Wild Cows of Boont

Why do they call it “Real Estate,” anyway?

1 Grace Drive

My childhood home is for sale. In fact, it has been for a little over a month now, and at this moment, the sale is currently marked as “Pending.” I knew that already, but I had to somehow find confirmation of this on my own. I couldn’t simply take the word of my parents, as if this knowledge still flitted about in the ether and had not yet come to land. And I had to see it one more time, somehow, before letting it go for good.

For the first time today, it actually occurred to me that I could look it up online. I don’t have the sentimental luxury at the moment to go back to visit it in person for one last look. I live several thousand expensive miles away, and the timing would be all off. It would make things harder on my parents, lending more emotion to the already exhausting situation, and besides, they know I need to look for a new job, a new place of my own to live, and I know they simply want to finalize things as efficiently as possible, considering how many years this has spent incubating.

But I can indulge in a little virtual tour, and I wanted to see how it looked on stage, presented to outsiders peering in for the first time. At first glance, I think “That’s not the house I grew up in,” because it has been transformed so completely, to a point where it is barely even recognizable, so much so that when I look at some of the pictures I have to take a moment to extrapolate from them in order to know what I’m actually looking at. Even though I have spent so much time in that house, I feel I should know every corner by heart, I felt disoriented stepping through the looking glass and picturing myself back in those rooms. A few crucial somethings were conspicuously missing. In some rooms, the orientation somehow felt off, as if some invisible hand shuffled the walls around, stripping away crucial aspects that had gone mysteriously missing, but to where? Or perhaps it was  the shock of seeing it presented by an outsider, like the first time you see your name in print, or your picture in the paper. “Naomi was seen doing this,” but you no longer own your own actions, or your own image somehow looks unfamiliar. Is that really me? Is that actually the place? Did that happen?

In fact, I was born in one corner of that house, but there is conspicuously (likely only to me) no picture of that spot. There is a view into that room, but it is taken from an angle that places that very auspicious corner just out of view. Maybe it strikes me in a particularly poignant way at this moment, as I approach my 33rd birthday. Some cycle is coming to a close, and I’m not entirely sure I want to accept its passing just yet.

My parents worked so diligently to transform the house, gradually over 36 years, and then with an especially focussed fervor over the course of the past two. My parents have face-lifted, rebuilt, reworked, and whitewashed, some of it out and some of it in, to being. True, the upstairs rooms are still the purple, green, and pink hues that we all painted them so many years ago. But all the wood flooring, and the white walls! Where is that noxious 60s era orange-brown carpeting that lined the hallways for so long? I can still remember how it smelled when it was warmed by the afternoon sun: wool mixed with the unmistakably sweet smell of off-gasing plastic, vaguely musty and dusty, no matter how fervently and frequently it was vacuumed (weekly). Where is that baby blue trim in my dad’s office that I hated so vehemently when I was a teenager and that my parents insisted on repainting the same shade when it began to chip. And why did I hate it so much? It was somehow just another piercing reminder to me of the socioeconomic distance between my family and those of my classmates. Yes, that stupid blue chipped paint. Do a realty listings search of the 02025 zip code, and you will see that yawning gap between the home prices listed. There is very little middle ground, plain to see.

Now that is all gone, stripped away or entirely replaced by more tasteful maple and pine. Somehow I find myself yearning for one last glimpse. The changes they’ve made of course are all requisite elements that add up to “Curb appeal,” or some other realtor’s marketing sentiment. It looks as though someone really gave it a good old spit shine and polished it up into something that we always hoped it would look like when my whole family still lived there, but that my parents never really had the time or the money to put into it then. They were too busy feeding, clothing, and schooling two children. Keeping their cars running. Making sure everyone stayed afloat, not able to worry too much about when the porch would be finished, or when a new slick of paint could be added to the trim.

Oddly, it now more closely resembles the home I wished for when I was little, yet now I long to see it as it was, as I remember it. Back then, I felt inordinately ashamed of and embarrassed by how quirky, artsy, how repulsively and damningly different my house looked from the rambling Victorians, classic Capes, and even the homogenous (but all very expensive) “development” homes that began to pop up like so many mushrooms after the rains on cookie cutter lots in my seaside hometown. Though now I look at it, and I wonder what I saw that made it so exceptionally “weird.” It doesn’t seem that remarkably strange to me now. Although it surely is a composite of many disparate elements, this is an inevitability of a house that is a couple of centuries old, occupied by at least dozens of people.

At the time I felt fiercely protective of its intimately familiar oddities (only I get to judge it!) and yet, why did I evaluate this place so harshly and so unkindly, pitted against what I saw around me? It never seemed good enough. “Interesting” wasn’t what I was after then. I wanted to disappear into anonymity and my home (nor much of anything else in my life) was certainly not helping on that front, in my ponderously insecure opinion. When my parents artist friends talked about how much they loved visiting our house, I couldn’t quite understand what they saw that I wasn’t able to see at the time. Of course, if anyone else were to make any comments to disparage it, I would raise my defenses and bare my proverbial teeth. “My dad’s so busy ( I insisted on referring to him as “my dad” to others back then, even though I called him “Papa”) he doesn’t have the time to finish the porch yet…” “My parents are still deciding on what color to repaint it, so that’s why it still looks like that….” (Most of these were excuses I made in my own head. Mostly they weren’t conversations that actually even happened) It wasn’t until a college friend visited during my sophomore year that I was truly able to consider seeing it through a different lens. “Oh! It’s so cozy and cute! I feel at home here,” the friend exclaimed. I couldn’t believe someone who was my peer could say anything nice about it. I was so used to criticizing it and disdainfully judging everything I owned materially that I couldn’t quite believe someone whose opinion I cared about could actually be positive, complimentary. This person was on my side, they were a true friend. Someone I loved and respected and trusted, not some freak from the fringe that my parents brought home. How delightfully decentering it is to see something familiar for the very first time.

Now, I wonder how anyone growing up in a  McMansion could ever feel the kind of resonance with their homes that I did on some level, no matter how embarrassed I was to invite friends over when I was little. I’m not saying that a sense of home isn’t present or important, no matter where you are. Even if your house is just like the same ones that are dotted across the upper middle class landscape of America, from one indistinguishable subdivision to the next stretching across the country between both coasts, I imagine that something stands out for you to make you feel as though you came from something, somewhere. It can’t all be entirely empty or soulless. But, I mean to say, how can you feel the same sense of fondness, and feel loved by, a home that seems like nothing more than a prefabricated collection of parts? Such homes have never felt quite like they have a heart to me, but that is not to say the people that dwell within them are so many factory robots. Although sometimes when I am inside of these places, they feel to me as though they do not even actually exist at all. There is something about these edifices that seems more near to a computer generated, holographic image than an actual home.

The thing is, as much as I wished for something more “normal” or conventional looking at the time, I also knew even then it was an expression of how my family was, who they were, and the house itself participated in that untidy game as well, and a small part of me felt I should find a way to embrace this all of the time rather than to internalize some hatred of it or alienation from it in public, but to secretly love it. I often felt as though my house had a life all its own, a character and a presence that was undeniably off center but nonetheless real. With its creaky wooden floors, slanting ceilings, and clash of colors and design, it had splashed across its surface the many histories of the people who lived in it and the incarnations it had lived through in its 200 years. The fact that there was an 8 MM movie shot of my house being moved about a 1/2 mile or so down route 228, in the first third of the 20th century, lent a grounding in the history of this place that I did not yet grasp at the time. So of course the floors slanted oddly in places, creaked and yelped when you trod just so: the house had survived the trial of uprooting, lurching slowly but surely to its new resting place.

A while back, I wrote my mother a letter when she informed me that they’d put it on the market. I felt a bittersweet joy to know that after nearly 15 years, my parents would finally be reunited full time in the same dwelling. For whatever that is worth. I wasn’t sure how she’d take it, and as always, I somehow feared her judgment of my usual sea of emotion. At first, she might take it in and nod her head sympathetically. Worse, sometimes these (foolishly?) unguarded moments have turned into an unmanageably wild ocean of commiseration, and what might be referred to as “codependent behaviors” by a therapist. Like some egregiously banal talk-show moment where the host and the guest and the audience are mutually wringing their hands and raking their skin in a mellow-dramatic display of shared emotional anguish. Or most maddeningly of all, would she later use it as ammunition against me, as was so often the case when I opened the floodgates and the truth tumbled out? Perhaps she would reduce me, with one withering remark or look, to the heap of emotions that I sometimes secretly fear is my only substance.

In the end, I was surprised to find that she expressed that she felt similarly, and thanked me for expressing it so succinctly. This time, she nodded her head sympathetically in recognition. A victory? Maybe. I guess parental validation isn’t something we outgrow as we become so-called adults.

This is some of what I wrote:

“I will always feel a fondness for that place, that yard, the unique quirks of that house. What it felt like to come home, to hear the way the car sounded going around the familiar turns and finally pulling up to the house. Of course it looks and feels so different to me now: the colors not being the same and the things that were once there that made it what it was, holding a piece of each of us, many no longer there either. But things change, time changes us, and it all passes on to something new. That is ok, or at least, it simply is.

Of course, it is that familiar paradox of feeling you utterly belong somewhere and yet feel alienated from it or outside of it at the same time. I grew up there, yet part of me never wants to return, never wants to have to see it but to remember it in my mind and in pictures only. But it is also somehow like letting go of an old familiar friend, and a part of one’s life that has now irretrievably passed. And that makes it difficult and bittersweet, in a way I somehow hadn’t anticipated or even considered…
I am sure it is harder for you because you are there, you must physically unload that burden, in a sense. For me, it seems like a distant idea and a wisp. But one I can’t catch or quite believe, as it is more reality now than it was ten, fifteen years ago. Of course, I want someone who will appreciate it and love it to take care of it. It deserves that, too.”

Somewhere above the noise

This morning, over coffee and the sounds of the vineyard harvest humming away in the background, accompanied by bird song (lovely) and the occasional disruptive rumble of a logging truck, the Tall Man and I mulled over the realities of “living away from it all,” which by most accounts, we do. How, for a short stint of our lives so far, we are able to live without all of the usual static and noise: not just of perpetual highway traffic and the hum and hustle of teeming humanity, but of billboards, television, internet, and the undeniable presence these entities assert in modern life. Although there are myriad annoyances that inevitably sprout up from time to time, in relation to the bare-bones reality that is living so remotely, it also somehow feels just right much of the time; although there are elements of it that are completely at odds with who I am, or who I’ve been conditioned to believe I should be.

Even if I feel restless and claustrophobic at times – island fever, though it’s not technically an island – and crave the interactions with peers which are so few and far between here, there is also something about it that sits exactly where it oughta. Even when I know in my heart that the place isn’t quite what I had in mind, and that I won’t stay here for the rest of my life, (because, believe me, there are things I desperately would trade for in a heartbeat) there is some quiet voice inside of me that says Why are you in such a hurry to run away all the time? There’s value in silence and solitude, and when you think about sprinting away again, it’s because you’re just too afraid to look. Even when that “silence and solitude” usually seem to wear the guise of isolation and loneliness with a hint of alienation and the impression that indeed, life IS happening elsewhere. Of course it is. It always is.

We talked about the sigh of relief we exhale slowly, but surely, often unconsciously, as we turn and dip, around the bend on the 128 that signals the dividing line between Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. We talked about how so much laziness and apathy are bred by convenience. And how there is so much we’ve been told that is vital and crucial and important that is really just a fat waste of time and adds no human value to our existence, but actually does so much more of the opposite: to distract us, to destroy us, to take away the short, precious moments we have on this beautiful planet which is summarily being decimated by all this so-called “progress” and “success” we’re taught to strive for.

This quiet, quirky, remote place, although it drives me to the brink of my own sanity at times, as it turns out, is actually something to be treasured and preserved. Not that I’m advocating holing one’s self up like a hermit or a misanthrope and trying to wall yourself off from the rest of humanity’s ceaseless onslaught. I know my fair share of curmudgeons here who espouse exactly that and I think most of them are hiding behind delusion and/or a deeply scarred facade. But for my own part, I am lately finding the moments where I am able to more fully appreciate what it is to find one’s self so-called “above the noise.”

I don’t mean this to say that I’ve moved beyond it, or that I think I’m better than it, or that I have no use for it, and I’m going to live completely on the hinterland fringes of it forever. Surely not. I currently make my living via social media. I’m participating in it right now. I don’t intend to stop. I am talking about taking time out of the panting, shoving, pushing, sad race where you are merely barreling forward without even finding that moment to stop what you’re doing; to take that pause, and languish in that fleeting second it takes to inhale deeply and then slowly exhale. That is, to try to step outside of yourself and your impressions and your beliefs (most of them are wrong. Some of them are right but really… Most of what we think is probably wrong. Or, I’ll speak for myself here: Most of what I think most of the time is probably completely, unutterably false) where your mind can be still – for even just a brief moment – where you can allow those thoughts to recede and allow beauty and silence to overtake you. To perhaps let your eyes and your brain be soothed by the dramatic spectacle in the sky, that we can gaze upon at the start and end to each day, or appreciate some tiny thing that brings you joy or peace or gives you pause. If I can quiet my mind, even for just a moment, sometimes those false impressions and mental static slip away, at least for the time being.

Up from down below

IMG_2181These lovely grasses grow and shimmer in the wind in front of the gardens by my work parking lot. Each of the individual little grass seeds is a gorgeous, complex work of nature. Offset by a startlingly blue afternoon sky, it caught my eye as I was leaving work. But, they’re also pernicious little buggers called “foxtails,” which can burrow (painfully) into your dogs skin, into their ears. It’s an expensive (for me) and excruciating problem (for my animals). But oh, they’re so pretty, too. I can’t help but think, perhaps rather tritely, that most everything in this world harbors some paradox. For now, I find this image peaceful and meditative.

Loss, hope, and kindness

When someone beloved dies, we gather our memories and we tell our stories, as if in this remembrance, we can feebly muster the weight of all our hopes to catch the meteor as it speeds across the heavens, to clutch the light in our hands for just one last beautiful moment before it burns up and flickers out of reach and out of sight.

This world lost a brilliant, shining light of a human being this week to the darkest depths of depression’s abyss. My heart is heavier than I can ever recall in reaction to the untimely death of someone who I did not even know. I feel a sense of grief and loss of something that is both familiar and yet, it is connected to someone who I never encountered in person, never actually met or knew in the intimate ways of friendship or family. And yet, Robin Williams life touched so many so deeply, that it does, as many have said, feel like losing a beloved uncle. I grew up watching his movies and his standup, and many of the movies, I recall somehow as having marked significant stages and moments of my growing up. He was a performer who could connect to his audience on multiple levels, regardless of age, swinging on the pendulum through seriousness, absurdity, and hilarity, standing life on its head and shaking out the contents of its pockets, with a puckish look and sometimes manic grin. 

As many have been saying, it is in part because he was so raw and real in the range of human emotions that he showed in his performances, how could you not but find something to relate to? His mad genius humor was so fast-paced and free-associative, with gut-shaking hilarity, and yet you could see the gentle vulnerability and a hint of some hidden pain that shone through his eyes when his face relaxed. 

The night before he died, or perhaps it was even the morning before I learned the awful, sad news, he inexplicably crossed my mind. I can’t even say now what sparked the thought. It may have been connected to some conversation I’d been having the day before, about authenticity and integrity. I thought about his part as a therapist in Good Will Hunting and how he brought such life and humanity to a role that is often crammed into a two dimensional space and becomes an odious trope. He seemed like someone I might actually want to talk to and confide in. Someone real, and a good example of how to be, as true empathy is not something easily faked, and it is often rooted in one’s own experiences with loss and suffering. 

There are always glimmers of hope that shine through in sad, dark moments, if we know where to look or how. But of course, depression acts like a veil and everything appears dim. If something positive can come of such inexplicable pain, my hope is that more people feel able to admit their struggles and to seek help; to discover that the love that surrounds them is also buried somewhere within themselves, too. The depths of despair place us in a room that appears to have no way out, the windows are thickly coated in soot, and if there are doors, they appear only to lead deeper into a maze. But that is truly just the mind, convinced and convincing: the so aptly named “terrible master.” 

So many who knew him mention that he was generous, gentle, and kind. And of course, yes, that he was funny. But kindness is the golden glow that lingers long after the light of words and conversations fade: the truth that people won’t necessarily remember what you said, but always how you made them feel. Sometimes I think kindness is the only thing worth striving for in this world that can often seem harsh, lonely, and unforgiving. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others: the simplest aphorism and the most basic tenet of any religion or philosophy worth its salt. 

Rhymes with quinoa

http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=2UFc1pr2yUU&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D2UFc1pr2yUU

This never gets old for me.

One drop.

I was talking yesterday with a friend about the daughter of someone we both know who suffers from debilitating depression. He spoke of the undue burden it put on our friend. How she is afraid to leave her child alone, because the young woman is hopeless and it’s not clear that she actually even wants to go on existing. “She just hates herself so much.” Why? It’s not obvious what the source of all this is. Or at least to me, why she thinks life is so awful. I don’t know this girl very well, though to me, her depression is etched clearly across her face, it’s transparent and obvious in her demeanor. I didn’t have to ask what to know that something was off. There is a tired, far away look in her eyes, and when she smiles, she doesn’t quite seem to be present. It’s a familiar expression.

I hardly know her, yet I can see parts of her seem to be existing in some grey elsewhere. I always wanted to give her some kind of reassurance, tell her it was OK or that I understand, even if I actually don’t, and it’s not, and even if I can’t just ask her what or why, because she’s only someone I know in passing. And what business is it of mine to try to save someone?

Hmmm, I think, with a vaguely dispassionate cynicism: “Welcome to your mid-20s, girlfriend.” The grumpy part of me wants to tell people to snap out of it, though I know this is not how it works. It would have done me no good if someone said this to me. And of course, this is dismissive. And not the whole picture. And for many people, not so.

It seems common, yes, that there are a lot of 20somethings who are depressed, though. Young people find themselves caught between childhood and adulthood in some weird purgatory with a lack of any kind of definitive direction, or meaningful and substantive motis. Well, for some of us at least. And sometimes we proceed in a particular direction, but don’t find it fulfilling in the way that we had hoped. Sometimes adulthood can be so boring, so mundane. It can simply seem meaningless, dull, predictable.

I thought about my own struggles with depression and thought about what helps me. How I have to remember to take care of myself in a different way, and how I need to remind myself of what is rational and irrational, and that this too shall pass. How lately, I seem to have been able to put those overwhelming thoughts aside, for now. Today, at least. Because even when I get frustrated with the little things – or the multitude of little things that can pile up to seem like lumbering, amalgamated monsters – I’m ok, overall. My life is not in shambles. It may not be the beautiful and glowing example I sometimes wish it could be, but I am doing ok. Sometimes that is good enough. Not everything has to be superlative or exceptional. I’m grateful for what I have and feel a sense of control over my existence that wasn’t always so. Control, or the vague illusion of it, is often that missing puzzle piece. I think often about how realizing where you have it and where you don’t (there’s usually a fairly substantive weight more heavily on the latter side than the former) can help one feel a greater peace; less of an attachment to struggling and to changing others, or certain outcomes.

I realize that what helped me also doesn’t work as a catch all or a panacea for everyone else. But I think about this quote sometimes and think it holds a lot of weight. “Humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself. It means thinking less on yourself.” To think that my every action is so significant, of such magnitude, is a kind of egotism which is as insufferable and self-indulgent as That Guy at the party who can’t stop talking about how overweeningly awesome he and everything in his life is (ever heard my favorite quote? It’s this: “Arrogance is always insecurity.” Same old boring thing.) To over analyze one’s ever doing and deed is a warped kind of egotism as well. To think that one’s life is a burden to others also seems like a kind of egotism, but then sometimes we make it so. And that seems unfair too.

To me, it is often comforting to think that our lives, however small, are just one little drop in a great ocean. Life is very short, yes, and of course, we have to come to terms with this somehow. Yet making the most of everyday is overwhelming and near impossible. To think I made some simple difference in someone’s day often seems good enough. To tell someone I’m having an OK day seems good enough too. OK doesn’t mean subpar, it just means everything is alright, because hey, sometimes stasis is the good news we need. Why must I show you that it’s Great(!) or Super! Or Awesome! Or Amazing! It sets my teeth on edge in a way I find hard to express in the moment, when the grocery store clerk asks me this, and then responds as if I’ve broken some unspoken rule of decorum. When I say “OK” I get questioned because I’m straying from the scripted dialogue in which we’re expected to participate. Come on, I think, it’s just a day. I’m grocery shopping. I have allergies. But I’m alive and I have a job and a home and people who love me. Isn’t good enough good enough? Let’s be honest, as much as I love to cook, it’s still a pretty mundane task, and that’s OK to call what it is “Yes. Just OK.” We all need to do it. Let’s move along, shall we?

On that note, I truly love this piece and think everyone should read it: http://www.utne.com/2008-01-01/Science-Technology/Have-an-Average-Day.aspx#axzz2UWmIwLFg

Writing stuff is on life support?

You can read the rest here.

So: to recap. Writers can’t write anything because they keep looking at the internet, which, as it does with everyone, is making them stupid. If they do write something, no-one wants to read it. If someone does want to read it, they can’t, because the internet has permanently disabled the part of their brain that enables them to concentrate on any text longer than a tweet. And even if they can concentrate, it’s meaningless because they don’t really care anyway. And even if they do care, they’re not paying enough money for the privilege of reading the thing they don’t want to read or can’t read or think they can read but actually don’t understand so what’s the point? We’re doomed.

Baraka

This is… well, please, just watch it for yourself.

This music is not the original score which accompanies the preview, and so far as I know, this song is not in the movie. It is just something somebody put together for YouTube and it works so beautifully. This is the footage from the original trailer, which is all I have seen of the film so far.

I’m eagerly awaiting its arrival in my P.O. box.

Happy 2013

“Write Posthumously”

I found this piece this morning and fell in love. It’s always a lovely push to be reminded of why writing is the essential compulsion, a reason for being, a reason of its own, in my mind. It was one of those glorious, beautiful kick in the pants type moments. And a reminder that writing, as an art form as an impulse and a need and a love, does not sprout originally from a desire to get something back from others, by way of pleasing the wider audience. It’s helpful to at least get to the point where you can please yourself with what you write, of course…

Fashion will come at you from two directions, from outside and in. You might start noticing what’s getting attention in the press. You might begin to forget the person you are in order to write and sound like someone else. Alternately, you might be tempted to repeat yourself. To follow the fashion of your own previous work, to stop exploring, learning and trying new things, for risk of failure.

If you try to write posthumously, however, fashion doesn’t apply. You step off the catwalk, ignoring this season’s trends and resigning yourself to being unfashionable and possibly unnoticed, at least for a while. As Kurt Woolf, Kafka’s first publisher in Germany, wrote to him after Kafka’s book tanked, “You and we know that it is generally just the best and most valuable things that do not find their echo immediately.” Fashion is the attempt to evade that principle: to be the echo of someone else’s success and, therefore, to create nothing that might create an echo of its own.

Very Merry Merry

This is so awesome and is a hope-restarter in such a profound way, it brought tears of happiness to my eyes. Three cheers for this wonderful conglomeration of folk for using tax loopholes to free people from debt slavery!

Just in time for the holidays, members of Strike Debt and The Rolling Jubilee recently announced that the campaign raised nearly half a million dollars — enough to buy and forgive nearly $10 million of debt. And just this week, the activists gathered to send out notifications to the unsuspecting recipients of this first round of debt forgiveness.

Most of the collected money will be used to purchase a big hunk of distressed medical debt next month, reports the Village Voice. But as a sort of proof-of-concept, Strike Debt has already spent $5,000 to buy $100,000 of distressed medical debt owed by 44 people in upstate New York.

Gift economy, indeed! I sure hope this spreads far and wide. What a delightful gift to receive!

And for those who are doubters, there’s even an article in Forbes about how it’s legit and how it works. Even if the author’s tone in the article is a tad on the snarky side, he even admits how creative it is, even though he insist that it’s based in conservative ideology. CON-servative! If people helping people is conservative, errm well I guess I am for that?

If you are interested in learning more about this brilliant plan, or if you want want to help buy someone’s debt, you can find out more here. 

Using tax loopholes for the common good instead of yet another means for padding the pockets of the obscenely wealthy? That is indeed the happiest of holidays I can imagine.

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