Monday, December 17, 2012

Quakers, Grief, and Vonnegut

This past summer, I had the pleasure of attending numerous weddings. While they were all perfect for the couple du jour, I was particularly impressed by the friends who included the Quaker tradition of silence into the ceremony, allowing the power of the silence to fill the air as the couple exchanged rings. The father of the bride and I spoke after the wedding, where I said how joyful everyone was and he said that there were no words for such feelings. “That,” I said, “must be why the Quakers have silence.”

I thought the same thing a few sad weeks ago attending the memorial service for the mother of a friend. As the widower delivered the eulogy, he necessarily paused to gather himself. In those moments of silence, the power in that church as everyone channeled their deep love towards the man, this is again why Quakers don’t try to put words to that depth of emotion.

I am thinking the same thing now, throwing words like skipping stones into the grief and horror around the Newtown massacre. I have no words, no one has words, to give those lives back, or find meaning or purpose in their deaths. We may be able to use this tide of national emotion to block some other horror further on in time, but even if we could know what that could be, it still will not reunite families or restart childhoods or erase memories from the nightmares of first responders.

Like everyone I know, I have been wracking my soul to find some way forward from Friday. What burns me most is the thought of twenty little kids writing letters to Santa that will go unanswered. I know that is Christian-centric of me, but at this time of year, when I was their age, that is what my world was. And now, at thirty, I can almost imagine having my own children and this time of year being fun and magical gain. That loss is one of the parts that drives this into my gut and into my open eyeballs at dawn. As a country, we’ve crafted legislation and funding and support to go to the moon, and the inability to help people before they gun down an elementary school, and to keep guns far from the hands of such people, is egregious.

But again, in search of a solution, an answer, a lesson. Gun control seems an obvious step, but I’m more taken with cutting things off at the source by improving the mental health attitude in this country. Anything other than “normal” is so deeply stigmatized. Other than a few of my closest friends, I told no one when I started going to therapy this spring. I felt overwhelmed by life and could not stop crying. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I felt deeply ashamed for not being able to handle the stress of my not very difficult life. That stigma kept me silent, and that dementia and various forms of psychosis are among my deepest fears. My therapist was a wonderful woman and meeting with her made me feel less, rather than more, crazy. I fully intend to go to other therapists throughout my life as I need them, and I highly encourage everyone to do the same—and to admit that we are doing so. Even an easy, over-educated, white, American life can have potholes and tsunamis. And massacres and grief.

I don’t wish to engage in deep navel gazing here, despite this being a blog. No one is asking for my opinion, but I’m flinging it out into cyberspace because I don’t know what else to do. If more people would admit to going to therapy, of seeking out mental health support when needed, perhaps it can gradually become easier so that parents who struggle with “difficult” kids feel as fine about taking their kid to a therapist as to a dentist or a math tutor. And so that we all feel as normal about getting mental help as we do getting dental help.

This is my favorite Vonnegut story. The quote I love best from Timequake is “we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” Vonnegut got this pearl of wisdom from his son, Mark, who struggled with mental health issues. Shelving books in the library last winter, I came across one of Mark Vonnegut’s own books. Flipping it open, I read that Mark is now a doctor, still helping others through this thing, as he has been helped.

To me, that is a beautiful story. And we're sorely needing more beauty these days, or the eyes to see it with.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Holy Land

(Map is from, as my Bible and scanner are in a garage far from me)

I wrote this essay last year, when Palestine first approached the UN with a request for observer status. I think it's as true to how I feel today as I ever have. You are free to disagree, but let's stop bombing and killing each other over this landscape.

The maps in my childhood Bible had impossibly brilliant turquoise seas and green ridges within the yellow deserts that reminded me of turtles. I read many books with maps of magical lands and it took a long time to realize that the biblically crisp drawings were of real places, and further, that their mysticism stood a test of time that Mossflower and Middle Earth did not.

Maps of the Middle East draw boundary lines of a space overrun with passion, a place made holy through timeless wonder and faith. That the land of “The Holy Land in Biblical Times” is the same land shown in newscast insets as Palestine fights for the dignity of statehood slays me. To cradle such strength of belief must require some certain intangible power—I believe in this landscape. It at once a mythic story land, a political minefield, and where people as ordinary as me get up each morning to live their lives. That the reality of the land in those disparate, historically distant maps is thick and rich and still green with life opens my heart.  To think of these layers of time and history and faith embedded in the contours of the land beneath the map, layers built by folded hands and covered heads and belief-bent bodies…the cumulative weight of all this faith makes my weightless soul fly from my body while my feet root deeper to the earth.

What is miraculous to me is that not one, not two, but three ways of believing in the scope and creation of the world sprang from this soil. It is not the particulars of these faiths themselves that sanctify the land, but rather that such a trinity exists, all knotted, rooted in the same soils. It would be spectacular enough if this landscape brought even one person to live in grace.

The power of belief fascinates me. I do not have faith in any particular religion myself, but I take faith in religions’ existence, particularly in the plurality of forms that holiness takes across the world. At heart I can’t understand how the multiple sanctities of the Middle East are not held to enhance, enrich, the value of the land—make the sum holier than its parts? How can faithful disrespect the fervor of another, particularly if their beliefs grow from common ground?

When I lived in Montana, I went to Glacier National Park several times. Everyone I ever saw at the head of Lake MacDonald did the same thing--skip a few stones and then ask whoever else is around to take their picture with the turquoise lake and the impossible ice-cream peaks of the mountains looming behind their small bodies. I know I did this. How many family scrapbooks are filled with the same pictures against the backdrop of famous monuments and scenic vistas? I used to think that it was trite—all these identically postured tourists. But, lately, I’ve felt that the number of people who bear such witness vastly magnifies the wealth and depth, the beauty and history, of a place. The very ordinary nature of appearing in thousands of photographs across the world makes Lake MacDonald more beautiful to me. Perhaps a fractal of each person’s faith the place has been left behind, amid those brilliant stones. The line between witnessing sublimity in landscape and sensing religious awe blurs.

The Holy Land may be the same as the countless beautiful moments on the shore of a cherished lake. The stones of Jerusalem and Bethlehem and Mecca are literally touchstones of faith for millions. Somewhere in the folds and layers of the maps that try to prescribe the enigmatic land, respect and respite for the struggles that define each faith can be found. It is not redrawing, but settling the layers in concert with each other—think of the see-through pages of a child’s anatomy book. Here are the bones, layer the veins atop, the page of vital organs and then the skin until the strange shapes becomes human once again.

Places are not holy. We make landscapes holy through our belief that they are so, through our love. No place is as beloved as the Holy Land, no map more layered. The complexity is the strength and I stake my faith in the full promise of the land.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Surprise! Fox News is Wrong! (Again)

I recently read a Fox News article about how men don’t want to get married to the women who are available because, since Feminism came in and crazy ladies burnt their bras, “women aren’t women” any more. And that all this rah-rah pro-lady bias in the media has made men feel sad and broken and unloved. 

In college I wrote a paper on what the privatization of land among the pastoral Maasai and Samburu tribes was doing to the masculine identity in those cultures. Both cultures have had very divided gender roles, with the women dealing entirely within the domestic sphere—they build their own houses, raise their children, farm and tend the small livestock—and the men heading out to cattle camps with the herds and men of their extended family groups. Now that grazing lands have been “protected” or privatized, there is a loss of identity among the men. They are lonely, without their fathers and brothers in the cattle camps, and the world has changed within their lifetime. The steps that are often taken to combat the loneliness result in men going to cities and contracting diseases, drinking problems, drug abuse, and other domestic ills. According to Fox News, this loss of identity is similar to what American men are feeling, and instead of Colonialism and Capitalism to be blamed, it’s all on us ladies. Not that we’re even women any more.

The entire Fox argument is just weird on so many levels. Worst, I worry that there is a niggling grain of truth buried in the deep, deep, deep layers of total bullshit. Not that women aren’t women or that ladies are responsible for men’s loss of identity, but that while girls were being raised on the idea that we can be anything, that we CAN do math and science and be nerds and artists and mechanics and mommies and carpenters and princesses, not shave our legs or armpits, sleep with and/or marry men and/or women, be strong and powerful, have or not have babies, own sexy lingerie and Carhartts, play sports, run for political offices, and on and on and THANK THE LORD AND ALL THOSE BRA BURNERS AND BRAVE LADIES AND MEN OF THE EARLY FEMINIST MOVEMENT, very little was done to adjust the dudes to this new, and more awesome paradigm.

My father, god bless him, has lived in a very female-centric world for the last forty years. His mother, his sister, his wife and his three daughters all have few issues with expressing our opinions, and we tend to bristle at the idea that there are limits to what ladies can do. Not that this topic comes up a whole lot—he did raise his daughters to be like this and can’t be too surprised at the results—but sometimes I think that the capability of myself, my mother, and my sisters takes him by surprise. At a reading by the wonderful Terry Tempest Williams this spring, my father stood up to ask about, in TTW’s newest book about her mother, is there a place for her father?

And suddenly I understood that he just doesn’t want become obsolete amid all the women. I don’t imagine that he is alone among men of his generation, who have no model for how to age gracefully with capable women. I don’t imagine he is so very different from men of my own generation who were raised with more rigid expectations of gender roles.

There has been so much necessary focus on women and girls in so many fields. I applaud the results, and while the glass ceiling isn’t an open sky yet, we’re getting there. What worries me is that boys are not getting similar lessons in role models in how to go beyond traditional gender roles. To wit, in a grad school class, a women presented on impact of girl only outdoor programs on the confidence of those girls as they become women. The student presenting mentioned the possibility of less sexual violence against these women, as they would have gained the confidence to avoid abusive relationships, and to stand up for themselves physically. Wise (lady) professor pipes up: “this is great for the girls, but why don’t we have more programs developed for little boys explaining that rape is bad?” A good question, as I doubt anyone dreams of growing up to become a rapist. In fact, the thought of looking at a class of elementary school aged kids and knowing that some of them will grow into heinous criminals incapable of expressing healthy sexual emotions is both terrifying and sad.

Which is why I am so thankful for the men and women I am friends with. I’m not saying everyone is perfect, or escaped unscathed into adulthood without emotional and identity baggage that comes out in weird ways. But, by and large, I think the people of my generation I know have a good grip on the duality (forgive my heteronormity) of what makes men and women great and different and awesomely, commonly human. We’re perhaps the first generation to possibly have it all ways. I don’t know any men who can’t cook, I don’t know any women who refuse to cook or sew because it’s too “traditional and repressive.” I know both men and women who are largely, the stay at home parent. Perhaps I just know a lot of mama’s boys and penis-envying women, but I really don’t think so.  That said, there are things that I can’t do, or can’t do as well by the same metric as men can because I have lady biology. That goes for the dudes as well, and I think that’s great. I have friends who are better at foreign languages than I am, no reason that I shouldn’t have friends who are stronger than me, or who look better in pretty dresses than others of my friends. I know heaps of strong, capable, brilliant, creative, athletic women who like to curl up with Adele, a rom-com, and have a good cry. And I know a lot of strong, capable, brilliant, creative, athletic men who have a need to do “dude stuff” which I don’t understand the point of, but wish them well. Not all paths need to cross all the time—we have biology and it plays out differently. We’re not, nor should we strive to be, asexual robots. Or GI Joe figures. Or Stepford Wives.

It’s actually pretty awesome, this everyone being better able to do EVERYTHING. When I am doing traditionally masculine things like building trails or belching like a long-haul truck, I like to say that I can do these things because I am a lady. A friend sent out an apology email recently, saying he couldn’t come out for a beer because he had a cold and was sitting home in his slippers and tea because he is a man. It’s all true, and there’s no war on each other from where I sit.

Now, if we could just get equal pay, equal health care, maternity and paternity leave, more women in government, and a few other small items, it’d be great. No one gets obsolete, everyone gets to hang out with each other and marry or not marry as we all, equally, see fit. Go us!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Following the successful[1] election, I elected to migrate south to the urban circus of Boston. Until further notice, the granite of my bunniness will be in spirit only.[2] Which means that I will now be trying to prove my own hypothesis[3] that all places are good places, even if there is a much farther distance between the alpine zone and me for the time being.
A few years ago, I moved to Portland, Oregon. These first days in Cambriville feel rather similar to the start of that time—my dog and I run around town, trying on a new life while staying with generous friends and trolling Craig’s List for homes and jobs. Within my first week in Portland my phone died[4], my bike got stolen, I got pulled over for making an illegal left hand turn[5], and the family cat who was like a teddy bear died back in New Hampshire[6]. I’m pretty sure that some other almost-amusing-now-but-horrible-then stuff must have happened that same week, but even with those few details, it was a rough start. Thus far, everything this go around of urbanizing has gone smoothly[7].
And, I often think that I enjoyed living in Portland more than anywhere else I’ve ever lived[8]. It’s not a greener-than-thou-smug-yuppie/hipster[9]-thing, but I really like being able to walk or bike to a grocery store. I don’t know yet[10] how much biking to the grocery store and taking public transportation to cultural stuff[11] equals having snow days from work to go skiing and star gazing from the porch, but all of this walking and living in a smaller footprint feels weirdly satisfying[12]. Alternately, I was never sure how many hours of mind numbing seasonal work equaled how many hours of watching the sunlight and underwater shadows in the river behind the house I used to live in. Like most things, none of this is a clean trade.
We shall see.

[1] Here’s to poorly/hilariously timed t-shirts and knocking on abandoned homes that look like Silence of the Lambs! That, and, of course, common sense prevailing. Well done, voter-friends!
[2] I have it on good authority that the majority of the rock of my beloved hills is schist, rather than granite. But no one wants to read about a Schist Bunny. Don’t be absurd.
[3] Just like a real scientist would…
[4] The ambient moisture of a Portland January seeped into the charge port and my phone had weird blue mold fungus and would not turn on.
[5] I maintain that the opposite driver had motioned for me to go. The policeman who pulled me over had not seen this, and the other driver had driven off. In New Hampshire, you do not have to insure your car, let alone carry proof of said whimsical insurance. In Oregon, they present you with a fine and a court summons if you do not have this information on your person at time of ticketing. Also, it was pouring rain, and I was lost en route to a job interview when I made my driving error. I did not get that job, incidentally.
[6] A sixteen-pound white kitty with black splotches like a Holstein, bonus toes on her front paws, one of the prettiest cat-faces I’ve ever seen, and a purr like a friendly jackhammer. She was a winner.
[7] Smoothly, of course, aside from looking at one apartment with the pervasive pot odor, a hookah in the living room and a foosball table in another common space. And, further aside from the guy at another posting who turned me and Dog-face down for a room in his apartment, but based entirely on my emailed description of myself as a potential housemate, asked me out. And, of course not counting, the woman who forgot to mention the pet snakes she keeps in tanks in the living room. Smoothly, for Craig’s List, is what I ought say.
[8] It got better, after that first week. It would be hard for it to get worse.
[9] Yupster?
[10] I don’t think I’ll ever know.
[11] Why, yes I do have a graduate degree, read a lot, enjoy movies, theater, music, and bookstores, would happily camp out in museums, and refer to all this culture as “stuff.”
[12] Sort of like pledging to NPR feels good, actually. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

How To Not Be Angry (Maybe)


Prolonged exposure to death 

Has made my friend quieter.

Now his nose is less like a hatchet

And more like a snuffler.

Flames don't erupt from his mouth anymore

And life doesn't crack his thermometer.

Instead of overthrowing the government

He reads fly-fishing catalogues

And takes photographs of water.

An aphorist would say 

The horns of the steer have grown straighter.

He has an older heart 

that beats younger.

His Attila the Hun imitation 

Is not as good as it used to be.

Everything else is better.

I do not want to be angry any more.

The 2012 election is tomorrow and I am tired of all things political. Except for my looming anxiety that if Mitt Romney and the increasingly conservative Republicans win, the glass ceiling will be replaced and reinforced in highly personal and professional realms, civil rights—especially in terms of marriage and voter equality—will be diminished, social services will sublimate into corporate entities, education for non-economically practical subjects will disappear, corporations—although they poison us—will be further and more dangerously deregulated both financially and environmentally, and any legitimate actions to combat and adapt to ferociously shifting climate will be aggressively curtailed, I just want it all to be over. Technically, I want it over and I don’t want a different President. I like this one.

In short, I am afraid. But the fear comes out as a fury that careens towards tears and impotent rage and black depression. So I get angrier at the twists of emotion that these things take. I don’t feel like Attila the Hun so much as a confused Hamlet, stuck with knowledge and no clear path towards resolution. Or perhaps Ophelia, as she is more trapped and frustrated even than Hamlet. No wonder she loses her cookies.

And I am tired of being angry without knowing what to do. I go canvassing for Obama and the Democrats, because as of yet, there is no effective Green-Socialist party that I can join. But knocking on doors of empty houses, occasionally speaking with a live person, or donating what I can when I can to good organizations, this does not feel like enough. I was told once about political activism in another form will “never be enough, but you have to do it anyway.” And I hold that thought tight while I am peering into the dusk looking for house numbers, but it doesn’t feel like enough. In that gap, the frustration grows into anger, then fear, and then it is two a.m. and I am staring into the dark, wondering what is going to happen to entities and institutions and realities that I care about. What more can I do, where is the useful outlet for all this fear and rage and frustration?

If you know, please, tell me.

Being a somewhat moody individual, I have a soft spot for the superheroes who morph when their rage gets too much. But I can’t turn huge and green or sprout Adamantium claws or fly against Romans and Visgoths and crush the injustices I see with force. Besides, the show of force, getting into a yelling match or trying to prove by weight or volume that you are the angriest, the most right…that doesn’t seem like a useful path towards anything good. As T.H. White and his once and future King Arthur demonstrate, might is not right.

That’s one reason I don’t like all the yelling and combativeness of current politics. Sound and fury, signifying that we’re losing the ability to speak and listen to each other like adults.

But at the same time, I’m livid at what all is on the line in the current political climate. And I don’t yet know how to reconcile my yearning for quiet photographs of water with my desire to the overthrow corruption and willful ignorance that seems to be overrepresented in current government.

It occurred to me this weekend that I’ll never be able to choose between the two. I have many friends who seem reconciled to this dichotomy. They are happy, and they are furious, and seem to conduct their lives in the light of both. What I see in these people is proof that rage and frustration, unless they are all you ever feel, don’t have to totally dissipate. And also that happiness is not the same as placidness and complacency.

Mark Helpin wrote that “real power is with those who are forever still.” I am not temperamentally suited to stillness yet, or to Hoagland’s quiet. So, I guess, for now, all I can do is simply live in a way that makes me happy on a daily basis. I’ll snuffle around with photographs of water at times and to hang up the bullhorn and hatchet, but have each ready at a moments notice. This is what I see my wisest friends do, and I am calmed and encouraged by their examples.

Truly, on the basis of my waking up each morning, eating breakfast, and doing something good with my life, I don’t know if it will much matter who wins any contest tomorrow, or any other day. In terms of living beyond my own home, of living in a society that embodies values that I believe in, of course it will matter quite a bit. But the trick, I think, is to put effort into both spheres.

On that note, I’m heading out to play with my dog in the woods. A few flakes of snow are falling along the river in the grim morning light of November. It’s starkly beautiful. Then I’ll skulk outside the library for enough wi-fi to post this rant and later today, I’ll trot down to the local Obama office and put my shoulder to the wheel and feet on the pavement. No action alone will be enough for active happiness, enough to quiet the rage. But the combination, maybe. I hope so, because I am ready for everything to be better.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Life in a Beautiful Place

I believe that one point of Our Town[1] is to realize that everywhere is Grover’s Corners.

That truth aside, I’ve more than once described my little village as seeming like Thornton Wilder’s imagined New Hampshire hamlet. My town is a collection of little roads, looping back and forth across each other and all mostly hidden between the main road and the National Forest. There is a church with a white steeple and a bell that rings at noon and six. The local school has kindergarten through sixth grade and people regularly worry that not enough local babies will be born to keep the school going much longer. In the winter, you can ski on Nordic trails almost anywhere in town, including to the library, the post office, the local down hill area that keeps cubbies for the grammar school students, and the historical society. I think that we’ve got more picturesque inns and charming bed and breakfasts per capita than anywhere outside of the BBC. The geographic center of town is the green with a duck pond, a walking loop, soccer fields and a weekly, local, seasonal, farmer’s market[2]. In the few places around town where you cannot see the not-so-distant White Mountains, you are consoled with shorter range views of the local hills, the historic bridges that span gurgling rivers and babbling brooks, the flowers and foliage and snowscapes. Personally, I like the frozen pillows of snow-covered rocks in the icy snow choked river in the winter. And the lilacs. And the crisp stars.

I could hardly live in a more beautiful place.

But, like anywhere, it’s got a few drawbacks. All this beauty means the town is swollen with tourists, except in November, April, and May. We need them, obviously, but it’s not an entirely easy relationship. I think that, psychologically, it can’t be healthy for a region to depend so heavily on jobs in various iterations of a service industry. It is hard to always be downstairs, rather than upstairs—you may begin to believe you are as limited as you are often treated[3]. And, I wish that people would remember to pack their common sense, self-awareness, and manners when going on vacation. Simply, it is hard to make a functional life here, rather than dancing around trying out different seasonal jobs that cater to visitors in some way or another.

I had this thought in mind the other day when I ran into one of the published writers who lives in town. The author said[4] that I remind them of their younger self, just a young person casting around for what my life is going to be[5]. We chatted in this vein for a few minutes, with me nodding mostly and occasionally throwing in a comment about how my generation—or perhaps just the people I know—are not measuring ourselves by the same bench marks as previous generations. For example, I do not need a lumpy diamond ring, a morgage, some babies, a 401K, or a white picket fence to feel as if I’ve made it in this world.[6]

Regardless, after this idly well-intentioned and banally agreeable chatter, the author asked me how old I am. “Oh…” came the tepid response, “you’re not really that young any more, are you?”[7]

For fuck’s sake.

I was then regaled with this person’s plan for a new book—the story of coming out of the city and into the mountains, into this simpler way of living. How the image held in this writer’s brain—before coming to the mountains—was of making muffins on a crisp fall morning with the mountain views in the distance. I’ve done just that, more thoroughly than most can, and it was one of the great experiences of my life. But this entire book proposal of my neighborhood scribbler seemed off.

Being called old, essentially, irked me less[8] than the continuing trope of lionizing, celebrating, only one kernel of the truth about a place. Often, I am late for work because the roads are full of slow-driving tourists, trolling the highway for their annual dose of our local simplicity and quaintness. What we don’t need, what this place doesn’t need, is another book on that subject.

I have more patience with the word “simple” than I do with “quaint,” but only by the slimmest of margins and my acceptance of either is totally dependent on context. I could rage up a storm about the condescending ignorance of many of the tourists I encounter, who seem to assume that I must be some sort of slow-witted noble savage because I live here, but now is not the time[9].

What got me, this time, was the assumption that here is the only place where life could be simple or beautiful or good. Or that a life lived here is inherently simpler, more beautiful or better, through sole virtue of geography. Mountain towns are mountain towns, for better or worse. We’re short on jobs and long on beauty, this is true. I’m finding more and more that the toll of making a living here cuts, vastly, into the amount of time to get out and enjoy the local beauty that pulled me—like a magnet—here in the first place. It’s not a simple place.

Really, one can bake blueberry muffins and watch how the sunlight plays in the muffin-steam anywhere. It will be beautiful and life-affirming in any place. It’s true that one can’t be on skis or above treeline everyday in another place, but living here, I don’t have time to do those things anyway, much as I might like to. I’ve got my jobs to get to, my groceries to buy, my oil to change, my wedding to plan, my country's 500th anniversary to arrange, my wife to kill, and Guilder to blame for it; I’m simply swamped…

My mountain town home—warts and skinny legs and all, as I see it, living here—is someone else’s beautiful, stylized, fetishized “other.” This sense that we only look for beauty outside our own spheres is sad, at best. I was in a large city recently and was overcome with the riot of morning glories exploding out of every dooryard. Morning glories, as they twist out into fairy-trumpets from the nocturnal state—when they look like chewed strings—are some of my favorite flowers. It’s a sunrise, best-foot-forward, dare-to-hope-today-will-be-wonderful, kind of flower. I love that, and how delicate they seem, but how sturdily and quickly they take over porches and trellises.

A few blocks later, a man on a bus stop bench offered to sell me a poem. Because of the morning glories, I didn’t need a poem to get through the strange street. Another day and I would have grasped his poem like a life preserver,[10] needing the familiarity of words and beauty even if the terrain was unfamiliar and overwhelming. Knowing that flowers and poetry exist even in grubby, paved street hemmed in by buildings and traffic and bustling people…that is something more valuable than either.

It is a mistake to assume that beauty or a good life can be found in only one place. I’ve spent a long time thinking that—hence why I am here in this town, but I’m finding, more and more, that the trick is to learn how to look, everywhere. I’ve no objection to any sort of travel in search of beauty or adventure. I just don’t like the assumptions that life is simpler or better based on geography. If you believe that it is, you’re missing out on too much. Morning glories against a chain link fence on an empty lot and the fire of maple leaves against a brilliant blue October sky—neither are simple, one is not better than the other, but both are worth the time to notice.

Like I said, everywhere is Grover’s Corners, if we can only realize it. I’m trying.

[1] Read it. Now.
[2] Which, I blame, for the creation of this blog.
[3] Even the Crawleys of Downton Abbey get better story lines than their servants.
[4] With best intentions, I’m trying to believe.
[5] As this is not someone I know well, I was taken aback that my eclectic life trajectory is so transparent.
[6] I’ll happily settle for one job, (year-round, full-time, with health insurance), access to arable land and the alpine zone, a stack of books, and some attractive dude(s) to make out with.
[7]That is verfuckingbatim. WHO THE HELL SAYS THAT?

[8] Slightly.
[9] Although, this is probably just the place for just such an impotent rant.
[10] Not inaccurate…William Carlos Williams, Asphodel.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Donut Bear

I found this guy outside the Black Bear Café in Ossipee, NH, right along Rte. 16. As I stood in the parking lot taking the picture, a man walked out, looked at me, looked at the bear, and struck a pose. “Sorry,” says me, “you’re not as cute as the bear.”

And, this is not just any bear—this is The Donut Bear. Or rather, like an icon in a Russian Orthodox Church, a crafted representation of an important figure of faith.

To begin, you might find it useful to know that my family, like all others, has a particular language to which logic need not apply. In fact, it often seems that if Logic were to apply to many aspects of the laws and language by which my relations and I govern ourselves, said application would be summarily rejected out of paw.

Growing up, we read the Berenstein Bear books, which would occasionally feature the whole Bear family heading off for burgers and milkshakes at the local Burger Bear. So, being a witty bunch (to ourselves, if not one else) this title for all fast food establishments wormed its way into family jargon. Ergo, we did not eat at McDonalds or Burger Kings, but we very infrequently frequented Burger Bear.

About twenty years later and this spring, I was on the phone with my sister who lives far away from my rabbitty warren. It was going to be a long day with a tight schedule and I didn’t see how, when, or where I was going to feed myself. Because it is New England, I could count on at least one Dunkin Donut store existing between the road I had to travel. “I’ll just get a donut,” I said, in high pitched desperation.

“A donut is not dinner,” says Smarter Bunny. “I’m sure that Dunkin Donut Bear has smoothies or something.” The Donut Bear?!

How delightful.

That day, I did manage to find myself an amazing strawberry smoothie from a nice local coffee shop and continued my evening feeling refreshed, nourished and all other things that a good visit from The Donut Bear ought engender.

I have since decided that The Donut Bear is a force in the world who provides perfect refreshing snacks. Several friends now understand the concept of The Donut Bear, who despite his name seems to have a penchant for smoothies and mocha lattes. The Donut Bear, is, of course, larger than anything as petty as labels. The Donut Bear is also good at baking cookies for friends, and now that it is fall, I believe that The Donut Bear is squarely behind apple pie for breakfast, as well as, obviously, cider donuts.

Physically, I believe that The Donut Bear looks a little like Homer Simpson crossed with a Carebear. Vocally, he sounds like Tom Waits with a lisp. “Here, kid, you look tired. I made you this hot cocoa—did you want whipped cream on that? Of course you did. Hold on.” Try it.

Recently, I was in a totally hip café. As someone who loves Donut Bears and blogs under a picture of an adorable baby bunny, you may be surprised to learn that I am not the most hipster bunny around. Skinny jeans are not my thing, and I like gears on my bike. I found this particular place intimidating, as it seemed to be run by kids who looked like they would hang out in the art and music room of high school, occasionally making a run to the parking lot to smoke cigarettes. Smoking is bad, but the artistic-goth-punk, “this is bad and we’re too cool to care about your rules” attitude is still a potent combination to make one feel about three inches tall. Only, I’m guessing these kids didn’t smoke—there was way too much focus in the café on internationally certified organic teas and artisan-brewed coffee hand milled by free-range improv artists from a local collective.

As I just need to check my email, I bought a muffin and a cup of tea, which I had the honor of selecting from a double-sided menu of tea, replete with overflowing descriptions of each blend. “Mint, please,” I said, ignoring the other eight words in the title describing mint tea. I pay for my snacks and Skinny McGee trots off, clinks around with a bunch of different vessels of hot water and scoops of leaves and then returns to the counter. My muffin is sitting, all Donut Bear-delicious looking, on a plate on the counter. Skinny plops down a mug, which I assume is for tea. Then she presents me with a tiny teapot, and pours scalding water onto the leaves. And then she leaves.

How, you might ask, do I know that the water is scalding? Because in trying to carry a small muffin plate, a mug, and a teensy teapot to a table, I slosh scalding water onto my paws. I set it all down and regrip, and was rewarded by a 1.5 degree burn on my finger from holding the teapot. More scalding water spills onto my muffin. As I needed both hands to maneuver to a table, I decided to forgo the whimsy of the teapot. I poured the tea into the mug, and took my soggy muffin and unsteeped minty hot water to a table. Where the internet did not work. When questioned, the super hip little dude with skinny jeans, cool tattoos and a chunky wool hat at the counter told me, while smiling, “Yeah, we’re part of a subscriber-based network, sort of a community thing.”

This café was not the territory of The Donut Bear. I think that is obvious.

Which is why I was so happy to see this carving of The Donut Bear a few hours later, proof that, despite unpleasantly hip cafes, the Donut Bear can still be found when one least expects and most needs a snack.

Here, in its questionable glory, is the legend of the Donut Bear:

Once upon a time, there was a small bear. He was invisible to most people and his name was the Donut Bear. The Donut Bear appointed himself as a non-denominational patron saint to those who were weary from traveling, from long days moving stacks of paper in offices, or staring at endlessly shimmering screens, or who were otherwise tired and having a bad day. The Donut Bear would find these people, tired and cranky in their cars or offices and silently guide them towards the nearest bakery or café. In their angst, these grumpy people only knew that they were propelled by a force larger than themselves towards a good cup of coffee and a delicious muffin, or a cold smoothie and a frosted donut. As if by magic, the bear knew what each person’s comfort snack would be and gently pushed them in that direction with his soft fuzzy paws. Being no bigger than a teddy bear, our hero moves invisibly through hustling crowds tapping a leg here and turning an elbow there, and, through his small actions, improves a thousand people’s mood. Next time you find yourself soothed by a fresh baked cookie or glass of iced tea, perhaps acquired when you least expected and most needed such refreshment, look down and you may see the Donut Bear, quietly making the world a better place, one un-crankied person at a time.

Granite Bunny

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Descamisados and Village Barista-ing

This is the shirt that I wore to work a few weeks ago. The RNC had just gotten underway in Tampa and I had a minor moment of panic when my alarm—set to NPR—did just that, (alarmed me.) Being frightened for the future of your country while you are still groggily coming out of dreamland is not pleasant. Certainly, the anxiety that I feel about the future of my country, versus the fears that someone waking up in Palestine or Syria might have are markedly different. And I am grateful for that difference.

But, since I don’t have to worry that I or my family will be executed for any of our political activities, I am free to move on from the basic tenets of democracy. I have a graduate degree in a field I love, a bachelor’s degree from a decent school, and I currently balance two—it was three for the summer—part-time jobs and, yet, because of my student loans, I am unable to afford health insurance, which shouldn’t be a luxury item anyway. I have been looking for better work for two years. I don’t mention these facts to whine—two seconds thinking about Iraq or Afghanistan or the Dust Bowl 2012 affords some great perspective on the challenges of my own life—but more as context.

Despite my own situation, I simply cannot find the economy to be the most important issue in this election. The social issues that are at stake are too vitally important.
A sampling of my political thoughts and views:
  • Consenting, aware adults should be able to marry who ever they choose. Committing to love someone for the rest of your life is terrifying to me—more power to those who can do so. Good luck and god bless.
  • All rape is legitimate, all rape is forcible, all rape is wrong. There should be no excuse lurking in terminology for a rapist to hide behind. No woman should be forced to have a baby with her rapist. End of story.
  • I don’t want a bunch of old, idiotic, corrupt men deciding what is best for my vagina and me. How about I agree to make good choices about which men are allowed access to my vagina (hint: NO ONE in the Congress), and Congress agrees to back off? I would also like birth control to be as available to me as Viagra is to those who “need” it.
  • Or, if we must limit access birth control to keep Jesus happy[1], let’s increase social services because people will still have sex and then babies/new citizens who will need things like medicine and housing and education and jobs and food.
  • I would like to have the government mirror the demographics of the country today, rather than mirror the pigmentation and gender of the Founding Fathers quite so closely.
  • We need to do better by our military, starting by not sending anyone to war until all diplomatic avenues have been fully tried and exhausted.
  • That pesky issue of climate change. I, for one, was grimly amused by a hurricane nearly hitting the GOP convention. And yet, they still ignore the issue. Small, family businesses who grow food to feed the hunger of our great country are being hammered this year by heat and drought and storms like none on record, and not everyone is on board with this new weird ass shit reality being an issue worth talking about? Where do they all think these climatic changes are coming from?[2]
  • Voter ID laws? From the party that wants to decrease the role of government in our lives? Come on. I want leaders who are smarter than me and this ain’t a good start.
But I digress. I turned off my NPR radio and, like a kid jamming her doll into her backpack to bring to school for reassurance[3], I donned my Obama/Biden shirt from 2008 and ventured off to my job at a small café. Unsuspecting me was taken unpleasantly by surprise when coffee-buyers began talking about my boss’s letter in that day’s paper. I opened to the Editorial section and proceeded to read about how my employer would like to get Obama and his small business hating administration out of office and return this country to the principles that made it great in the first place.
It was an uncomfortable day at work. Especially as about 20% of the customers mentioned how much they loved the letter. [4]

I can agree that “if you have a business, you didn’t build that” is a tempestuously bad statement for a President running for re-election in a crap economy to make. Even just stringing those particular words together so that they could later be taken out of context is unfortunate and scary when the stakes seem so high. Personally, I understood the words to mean something along the lines of  “it takes a village to raise a business.” I gather that not everyone took the statement, out of context, in the same context that I did. I think of that business-raising village as people percolate through the door, looking for coffee and muffins. No customers, no business. I get it—my bosses took an admirable risk, opened a business, sold enough coffee to hire me, now I have a job and we can make more coffee for more people and I can contribute to the local economy.[5] I am clearly a beneficiary of the entrepreneurial spirit of my employers.

It’s this idea of totally disconnected individualism that I find disconcerting—as if any business or person or state or country exists in a total vacuum. Could any of us do anything without each other? Very little, and not too well, me thinks.[6]"We must hang together, gentlemen[7]...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately,” according to Benjamin Franklin. I find that to the perhaps the single greatest principle that has ever made this country great.

My understanding is that the country was founded on the ideas of fairness and equality, and that the government is a structure to provide leadership, justice, and services to its citizens. The government, like the Postal Service, was never set up as a business. Now that corporations are people, perhaps that has changed, but I do cling to the idea that we are still by and FOR the people.

To end, today is the gubernatorial primary in New Hampshire. My café job is near the local poling place. I contemplated wearing my Obama shirt again, as I don’t have a Jackie Cilley shirt. But what would be the point? I quite literally can’t afford to antagonize my employers and don’t want to anyway. If we’re all hanging together, raising businesses and sharing services in this big cozy village, we would do well to try to be kind, tone down confrontational rhetoric, and, specifically, not wear a particular shirt just to be a smart-ass. I can understand where my employers are coming from. I disagree, but that’s beside the point. They know I disagree, but I still have a job. This is good.[8]

So if you have an election to get to today, chop chop and get thee to the polls. Personally, being a big nerd, I like to vote whenever possible, simply out of respect for the right. There are people fighting, dying, and killing, for the privilege to vote on their leaders. I care far more that you vote than who you vote for. Of course, it’d be swell if you voted for Green Socialist-Democrats, but that decision is, of course, your business.
Granite Bunny

[1] Given the nature of His birth/conception, I don’t really trust His feelings about contraception.
[2] When I did relief work on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, someone overheard a guy saying that Katrina was God’s vengeance for abortion being legal. His proof was that the eye of the storm looked like a fetus. So there are some theories out there, other than say, science and what you can see with your own eyes.
[3] Grades K-3. Only sometimes it was my teddy bear.
[4] Except, they called it an article. It wasn’t an article. It was a letter to the editor. Right up there with people not understanding what the President can and cannot do from the Oval Office (read Jon Stewart’s America: The Book if you need to brush up on your civics), I hate when people don’t use the correct terminology, especially if the incorrect term somehow applies greater gravitas and authority. Articles appear in Orion, the New York Times, US Weekly, etc. Letters to the Editor are as often from crazy cat ladies as they are from the politically disgruntled, both of which happen more often than letters from the politically astute/socially aware. And blogs are the province rambling bunnies, apparently.
[5] And Sallie Mae.
[6] Okay, Thoreau, try it. Spend a full winter day with nothing that another human being was ever involved in creating. Let me know how it goes. “Brrr. I’m hungry...”
[7] Recent research shows that this sentiment ought be extended to all people, not just dudes.
[8]Wait, I can disagree with my employers about politics? Cool. Thanks, Labor Movement! 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fanfare for the Common Bunny

Hello! This is the inaugural entry for what will doubtlessly become a ranting fount of wit and wisdom pertaining to whatever manner of incidents pass before my beady little eyes and/or long floppy ears. This photo came from and I hope that it is okay with them that I'm using it here. Not that there is a lack of cute bunny photos on the interwebs, but I happen to like this one best. Those paws--are they clapping, freaking out, or directing a plane where to land? Difficult to say.

Why start a blog? Mostly I've done so today because it is threatening to rain and I have a sore throat and am unable to get out to the White Mountains on any adventures. Also, I went to my local Farmer's Market today like any other well-brought up Gen-X socio-environmentalist. I love a fresh tomato as much as the next kid, but as another friend wrote me: "Yesterday I ranted about the abundance of blogs, Facebook posts, etc. that constantly, and in the most unoriginal ways, celebrate the sensual abundance of any given farmer's market.  We all know quite well just how fucking amazing farmer's markets are, and all about the bounty of beautiful vegetables that delight the senses, and there is so little that can be done on this topic without making us all puke.  It is my opinion that people should only be blogging about farmer's markets if they either work at one, supply produce to one, or have something fucking original to say.  Otherwise, eat your goddamn kohlrabi with your goddamn perfect boyfriend and shut the hell up about it."
Well said, I think. On that note, I decided to find a wider forum for the scavenger hunt I created while living in Missoula, Montana. I believe that it should work just as well for similar communities of my own demographic.
Granite Bunny 

Saturday Market In Missoula Quiz[1]

We all know that we’re supposed to be “Keeping Missoula Weird,” and yet there is a certain homogeneity that would lead the passerby/non-Missoulian to believe that we are all part of some dang Chaco-wearing, happy-baby-producing, local-organic-eating, bike-loving cult. Let’s rally and prove our differences and keep Missoula at least as weird as the other cities[2] with those stickers!

If you spot any of the following, go ahead and give yourself the prescribed number of points:

A pregnant woman who looks not radiant, but appropriately uncomfortable given that her insides are being squashed by a giant sea-monkey, she’s been off-kilter for the last nine months, and has to pee every four and a half minutes.
(10 pts/per)­­________

A happy couple wherein one half looks like an icy-hearted hipster and the other is a Pachemama loving hippy. (Traditionally, these groups hate each other like Sharks and Jets—co-mingling may end badly.) Watch for tight punk band t-shirts, spiked hair and impossibly skinny jeans holding hands with flowing skirts, dreadlocks and Mother Earth-type tattoos. Be alert for verbal references to bands neither you nor anyone else has ever heard of, commingling in conversation between comments on musical acts such as “The Dead,” (who maybe ought to rest in peace, rather than be forced to perform in their dotage.)
(15 pts/per couple)________

A person wearing a three-piece/pinstripe suit NOT ironically.
(8 pts/per)­­­________

A longboard being used as a toy, not masquerading as a legitimate form of transportation.
(5 pts/per)________

A child eating a Wonderbread sandwich with Kraft Singles and Oscar Meyer Baloney.
(5 pts/per)________

Music being produced by a bona fide instrument, rather than via a creative rummage through the recycling bins of a hardware store.
(3 pts/per)________

A geeky teenager who looks age-appropriately UNCOMFORTABLE with their oddities/inability to blend in[3]. (You know, the weasley looking ones with magic cards, acne, greasy hair, and miserable expressions as they are tortured by being dragged into the sunlight by their families.)
(2 pts/per)________

A devastatingly attractive single man who doesn’t have a parole monitor ankle bracelet, and has a designed and implemented a citywide glass-recycling program[4].
(Points?!? Hell, just get a phone number.­­­_(___)___-____)

For this next section, be particularly alert, as each day in Missoula inures your senses towards the sheer absurdity to many of these sights, smells, and sounds. Remember, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance; and it is our mandate as Missoulians to be as non-conformist as possible.

Subtract the appropriate number of points for each of the following:

A person walking barefoot down the street.
(-2 pts/per)________

Anyone over the age of 3 wearing ANYTHING resembling a tutu.
(-3 pts/per)­­­________

Smugly glowing pregnant women who look more beautiful swollen up with twenty pounds of baby and amniotic fluid than the rest of us have ever/will ever look.
(-10 pts/per)­­­________
(Subtract an additional 5 if you can see her baby-popped belly button.)

Overheard conversations about:
The Good Food Store—a thorny subject, but the “counter” cultural reliance on and inability to consume food from anywhere other than an elitistly monikered food emporium is clearly worrisome. (E.g. “I only shop at the Good Food Store,” “Seattle is great, but they just have Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s[5]; there’s no GFS…”)     
Grains—especially those that no one outside of Missoula (other than the ancient Egyptians[6]) have ever heard of, let alone consumed. (E.g. “Because of Sierra’s[7] allergies, we’re only eating kequinophoeiarmut these days. I’m trying to get her school to ban wheat products.”)
Pregnancy—(E.g. “You just have to read this book about three weeks before you are due, it just gets you so PUMPED to give birth…”[8])
Wildland Fire Fighting—we get it; YOU’RE AWESOME. Shut up.
(-1 pt/per)­­________

Subaru Station wagons (includes Foresters) and Toyota Prii, Tacomas, and RAV 4s.

(-1 pt/per)­­­_______

Cynical grad students who have nothing better to do with their summers than mock municipal happiness[9].
(-5 pts/per)­­­________
  TOTAL POINTS _______­­_­­

[1] Can also be used at any and all of the variously disguised “Celebrate Missoula” festivals and Farmers’ Markets.
[2] Austin, TX; Eugene and Portland, OR; or Burlington, VT.
[3] Puberty is god-awful. The number of well-adjusted, confident teens in Missoula throws this universal truth into question and should not be tolerated. They are missing out on their prime suffering years.
[4] No glass recycling in Missoula.
[5] Not available in Missoula
[6] And look what happened to them.
[7] Children named for other types of flora and fauna, grains, seasons and/or Wilderness areas are equally suspect.
[8] Conversation overheard at The Break, March 14, 2009
[9] But, are they really happy? Or are they just clones of beautiful, fit people with a yen for social and environmental justice and civic and community engagement? Watch The Stepford Wives and add quinoa and kale.