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March 30, 2006

writing

I am in the third week of a writing class via The Loft - Minneapolis's literary society. I wanted to take a course titled "How does Terry Pratchett do that?" but it was canceled do to low enrollment. So after browsing through the catalog, determined to sign up for something, I chose a course on inspirational writing. It isn't as sappy as I thought. The teacher has a lot of great suggestions for framing a work, moving the reader through it and relaying ideas, revelations, and realizations to them. Today she kept hammering the importance of starting at the beginning - before the transforming experience - as well as including the actual experience and the result. If the reader doesn't know where you are coming from, he or she won't be able to relate to the piece. Of course we also talk about engaging the senses, using alliteration, pace and poignancy. I think my favorite challenge is to universalize more of my personal essays. That is what I'll work on this week. Last week I took an old blog entry and tweaked it a bit, giving it more body and structure:

The Big Picture
At the end of an ordinary day I volunteered, taking tickets, in order to see the Wailin’ Jenny’s a Canadian trio. Standing at the back of the auditorium, listening to three ordinary looking women with extraordinary voices, suddenly my mind stopped. Granted I do that – pause my mind and step out of the situation - all the time. I do so on purpose when I meditate and during my walk to work. Other times it happens accidentally like today when I was biking home and absorbing the weak light emanating from the gray skies. However, just like Jack Kornfield promised, sometimes – not always, but sometimes – when we stop bits of wisdom poke through without us even trying.
During this pause I realized that this is IT. I have been in the “in-between-space? for a year and a half now. Life doesn’t start when I leave the country, it doesn’t wait until I live with my family and definitely not when I meet “Mr. right?. Life is being with right now, whether it is a Mr., a friend, a concert, or a job. This is tough to comprehend as a goal-oriented person in a goal-oriented culture with goal-oriented friends and family.
Life is going to awesome concerts for free because I volunteer, it is getting a bitchin’ personal tour of the Capital and learning a bit more Minnesota History (and politics), a sweet bike ride home on a warm gray day. Life is sharing a movie with two girlfriends and chuckling about naked-cowboys with wicked grins over free margaritas afterwards. It is going to the same job for the 350th time. It is finishing one book and starting another, trying to share the book, an awesome ginger jam, or a personal problem with friends. It is getting over old-loves and wondering about future ones. This is life. It will be the same whether I am in India, England or the Czech Republic.
Life is also feeling three steps behind all the time. It is Dukkha, the feeling of being out of place, of always missing a note or being slightly out of tune. It is the hopes and dreams that when I leave this planet I will leave the world a better place – perhaps I won’t get as much done as Eleanor Roosevelt did but if I am a happier person in the meantime I will be fine with this. Even after all the places I have been, all the adventures I have experienced. None is ever more difficult than the present.
And so I listen to the ladies sing, my mind reeling, and a sly but self-contented smile on my face. Existence is so much pleasanter when you occasionally get a glimpse of the big picture.

To read the original blog entry - click here.

March 28, 2006

V

I saw V for Vendetta yesterday and was amused. The arguments against it stand but nonetheless I thought it an enjoyable film. Chandrasutra sums it up much better than I have the time or energy to do. Neither of us have read the book but that won't last.

March 22, 2006

Foggy War

It is finally in the headlines today - Bush has no intention of pulling out of Iraq before 2009 and since he isn't running for reelection, he doesn't care what we think about it (doesn't mind "spending political capital"). I am not surprised but only because I recently saw the movie "Why we Fight" - which points out we are currently building eight military bases in Iraq.

That was one of the high points of "Why we fight".

Watching Eisenhower's speech about the infamous "military industrial complex" was another reason to catch this film. It also helped me grasp the history about how we moved from pre-war depression to post war boom, made mostly by weapons. It was a slippery slope and we slid on down.

Sadly, the movie isn't above giving a one sided version of history - such as saying President Truman refused to let Japan surrender after WWII because he really wanted to drop an atomic bomb. I studied Truman a bit and this didn't seem in character. I asked a knowledgeable friend about it and he replied that the first part of the sentence was true but we didn't let them surrender because they wanted to do so with terms - something we had already denied Germany. Later in the film, using a map, they list and point out all the battles and wars the U.S. has fought since 1945. This list is dramatically over-simplified. The USSR isn't mentioned once. I am not defending our actions on a mass level - that would be over-simplification too - but since the Soviet Union has fallen people forget what a threat it used to pose. Any discussion of our increase in weapons manufacturing and technology should include how the arms race with the USSR motivated this race for over forty years.

Thus, although the movie shows us sliding down the slope into a military economy, there isn't a lot of examination as to the causes that dragged us down and what other routes may have been feasible. Thus I recommend watching this film, but with a grain of salt. Before you argue points examined in the movie, be sure to research the issue a bit to get a broader perspective.

I really enjoy the trend of documentaries examining war, but Fog of War continues to rise above the rest in terms of quality, fairness, and accountability.

March 17, 2006

Democracy

Surely I am not the only one who slept through civics class? Not long ago I attended my first local caucus and am still reeling from it. This is what democracy was based in? No wonder George Washington loathed the party system. No wonder our parties are so whack.


First of all what surprised me was the lack of education - this was the first caucus I had ever been to and there was no introduction, no paper explaining the rules and procedures, no name tags, just a sign in and not enough agendas to go around.

Secondly, why did the Republicans have the large room while we had the little tiny room? Those poor guys had no one show up while we were crammed two deep around a table. We laughed at the fact that no one showed up for the Republican caucus but later I thought it was a sad fact. After all, I live in a very liberal neighborhood, if there are Republicans there I bet they are liberal ones, which the party could certainly use more of.

Thirdly, even though we didn't fit in the room, there still weren't enough people to be delegates. They had to rope me into saying I would be a delegate despite the fact that I have no idea what I would be doing, why, and I work during that time so I won't be able to attend regardless. Obviously we need more people involved at the local level - and this coming from an area that is politically active compared to the rest of the country.

Then there are the resolutions. I just didn't get the point. Perhaps this is because my caucus was disorganized and poorly run, with about five people doing most of the talking - all of whom seemed to agree with each other. This meant that there was no debating of issues; people talked to hear their own voices. While one or two resolutions were new and interesting (my favorite requested trying to bridge the digital divide) many others were poorly worded, ambiguous, expensive, controversially idealistic and vague. Nonetheless, most of them passed. I would have argued more objections but I was new and cautious. I still found myself the conservative person in the room, arguing immigration, homelessness, financial, and military issues (though mostly in my head). It wasn't that I fall in the conservative camp on the issues, just that I seemed to understand their complexities more than the people writing the resolutions and I couldn't support an issue that is unrealistically represented. It is like making a wish without thinking about all the consequences should it come true. After all, we can't just "do something about the homeless" without understanding how people become homeless, and addressing all of those reasons. This means that one-sided measures won't work - we can't just build more affordable housing without considering location and the impact on the economy. We can't just build more shelters without thinking about the message that sends to homeless people all over the world (I once met a drunk in Mexico who told me he lived in Minneapolis for awhile on welfare). Similarly while we may want to acknowledge the benefits that immigrants bring to our economy and culture, we can't welcome them without acknowledging the cultural and economic aspects they bring that we don't like. Just because the U.S. is founded on unbridled immigration doesn't mean we have to continue that way for all eternity. Yet when I say this, people look at me like there is no middle ground in this argument.

As my roommate lamented, it is tough being a liberal when you haven't drunk the Kool-Aid.

March 12, 2006

fiction

There is nothing like escaping from fact.

Real life get you down? Try picking up The Sister hood of the Traveling pants - not as good as the classics (too many name brands mentioned in the book) but at least it doesn't over simplify life's problems and offers some helpful solutions. I checked it out after I realized that I was reading five non-fiction books and making slow progress. I needed something I could devour.

Sadly, you can't knit and read at the same time. Thus, to expand my brain power I have taken to watching a Mexican telenovela (aka Soap Opera). Nothing like watching murder, people declaring "Te Amo!" after two dates, kidnapping, jealousy, mate trading, and lots and lots of machismo to take a girl's mind off things. I just have to remind myself that I am watching this soley for the Spanish content and cannot make any cultural judgements from it - Dios mio, imagine if people judged our culture by our soaps (or even prime time television).

And rounding out my "take me away please" strategy, is listening to books on tape (only the unabridged ones - te juro!). Lots of classics and even some educational ones (which don't really cause mental escape but at least I can knit).

Sigh - spring is almost here - soon I'll be able to fly on two wheels.

March 10, 2006

updating

I have been angry lately - too upset to write.
I am shocked and appalled at how my rights as a woman seem to be eroding quicker than a snow cone in August. Yesterday, buried in the paper (who ever actually reads page B4?) was a short story about a bill being introduced in Minnesota, which would allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense specific drugs on moral or religious grounds. How stupid is that? Especially the moral parts? Can you just see the can of worms this opens?

There was an excellent cartoon I saw months ago, which since I can't find, you'll have to picture these people taking out their morals on you:

  • Vegan fast food workers
  • Mormon bartenders
  • animal rights activist pet store clerks
  • Amish car salesmen
  • Christian Scientist pharmacists

And those are just the obvious ones - what about Muslims who refuse to sell you pork in the supermarket? Or Hindus who refuse to sell beef? Everyone faces tough moral contradictions in their lives. It seems it is only acceptable when women suffer from other people's moral dilemmas.

Recently many fundamentalist Christian groups have been canvassing agaist the release of a vaccine which would prevent people from getting HPV - a virus, which is sometimes an STD and causes (sometimes, not all the time) cervical cancer. These groups are so afraid that a vaccine would encourage teens to have sex that would rather risk women getting cervical cancer than giving teens the impression that sex might happen.

Recent studies show that various forms of hormonal birth control can reduce a woman's sex, even for years after she stops the hormones. Yet very few doctors discuss this possibility with women. When I wanted to discuss birth control options with my doctor she gave me a prescription for the pill immediately and suggested trying that first then, if I didn't like it, we could discuss other options. I was so stunned I didn't know how to respond.

Where are the hormones reducing men's sex drives? Where are the male chastity belts? If men are so eager to control the birthing process why haven't they figured out how to have children without women? Until men have to suffer through the choice of an abortion or nine months handed over for future generations (eating healthy, no cigarettes, no alcohol, appropriate excercise...never mind trying to get your body back afterwards) they shouldn't have equal say in this decision. I know there are anti-choice women out there but I am betting that they are an even greater minority than all the male politicians who keep mucking in this issue. Sometimes in my angry haze I think that anti-choice men are equivalent to rapists, forcing their own ideas, power, choices, and opinions on unsuspecting women who are just trying to live their lives. I know there are pro-choice men out there but they seem to be out numbered, or at least out-voiced, but the other type.