Friday, June 29, 2007

Hey, Baby

Every year around this time an old song by the L.A. band X called "Fourth of July" comes to mind, and I always intend to look up the lyrics and add it to my repertoire of seasonal songs, and I always forget. The bit of lyric I remember and go around singing for a few days prior to the 4th: "On the stairs I smoke a cigarette alone. Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below. Hey, baby, it's the Fourth of July."

My time in L.A. ended nearly fifteen years ago, just after the Rodney King verdict left the city in flames for several days. I was living in Burbank at the time, far from any danger, and it wasn't the turmoil that sent me packing, it was the desire for an easier way to live. I told a colleague at my job that I wanted a more bohemian life. He laughed and said I was a few decades too late for that. But I hung up my Ann Taylor suits, shelved my high heeled shoes and moved to Boulder, where I went to work at a community radio station and tried to figure things out anew.

Circumstances brought me to the midwest a few years later, and lo and behold, things move so much slower here that living that bohemian life was not such an anachronism after all. I may have had a hard time finding an organic tomato in the supermarket for the first several years, but I could fulfill a long-time dream of opening a coffeehouse on a fraction of what it would have cost to do it elsewhere. And I could paint, and write, and have my daughter with me in a place where homeschooling didn't raise eyebrows.

For ten years Dragonstar and I have been following our bliss in this place where so much makes me crazy -- the sprawl, the billboards, the lack of small cafes and walkable neighborhoods. The coffeehouse has passed into other hands, and it still thrives, which is gratifying. I know all my neighbors, most of them by name, and when the fourth of July comes around, I'll wander to the river and watch the fireworks and sing those lines from that old X song. The organic tomatoes come from the garden now, and I wear t-shirts every day, and we're barefoot a lot, though I still have several of those suits and high heels packed away in the closet, along with a copy of the L.A. Weekly saved from those volatile days all those years ago. Souvenirs.

Dragonstar is off with her dad to a Renaissance Faire, and the neighborhood kids are shooting off fireworks. Hey, baby. It's (almost) the Fourth of July.

Friday, June 22, 2007


I'm not much of a baker. It doesn't suit my temperament, all that measuring and sifting, all that kneading and rolling and dusting of flour, the hot oven, the interminable wait, the inevitable disappointment when the cake falls, the pie filling doesn't set.

But never mind all that. Lately I've been a little more eager to get out the bowls and rubber scraper, with the addition of this little lovely to my cast of kitchen characters.

I found her at a neighborhood garage sale, and she spoke to me in a language beyond skill or temperament. Avocado green! Original box! Two dollars! Sold!

"But you don't bake."

So? Surely one needn't be a whiz at cakes and tortes to appreciate such a treasure.

Both my mother and grandmother, not to mention all my aunts, could roll out perfect pie crusts and scratch cakes that didn't sink in the center, so I suffer not from a lack of good teachers, just lack of aptitude. Blame it on my fractious personality, but truth be told, I find solo baking a little bit lonely. I might enjoy it more in a different kitchen, one large enough to fill with women friends, and a couple bottles of wine on the table to pass and season the conversation, if not the biscotti. No one I know has such a kitchen. We're all making do with 1950s kitchens -- tons of character but no space -- or apartment kitchens, where it's crowded even with just you and the cat.

Maybe when the landlord sells the house we'll move to a place with a big kitchen. BBPiT (Best Bass Player in Town) says how about a farmhouse in Lynnville? Ooh: baking in the shade of the stripper pits. That would be different.

Still: garage sales yield the most surprising things. And who knows what inspiration might come tucked inside the box? Pineapple upside down cake... banana pudding... the urge to re-do the kitchen in foil wallpaper and daisy-shaped placemats... The possibilities are endless. I think I'm going to ponder them while I make a chocolate pie.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Left Brain Right Brain Bug Brain

In my morning web wanderings I came across an essay at Life Without School that explores the difficulties encountered by right-brain learners in left-brain world. An excerpt:

"Mass institutions of education teach in a left-brained fashion. They use such formats as sequential scope and sequence resources, short-term memorization, part to whole "show me" steps, and verbal-based written work. There is nothing inherently wrong with this process, as there are a group of people who function best with this style, but there is an equal group of people who learn in an exact opposite manner. Right-brained people learn best with random interest-based resources, long-term association, whole to part conceptual formats, and visual pictorial mental work. Because our schooling systems are "no fault zones", they are prone to labeling these children who learn differently than they instruct as ... disordered, broken, or learning disabled."

I believe I've met some of those children, and their parents: mothers in particular who were desperate to find another explanation for why their child was having so much trouble learning to read. If you know one of those parents, pass along the link above.

In other news: we were paid a visit by this young katydid the other day. Brilliant transluscent green, about three inches long from antennae to rear legs. Dragonstar jumped a foot into the air when it finally launched itself from the rear window of my car and made off across the lawn.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Water Company Cometh

Yesterday I got to thinking about water.

For reasons relating to my landlord's Unfortunate Decision to Sell My House, the water bill he was supposed to pay had not been paid. It had not been paid, in fact, for many months. Since the bills are sent to his house, not mine, I was blissfully unaware that the situation had become dire. So imagine my surprise when a man from the water company showed up in my yard with a funny little tool, opened the plate covering the water access valve, and turned off the water to my house.

Dragonstar was in mid-shower. I was putting in a load of laundry. Suddenly we had no water. Nothing from the tap, nothing filling the toilet tank, nothing coming from the water spout on the fridge. An instant was all it took.

Well, it got me thinking. It also got me cussing my landlord and pleading with some very unhelpful customer service reps at the water company and stomping around the house in righteous fury, which was all very dramatic, but somewhat beside the point. What I began to contemplate was the precarious nature of this infrastructure under which we live from day to day. We expect the water to flow from our faucets. Things fall apart very quickly when it doesn't.

Curiously, just one day before, I read this report from the city of Mysore, India, located in the southern reaches of the subcontinent, near Bangalore. Things are not good in Mysore. There is not enough water. The reporter tells of pipes that gurgle at 3 a.m., and if you're awake and you hear them, you grab as many containers as you have and fill them until the water stops flowing some three or four hours later. It may not flow again for days.

You learn to live a contingent sort of life. You learn to get while the getting is good.

After the third call to the landlord's voice mail and as many to the water company, we were able to get our service restored. In the meantime, my neighbor brought a pitcher of cold water to us, made her bathroom available, and told us to help ourselves to water from her outdoor faucet. Today the laundry is getting done.

In Stillness Speaks, Eckhart Tolle writes "The dysfunction of the old consciousness and the arising of the new are both accelerating. Paradoxically, things are getting worse and better at the same time, although the worse is more apparent because it makes so much 'noise'."

In the desert cities of the American Southwest people continue to water their lawns through consecutive years of drought. The Colorado River dries up in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, and overdrawn Lake Powell has a green algae bathtub ring, but more taps are being added all the time: Las Vegas and Tucson continue to grow. Farmers used to believe the rain followed the plow; the great Dustbowl proved them wrong. Now some fools seem to believe that water follows the developer.

There is word of a car being developed that runs on water. Should we be pleased at this, or should we wonder whether fueling our personal vehicles is the best use for this vital resource?

Here at home, yesterday's crisis becomes today's anecdote. My landlord finally called and apologized, and offered me a reduced rent in exchange for taking over payment of the water bill. So is the glass half-full or half-empty? Sometimes it's both. And sometimes, as George Carlin says, it's just that the glass, like the question, is too dang big.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Inculcating Norms

In The Homework Myth, Alfie Kohn deconstructs the rationale for assigning homework. He might just as easily be writing about schooling in general. Two quotes:
"The point evidently is not to train children to practice making meaningful decisions, or become part of a democratic society, or learn to think critically. Rather, what's being prescribed are lessons in doing what one is told and learning to work hard regardless of whether the work is worth doing."
"Perhaps the assertion that homework is "practice for life" is a partial truth: It's really practice for a life spent working in corporations. And perhaps it's not just about teaching skills that may be useful to a future employer; it's about inculcating norms, helping to produce workers who are used to, and will not complain about, the long working day."
Finally, a thought from Derrick Jensen, from A Language Older Than Words:
"Only recently -- especially after teaching at a university for a few years -- have I come to understand why the process of schooling takes so long. Even when I was young it seemed to me that most classroom material could be presented and assimilated in four, maybe five, years... I've since come to understand the reason school lasts thirteen years. It takes that long to sufficiently break a child's will. It is not easy to disconnect children's wills, to disconnect them from their own experiences of the world in preparation for the lives of painful employment they will have to endure. Less time wouldn't do it, and in fact, those who are especially slow go to college. For the exceedingly obstinate child there is graduate school."