couple happened by and they greeted each other "Viva l'Italia!" and talked about the game for a while. One couple joined them, so they four moved to the next bench over to all sit together, but I could still listen to the lovely mixed language conversation. They basked in the rapture of their country's glory, and I basked in their rapture, and the beach, and the moment. And I sang Emily songs, like "Galileo" (he was Italiano!): How long 'til my soul gets it right? Did any human being ever reach that kind of light? And "Virginia Woolf": Did you hear me say? Each life has its place. And "Winthrop": I hear the dim roar of the last flight out, and for someone there is someone never coming back.

Friday, July 07, 2006


I kind of miss being jet lagged. The first week or two I was back here I was pretty jet lagged. It felt wacky. I could not sleep for more than a few hours at a time. I woke up at first light. I was just - wide awake! suddenly! at 5:30, 6, was strange.

It also made me very productive in the mornings.

Then while I was hanging out with my family chez Grandma in western Massachusetts I started to be able to go back to sleep after that initial 6 a.m. wake-up. That was the beginning of the end. I let myself go back to sleep again and again until it was 8:00 or so! At this time I was of course getting sicker and sicker, my Korea cough worsening and my body ravaged by feverish muscle aches, and I slept and rested during a couple afternoons at Grandma's house. Of course that turned out to be pneumonia, I learned during my second week back in the U.S., my little lungs having brought home a souvenir from Korea that wasn't going to get any better 'til I hit the antibiotics.

By the end of week two, staying with friends in Washington D.C., I was letting myself fall back asleep again until 8 or even 9 and my body was taking the hint, and now it seems to be back to its habit of sleeping past 8 a.m. , especially when I'm up 'til 1 or 2 or 3 a.m.

Now this week I'm just bus lagged.

Bus lag is nowhere near as nice as jet lag. Bus lag hurts my neck and is just plain exhaustion. There's no wide-eyed wackiness to it whatsoever. There is only me wondering which northeastern U.S. city I'm passing through at the moment...and am I getting on a bus at midnight tonight?...what does this week hold in store?...can I just sleep comfortably in a bed again?...and so on.

This was a good week, though. I celebrated the 4th of July in Virginia Beach. The next day visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and on my way back through New York I took the side trip out to Hempstead on Long Island to visit Hofstra. That was very bizarre and I do believe the enormity of it all hit me upon actually setting foot on that campus. Of course, I was so very tired (bus lagged!) while there so it was not a very good state of mind to be contemplating one's future or even one's present. I came back to Boston last night on an arduous bus journey that completes (I hope, for a while, anyway) the string of arduous bus journeys I've been taking of late.

Yeah, bus lag.

Today I went with my aunt (and friend) Barbara to Cape Ann. We had a quite nice day trip excursion and enjoyed walking around Rockport and driving around the area and lunching, strolling, shopping and talking about life. It was absolutely fantastic. One interesting highlight was the shop Floating Lotus, which has all manner of Asian goods: clothing, rugs, scarves, drums, small carved things, lanterns, tapestries, etc., mostly from India and Thailand and Laos. I noticed a little sign explaining that the owners were a man and woman who had lived in Asia for a few years and developed relationships with the artisans and creators of these products, and they are now selling their items here and maintaining relationships with the makers and supporting fair trade and products they know to be made in good conditions.

I was definitely intrigued and I guessed correctly that they went to Asia to teach English. I talked to them for some time. They taught in Taiwan. We discussed our experiences and the similarities and some of the things we'd discovered about Asia, life, teaching, travel, and ourselves. We talked about the "lifers" we'd met who have embarked on the English teaching path and aren't looking back, and we talked about knowing when it was time to come home. They were very awesome and if you ever go to Rockport/Bear Skin Neck then go to the Floating Lotus because it and its owners are great!

I'm still rather enjoying this summer of contemplation and determining things. But I haven't forgotten my man Candide - yes, still my favorite book of all time - and I would do especially well to not forget his words now, as I'm looking at everything through one giant prism of synchronicity, from Borders to War and Peace, from Westwood to Korea and everywhere in between.

All right then, Voltaire, bring it home:

Pangloss sometimes said to Candide: "All events are linked together in the best of all possible worlds; for after all, if you had not been expelled from a fine castle with great kicks in the backside for love of Mademoiselle Cunegonde, if you had not been subjected to the Inquisition, if you had not traveled about America on foot, if you had not given the Baron a great blow with your sword, if you had not lost all your sheep from the good country of Eldorado, you would not be here eating candied citrons and pistachios."

"That is well said," replied Candide, "but we must cultivate our garden."

Saturday, July 01, 2006

This world falls on me

Yeah, it's true. It's another Indigo Girls song.

"I'm coming home with a stone strapped onto my back
I'm coming home with a burning hope

turning all my blues to black
I'm looking for a sacred hand to carve into my stone
A ghost of comfort, angel's breath,

to keep this life inside my chest
This world falls on me, hopes of immortality
Everywhere I turn all the beauty just keeps shaking me..."
-- from 'world falls'

Today was sunny and lovely. I wandered and I was productive. I was productive both with writing at home, and with errands out in the world. I have also noticed more and more people attentively watching World Cup games in public places, I might add. Furthermore, I found out that you can text message Google info on your cell phone and they'll send you World Cup scores. I love that!

But I digress.

World Falls, World Cup, world world world. What a wonderful world! I was in Harvard Square today. I have been in Harvard Square most of the days that I have been back in Cambridge/Boston. It is just the central point I pass through so often. And since coming back from Korea, I like it even more than I used to. Today I was just running errands there: bank, post office, coffee, CVS...but other days I have gone there to meet a friend for a drink or eat Mexican food. Yes, I have been eating Mexican food at every possible opportunity. It's true.

Today I also wandered into the Globe Corner bookstore, in its new location. It's a travel books and maps store. I like it. I hadn't been to it since it moved. It used to be right across from the Mexican restaurant. Anyway, I found myself looking at the Korean books. I just had to look at them to sort of see what looking at them was like now that I've been there done that. It was strange. I flipped through Culture Shock! Korea and nodded a lot.

They had Simon Winchester's book about Korea, which I had actually meant to buy and bring with me, and which I will still probably read, soon. But I didn't buy it today. I just looked. I liked the quote at the start of Chapter 1, from Hendrick Hamel's 1668 book The Description of the Kingdom of Corea, the first Western account of the 'Hermit Kingdom': "This Kingdom is very dangerous, and difficult for Strangers."

I used to complain about Boston a lot. I didn't mean to complain exactly; more like I just felt its flaws needed to be acknowledged as openly as its attributes. There are so many people here who've never left Massachusetts and whose families have been here for like fourteen generations and they just don't KNOW anything about the West Coast, say, for all their judgment of it...but after Korea, I find I like Boston more and more.

It must seem like I'm a total Korea hater. I'm really not at all. I've just experienced so much in the last nine months, and I can barely wrap my mind around it all. But lovely wandering days like today make it all very nice.

"This world falls on me with dreams of immortality.
Everywhere I turn all the beauty just keeps shaking me
I'm running, to the ends of the earth
I'm swimming, to the edge of the sea
And I'm laughing, I'm under starry skies
This world was meant for me
Don't bury me, carry me!"