Monday, July 04, 2011

usa: a messy ode

I would have been born on the 4th of July, but I exited my mom a touch too fast. She had what she thought was indigestion at 10pm on the 3rd, and at 11:34pm I shot out. Sort of wish I could have held out for twenty-six more minutes. It's not like I was going to get any real work done in that first half an hour. Oh, well. The first time I saw fireworks, I thought, "Are these for me? Are we still celebrating?!"

Happy Birthday, you old horse! 235. You don't look a day over a hundred and eleven.

When I was traveling in Europe back in 1992, Nirvana had recently burst onto the global scene. Lord, it was nice moving around in their glowing wake as a Seattleite. When you travel the world as an American, you frequently get that "Hello, NEWman" vibe from the natives. We've done plenty to bring that on, but it was a relief to be welcomed as a friend. "You're from Seattle? Fantastic! What is it like?!" Oh, it's magic. Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell and all of us young kids, we all live on the same block, and, well, we all go out onto our stoops and make meaningful, discordant noises in our flannel shirts. It's like Swinging London, or riding on Ken Kesey's bus through Haight-Ashbury. It's a constant wonder. Let us hold hands and accept this vision, for both of our sakes.

No, most of the time when you travel as an American, you can see the eyes begin to roll back in people's heads as soon as your origins are revealed. Many times I've seen people assume that I'd have no sense of humor, and when it came out that I do, they were visibly amazed, like I'd unfurled a giant set of wings or grown a couple of extra heads. (I'll address this phenomenon later, but for now let me just say regarding America and comedy: people, please.)

(Oh: speaking of. I haven't been able to contribute lately, but here are some pieces I've written for this fine site right here. I've been meaning to link and forgotten to. They are humor-style pieces, see? That's why I bring it up. That's why I bring it up, ENGLAND*.)

*Oh, England. You were the most suspicious of all. Sigh.

It's never nice to feel embarrassed to inhabit your nationality, and while I completely get America Fatigue, it's the fucking 4th of July, motherfuckers! Yes, we're arrogant. Sure, we're dumb. Totally, we're fat. Yes, we know. But I'm here to talk about some of the things that make me feel proud and glad to be riding around in an American suit in this lifetime.


1. The Movies/The Movie Stars.

We don't make the only movies, and we do make a million shitty movies, too, but we make the fucking movies. You are welcome for Gary Cooper and Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, and you're welcome for DeNiro and Pacino and Hoffman in the 70's, and you're welcome for Star Wars and Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Motherfucking Ark and...and...Casablanca and....what were the good recent movies? Who cares! There were some. You're welcome for those!

2. Jazz, Blues, and Rock and Roll.

I think about when these musical forms were new, and what it said about the people who had the temperament to make way and let them through. Tight and loose, earthy and light, rough and humorous. That music was born here for a reason.

3. The American landscapes

The craggy, hollowed-out, furious pastels of the Southwest. The dripping, serene gloom of the Northwest. The lush and swampy bayou. New England foliage on fire in the autumn. Big Sur. The Rockies like giant, jagged Orca whales. Endless, flat, madness-inducing, character-building prairies. American wildlife. Mountain lions and rattlesnakes and bears and squirrels. (I'm just riffing now, and it's sloppy, but sloppy riffing is some of what makes us who we are!)

4. American Humor

Mark Twain and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Bill Hicks and Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David and Groucho Marx and Maria Bamford and Bob Newhart and Kathy Griffin and Animal House and Spinal Tap and Rushmore and Caddyshack and the opening twenty minutes of Elf and The Onion and McSweeney's Internet Tendency and The Hairpin and I haven't even scratched the surface. People, PLEASE.

No more categories. Walt Whitman. The Beat Generation. Jack Kerouac. New York through all of it. Boomboxes on shoulders. Hair metal. Patsy Cline. The cheeseburger. Converse All-Stars. Basketball. Southern drawl. Bronx cheer. Austin, Texas. Cambridge, Mass. Berkeley, CA. Irreverence and earnestness and naivete and book smarts and street smarts. Nonconformity. Tradition. Friendliness. "Bring it on."

And I haven't even touched on the larger movements, the social and political highlights. We have had a few. I'm running out of time so I'm not going to try and do them justice. But the night of November 4th, 2008 - no matter what you think about Barack Obama and his politics and how his term is going - that night gave me an injection of pride so deep and full that I'll be feeling it for the rest of my life.

I'm in a hurry, but if I don't say it today, I'll never say it, and if I don't say it now, I won't say it today. Quality Control has gone to a barbecue, so this is going to have to do. I didn't do anything justice, I didn't come anywhere close, but I tried. If the high-five missed the hand, oh, well. You saw where my hand was going. You got the point. It's a quick sketch.

This is a celebration, my friends. Everything else will be there waiting for us in the morning.

Friday, July 01, 2011

the tarot eskimos have twelve different words for snow

I've been gone awhile, haven't I? If you go back in the archives, back in the earliest days of this blog in 2005 (before I was married, before babies, in the halcyon days of total unemployment), you'll see that I used to post at least once a day. Sometimes twice, sometimes thrice! (Don't go back and look, though. Just take my word for it. They weren't all gems, you know what I mean?) Now I'm lucky if I post three times in a season. I don't want it to be like that. And soon, it won't be like that.

I'll explain. I'll tell you where I've been and where I'm going. (Not that I'm leaving here. I'll be posting here as consistently erratically as ever, I promise.) Maybe you'll go with me, and maybe you'll just stick around here, frowning and waiting for posts. Or maybe you're just going to go do your nails or go wash the car or have a bake sale or whatever it is you do when you run off and leave me here all by myself. (Even if I'm not posting, I just sit here quietly at my blog all day and night, watching you come and go. My family begs me to come out into the sunlight with them, but I shoo them away. NO. No, I can't. Someone I don't know know has logged on from Transylvania. I can't just leave him here by himself. He'll get lost, or break something.)

Where I've been:

*Working on Elizabeth's play, which closed last weekend and was an intensely wonderful experience. Strange to move on, after working on this piece with Elizabeth and John on and off for more than a year. It's a post in and of itself, which will have to happen later.

*Working, stop-and-start-ingly, on my book. Those things, whew. They're...mercy. Daunting. And this first draft keeps shifting on me, conceptually, and all kinds of fears muscle up to get faced, and wow. My word. I had this idea that I was going to have half of my first draft finished by August. What I'll have in August is a little more than half of twice what I have now, which is certainly not nothing, but it's not HALF of anything, see? Holy hell. But I'm dragging it along with me into the future, slowly.

*Finally, and most importantly, I've been immersing myself in a course of study. Ladies and gentlemen, after years of casual study and several months of intensive study and then one very successful, jam-packed month of on-my-feet practice with real, living people, I'm getting ready to pop out of my cocoon as a bona-fide, honest-to-goodness, plying-a-trade tarot reader.

Oh, Tarot, you glorious thing. Let me sing your praises here for everybody. I've fallen head-over-heels in love with you, and we're at the beginning of what's sure to be the proverbial beautiful friendship.

Seventy-eight cards of you, rendered a zillion different ways by all kinds of artists over the last several hundred years (at least). I love your aesthetics, I love the humming resonance of your old, old archetypes. There's the Major Arcana, or "Big Secrets", your thematic heavyweights. They're like the oceanic undertow in a reading, or the pull of the stars. Then there's the Minor Arcana, or "Little Secrets", which catalog in detail all of the streams of daily life, the practicalities and heartbreaks and thought patterns and variously shaped rushes of energy. You take concepts like sorrow or triumph or malaise, and you serve each of them up in several different nuanced preparations. Each card has a little symphony of meanings, and in one reading the clarinet rises to the top, and in another reading with the same card, the clarinet will recede to inaudibility and the strings will take over, or the bass drum, or, or, or.

So there you are, and then here I am, and to serve you up properly I have to be in the very best intuitive shape. I have to be meditating regularly, and I have to approach you with humility, and I have to have my heart organized in real service to the people who entrust me with their concerns. And then when the reading begins, I have to be bold enough to play some real jazz with you. I'm on stage, I'm listening, I'm improvising. I can't hesitate. I have to see and hear acutely and offer out loud what I'm getting as it comes in, but I have to guess its ideal form and shape it lightning-quick. Does this note come in soft or strong? Make a choice, give it up. But then I have to know when I need to be quiet for a second to understand what the shot is, when the reading is delivering something particularly subtle. A card pops up that doesn't make immediate sense. I start talking, stop talking and listen, start talking again...and there it goes. It starts taking off its clothes, reveals its purpose for being there. A moment of doubt comes in every reading, a little nervous thrill when the screen goes dark a second, a split-second or few spent sitting smack on the lap of risk, and then I jump into the blackness and freefall. And don't you know that something always catches me just in time? But who knows if it will next time! You can see why I'm in love.

So that's what I've been doing. I'm new at this, but it looks like I might have a knack. (Oh! And I can do these readings over the phone. So YOU, yes, YOU will be able to have one if you like. Details will come soon.) And it feels nice to be sort of going into the family business. (Not that tarot is precisely the family business.) I mentioned in a previous post that there's some clairvoyance that's run down through the female line on my father's side of the family. It travels as far back as our family is recorded, in fact. Grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great, great-great-great, et cetera. They all had it. And now I'm just beginning to see mine light up. Hello, family heirloom. You're getting polished up and going straight into use. I don't want any grumpy ancestors complaining about cobwebs/ungrateful descendents. No, no. No worries, ladies. I'm not a fool. You left me a pretty fine resource. I'm not going to squander this one.

As always, I have so much more I'd actually like to tell you, but there's no time. But a friend of mine is going to be building me a new website, and there will be a new blog attached that focuses entirely on the thing which lights me up more than anything else, which is the conscious cultivation of our inner lives. That's really what I'm emerging from the cocoon to do. I want to be in a lifelong conversation about the thing that matters most to me, and so...there. That. So I will. Please come with me when it's all ready.

And then, as I said, I'll always be over here posting about flotsam and jetsam and Oscar dresses and Finn and Fred and whatever takes hold of me. Same old this and that, on as loose a non-schedule as ever. Blibbity blobbity bloo.

If you've made it this far, come here and let me give you a kiss for being a big patient hero. You're all forbearance. You're like Mother Theresa. You're like Mother Theresa in the body of a movie star. I should tell you that more often.

P.S. Please meet my newest sponsor and member of my Sidebar Pantheon, the Queen of Wands. When I play spiritual dress-up, she's who I traipse around in. May her dress fit me snugly over time. (But not too snugly. You know. Gotta watch the figure.)