Sunday, July 12, 2009

And Your Name Is?

First off, I apologize for breaking my blog update promise. I would say it won’t happen again, but that would be to set myself up to do it again. Excuses are irrelevant, so let’s move on.

My friend Nancy and I on a recent camping adventure

My friend Nancy recently wrote an essay on how she got her name, Nancy, and this is what I was thinking of, specifically, when I listed this topic. My parents almost named me Naomi, but according to my mother, I came out looking more like a Crystal. My little sister’s name would have been Carissa, I was also told, but Carissa and Crystal could potentially be confusing, and so she was named Holly, having been born on December 26. No matter how they came to be, my sister and I both must like our names. The only time I remember her and I talking about our one-day children, she said she wanted to have a daughter she could name Ivy. They would be lovely complements to one another, Holly and her Ivy. I said I would like to have a daughter I could name Ruby. We’d be like two shining gems, Ruby and Crystal.

My sister, Holly, and her husband, Nick

When Todd and I talk about having kids, it mainly takes the form of a name-brainstorm, as in, “If we had a baby boy, what do you think of the name Harry?” We’ve had this conversation so many times that it now takes the form of just a name drop: “What about Carmine?” Inevitably, Todd will formulate a real banger for me to consider, something like Maris, and I have to stop him right then. “Nope. Student.” That means that it has negative connotations to some form of student-exhibited inadequacy that I can’t get over. Then he tells me our child will end up nameless because by the time we actually have a kid, I’ll have taught people with all the names. All of them!


There isn’t a limit on what you can name someone or something, though, which is the glass-half-full way of saying that there is no limit to the stupid things can use as a name, so Todd can take heart. Take the names of hip-hop artists, for example. Ice-T, P. Diddy, Notorious B.I.G., Lil Wayne, Eminem. They’re successful and are taken seriously. There are ridiculous sounding scientifically chosen names for birds (Bushtit?) and mammals (Dikdik?) and fish (Sole?), and we actually feel smarter if we can use these words properly. I looked at my new beloved orange kitty and considered calling him Sprinkles, forcing myself to say such a word with a few different emotions behind it: (Angry), Sprinkles! No!” (Looking for escape kitty) “Sprrrrinnnnnkles!” (Happy Calling), “Here, Sprinkles!” After a few similar rehearsals – okay, after about three days of similar rehearsals – we decided on Ginsberg, after the famous Beat Generation poet who wrote Howl. A name is an important thing, yes. As I admitted, we worked for days on the kitty’s name. And Todd and I are on year two of the kid discussion, so clearly we think it has value.

On occasion, I’m surprised to be remembered, by name, by a person I’ve only met once, and I feel special when it happens. I remember, then, how meaningful it is to be referred to by name, and at the same time, how threatening it can be. Your name announces that you’ve been noticed, and it holds you accountable.

At its core, I have to ask though, what difference does a name make? We all know that a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. It’s funny to learn that The Rock is really named Duane (I mean, Duane?? C’mon!), but it doesn’t matter; he’s unappealing either way.
What comes to be will have a name, inevitably. It will be accountable and noticed, remembered, respected, and loved by someone. In the mean time, we anticipate these mysteries which, as of now, are nameless.

Next blog topic possibilities -- please vote via a comment below, and thanks for your input last time: Indian food, UWM, anti-gravity chairs, camping, Labradoodles

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wabi-Sabi 2.0?

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. I don’t know where my motivation went, but it’s come back now, albeit without inspiration. In grad school, I was told that more writing comes from motivation than from inspiration anyway, so, consider this a test.

It’s summertime, and Todd and I have been doing some camping. Camping means a lot of things, but it most often means a lot of time spent sitting in relative quiet. I have a new chair, too, an anti-gravity chair (!) which reclines without effort into a full, star-gazer friendly position. Since I’ve blogged last, I’ve also snared myself an Ipod Touch, which currently has about 13 days of music programmed into it, along with a few audio books, podcasts, videogames, and photos. A sunny afternoon, the anti-gravity chair, the Ipod Touch, well, that’s a recipe for bliss in my camping-book.

Last week, we camped at Turtle River State Park near Grand Forks, ND, and while Todd fly-fished for trout, I came up with a blog brainstorm. What better place to share this than on my blog!

In this new-fangled web-world we live in, “they’ve” invented something called Web 2.0, which from how I understand, means that the web, in its latest incarnation, is loved for its interactive capabilities. Now, one part of me is ashamed to be even talking about Web 2.0 – that’s the same part that inhibits me from embracing cell phones – and another part of me is fascinated by it. That’s the same part that convinced me I needed an Ipod Touch. I’m always ying-yanging myself, a walking, blogging wabi-sabi aesthetic.

If you read my blog and would like to play along (you can’t play along, really, if you don’t read the blog anyway), here’s what I propose for a Wabi-Sabi Blog, Web 2.0 experience (you should also probably wear 3D glasses):

Each time I blog, I will propose five possible topics for my next blog. I promise to blog at least three times a week (3x, if you’re into the whole brevity thing). If you would like me to write on one of the five proposed topics, you should note that in the comments. If I get a comment, my next blog will be on that topic. If I don’t get a comment, I’ll just write about anything, maybe even one of the topics. You can also propose your own topic for me to write on. Though I reserve the right to veto it, I promise not to be a George W. about it.

Here are this week’s topics (I made a really long list during the brainstorm):

Indian Food

I hope you’ll vote. And thanks for playing. There are no losers with Wabi-Sabi.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How to Ice Fish with Crystal, cont.

7. Accept the atmosphere, adapting as necessary.

8. Smile at this delicious bass.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Walking on the Moon

Giant steps are what you take

walking on the moon.

I hope my legs don't break,
walking on the moon.

We could walk forever,

walking on the moon.

How to
Ice Fish with Crystal

1. This is #1 for a reason. Be sure to go with someone besides me.
I highly recommend Todd and/or K.C. They know what to bring, and I only kinda
do. I can help you pass the time while sitting on the ice, but I couldn't
promise that we'd be able to fish, stay warm, save ourselves in a tragic turn of
events, or find our way home. Mostly I could sit by you and talk your ear off,
if frostbite didn't get it first.

2. Be willing to sing. It is widely known that singing voices are a kind of bait
to arts-hungry perch and walleye. They respond best to made-up songs containing
their species name in the chorus.

3. Think of a secret to tell me. The 2-person portable fish house lends
itself to intimate conversation and is only enhanced by the lack of people and
the abundance of white, of wind. The secret doesn't even really have to a
high-secrecy content. Just tell me a story in a way that it seems secret-like.
For example, when Nancy and I were in K.C.'s fish house on Sunday, she told me . . .oh, wait. Nevermind.

4. Bring or enjoy eating very cold hummus.

5. Remember, continually, how odd ice fishing is. I will bring
this fact up on a number of occasions. It will never cease seeming absurd to me
that I first need to hold my bait hook up to the light so to charge its
glow-element. Then, I reach my bare hand into a freezing cold bucket of minnows,
grab one, and then pinch its head from its body. Nevermind the fact that I
then throw the hooked head into a hole, admire the glow that I created as it
falls deeper into the water, and then wait -- that hardly ends up the oddest
part of the experience.

6. Celebrate the pride of being crazy tough. It's the only award available, unless you count the great peace that is real, natural silence, only found on snow-covered, frozen water. Or the haunting sound of the ice cracking, shifting beneath you. Or being able to sacrifice your own comfort, for a little while, to watch your loved one fully in his element. Or having uninterrupted time with your good friend. Or catching a fish, even a very, very small one. Those are nice parts, too.
Photos were taken at Tulaby Lake, near Waubun, MN on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2009. Photo 1 captures Nancy & K.C., pulling their gear, our cars parked on the lake in the background. Photo 2 captures Todd with his gear.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Pandora, New Orleans

I mean this subject line to be read like a list, like: 1.) Pandora, 2.) New Orleans. Not like City, State (City?), though I think a town named Pandora would be perfect, situated inside New Orleans as Vatican City is inside Rome.

Today is the first real day I've sat down to do the work I will be needing very, very soon, as classes begin on Monday. Yesterday, I was at a pre-semester, administrative "duty" day meeting at school. My co-worker, Jenyo, wrote a very nice blog post on this today, so I hope you click on the handy link I've provided for you. Aside from this, I have done very little to prepare for classes, now visible on the horizon. So, this morning, I got up earlier than Todd, made coffee, fed the pets, did the crossword puzzle, took a shower, and even got dressed in non-pajama wear. I was at the computer in my office at home already considering work by 9:30, which is quite good for someone who, a week ago, hadn't even gotten up yet.

I couldn't get started, though. Suddenly it became important that I check and re-check my email, talk on the phone for long periods of time (I don't even like talking on the phone very much), shop on-line, play solitaire, have an early lunch, play with Ramona, stare into the medicine cabinet deciding how long it would take to clean it out. During this Olympic period of procrastination, I decided that creating a new Pandora station would be in my best interest.

I love Pandora, and I learn so much about my own musical taste that it almost makes me feel smarter to listen to it. Before this site, I had no idea that I preferred "mellow rock instrumentation, folk influences, mild rhythmic syncopation, acoustic sonority and major key tonality" while I was writing College Writing II Syllabi. This particular description was invoked when I created an Iron & Wine station. I also have a Jack Straw station, a Kate Bush station, a Prince station, and a Cure station.

Nearly 8 hours later, I've completed the syllabi, which required about 2 hours of actual work. There's all the proof you need that Pandora can work wonders on productivity. The best news is that throughout this whole process, I've expanded and have nearly completed my "best albums of 2008" blog posting ideas. I hope you stay tuned for this exciting potential development.

Now, to New Orleans. A city requiring me to say nothing about it, as all the great things I could say about it have already been said. It's a spooky, sexy, historic place -- voodoo, absinthe, gumbo, coffee, music, water. I was there with my in-laws the July right before Katrina. We took a cab from the train station and the cab driver told us about the legendary "big flood" that, as of then, hadn't ever happened. He talked about how possible it was that the levees we drove past would break and how much of everything had the potential of drowning. He talked about knowing he'd leave but probably come right back if it ever happened. Three weeks after we got home from our trip, it did happen.

Though I probably wouldn't recognize him if I was in his cab again, I am going back to New Orleans in April! I had an abstract accepted as a part of a panel presentation that I'll give along with one of my co-workers, Shari Neece, and her friend Dano at this year's at the Popular Culture & American Culture conference. I expect much of my semester will be spent thinking, worrying, and laboring over the putting together of this paper. I'm very excited by the idea, however, so I'm hoping for good things. Here's the abstract, for your enjoyment. Any and all comments, suggestions or smart-ass remarks are welcome:

Defectors From the Petty Wars:
The effects of travel and gender on Joni Mitchell’s Hejira and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road

The differences between Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road, written in 1951, and Joni Mitchell’s album Hejira, written in 1976, are numerous and apparent, not the least of which are the genres and the 25 year span of history and cultural evolution which separate the two. The similarities, too, are numerous, though possibly less apparent. Both works emerged out of cross-continent road trips in a post-war America. Both works push the boundaries of convention within their chosen genre -- Kerouac in fiction, Mitchell in folk music. Both examine “the road” as a metaphor for self-exploration and use jazz to echo the freedom and profundity found on their journeys. Both works are driven by the conflicted narrative voice of an artist who struggles to find acceptance in a society that doesn’t always consider creative output to be a measure of success. Within this common struggle, these two voices distinguish themselves as uniquely male and female. Kerouac’s novel has been repeatedly criticized for being misogynistic, while Mitchell’s album has been lauded for its feminist perspective. Keeping in mind that the artist has little control over how outsiders perceive and judge their work, how much of an effect does gender have on these two similar accounts of an individual’s quest for self-definition?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Boxing Day?

For those (if any) didn't see it on facebook already, here was one of the last great things about 2008 -- my mom playing Wii Boxing. Me and my family are all screaming in the background. I'd try watching it with and without the sound to see which experience (they're vastly different) you prefer.

All signs point toward goodness

I went in to Dakota Boys Ranch Thrift Store today, and a scraggly looking, mentally disabled woman walked in just after me. She screamed -- screamed! --, "HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!" Those of us in the store, mostly Scandinavian I suppose, turned abruptly toward the voice and were ready to put on our "we only judge strangers; we don't TALK to them" scowls when we saw that she was, indeed, scraggly and mentally disabled. Somehow, this helped us quickly decide, at once, to echo her exuberance. "Happy New Year!" we cried amongst yellow rotary phones and crystal decanters.

This is just one of the confirmations I've received so far, pointing to a good '09. If you know me, you know my tendency for optimism, so I offer proof, realizing that most who know me always ask for it.

First of all, there has been an awful lot of snow. This could have been a bad thing, if I were a trucker or one of those medical workers, like my student, who was forced to stay at the hospital for over 36 hours to make sure there was enough staff to cover the needs of the place. I, however, have chosen a usually-delightful career in higher education, which meant that after I got home from visiting my family in the Cities, I didn't have to do anything or go anywhere at all. I had friends visit me. Todd and I stayed in our pajamas for almost two whole days, drinking coffee, watching movies, sitting on the couch under blankets, dreaming up elaborate summer plans. I watched Ramona blaze deep and narrow trails in our backyard, tunneling her snout beneath the snow to pull up her now-stuffingless toy trout. There's a bird living in our garage, too, and when I did have to leave the house once, she sang for me, a little bit of spring.

So, very simply, the first good thing I've found out about '09 is that I have a happy house to call my own. Barring total tragedy, this fact isn't endangered, which is something I haven't been hearing about on the news.

There have been a lot of little things that show me I'm off to a good start: my family had a safe, peaceful, and happy-memory-filled holiday. I got to hear both of Art Bell's annual New Year Predictions radio shows! He doesn't host Coast-to-Coast AM anymore; he doesn't screen his callers, and I usually fall asleep before the show even really gets going, so this is a bigger deal to me than most of you can realize. (If you DO realize this, you've already done something great for our friendship.) I found an adapter that allows me to upload pictures to my blog, and it only cost $15. I've read 50 pages of a science-fiction novel, which means I've already done something that frightens me -- check one off the New Year's Resolutions list! And, I've been able to listen, loudly and closely, to my ever-blossoming vinyl collection. I think I'm starting to hear the subtle depth of sound-quality all my music-nerd friends have been telling me about, which is exciting -- as if I'm improving one of my innate senses.

Every year I resolve to be a good, happy, well-grounded and kind person. I know that's vague and cheesy, and it sounds realistically impossible to gauge. As I already mentioned, I'm an optimist by nature, so I can put a smile on a skull, ignoring all the facts. However, these ideals do help me ask the right questions before I do most anything. Making this yearly resolution reminds me to continue with mindfulness. Can I be proud of this decision, this work, this expression, this assumption? If I do this, don't do this, consider this, expect this, want this -- could I regret it? These are useful questions and too often ignored, I think. Though I say, "I" in all of these questions, the questions themselves recognize that "I" am (is?) defined in terms of so many who are affected by and who affect me.

I saw the movie "Doubt" this week. It's a good movie, but it was made even more good, in my mind, because of a bit of dialog spoken by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played a priest accused of having "improper" relations with a young altar boy at his parish. Ignoring these circumstances, the dialog (paraphrased) conveys the idea that kindness is, that it should be, something of value, despite those who tell us that it shamefully shows weakness and vulnerability. To be kind, to want to do good, to want to change another's life positively, to help, to try to understand -- these, too, can be indicators of success.

So, having noticed so many good things in these three days of '09, I expect nothing more than for the trend to continue. I hope the year is treating you kindly, as well.