De-cloaking

This is as much of my face as you get to see right now, but I feel this pic tells you everything you need to know.

The job search continues apace, with one small but terrifying development. I have applied for a position with a local Sheriff’s Office, which means I have to fill out a 10-page “Statement of Personal History”, which is like if I ran my own background check using only the power of my mind, and whatever bits and pieces of paperwork and ephemera I’ve kept over the years (does anyone have my Illinois Driver’s License from 1991? Because I’m supposed to give them that number). I am assured they will run their own background check, and my answers are to be used in a cross-referencing manner, to make sure I’m not lying about anything. In addition to asking my family members via our group text whether any of them had committed any felonies, and were they sure, the other scary bit was that I had to reveal my social media accounts, aliases (yes, even that one), and blogs (present!). Which I have dutifully and truthfully disclosed. I assume this is to make sure that I’m not marking myself “Interested” in the local White Supremacist Hoe-down and Quilting Bee, or that I’m not publishing internet manifestoes exhorting people to “Intercourse the Constabulary” or whatnot. Which, if you’re familiar with my Facebook presence, you will know is untrue, as it would interfere with posting pictures of cookies I’ve made, “liking” pictures of people’s pets, and long-running, verbose commentaries on PBS programs.

While this feels a little… exposed (I originally took to blogging under an assumed name to keep my Corporate Overlords from being aware of any of my opinions, and to shield my parents from regular rants about the religion of my upbringing), it is not the first time in this job hunt I have had to seriously consider how I’ve presented myself to the world. Is my Employee Me enough like my Sitting At Home In My JimJams Me? What about my Alto Me? Are we all in agreement, or do I have some alarming split personality shenanigans going on? Will personal authenticity make The Universe more receptive to presenting me with the right employment opportunity? Is this the most esoteric, yet boring mid-life crisis evar?

One of the jobs I applied for was at the City of Portland (reader, they declined to interview me. sorry for the spoiler, but I didn’t want you to be in suspense). If anyone has applied for a government job, you know that it’s much more involved than a standard application. In some ways, I prefer doing the extra work – because it’s writing, and I enjoy an assigned essay, especially when given a prompt – and especially when you are trying to change professions and you KNOW you can do the job, but you’ve only ever done it in a different context. “Tell us when you used this skill…” DON’T MIND IF I DO! But some of the government jobs are starting to want you to make a statement on equity and inclusion. They are working to change their institutions to be more equitable and inclusive, and they want to know that you, a potentially white person, are on board and willing to do the work. This particular request was just labeled “Writing Exercise”, but the prompts they gave were all in relation to that subject: tell us about your work in marginalized communities, write about a time in your workplace when you made a difference, etc. And I am ashamed to tell you, I could not think of a time when I was an activist, and corporate work seems to thrive on disempowering the mere cube-dweller. I am deeply allergic to insincerity and didn’t want to blow up the few experiences my pale, introverted self had with various organizations representing marginalized communities into some epic, self-back-patting nonsense. I thought for a few moments, and here is what I wrote:

The first thing I noticed when I moved to Hollywood was the extra tabs on the street signs clarifying precisely which neighborhood you were in. While I told friends and family I lived in Hollywood, in reality I was somewhere between Little Armenia and Thai Town. My neighbors were predominantly Latinx and Armenian, many Thai families living a few blocks north. When my pronunciation of Cahuenga marked me as a newcomer, a bus driver offered me advice on how street and place names were properly pronounced in Spanish (Sepulveda, La Jolla), and which ones the public had decided would remain incorrectly pronounced (San Pedro, Los Feliz). My downstairs neighbors were very friendly, but spoke little English, and I had no Armenian, so there was no way for them to warn me not to drink all the way to the bottom of their tiny cups of extremely powerful coffee the first time they invited me over for tea. I hope they were laughing with me, rather than at me. I eventually moved three miles south of the Dia de los Muertos ofrendas, the champurrado cart, the strong, sweet coffee, and into the Koreatown neighborhood, where I waved at neighbors in sun-visors and sun-sleeves (summer) and the now-familiar face masks (winter) on my daily walks.

But I also worked in Hollywood-The-Industry. My co-workers were white, Black, Latinx, Filipino, Armenian, Turkish, Korean, Pasifika, Indian. We had an IT team who were mostly South Asian, and an outsourced team in Guadalajara, who were very patient with me when I asked them how to pronounce their names correctly. I noticed, however, that all of the myriad Vice Presidents in my division were white. Go up the org chart, and most of Senior Management were also male. At quarterly meetings, I began keeping rough track of the gender and race of the presenters, with predictable results. One quarter, there were more Michaels presenting than women. There were plenty of women and BIPOC in the company; why were none of them moving up? I also took special notice when they showed us sneak peeks of movie trailers. I kept track of the gender and perceived race of each person in the trailer, and noted if they had lines. After several years, I was still shocked when there was a Black woman who had a speaking line in a trailer. How could a company in such a diverse place, in such a diverse country, produce entertainment reflecting the narrowest of possibilities? After each Employee Forum, they sent us anonymous feedback surveys, and I answered honestly. And while that meant occasionally the next forum would include a token female of BIPOC representative, no systemic changes were ever made. In fact, by the time I left, the only two Black employees in my department had been laid off.

While it would be nice to say that that’s why I left, that the inequity of the company caused me to leave my job on principle, I knew that other companies in my industry were no better, and we all have to pay rent. L.A.’s patchwork of Rent Stabilization Ordinances were not keeping up with the skyrocketing cost of living in that city. Each ballot measure that sought to bring equity to housing and homeless services was swiftly voted down. “Intersectionality” was not something I needed defined for me; it was obvious who suffered more from gentrification, unemployment, and health care rationing. I felt stuck, so many years in such a vibrant city, surrounded by people both like and unlike myself, yet disempowered to effect any change. When I moved, I vowed to take some initiative. The break of employment wrought by Covid has given me the opportunity to concentrate my job search for a workforce where they go beyond Diversity and strive for Equity, where I am empowered to make suggestions and carry out changes.

So that’s a whole lot of “Writing Exercise”. I had to remove a couple of sentences so it would fit on one page, as required. And who knows – maybe that’s why they declined to interview me (or they could have had a strong internal candidate, or 48 other people slightly more qualified than me). Now what publishing all this on my blog here means is that I can’t use it again (I don’t think? I’m not sure what the rules on self-plagiarizing writing exercises for government KSAs are, but it would seem unethical) and also, I expose myself as a pretentious, navel-gazing, and ultimately, passive ally. But what is this year about, if not radical honesty. Anyway, if you’re here from MCSO, “hi”, and I hope your day is going well.

As a Gen-Xer I Find A Certain Amount of Comfort In Nihilism

img_1033Last week I took an online Enneagram quiz. I know, I know… like the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, the Enneagram is something I like to call “Data Driven Astrology”. It’s slightly more insightful than your average Buzzfeed quiz, but no more indicative of your personality or true nature or deepest self or whatever than the average horoscope (INFP, Leo, in case you were wondering). You get to the end and read through the fortune-cookie slip and let confirmation bias do its job. With both the Enneagram and MBTI relying on self-reported data, they’re even more loaded with confirmation bias. Even so…

After rating dozens of statements on a sliding scale from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree, the Enneagram quiz put me at a “5”. It said I was introverted and loved reading and researching and learning new things, and that I developed these skills as protection against the world. That I was the type of person who learned early on that resources were finite, and also that rather than fight for them, which more often than not proved fruitless, I adapted by learning to make myself need less. Making myself smaller. Hibernating like a tardigrade who can survive in a dehydrated state, ready to spring to life if the waters ever return. One of the downsides was that while I rarely asked for help (so as not to be disappointed when no help was forthcoming), I was also unprepared to provide others with kindness or succor, needing to reserve most of it for myself.

I’m not 100% sure I disagree entirely with those assessments, although it must be said that several internet explainers made it sound like I was a rather miserable human being in general, and not nice to be around (maybe? I’m not the best judge here obviously), although on the plus side, I was reclusive enough not to offend anyone with my presence. And I feel that should these traits indeed be objectively true, I could absolutely point to certain stages of my childhood development as their origin story.

But peeking out from my hermitage mid-2020, I can honestly say thank god for my ability to diminish myself. Thank god I do not have children who I have to raise and care for, and now worry about their going back to school in the midst of a dangerous pandemic. Thank god my loss of job and lack of insurance hasn’t caused a financial crisis for anyone but my own self, who nonetheless has clothing and shoes and sufficient meat in the freezer and cheese in the cheese drawer and savings to last through December, assuming no one needs christmas presents this year. Praise the almighty universe that I have always lacked the desire to socialize and go to parties and pubs, which are now the biggest disease vectors in the nation. That no one is financially dependant on me. That I am not emotionally dependant on people who do not live in my quarantine bubble, or even those that do. My socially awkward aversion to touch and physical intimacy are a new super-power I never realized I needed. Thanks, self-containment! Bless you, quiescsence of the soul! Hail to you, slightly-off-center neurotypicality!

Because my heart goes out to those people, especially parents of school aged children, or caretakers of older loved ones, of educators and health care workers and cashiers and waiters, who are often all of the above. When every moment outside the bubble is exponentially more hazardous than the last, and when our malevolent leaders insist we must take those “risks” so that a hand full of people can amass more imaginary money they will never spend in bank accounts in places they’ve never visited.

For lo, I am the mighty Tardigrade, and hopefully my inert abnegation will serve me as long as it needs to.

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Was that depressing? I hope it wasn’t depressing. Honestly, this was relatively chipper. I can find something depressing if you want. Dare me.

What I’m Watching:

Rewatch of Hell On Wheels and Wynonna Earp with an LA friend.

I really recommend both of these shows, although they share little in common but an Alberta production facility/set, and background characters with elaborate facial hair.

Hell On Wheels is a fictionalized account of the building of the Transcontinental Railroad in the US. This was a five season “prestige” drama on the same cable channel that aired Mad Men. For a non-sci-fi show, it’s pretty good. There were a few wobbles here and there (I’m used to the meticulous continuity of some of my fave sci-fi, so I’m a little spoiled here), but it gets a lot of the shape of history right, if not always 100% factually correct. There are interesting female characters, and enough of them to keep them from being tokenized.

Wynonna Earp is a show about a Chosen One, greatx4 granddaughter of Wyatt Earp, living in the middle of nowhere and fighting demons and suchlike. It’s kind of crazy, a good deal of fun, and has so many great characters, and tons of excellent women.

Just Finished:

Star Trek Discovery Season 2. Even better than the first season. Again with a diverse cast, lots of great female rep, and for this season, a return of Captain Pike, who is coincidentally portrayed by the same actor (Anson Mount) who plays the protagonist on Hell On Wheels. Very different roles, because Actual Actor.

Currently Reading:

The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, A Plotting Duchess and A Family Secret. (Catherine Bailey, non-fiction). I don’t know that the castle is haunted, but this is a very interesting story about a rich-ass family of rich-ass old-money English aristos at the turn of the last century. I found myself appalled that the 8th Duke of Rutland was about to sell off a bunch of heirlooms that were entailed to the 9th Duke without his permission for at least several minutes before remembering that all those “heirlooms” were gotten on the backs of the poor for generations, and we should eat the rich. (I think at some point the author is trying to make me incensed about the egregious Inheritance Tax being imposed by a liberal PM, but I can’t seem to find it in me to feel sorry that someone might lose a bunch of money they never earned in the first place.)

Currently Working On:

Fanfic! It’s been awhile, but Star Trek Discovery (or just as likely, TOS) has inspired me to write an extensive fixfic overhauling the original unaired Star Trek pilot. It’s slow-going, but I’m getting through it bit by bit. First I had to identify all the grossly offensive things about the original script, then I had to decide what was there for TV/drama purposes, update the pacing for short story, and now I’m finally working on actually writing the thing. I am two scenes in. I would like to have it completed by my birthday in a month, but I make no promises.

Currently Avoiding:

The giant pile of clean laundry piled on my bed, waiting to be put away.

Singing Through the Grand Pause

(This post was directly inspired by a blog post written by a choir director – I highly recommend reading it here)

Stress hits us in lots of different ways. One of the most common reactions I’ve been seeing is shutting down. Authors have found it hard to write, professional book readers, like librarians and booksellers, are having a hard time getting into new books. And despite the abundance of both spare time and musical instruments laying about the house, I can’t seem to bring myself to make music. I am an amateur musician, which means that I rarely make money for my efforts, but I play for the love of it. I’m at a loss right now as to what to do.

Currently, my primary instrument is my voice, and very specifically, my voice in a chorus. Lots of people have been sharing “virtual choir” style videos in an effort to uplift and inspire. I’m glad other singers enjoy this, and I don’t want to step on everyone’s enthusiasm, but this isn’t what I signed up for when I joined a chorus. With virtual choirs, each singer records her own part, and then it is mixed by an editor to make a full performance. I’m not saying it’s not enjoyable to listen to, or bad music or anything – lots of recorded music is created in a very similar way – artists come in and put down their individual parts with the help of temp tracks or a click track for syncing. In a real chorus, singers get together with others and sing simultaneously, the conductor shaping the sound. A chorus is like one big instrument that the conductor plays. But beyond that…

As a singer – a soloist – I am responsible for my own performance. It starts with learning the music correctly, but once that is accomplished, I can do what I wish to cover my shortcomings (when did I stop being able to sustain through a four-bar phrase I ask you?), I can do things with tempo and volume to add drama. If there’s a note I can’t hit, I can fudge it. The accompanist has to follow me (although I must say, I really prefer to be more collaborative). In short, it’s all about me. As a chorister, I also have to learn my part correctly, but also…

I am listening to the people surrounding me, and making constant tiny adjustments to my timbre, tone, volume, phrasing, articulation, where and how long I breathe, striving to match the cut-offs, exploding the plosives at the same millisecond as every other singer, or every other singer on my part, listening to the other sections as a whole, diminuendo-ing so that the second sopranos can shine in that measure, focusing my tone as the second altos take over, before slowly warming it up again, listening for that note in the piano ostinato while I’m counting out a five-measure, two and a dotted quarter beat rest, so my entrance starts at the right time on the correct note after a key change. Watching the conductor to make sure I don’t get distracted by all of these micro-calculations and help her make the music she wants to make.

This is different than the singing I do as a soloist, at karaoke, in the car. And look, I don’t have any problem singing by myself in front of people. It’s not terrifying to me. I don’t even mind auditions. But singing a lone alto line as a soloist in a video… how do I know what to sound like?

My current chorus is doing a virtual thing. I’m not going to participate at this time. Even if I had enough tempranillo that I got over my need to overthink my singing, I just don’t like to look at myself when I sing, so I will be demurring. And sadly, in the months or years before we get a reliable vaccine for this latest virus, I will need to stay out of large groups until such a time as I have health insurance. Maybe if I take up the cello again I can find a chamber group. There’s a lot less spitting in string ensembles.

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Quotidian Update:

Well, my unemployment was approved and I’m getting enough to get by and pay my bills, which is a load off my mind. I am still absolutely looking for work, but this will keep me out of the Covid mines of uninsured and underpaid retail, which is sufficient.

I have dragged out the sewing machine to make masks, as is the custom of my people. Currently finding the standard ones a bit uncomfortable and slightly suffocating, so I’m going to see if making them a skosh larger makes it better. I blame my giant nose and extraneous chins.

Media: Britain’s National Theatre is showing a new (previously recorded) production a week on YouTube, and I’ve been loving the hell out of it, with the exception of Jane Eyre, which I have tried in many formats and can now say I just don’t like it. Sorry Charlotte Bronte, but you have to go in the same bucket as Charles Dickens as a Writer Who Is Not For Me. All of the other productions have been aces.

Books: just finished “The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl” (fantasy) by Theodora Goss, and am halfway through “After The Crown” (space opera) by KB Wagers.

Comfort Baking: I have made things like pierogi, rugelach, and ice cream from scratch, mostly to prove that I could, but I find myself going back to rudimentary desserts, well made with quality ingredients. I have two different chocolate chip cookie recipes that I believe result in the platonic ideal of what a chocolate chip cookie should be, a great brownie recipe, and I just made brown sugar shortbread cookies and gilded that lily with penuche frosting. All very simple, all very delicious. And butter saturated, but you knew that.

This is How I’d Fix Things

Have not posted in awhile, mostly because my best writing is when I’m incandescantly enranged, and I barely have enough energy to be numb these days. So here are some mediocre thoughts for the month…

First off, please enjoy this lovely picture I took last week from our back yard. I have been here 10 months and never knew we had a footbridge over the creek running behind the apartment building. Here’s a view from the bridge:

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And now the serious stuff.

Number One: yeah, everything’s going to hell in a handcart. The horrors of a totalitarian state GenX were warned about in our 80’s childhoods are coming true, and there’s not fuckall the average monkey can do to stop them, but if you put me in charge…

(HOLY JESUS DO NOT EVER PUT ME IN CHARGE. I CANNOT BE TRUSTED WITH AUTHORITY. NO GOOD WILL COME OF IT.)

In addition to Liz Warren’s plans for everything, which I endorse, here’s another thing I would implement to keep us from sliding into a Christofascist Soviet state:

Eighth Grade Civics Tests.

If you want to get on your local ballot to run for office, you must take and pass an 8th grade Civics test (at least 60%). Your score will be posted on the ballot. Should you make it to a general election, you will once again be given an 8th grade civics test, proctored by a jr. high school teacher. It will be a pop quiz – no date will be given, so you will need to study well enough to retain the knowledge through your whole campaign. And again, your score will be posted on the general election ballot.

Any non-elected appointees will be subject to surprise 8th Grade Civics Test, and while the American public has no say in your appointment, those scores will also be posted, and, in the case that the elected official who appointed you is up for re-election, those scores shown in relation to their campaign.

If you or your appointees cannot identify the three branches of government, or define the term “Federal”, you are automatically not eligible for election.

OK. Now that politics is done, here are some random thoughts from me.

Books I Have Read since my last post:

“Priory of the Orange Tree”, secondary world fantasy (i.e. much world-building is loosely based on world history) with Dragons and Magic and Intrigue, but also with women doing stuff. And no rape threats. Very enjoyable for the person who loves fantasy, but has been tired of all the patriarchy and bullshit that somehow leaks into fantasy worlds with dragons and sorcerors.

“The Power”, which I will not compare to, but throw in the same category as “Handmaid’s Tale” – a near-future what-if story about a world very similar to ours, but one in which women gain the ability to electrocute people. It’s super great. I read it in one day, and despite the fact it is clearly a genre book, it somehow has LitFic cred (normally an automatic NOPE for me) I have to agree with both the last legit president and highly recommend this one.

“Gideon The Ninth”, a brutal, fun, highly violent SFF world with an engaging anti-heroine protagonist. Has a couple of twists I did not expect from my years of SFF trope fiction. I look forward to the next in the series.

“Behind The Throne”, pure popcorn that, if you’re a dude, you’ll be like “Oh noes this is such a MarySue”, but in reality, the protag is every general extruded-space-opera dude protag, except female. Much more space opera that SF, lots of court intrigue, very fun, Strong Female Characters (both cliche and not) abound. Recommend for pure entertaining escapism.

TV: Well, we’ve been watching a kiwi mystery series called “Brokenwood”, which is basically every English Murder Village mystery, but in a NZ backwater. It’s entertaining. Also, the National Theatre has been broadcasting some of last year’s theatrical offerings, and that’s well worth it.

Star Trek: Discovery remains a bright light in the TV firmament. They have managed to pull everything good out of the previous ST series and cram it into the newest ST iteration. The great thing about this series is that there is a definite arc throughout, but each episode still tells as self-contained story. There is a lot of exploration, a sense of wonder, an optimism that much modern TV scifi has abandoned in favore of grimdark reality. One of the changes they’ve made from all the other series seems to be that we are not dealing with The Enterprise, i.e. the Best of the Best. These are regular – highly qualified, but still average –  Starfleet officers, with their attendent quirks. I feel like sometimes TOS and TNG especially, got caught up in portraying the officers of the Flagship, bestest of the best crew members, and therefore filed off any interesting edges. When someone who didn’t quite measure up to those standards of bland perfection showed up (like Barclay), the writers treated them as a reject or a creep. Discovery manages to have recognizable humans who aren’t villified for not being paragons.

I will also recommend ST:Picard, especially for TNG fans. You will find much to love in this series, and while less episodic than ST:Disco, the charactarization feels like it was written by a really good fanfic writer. This is a compliment. If you are not a TNG fan, you may still like it. De, who really only likes TOS, enjoyed it a great deal, and asked to see some of the TNG episodes it references. As a TNG fan with a particulare tendre for both Picard and Data, there were moments that brought a tear to my eye. Watch it if you can.

Food and Drink: well, with quarantine and its attendant unemployment, I’m brushing off my cooking skills. I’m actually eating better too, as random charcuterie, veggie and hummus snacks seem to be easier to deal with at a home lunch rather than at work. Also, this is a good time to mention that Stone Circle Cider, a local cideryy that makes fantastic farmhouse style ciders, has been offering free delivery. And that we brought a full unopened bottle of Chopin potato vodka here when we moved. As well as the fantastic small-batch distilled cranberry and coffee liqueuers we purchased last month. So basically, I’m going to spend as much of this quarantine drunk as possible, and hope my liver forgives me for it later. Cheers!

An Update of Moss and Fog

 

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I’ve been here a little longer than six months now. I’m accustomed to the rain. This weekend I gave up trying to be a cool Portlander (I’m actually in Clackamas anyway) and bought an umbrella. Not only have I purchased socks, I have purchased two seasons worth of socks (shout out to Costco’s Merino Wool trail socks – warm, machine washable, and they fit my fat feet!). I can find my away around public transit and don’t always have to use my nav when I’m driving. I think I can pass for, if not a native Oregonian, at least NOT a CALIFORNIAN.

Key to my integration here has been the women’s chorus I joined in September. While it is a huge chorus, and I remain anti-social as anything, I have begun to learn names, and I think I am a little less stand-offish than usual. The solo at the Christmas concert may have helped.  They have also been a rich resource of Peak Portland anecdotes. An alto on my our non-chorus related mailing list asks if any of us have a decent scoby, as her kombucha mother did not survive the trip. Another chorister offered to divide hers, as it has “good karma”. Last month I received a notice that a former singer’s acupuncture practice was going to be offering sing-along acupuncture sessions. During one of our rehearsals, the director asked us if any of us had ever been in love with a tree, and those without raised hands were nodding their heads.

And you know what? This all makes me giggle a little bit, and also, feel pretty darn happy. For the record, I have not been in love with any trees, even though our Xmas tree was super-fresh and perfect this year. But I have found myself referring to Mt. Hood as my “…igneous boyfriend”. And then there’s the moss.

After nearly 17 years without cold seasons, I had sort of forgotten what they were like. Furthermore, the last three decades of cold seasons were in the mid-west, with a bit of NYC. They are bleak and miserable and gray and also even more bleak. Here, winter does this… thing. That picture at the top of my post was taken off my balcony this last weekend. We had had a solid week of rain. I don’t think the sun made an appearance at all, so when the weather said Saturday was going to be dry, I was thrilled. I woke up and that’s what I saw. We live on “Mt. Scott”, which may have been a mountain years ago, but is really more of a hill now. Lately I’ve woken up to find that we have been ensconced in the middle of a cloud. It’s eerie and delightful and mysterious. It also helps that there’s a cemetery next door, which is what you would see if the cloud was gone. While a hazy, foggy day in LA inspired a bit of Lovecraftian micro-fiction from me several years ago, this stuff in this place serves as a reminder to me to stand back and appreciate it, and that no, the cemetery next door is not nearly gothic enough for me to wander around mysteriously in flowing period garb.

Also different from previous winters, is the consequence of all that rain and fog and cloud. Because the PNW has so many pine, fir, and evergreen trees, we never quite lose the green. And because it’s so damp all the time, bright green moss grows on anything that stands still long enough. Stones are clad in an emerald velvet, sprinkles of lichens dot asphalt like so much chartreuse frost.

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The other day I looked up close at the moss on a stone wall near work, and noticed it looked like several distinct plants. And then I succumbed to temptation and petted the moss. It is in fact extremely soft. And because I now live in Portlandia-adjacent, I immediately wondered if it was safe for me to pet moss, if it was safe for the moss to be petted. Is this environmentally sound? Am I fucking with the delicate PNW eco-system? Have I offended the local fae?!

But not everything in Oregon is enchanting. There are a distressing number of “OreGUNian” decals on pick-up trucks, usually accompanied by multiple gun decals. I get exercising your 2A rights for personal protection or hunting, I just don’t understand the fetishization of an instrument whose sole purpose is to end life. But as shown in my lone political FB post that I did not cut and paste here, I am quite square, and hate how our society has turned things we should take quite seriously and thoughtfully into cheap mascots of atavistic sportsball fandom.

Other stuff I have been doing around here…

Seeing a lot of plays! We subscribed to Portland Center Stage theater and have seen three of their productions, plus three plays from other companies. All have been fantastic. We’ll be upgrading our subscription package next season, and probably getting tickets to Oregon Shakespeare Festival this summer. We also finally went to the much-hyped Pok Pok for food (of course we had the wings!) and will gladly go back. They also make excellent cocktails. Hyped-restaurant pricing in Portland is a little higher than regular food pricing, but about on-par with regular LA food pricing, so we’re still pretty pleased with that.

Media consumed this week:

Book: The Zookeepers’ War. Non-fiction. A look at the Cold War and its effects on two Berlin zoos – one in the East, one in the West. Really interesting, from a sociopolitical and zoological standpoint.

TV: Grace & Frankie. While Netflix has been hitting it out of the park with dramas, G&F is one of their few comedy offerings I actually find funny. Wish there were more, because I’m going to need the levity once we get to the latest seasons of Peaky Blinders and The Crown.

In closing, I leave you with a picture of an unexpected backyard waterway. We got here in the summer, and it never occured to us that the “stevens creek” in our apartment name referred to an actual creek. Torrential rains brought this in, and finally, the loud frogs from the summer have been explained. And I did not pet those rocks.

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Why I’m Shifting Back To Blogging

A couple of weeks ago, a post from The Bark (a hipster dog magazine) showed up in my fb feed. This was not a surprise, as I believe I clicked “follow” at some point, and I used to have a subscription to the physical magazine. Anyway, the post was a link to an article they publised wherein they spoke to an expert (vet? human doctor? epidemiologist? Not sure) and that expert said we should NEVER kiss our dogs because they are germy AF. The headline for the link was mildly provocative, as is the custom for publications angling for click-throughs.

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I answered in what I believed to be a humorous manner, as seen below:

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Now I know my “humor” is not for everyone. Mostly, I just try and amuse myself. When posting on a public board, I try and keep the audience in mind. The subscribers to a bougie dog magazine – well, surely we all shared roughly the same reality.

No we did not. A few of those 7 replies took me to task for its political nature. “I come here to avoid thinking about this”, as well as “he only took care of a dangerous dictator, there were no nukes”. I did not further engage, because I never occurs to me to get into flamewars online. I am a veteran of mid-90’s usenet, and I learned early that there were better uses of my time than to argue with strangers about… well, anything. I had assumed I was just tossing the glittery darkness of what I thought was funny into basically an eye-rolling article, albeit with a grain of truth. In this fallen world, is it worth it to worry about the germs you get from smooching your pooch? Probably not. Fight me. (do not fight me. I’d rather save the energy for dog kissing.)

But the person bitching that she goes to the Bark page to avoid ugliness has a point; for the last several years fb has become a place that not only steals your information, makes it easy for corporations, politicians and propaganda-mongers to manipulate you, and stuffs your feed with ads, all of my friends have been sharing one Shitler/Republican thing after another. And I agree with them. I do. As mentioned in last week’s update, they’re all a bunch of despicable fascists. Everything they do is calamitous. But I can’t go to the place where I’m used to seeing pics of your pets, your kids, your dinners, silly stories about that idiot at the Jewel, or dumb-ass bosses or all that stuff, and just see nothing but a parade of straight evil. It’s wearing on my soul.

The problem, of course, is that FB is where a lot of my far-flung friends and family are. Sometimes they do post pics of their doggos and stories about their day. I can toss a random comment up and people I haven’t seen in years will throw in their two cents, or start a comedy riff, or comiserate, as the situation requires. Even the “like” lets me know people still remember me, which is nice for the ego. I don’t think this blog will ever replace that, but it will help me re-learn how to write a good essay, how to throw a little humor (maybe?) in a paragraph or two at a time. Sadly, I was never concise enough for Twitter, but this will do for now. At the point where I have a real job (defined as a full-time position that includes benefits), I may look at moving this to a paid platform, but at this time, there are no other social media platforms I want to participate in; if you’re not the customer, you’re the product, and every last one of them has the potential to become just as rife with fascists, propaganda and data mining that FB is.

Please feel free to visit me here (I’ll still post the odd FB update), but in the meantime, give your pet a smooch for me.

The Week In Review

Here’s the first in what I hope will be a regular series of random thoughts writ down to wean myself ever so slightly off of facebook. Because I don’t want to spend so much time coming up with actual cogent essays that I never bother to write them down (and also, because I am a pint and a half of cider in), I will do them in bullet points. If you’d like to discuss, feel free to comment here or even on FB, and I am happy to rant… er, expand on these points. Otherwise – here is what my brain has been preoccupied with this week, in order of Seriousness:

  • OMG this fucking president. And also every other goddamn elected republican. (I have a feeling this bullet point is going to get really repetivive. )
  1. That whole weird “remember when the Republicans had some integrity?” No. No I do not. I was born during Nixon’s first term. Every Republican has been a bigger POS ever since.
  2. ESPECIALLY REAGAN.
  3. Stop being all nostalgic about Reagan because he had a good speechwriter and knew how to speak publically. He was a flaming piece of shit and history should remember him as such.
  • The Democratic primaries and debates and all that shit. The media is making mountains out of molehills trying to gin up some sort of rivalry between the two most similar candidates. Everyone’s twitter HOT TAEKS are exacerbating it. I will vote for my preferred in the Primary, and whatever D is there for the General. I think most of us are at that point, because no matter who we end up with, NONE OF OUR CANDIDATES IS A FUCKING FASCIST GRIFTER RAPIST. Even Boomer the Clown. Even that dude.
    1. And ultimately, IF WE CAN’T FLIP THE FUCKING SENATE, it doesn’t matter if we elect Aragorn Buddha Jesus as Pres, nothing will gd happen. If we can, Shitler can go ahead and cheat his way back into the big boy chair for the two hot seconds it will take to impeach all of his SC nominees and then fire his ass into the sun. So maybe everyone freaking out about how this dude’s a goober, and this chick reminds you of a mean mommy can STFU and concentrate their efforts on overcoming voter supression and other Fascist Republican dirty tricks.
    2. For fucks sake.
  • Sexism/Racism in the Oscars. The film industry as an artifact of patriarchal privilege and bullshit. Yeah, I think I already covered that this week.
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is pretty good. I liked it. I have seen it twice. There were some parts I super-liked. Unlike SW:TLJ, which I either adored or despised with the heat of a thousand burning suns (although not for the same reasons the alleged MRA fanboys did, so fuck them in the neck is what I’m saying). It was more even. And Oscar Isaac was pretty. And I loved that it was still Rey’s fucking story. Kelly Marie Tran was robbed, and there were a couple of superfluous fucking white guys hanging around for no reason, but it was fine. Certainly not worth the thousand think-pieces talking about how it was a travesty and the end of the world, and don’t think I didn’t notice that this massive amount of high-minded cultural criticism was only unleashed for the SW trilogy with a female as the protag. (also, Reylos can get bent.)
  • There are too many goddamn Oreos. Oreos, a mediocre cookie with a layer of artificially flavored shortening sandwiched between dusty wafers, now take up about 50% of the cookie aisle with their mediocre bullshit. I DIDN’T ASK FOR ANY OF THESE FLAVORS PLEASE BURN IN HELL.
  • Conversely, Pop-tarts have reached the optimum number of varieties. They are perfect.
    1. S’mores and brown sugar cinnamon are the apex of Pop-tart achievement.
      1. Do not under any circumstances go with an off-brand of Pop-tart style toaster pastry. That way sadness lies.

OK, on to positive notes for this week.

Recommended Viewing:

  • The Good Place – just all around excellent TV. I may have a low-key thing for Marc Evan-Jackson, but that’s mostly because of his Thrilling Adventure Hour/Sparks Nevada work. I should probably seek help.
  • What We Do In The Shadows – you guys, I’m afraid I see a road not taken in one of the characters, and I’m maybe a little bit relieved that I did not take that particular road.
  • The Witcher – Toss a coin to your witcher, o valley of plenty, o valley of plenty, whoa oh oh. Someone wrote this series just for me, and I really appreciate it.

Reading –

  • The Dinosaur Artist – Nonfiction – while the world is literally burning, there’s nothing I love more than low-stakes high-drama that has no possibility of ever affecting my life in any way. This was a great book on a recent case of a man prosecuted for smuggling the bones of a Tarbosaurus Bataar (relative of the T-rex) out of Mongolia, about the conflict between paleontologists and fossil hunters, and the how flexible international law can seem, until it’s not.
  • War For The Oaks – urban fantasy. This is one of the first of it’s genre, and is delightful for its lack of a NYC setting (this takes place in Minneapolis/St. Paul) and 80’s musical details. I have bounced off many an urban fantasy involving the fae, but this one’s quite good.

Drinking –

  • Schilling London Dry. This dry cider has only 2g of sugar, which is less than Spindrift, so I’m going to call it Type II Diabetic Friendly. Because I am deeply irresponsible and perhaps just a little drunk.

So Many Things

I’ve been thinking about updating this more frequently, in lieu of the quick “drive-bys” on the increasingly evil Facebook. For one thing, sometimes I have lengthy thoughts that need a little more space than a couple of inches to fully explore, and for another thing… well, evil. Unfortunately, the sight of a blank screen makes me panic ever so slightly, trying to generate something brilliant and cohesive enough to be “worthy” of a click-through. Well eff that. Never one to let perfect be the enemy of good, I’m going to start with some half-assed thoughts, and maybe later posts will be better. This week’s topic: The Movies.

You know what I think we need more of? More films about the anxieties of middle-aged white dudes. Or violent white dudes who are violent because reasons. Or the mob. Or two hours of non-stop war porn, for folks who are entertained by seeing more realistic portrayals of real-life maiming and killing. I don’t think violent masculinity has been sufficiently glorified. Maybe we should give it some gold statues.

Yeah, those are my thoughts on this years’ Oscar nominations. Even more so than previous years, I can’t even really comment on what should have been nominated, because I am so done with Important Cinema. I would like to be entertained, thank you very much, and I am exceedingly not entertained by stories of white dudes and their sadness and/or violence. I get enough of that in real life. And the idea that there is some great and important divide between The Cinema and just a movie is weird, classist gatekeeping. Is the movie about white dudes? If not, is there torture and suffering? Lovingly photographed mass murder based on actual history? Cinema! Is it entertaining? Do you smile sometimes when you watch it? Does it have a happy ending? Just trash! How dare you want to relate to a story if you’re not a specific kind of white dude? What are you thinking, that you would like to be entertained for two hours? You want to actually enjoy yourself? SINNER!

We have a huge problem in this country with pleasure. It started with the Puritans, and despite increasing secularization, has persisted and leaked into non-sexual aspects of life. Is a food pleasurable to eat? Sin. Media fun to watch or read? Trash. Only misery is righteous. Well the world is on fire, the fascists are taking over, and a senile hate-monger has the nuclear codes. I see no reason to voluntarily torture myself with kale and yet another mob movie.

In the last year, I have found tons of inspiration and entertainment from the much-maligned superhero and sci-fi movies, from poorly critically received (yet no more mediocre than countless male-led films) entries into the Terminator and Charlie’s Angels franchises. And I would gladly watch any of them again that sit through the Oscar noms.

This is not even touching on the racism and sexism in the industry. Liberal Hollywood, my left buttcheek. Whe POC only get nominated for awards when they’re playing slaves, servants, victims of abuse. When there are so few roles available to women as the protagonist of their own story. When men in films are consistently twice the age of the women in those same films. When black women bear the brunt of both the racist and sexist garbage being greenlit. I don’t blame women or POC for taking crap roles in junk movies. You take what roles you can. What most folks outside the industry don’t realize is that most actors – even the famous ones you’re sick of seeing all over the gossip columns and the talk shows – are not very powerful at all. The real power is the people making greenlight decisions at the studos. They decide what stories get told, and who gets to tell them.

The majority of the people making greenlighting decisions in Hollywood are rich, middle-aged, cis white dudes, and they’re greenlighting the films they want to see. Fair enough – if you put me in charge of a studio, I’d only greenlight sci-fi, fantasy, high-budget regency romance and costume dramas with strong female, trans, nb protags of all ethnic backgrounds,  maybe even some of them visibly middle-aged, or fat (well, Hollywood fat, which is like a size 8). I’d hire LGBTQIA directors and actors to tell LGBTQIA stories (with dragons and spaceships and swords). Imagine if nine out of ten studio heads were just like me, greenlighting exactly the same stuff. Anyone not me might feel alienated by that slate. Diversity has to be more than a buzzword to make your corporation look good in press releases. When the gatekeepers are diverse, the stories we get to consume will also be more reflective of our culture.

Anyway, this was my Hot Taek on some stuff better writers than I have already expounded eloquently upon. I am more than happy to engage in conversation if you want to comment below. And also, The Witcher is ridiculously entertaining and Star Wars was fun, and I am beyond being critical of anything I consume during this slow miserable slog toward armageddon.

 

What We Leave Behind

I have moved. It was time. I had been in Los Angeles for 17 years – longer than I have lived anywhere else. I was born in Chicago, and only a few months later, spirited away to Eugene, OR, where dad was getting his Architecture degree. When I was five, we moved to Billings, MT for a cool six months – literally. This was where I stood waiting for the school bus at snowdrifts taller than I was. It was where my first, beloved cat, froze to death. My parents didn’t enjoy Billings much more than I did, and we moved to Kearns, UT (well, first to a small cottage on a large estate on the outskirts of SLC, that had been a sister-wife house back in the day) and I spent my school-aged years the only brunette -ski amongst a sea of tow-headed -sens. Right after puberty, we moved to a suburb of Chicago, an experience nearly as fraught as the season in Billings. It was not a good time for me, but I survived my teen years in suburbia, spent a few years of young adulthood in New York City, and a few in Milwaukee, before ending up in LA.

Seventeen years is a long damn time. I would never have guessed I would have survived that long, but I did. Eventually though, the cost of living, my aging out of young adulthood, my consistently quiescent job, and the growing economic disparities became wearing. De’s stretch of unemployment didn’t help, but ultimately it was her job that got us out of the downwardly-mobile trajectory we had begun even before the corporate mismanagement came to a head.

And now I am here – nearly back where I started. She gave me the same offer she did when she got the job in LA: want to move and split the rent? It wasn’t a difficult decision. My industry is circling the drain. I surely wouldn’t have my job more than a few more years, and even had I continued, rents were rising so fast I would have been spending a huge portion of my income to live in a bad apartment in a bad neighborhood, knowing that no future job would come close to paying me enough to live on. Besides, I’m never sure what to answer when someone wants to know where I’m from – what’s my home town – maybe the greater Portland area could be that town? After all, it’s not like I had any attachments to LA.

Except… about six years ago, I went with a friend to a concert by Vox Femina Los Angeles, in which another friend was singing. It was a singular experience. This was no glee-club, or barbershop chorus, or bunch of well-meaning ladies singing their hearts out – which I am not disparaging – the world could use a good deal more group singing; it’s healing and inspiring and everyone should get to experience it. But for myself, as a trained musician who studied musical theatre performance, and has loved choral music since I was a wee toddler in Eugene, hearing a professional group is always a revelation. While the singers are all volunteers, Vox is a professional-caliber group, who with the leadership of Artistic Director Iris Levine, and pianist Lisa Edwards, sing of women’s experiences, so often dismissed, bringing beauty and harmony and enlightenment to their audiences. I was touched…

…So much so that about five years ago, I auditioned for them. Reader, I did not get in. I gave it an extra year off to get my shit together, and thought I’d give it another try. Three years ago, I succeeded. I was on my way to joining them for their 20th anniversary year. As much as the chorus meant to me as an audience member, it was increased at least ten-fold as a participant. Every woman in the group is a wonderful singer, better than me. As a musician, being an an ensemble that out-classes you is a great way to challenge yourself to get up to that level. I had not been musically challenged in years. But even more than that, there is an ineffable strength in a group of women. There was a social comfort I felt in that group that I rarely got anywhere else. When the 2016 election results came in, we were in a rehearsal. We spent time mourning, crying. And then we rehearsed harder through the sobbing. What would I have done that week without them?

The music, as well as being diverse and challenging, always had something to say. For several years I sang in a church choir, and was always fascinated by how singing something in a group, with intent, sometimes felt like it opened the universe to me. For someone who has wobbled along the path of agnosticism-gnosticism-atheism-secular-humanism for the better part of two decades, having a non-religious message we were all focused on was like spell-craft.

We sang at the 2017 Women’s March. We sang on stages that are usually occupied by world-class symphony orchestras and chorales, jazz ensembles and cabaret artists. We sang in a hollywood recording studio for a Grammy-winning artist’s record. We sang with three other womens’ choruses from around the world. There were some moments that were so transcendant that I was certain the constellations themselves would be rearranged the next time I looked.

(I suppose right here I should offer a small apology/explanation to my fellow choristers. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t let people get to know me for at least half my time. I am a natural introvert, and also, had just a little bit of the exact right kind of trauma at just the most appropriate age that I learned to hang back, get the lay of the land, and observe for about a year before getting involved. If I had realized how limited my time was going to be, I would have pushed past my wariness a little faster. You are all super-cool, intimidatingly interesting women, so please don’t consider it snobbishness on my part.)

Iris has pointed me to a women’s chorus in this area, led by a composer whom I’m pretty sure we’ve sung at each concert since I’ve been in Vox, and I will be looking into it as soon as their season starts up again in the fall… but of course it will not be the same.

The worst part about this move was the timing; if it had been three weeks different in either direction, I would have been able to sing in the last concert of this season, in which Vox will share the stage with our immensely talent trans and non-binary siblings in the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles. But the stresses and requirements of a long-ish distance move do not allow for much time to be given to practice, to rehearsal, to commitment. And I am bereft.

But I am here now, listening to frogs croak a dissonant and intermittant chorus, instead of with my sisters, hashing out the last regular rehearsal before the concert. Aside from the amphbians, it’s quiet. I’m surrounded by green, by fresh air. There are no helicopters hovering meters away from my balcony. This morning I got up, opened up my laptop, and continued the process of slowly fading away from my job as I trained my successor. Since we passed the Shasta National Forest – once we were near Crater Lake on the drive up here – I’ve felt… something. A “rightness”. Portland is not so far from Eugene – was I homesick all this time? Maybe this can be my home-town – and a little piece of my heart always in that LAFCC rehearsal room.

In Which I Am A Bitter And Unsuccessful Shopper

If someone is being paid big bucks to write an article in a New York based publication about how LA sucks, they are almost always wrong, so very wrong. There are a billion ways it sucks, and these “journalists” never get anywhere closer than “there’s a lot of traffic”, and “my waiter says she’s an actress”. Let me use this weekend’s attempted participation in capitalism to illuminate a couple of ways in which LA actually, for real, sucks.

After the movie yesterday, De and I decided to do a little shopping as long as we were in Burbank – namely, to check out a few shops we had seen and been curious about. Also, De is on the lookout for some sort of crystal-new-agey-airy-fairy-hippie-dippie-occult joint where she can get some candles or charms to use on her Altar of Female Empowerment/Employment. We stopped at one small occult place, which was incredibly dimly lit, had two dudes working behind counters on opposite ends of the tiny space, and seemed to traffic mostly in jewelry best associated with 80’s heavy metal albums, a few Norse runic talismans, and the odd smattering of Anton Lavey pics. Look, I am pretty pagan-adjacent and I know Satanism has nothing to do with the conspiracy theories of past decades, but really… there is a type of dude who gets involved with neo-paganism for the Anton Lavey and the Nordic iconography, and that’s the type of dude who figured that pagan chicks were easy – or at least naked – with a few neo-nazis thrown in for good measure. Because American Christianity just doesn’t provide them with enough white male phallus worship I guess.

So anyway, the next place we checked was less dudely, but ultimately much more commercial. Soooo hipster manic-pixie-goth-girl. I found a skull purse I would totally have bought if it weren’t black, but perhaps more of a mermaid sequin/iridescent purple, but again… only a few jewelry/candle/incense things that were uber-ironic; the rest was pretty much like Hot Topic’s kitschy yet pretentious older sibling. De is an atheist, but she feels if she buys a candle or rock that supposedly has some sort of spell or charge, there should have been a sincere witch doing the ensorcellment. As an agnostic with a healthy respect for all the shit in the Universe I don’t understand, I am considering a mid-life Baba Yaga crisis in order to help out, because this is just dire.

The last stop was at a new place called “Qurves Boutique”, which purports to be a boutique for plus-sizes. For those of you have never had to clarify “FAT women’s clothing” when asking for the women’s clothing department of a store, let me lay a few things out for you. Number one, every fat lady knows what her size is, in which brand, in which cut, in which store, in what sub-brand. There are very few fucks given by the average fat lady about what the damn number on the tag is; only that a store that says it’s for “plus sized” people has something that would fit on your plus sized body, regardless of whether the tag says “Arbitrary Low Integer” or “Super-Jolly Elephant!!!”. Also, if you have never had to trek up to the third floor, where they keep luggage and housewares, to find the single rack of clothing that fits you, I am roughly a size 16W or 1X– which is proportionally different from a 16 you might find in the regular women’s clothing section of a store, although to make things more confusing, I am a 16 not-W in Old Navy jeans, and an XL in their shirts. A 1X is not the same as an XL. Got it? Basically, if go to any half-assed plus sized department and pick up a 16W or 1X off a rack, it will go over my rack/gut and may or may not look decent.*

Anyway, so we go into this alleged “plus size” boutique and I take a shapeless greige, spaghetti-strapped jumpsuit off their rack, note immediately that it would probably be a size too small for me, even if I would wear such a thing, and note that at a size 3X (per the tag), it is the largest size in the store. A decade ago  would have knocked over that rack of overpriced dumb-ass looking schmattes (or at least made bitchy passive-aggressive comments as I shuffled the hangers noisily) but yesterday I just rolled my eyes hard enough to sprain them and laughed and laughed, only because if I’m going to be pissed off about clothing sizing, I’d rather be full of rage that even the department stores that do carry a desultory half-rack of ugly polyester shit don’t carry anything about a size 24 in the store, so if you’re a size 26 or above you’re relegated to mail-order shopping. I mean, that makes me want to kick some dicks in right there. The fact that someone a size smaller than me is WOW SO FAT YOU’RE SO BRAVE YOU GO CURVY GIRL!!! in Los Angeles county is just… typical.

So what we did after this so we could participate in consumerist culture was go to Ulta and buy a dupe eyeshadow palette, because I don’t eat my feelings.

* (why we essentially get three sizes in knits – 1X/2X/3X and pretend that three sizes is sufficient for the majority of women, or why my dad, who is in fact unambiguously fat, does not have to shop in the Big & Tall departments of stores, and is a regular size because dudes are allowed to fat and participate in capitalism, and also, why I personally feel angered by people failing at Capitalism by not taking my monies in exchange for goods, when I am in my heart of hearts pretty fucking EAT THE RICH Marxist are other topics for other times.)