Thursday, August 26, 2010

Old Cake


We like cake.  The band Cake is really what I'm thinking of specifically.  Personally I could never eat another slice of the dessert, and not be missing anything.  
     I know that people get to a certain age, and they see folks they know are their age, such as at a reunion, and they think to themselves, "do I look that old?".  I know that I am doing pretty well for my age, this isn't about that...... but it almost is.  
     When I first started to listen to Cake, I was in high school.  I don't know know if they were popular then, as they were a local band.  I know they are famous now, 17 years later.  Seventeen years later!?!?  So in my pubescent mind, the band members were older than me, and cooler than me.  I stored that information without really thinking about it.  
     If you look at the jacket's art on their recordings, you can't tell what the band members look like.  The art and layout makes me want a piece of candy (but not cake).  Up until last week, I had NEVER thought that actual, living and breathing fellows from Sacramento were who makes Cake, Cake.  Clearly I had never seen them in person or in a photo.  
This guy:

is the lead singer and and ring leader for the band.  Does he look 25? 
     I was shocked when he took the stage.  I wasn't so much thinking, 'Am I really this old, this guy looks 45?!' as I was thinking, 'Am I really such a numbskull to think that the band members of Cake are still 25?'.  I was surprised that I even came close to thinking, 'Am I really this old?'.  I don't feel old, or even old enough to get to think that yet.  I'm not even half way done, or at least that is my intention.
At the concert in Oakland, besides skipping the MC Hammer bit, and enjoying myself maybe even a bit too much, I was thinking about how old Cake is.  
     Maybe when I was younger I imagined they were cool, because they were musicians, and they were older than me, and they were famous, and I was not.  Now nearly nothing about the situation has changed, except they have more wrinkles and life experience (by percentages, I'm gaining on them).  My life experience since I was a kid, tells me none of that matters on the cool-meter.   Someday I will be older, I can hold my own as a musician, and I don't want to be famous.  It was nearly like going to your childhood house, or nursery school, and realizing how small the building is as an adult, or that even if cake is supposed to be yummy, it is okay that is isn't your favorite.  Even still, Cake is rad!

Monday, August 23, 2010

'This American Life' Wrecked My Life

I listen to This American Life podcast every week. I purposefully do not partake of mass media news. I don't have a television, I don't listen to the radio, and I might skim the BBC world headlines. I choose 'This American Life'.
There are some who believe that it is important to be informed about the events unfolding around us. I agree and yet hearing story after story about sea turtles eating crude oil in the Gulf, or millions displaced by floods in Pakistan solicits a physical and emotional response in me that is too strong, I have to turn away. Just as I turn, I can't stand not knowing what is going to happen, and I have to look back to make sure the whole world hasn't slid into the abyss.

Having said that, I'm devoted to this weekly radio program. I'll admit not every episode is noteworthy, sometimes it is, and sometimes it wrecks me. They do occasionally have current, newsworthy episodes, but mostly the stories are, as the title suggests, about people. I can't fathom global politics, but I can contemplate my neighbor.
At the beginning of the summer I listened to this episode:



Originally aired 05.07.2010
We bring you stories of bridges from three different countries, including one in China that's famous for its massive size and its high suicide rate. One takes it upon himself to patrol the bridge, looking for jumpers. You can read entries from the watchman's blog here. This and other stories where we stop before getting to the other side.

There is a four mile long bridge in Naan-jing China, famous for how many people jump off to commit suicide. In 2003, a man named Chen Sah began spending all of his weekends on the bridge, trying to single handedly stop the jumpers. Reporter Mike Paterniti tells his story of meeting Mr. Chen.
You can read some of Mr. Chen's blog posts about the bridge here. A story Paterniti wrote about Mr. Chen appears in GQ Magazine. (15 minutes)

The reporter follows a man around as he patrols and pulls desperate people off of the bridge before they kill themselves. This isn't the kind of story I should have listened to, but I couldn't stop listening. The most interesting part of the story was how the man rescuing people actually felt after he pulled someone down. He was a bit angry and bitter, it was a job he felt compelled to do, but didn't enjoy. One would think he would be more calm and centered. This story set a stone down somewhere inside of me.

A few weeks after hearing this story, we were driving in our VW Vanagon, home from a restful camping trip. Coming from the coast, into the Central Valley of California, it was 104 degrees, up from the foggy 50 that we left in the morning. We were all miserable in the old, un-air conditioned bus. We debated. Only 40 minutes from home, we had to stop to get cooler. Do we muscle it out, and drive home, or do we stop for a few minutes to cool off. What happened next made that choice matter.

Feeling a bit more refreshed, we headed home over a bridge, that divides two valley towns by a river. The bridge is high, over a river, industrial space, and a race track ( for all the set up, you can guess what is going to happen next). At the top of the bridge, sitting on the outside of the railing, was a woman, getting her courage to jump.

Without thinking, I told my husband to pull over at the end of the bridge, grabbed my phone and hopped out of the moving van. I started quickly back up the bridge, and called 911. I had a bit of a walk to contemplate what I thought I was doing, and talk to the dispatcher, on the way to the woman.

My mind was racing: What am I doing? When I see her, I'll pull her down, like the man in the story does, but if she is standing, I won't, because I don't want to go down with her. What am I going to say to her? If she does jump, then I'm going to have to remember it has nothing to do with me, but if she gets down, maybe I had something to do with it. Do I really think I can recover from seeing this woman take her life? What will I say?

Before I saw her, I was looking over the railing to the grassy racetrack below for her body. I could hear sirens for her, then see her silhouette come into view, not sitting, but now standing on the railing taking deep gulps of air (not going to pull her down). I recognized the deep breathing as I have jumped into the river from a tall rock, and needed those same breaths to gain courage. As I got close enough to see her, the police were arriving from both sides of the baking bridge. I was ahead of them walking fast, and she said to me, "Come any closer, and I'll jump". I stopped. I put my arms in the air, in surrender, but the police pushed by me, ignoring her command.

Then, for what seemed a day, or as if there was no such thing as time, there was a stand-off. The police shouted at her, not with anger, but commanding force. I stood, taking up space on the bridge, imagining I was there for some reason. She was back-lit by the setting sun, and as thin as the light post she used for balance on the railing. As the shouting continued, I could not look at her one more second. I would look away, but then, not knowing if she had jumped, have to look back to her ashen face. It was like a cruel tennis match.

At this point I was 90% sure she was going to jump. The officers crept towards her, yelling at her to get down, but she wouldn't. All the while, I'm looking towards her, and then away for a moment, and then back again. I was trying to stop my hands from shaking, and to be there. The tension inside me was too much. I think it was too much for the lady on the bridge as well. The officers, without asking her if she was a mother, asked her to think of her children.

She got down.

It turns out those police officers do that talk-down quite a bit on the 10th St. bridge in Yuba City. It was clever to assume she was a mother. It would be the reason I would get down (or never get up there in the first place, no worries!).

I've had a lot of time now to think about that late afternoon. I know it was about that woman getting down off the railing, but I was there too. So for some reason it was about me as well. I can't take any credit because she got down. I never spoke to her. That day I found myself in a similar situation I am faced with the news.  I want to see what happens, but I often have to look away.  It is too graphic.

What I can do is fight the bitterness and anger that comes with darkness and current events. I don't want to be like the man in China miserably pulling folks off the bridge. Tragedy isn't something that happens globally on the CBS Evening News. It isn't something I can choose to look away from, and yet if I stare it in the face, like the man in China, I'm bitter and angry.

I could not have driven by that woman on the bridge. There are 6 billion of us here and any tragedy is personal.

In my attempt to hide from the 'real' world, by listening to non-newsworthy personal stories on a weekend public radio program, I found a kernel of courage on the 10th St. bridge. I found that I can look for as long as I can, and then I can take a break, and I don't get to ask why.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Summer Days

It is the last day of summer vacation.  Right now both the kids are still sleeping, and my plan was to get them up at a more reasonable time, so that when school starts tomorrow, they'll be ready.  I got up at a reasonable time, and am enjoying the quiet, and the fact that they are so peaceful and resting.  Tomorrow the excitement begins.
Last night we made juggling balls using birdseed and balloons after dinner, and today we will get school supplies, and head to the water, to pack as much into the day as we can.
In the quiet, I'm reflective about our summer:
We didn't eat one meal inside our house, we ate outside, breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I picked up pool towels, cooled my heals in the water, and watched the kids splash and play all summer in the pool.  Justus read nearly one book a day, and I realized this as he was filling out his book reading journal.  I perfected the navigation of the library website and retrieval system (I'm sure just in time for them to upgrade), and checked out books 3 and 4 at a time for him.
Scout's teeth started to come in, and she grew taller and more mature, making her less like a sweet and soft little girl, and into a school girl, still sweet and less soft. That little Scout is tucked safely away in my memory.
We spent time at the coast (no summer weather) and a lot of time letting go.
I had to let go of having a garden, which was hard, but also good.  Silas let go of a few extra pounds, and we both said goodbye to some dear friends heading to Central Asia.  We said goodbye to our old house, and some old ways of thinking.
Saying goodbye isn't as entirely bad as I let it be in my mind.  It can be quite liberating.  The part that is scary, or more so, invigorating is the unknown.  I'm hoping that the rest and the joy I found this summer, even as things came to an end, will carry over into the unknown that starts tomorrow.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

English Camp 2010

These photos sum up our time in Czech Republic at camp teaching teenagers English.
My class new how to talk english weller than i!
It was a time of learning and love for everyone!  It is hard to express in words or on a blog, so the photos will have to do for now.
There were several awesome photographers there, so there are many beautiful photographs.  By 'many' I mean several hundred.  You can check them out HERE.