Friday, October 28, 2011

Starkville Indigo

Don't those two words, starkville and indigo, just sound so perfect together? This may be part of why the song "Starkville" is one of the highlights of my career as an Indigo Girls fan. It's a wonderful, perfect piece of them.

"If you were here in Starkville..." the song begins. It is a melancholy song, but also lively. It recalls, and it looks ahead. It's a song about vast expanses between things that are connected, such as distant geographical locations and human hearts.

I put "Starkville" on my 25K training run playlist, because of the steady drumbeat and the "I went running for my health/I watched those headlights turn to moonlight and finally/I was running by myself" part.

"Starkville" is an Amy song on the album Become You, which came out in 2002. I think of Become You as a transition album, a kind of link between two different Indigo Girls eras. It could be that I am projecting two of my different eras of fandom onto the Girls themselves, but I think musically my theory holds up. I think you could play any of the first five or six albums, and then you could play Despite our Differences or the latest, Beauty Queen Sister, and someone might not at first realize it was the same band. (If there's a flaw in my theory it's All That We Let In, but we'll analyze that another day.

There is a lot to love about "Starkville." For one thing, it offers up lines like "I'm haunted by geography" and "My regrets become distractions" and "I call you on a whim just to say/morning birds are singing/but I could not do them justice/so I hung up and I fell back to sleep."

It also has "I'm in love with my mobility, but sometimes this life can be a drag."  That's another thing to love about "Starkville."

And I haven't even mentioned the "I was hell bent on agony back then" part. Really, "Starkville" is a song for people who have ever appreciated someone else and who are now appreciating where they are. And who they are. (The whole of Become You is good for this, I might add.)

My friend Finn, who inspired this post, has a deep, true appreciation for "Starkville." When we all lived in L.A., he and some others came over to my apartment on my birthday. He said he had not got me a present, so he made up a dance to "Starkville" for me instead. 

I cannot provide you a link, because the only hints of "Starkville" I can find online are craptacular videos that "cannot not do [it] justice."  But I can urge you to purchase it from iTunes or (gasp!) buy it on CD in a music store. It's worth it.

A great thing about being an Indigo Girls fan is having spent so many years watching and listening to Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, watching and listening to their growth and contributions to the planet. "Starkville" is such an Amy-esque Amy moment. A link between her past and present, too. A look at all that there has been and all that there is to come and all that is now.

Oh, and total bonus: it has harmonica!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"The rains came down and the floods came up..."

Did you know that Hurricane Irene had a devastating impact on Vermont? Have you been reading daily news updates about the damage, floods, FEMA efforts, people who lost their homes, and years of clean-up work ahead?  Most of us have not been hearing about this at all.

An ABC news report noted that homes, bridges, roads, and the state's emergency operations center were washed away. That's a fine mess to be in. I also read that a dozen or more towns in Vermont and New York were cut off. Like, there you were in your town, with no immediate way to the outside world (short of some far-reaching medieval catapult-like device, maybe?), which is something that I think we all take for granted all the time: that we can just somehow, whether on public transportation or in a car or even on a bicycle or on foot, hit the road and go somewhere else. Oh, and? People died. The governor of Vermont called for "all the help we can get." But within a few days, the media and, as importantly, the public had moved on to other things.

I was here in Korea when Irene did her thing. I was aware of Irene. I read internet updates, scrolled through a gazillion Facebook updates about it on my news feed, and watched tons of live coverage on CNN International -- of the build-up, and of the raging waters. The watching. The waiting. The Anderson Cooper live at the water's edge in New York City. The obligatory reporter clutching a pole to not be blown away. All the breathless excitement with dramatic pictures of crashing waves, with journalists a-plenty dispatched to the scene, for the anticipation and thrill of the event. But reporting the after-effects? Well, that's just maybe too depressing. Naaah, we need to move on and find some nasty, bleeding, volatile coverage of something else to get people riled up, as opposed to a calm, methodical, deep digging report about what people in Vermont and other northeast states are going through after the fact.

The question is not "why don't we see the next several months of devastation and disaster recovery on our TV newscasts?" You know perfectly well  why we don't: because the viewing public would change the channel. The real question you should be asking is why you would change that channel.

Also, I daresay it has become trendy in the years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans to be scornful of FEMA and The Government, in a general, dissatisfied, heckuva-job way. But lambasting any and all public officials is probably not the solution either, because a friend of mine in northern New England reports that it has actually become a political football kind of topic there now. Political candidates are very aware of how they come across on the issue, so the danger is that it becomes all about the stance instead of about the real impact on people, their lands, their homes, their mortgages, and their lives.

My Napikoski family hometown of tiny Millers Falls, Massachusetts is in Western Mass, close enough to the Vermont border that sometimes it was closer to drive to Vermont for dinner or a particular store or event than to the next bigger town in Massachusetts. I am very familiar with the area and have spent quality time in Vermont, both as a child visiting with family, and also on my own when I lived in Boston. Since my grandma died and my dad's generation of siblings sold off the house, I haven't been back to Millers Falls. I'm not sure how the river close by my grandparents' old home fared in the storm. I try to imagine it. I am trying to imagine all of the towns in Vermont and other areas Irene hit. I am wondering if some of the cute covered bridges I remember washed away. I am wondering who the people are that were swept away in the raging waters.

The excitement died after landfall, but the flooding continued for days after that. The story wasn't over. How can we get people to pay attention to the end of these stories?

My thanks to Kamron for inspiring this blog post. You, too, can choose a topic for Linda Without Borders this month when you make a donation to my upcoming Habitat for Humanity trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Interestingly, Cambodia has also recently been hit by devastating floods, with a death toll in the hundreds.

And the world keeps turning and turning...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Grocery Shoppers Need to Get in Line!

What is it about grocery store lines that makes people think they have the right to push, shove, and crowd the person in front of them? I'm talking to - well, most of you people. This isn't one of those things where I think "there are two kinds of people in the world - all my friends and all the stupid people." No, regrettably, I fear many of you are guilty of this one. You are so impatient in grocery store lines and when you hit that conveyor belt and the  little space between the gum/magazine racks, you lose your minds. Not to mention all sense of politeness.

I mean, can you imagine that kind of activity in a line somewhere else -- the bank, or Starbucks, say? Pushing up against the person in front of you, advancing to the counter before they are finished, and all the shifting! The impatient shifting!

To be honest, it cracks me up. And you know what else it does? It slows me down. That's right, you impatient grocery shoppers. You are only making it worse for yourselves. As soon as someone bumps me from behind, which usually happens when the person in front of me (sometimes two in front of me!) is still paying, I plant my feet, and I do not move until it is my turn. That really freaks out some of the line freaks: "Oh my god! Everyone moved up three inches but this lady in front of me is NOT MOVING UP THREE INCHES!! What do I do?"  Shove shove shove. But I remain fixed. I have actually had someone tap me before and say, "Ma'am...?" and gesture to the six inches or whatever of space I had not moved up into. I said, "Oh, are you referring to the few inches of space in front of me?"

Then, when I pay, I usually do so with a debit card but as a Visa purchase, not a PIN purchase. You know what that means? I sign my name. You know what that means? I have a really long name. I can sign it quickly, just kind of do the capital 'N' and then a squiggle for the rest. Or, in cases like these, I can neatly, painstakingly, carefully write in beautiful cursive the a-p-i-k-gotta love those cursive Ks, looped back around, neatly, neatly, -o-s-oooh! here's another k!-i. Aaaand, don't forget to carefully dot the Is! I have had clerks in stores reach for the receipt three or four times before I am actually finished. I love it. The person behind me, meanwhile, is having absolute fits.

They need to chill out. It will be their turn when I am finished, and not before. 

This blog post was written because Karen Curtis, who kindly donated to my upcoming Habitat for Humanity trip to Cambodia, selected the topic of people who crowd her in the checkout lines. But I happen to not only agree with her 100% that crowding in the store checkout line is rude, but also I take it to the next level of actively trying to slow those people down. So, that view is my own, but I had no problem giving you my interpretation of this issue. I think you all need to calm down in the grocery store lines! And don't touch me.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Ulleungdo? I Ulleungdid!!

Ulleungdo (pronounced like ooh-lung-doe, as in doe, a deer...) is an island 100 kilometers or so off of the Korean peninsula. Don't worry that you have never heard of it. There are other islands off of the Korean peninsula you have probably not heard of, such as Jeju, a popular travel destination for honeymooners and other travelers around these parts that the U.S.-Korean military industrial complex partnership wants to spoil with a giant useless violent military base, and Dokdo, which is really more of an islet or, you know, rock that is nonetheless extremely important to Koreans who repeatedly remind anyone who is listening that "Dokdo is Korea!" Which is to say, Dokdo is not Japan's. Apparently some small right wing extremist part of the Japanese population actually cares about perpetuating the fight over these rocks in the East Sea (not called the Sea of Japan here!), thus firing up the entire Korean population, while the rest of the world remains blissfully ignorant that Dokdo exists at all, much less that there is a fight over which country it "belongs" to. Korean students will look you in the eye and tell you that Dokdo is an important international issue, and you feel kind of bad telling them that while Kim Jong-Il and the North/South tensions and nuclear threats (real or imagined) are top global issues, Dokdo actually might rank somewhere around 3,675th.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, I was in Ulleungdo. For the three-day weekend. October 3rd was a holiday here in Korea, Foundation Day, so we had a three-dayer and Brian and I hopped the ferry from Mukho harbor to Ulleungdo with the Climbing in Korea Meetup group. I like islands, and I liked this one. It was a very Lost-y island, with less sand and beach, but about the right size and cliffs and rocks and an adjacent smaller island and natural beauty and mountainous bits and a waterfall and a basin.  It used to be a volcano. Or, it was formed from a volcano. You geologists let me know the proper way to describe that. Maybe both.

Among our Ulleungdo activities we rode a cable car, gazed in the direction of Dokdo but did not have a clear enough day to see it 90 km away, ate honghapbap, slept in a minbak across the street from the water with the other folks from the group, saw a whooooole lot of squid being dried/eaten, saw the bright lights of the squid fishing boats at night that lure the squid to their doom, and climbed Seonginbong, the highest peak on the island.  The 984-meter elevation hike was the main adventure, although that was a very full day (Sunday) because after our hike we did a bunch of other walking, sanchae bibimap eating, rock gazing, oncheon bathing, and relaxing. We explored the villages of Dodong-ri and Jeodong-ri and Cheonbu-ri and Sadong-ri while we were there. All in all, a good time was had on the island although our best laid plans for returning went agley when the ferry was delayed due to sea conditions, so once we got back to the mainland we couldn't get back to Andong Monday night and instead had to stay the night in Gangneung, on the coast north of Donghae/Mukho, and then take the 6 a.m. train back to Andong Tuesday morning. Good times, just like when I got trapped on Catalina Island off the coast of California for a night and had to call in sick to work. Or, rather, call in trapped-on-an-island. I was afraid that might happen again. Why am I always getting stuck on not-so-desert islands?

Ulleungdo! Just Ulleung-do it!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A Comparison to Hitler

Yesterday I mentioned that Hank Williams Jr. did not in fact set out to compare Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, but I also mentioned that if he had done so, it would not have been a mortal sin (as it were), in my opinion. Of course, there's this whole "free speech" thing people like to jabber about (but not actually practice), but there's the additional fact that comparing someone to something extreme to make a point is a valid rhetorical tactic. Also, I frankly think that comparing oneself to Hitler ought to be encouraged. After all, who could possibly make you look better in a comparison than Hitler? If I compare myself to Gandhi, or Voltaire, or Gloria Steinem, or Steve Nash, well, then I have a lot to live up to. But Hitler? Let's take a look:

Hitler: Spoke fluent German
Me: Did very well in German class in high school

Hitler: Leader of Nazi party, chancellor, head of state
Me: Student government secretary

Hitler and Me: Both Tauruses!

Hitler: Wrote a famous book, Mein Kampf
Me: Wrote a lot of stuff, absolutely none of it famous (yet)

Hitler: Responsible for the deaths of millions of people
Me: Responsible for the deaths of dozens of insects, including cockroaches and one particularly memorable centipede in the bathtub

Hitler: Anti-communist
Me: "Communism is just a red herring." - Clue

Hitler: Racially motivated policies
Me: Cheese enchilada-motivated policies

Hitler and Me: Both sang in the church choir when we were young

Hitler: Decorated for bravery in World War I
Me: Pacifist

So those are some of the ways that I am like or not like Hitler. Now, you try!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Write a Song About It, Hank

First of all, I rarely watch Monday Night Football. I don't watch it at all this year, over here in Korea. I frankly could not even have told you that Hank Williams Jr. was part of the show opening, so I certainly won't miss him when he's gone. And I never watch Fox "News." I am not the biggest Obama fan and I am not even the smallest Hank Williams Jr. fan. You might say I don't have a dog in this fight. But:

1. I have serious misgivings about the whole idea of "solving" problems by very publicly punishing certain outspoken celebrities.
2. Did anyone actually take a look at what Hank actually said? 
3. Hitler. Why does anyone still take this bait?

Earlier this year Kobe Bryant, in the heat of the moment of an intense basketball game, called a referee "faggot" and suddenly the entire nation(/world?) was weighing in on what he "deserved" as a punishment. I know, because none of us have ever called someone a name in the heat of the moment, right? And when the NBA fines him some ridiculous amount, we all collectively feel satisfied because - why? What exactly did we do, there? And why is it outrageous for him to say that but not outrageous for men to throw around the words "pussy" "douchebag" and even the more clinical "vagina" as derogatory insults to each other?  I maintain that the answer is the currency, the hot topic-ness, the "It Gets Better" trend, of acknowledging that people need to not be jerks (or worse) to homosexuals. It is not because of any actual sincere reflection about what it meant to use that term or what it means as an insult. The same is true in this situation. I actually fully support ESPN in standing up to Fox and Clowns Friends, and I wish more people would call them out on their 1.outrageous statements 2.lies 3.just plain nonsense. But choosing a political issue to publicly condemn someone for a statement is problematic. It's like this big show. It's not an honest look at what it means to have Hank Williams Jr. be a part of your program - it's just being caught up in the hysteria of the moment.

Furthermore: I saw all these headlines like "Hank Calls Obama 'Hitler'" and that is not what happened! What he SAID was that Obama and good ol' John Boehner playing golf together was like Hitler and Netanyahu playing golf together. This, my friends, is what we call an analogy. He exaggerated to make a point, because that is something that people do in arguments. When pressed (by some talking head who could just smell a controversy, and therefore ratings, on the horizon)  he explained that many people consider Obama and others in government the "enemy" right now, thus cementing in some people's mind the Obama/Hitler comparison. But he didn't actually start running around calling Barack Obama "Hitler."

And here's a question for you: So what if he did?  IF Hank had actually compared Obama to Hitler, so what? Why shouldn't he be able to do that? I mean, sure, he should then have to explain his thinking -- because there has been a U.S. White House occupant this decade who charismatically sucked people in with lies and perpetuated the slaughter of many, many people and his name is certainly not Barack Obama. But seriously, it's like the internet joke that within a certain amount of time someone will bring up Hitler to render any argument pointless. Why do people still fall for this? You seriously can call someone Satan and it goes over better than calling someone Hitler, but everyone still gets all high and mighty and the hysterical response just feeds the hysteria. I guarantee you Hank could have said it was like Satan playing golf with Jesus and no one would have cared and everyone could still have Hank on their football game on Mondays.

Now what really needs to happen is that all of you who went crazy on the Dixie Chicks in 2003 when they said they were ashamed of Texas/George W. Bush need to get together with Hank Jr. and call up the Chicks to apologize. And everyone - everyone! - needs to be able to have a feisty political discussion because feisty political discussions are awesome and they don't need to end with public shows of punishment or defriending on Facebook or whatever other simple-minded response people choose that feels good for two seconds but does nothing whatsoever to inspire or illuminate.

OK, maybe I am the smallest Hank Williams Jr. fan. I do love me some country music. But not when it's about "God told me to be a Republican fighting in Iraq." Stick to crying in my honky tonk beer and we can talk.


Saturday, October 01, 2011

Control my blog for a day!

This month, you get the chance to make Linda Without Borders about whatever you want. How, you ask? When you support my upcoming volunteer trip to Cambodia with Habitat for Humanity, I will blog about any topic you choose. Big or small, you name it. Got a burning political or social issue you feel passionate about? Is there a band/artist/book/company that the blogosphere needs to know? Just want me to talk about your favorite pizza toppings? The choice is yours.I know many of my friends and family are already supportive of the wonderful work of Habitat for Humanity, but I wanted to find a way to "give" you something in return for your donation. And so you get a piece of me - my blog!

Make a donation (any amount) by clicking here.
And then, let me know the topic you choose.

BONUS:  While any donation to my Habitat for Humanity cause will get me to blog (and tweet!) for a day about the topic of your choosing, you can kick it up to the next level with a $75 donation. If you donate $75 to our Cambodia trip, I will blog about your choice of topic AND I pledge to read/watch any one book/movie that you name, between now and when I leave for Cambodia.  We all have that book or movie that we insist our friends/family should read/watch. Or maybe you know of one that I have particularly neglected (genre fiction, anyone?) for some reason. Bring it on! Make a $75 contribution, and I will do your bidding.

Brian and I will finish our year-long contract teaching English in Andong, Korea this December. We have decided to take the Habitat for Humanity trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia as our next step. We will ring in 2012 building homes alongside Habitat partner families and doing our small part as volunteers to make a positive contribution in the world.

Just to recap: 
  • Habitat sets a minimum $10 donation, so for $10, my blog will be turned over to your heart's desire for one day.
  • If you donate $25, I will also include a link to your web site or a site of your choosing to promote. 
  • If you give $75 or more, I will not only blog and link to you, but in addition I pledge to read any book or watch any movie of your choosing -- you name it! -- before my Cambodia trip. I will do it, when you make a $75 donation. 
The donation link, one more time:
Thanks to everyone who supports Habitat for Humanity!