"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Saturday, February 28, 2009

To Market

It's been awhile since I went to the Saturday farmer's market here in Chico. I'd forgotten what a cool place it is, especially heading into Spring. I was overwhelmed by all the flowers and winter / spring greens, and the plant starts for gardens, and people, talking, buying, selling, playing music -- a young woman (these days when I say that, it means somebody who I'm probably actually thinking of as a 'girl,' i.e. under 30, whether I'm supposed to or not) played her guitar and had a notebook paper sign on her open guitar case that said "ORIGINAL SONGS." I was full of admiration and a bit of envy, whether I liked her songs or not she'd written them, and that's something...how many times have I talked about doing exactly what she was doing but never done it, and to have all her own original songs, too. Girls these days.

It didn't occur to me to take a photo while I was there. Too bad. I found a robust looking potted rosemary plant, though, for Heather's garden. She's been looking for one for awhile. I hadn't set out looking for one, but after I found it, I looked all over the rest of the market, and it was the only rosemary.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

And now for something completely different.

The one on the right looks a lot like my girl Ripley. If only I could take her with me to the gym.


It's like feeling compelled to keep touching a hot stove. No, it's more like ordering a combo plate of assorted deep-fried appetizers with a side of ranch dressing at some restaurant where the fryer oil has traveled south for the winter, knowing that you'll regret it, and of course you do. Yet awhile later you go back and order it again, hoping maybe the result will be different. Not that I've ever done that, it's just a metaphor. That old saying about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.

I love news via internet. I read print newspapers if they're lying around, but most of my news is online. Sometime last summer, though, I started reading the comments posted to various articles a lot more often. They are to public discourse as Taco Bell is to Mexican food but that doesn't help me at all (in either case). I know that the ability to post comments to online newspaper articles is not breaking news in itself. It's just taken awhile for me to start noticing them, and how asinine, ignorant, infuriating and reeking with meanspiritedness they are.

I don't mind a little snarkiness if it's clever. But people just aren't, terribly, most of the time. I don't know if the freedom of anonymity gives people license to say all the nasty things they really feel but wouldn't dare say publicly otherwise, or if sounding worse than the Grinch who Stole Christmas (or, more likely in this case, the Grinch who Accused Others of Stealing Christmas,) to see how many of your fellow citizens' buttons you can push is just part of the game. Maybe both. There is none of the weeding and editing that would normally occur in a "letter to the editor" either, as demonstrated by the following non sequitur gem in response to a Sac Bee article last week about Prop 8:

There is as much science in Expelled as thier is in the atheistic fundamenatlist fantacisim that labeles itself as science when it comes to the totally unproven T H E O R Y of eveloution.

If you chose to belive in that worthless pile of trash feel free. There are many scientist who don't believe it because of its lack of creduilaltiy and why do may believe in it? It lets them off the hook, because there is no higher authority if we all came form the ooze. So we can do whateve we want with no consequence.

Glad to see how much you hate churches and want them out of our life entirely. I guess your next step is to revoke the Freedom of Relgiogn and throw every Christian into pristion.

[Drat...however did s/he guess our next step? Foiled again!] I have a soft spot for the author of this; the comment was so recently come from a sort of verbal ooze itself that I was able to laugh and step away from the browser when I read it. Plus, as I discovered just now when I looked up the article link again, all the comments, nasty or nice, are dumped into the ether after a few days never to be seen again. Yes folks, this grotesque primordial comment specimen has been preserved in its glory and posted here on One Cheese Sandwich to amaze and horrify! Unique on the World Wide Web! Stay behind the red rope, no shoving! Only $0.02 to have a good look!

Yet too much of the time I keep reading the damn comments, and they're not even stupidly funny, and my blood pressure rises (good thing it has a pretty low starting point) and too often I waste a good 60 words engaging in completely pointless argument, and I don't feel all that much better after I do it. I wish I could permanently block myself from all comments on all the news websites I regularly visit. Like an ignition lock device in a car, or like the Taco Bell that was two blocks from my office that just up and closed a couple months ago. (No more jalapeno chicken melts...like a volcano in my tummy!) I don't want to know what people are thinking and feeling because it makes me feel like most everybody is dumb and hateful except for me and my little circle of friends and family. That's not a helpful approach to the world, whether it's true or not. I will refrain from expressing what I perceive as a big imbalance in the number of excessively vitriolic comments from one "side" of the sociopolitical spectrum vs. the other because no doubt my own filters and biases are at work. But I do perceive it.

My last comment on the subject of online news article comments is that they prove Yeats was right. The best lack conviction and the worst are full of passion without mercy. Little did he know he was describing the difference, generally, between Democrats and Republicans.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Spoonfuls of sugar

I've had this impending phone call to an angry client (and his angry wife) hanging over my head for awhile. Knowing they were angry with me, and that there was some legitimate if not exactly rational basis, I've been reluctant to call them back so that they could tell me how angry they were.

I had a little surge of feeling successful about my work this week and maybe that propped me up to just call them and get it over with.

So I did, and the wife told me I should be ashamed of myself because I'm supposed to be helping people like them, and that I should just "forget it!" (as if the chance to work with them was a cherished dream I'd been harboring for months). I didn't try to defend myself to her, but I'll say for the record that I ALWAYS give people my card when I meet with them and I implore them, if you don't hear back for awhile and you want to know what's going on, PLEASE call me (because I reckon there're 'bout a hunnerd'r so of y'all and only one of me). Did they ever call during the long period before they called my boss to say what a deadbeat I was? No. Did they fall into the paper abyss? Yes.

Zen Buddhism incorporates a sort of 'repentance' principle:
All the ancient twisted karma,
from beginningless greed, hatred, and ignorance,
born of my body, mouth, and thought,
I now confess openly and fully.

I don't claim to get that completely. I think it means that I'm human and some occurrence of error is utterly unavoidable, and it's best to freely acknowledge it when it occurs and fix it if it's reasonably fixable, but nothing / no one happens in a vacuum, and it's just as unhelpful to define myself by my mistakes as it is to define myself by my successes. Either way I'd be setting myself up for more trouble.

Sorry, angry people. I hope the opportunity to chew me out at last relieved them of some of the burden of their anger but I'm afraid it probably revived it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The last days of Tooth No. 15

Several blog-worthy events have occurred in the past eleven days; for instance, I saw a funnel cloud north of Sacramento over a week ago. I took a cellphone picture and showed it to a friend who is doing graduate work in meteorology and, even though it was a teeny tiny cellphone photo, she said "Oh my gosh, that's a funnel cloud!" so I felt quite validated. Also, my sister Mary came to visit Sacramento (not long after the appearance of the funnel cloud, but if there's any connection at all it is a benevolent, auspicious one) and danced all day Saturday as if she were wearing magic slippers, but now I'm mixing H.C. Andersen with L.F. Baum and that seems dangerous, though I'll have to think about it for awhile.

Monday (yesterday) I took the Graduate Management Assessment Test and it looks like I remember 8th-grade math / algebra even less than one might have hoped. I'm not feeling like MBA school is quite worth the $60K it would cost to undertake it right now, 'specially since I already have at least one professional degree / credential that many people would probably take more seriously than they ought if I were to go into any kind of business for myself, and I'm not exactly attempting to climb a corporate management ladder. But I'd already signed up for the test so I thought, what the heck? how hard can it be? It was hard and didn't exactly play to my cognitive strengths. If only it had been a test of song lyrics and trivia questions. I was quite pleased with myself watching Jeopardy last night when I knew that the correct response to one of the statements was "Rashomon." I bet some engineering / economics type could score a 700 on the GMAT and yet not be familiar with the films of Kurosawa. I am grateful for my knowledge and skill base in all that it is and is not. Mostly.

This Friday I'm having a big ol' molar extracted. It's had a hard life...been done wrong by some fly-by-night HMO-type dentist back in the '80's, resulting in a root canal and crown a few years later, and at some point apparently one of the roots got fractured (no, pretty sure it wasn't a result of playing football, though I can see how you might suspect) and it has suffered...I should say I have suffered...a series of infections and inflammations over the last six months. So my dentist sent me to a periodontist and the periodontist said it is a "hopeless" tooth. Apparently that's the technical term. I say anything wearing a gold crown can't be all that hopeless, but whatever its emotional or existential state, it's leaving the place it has occupied in my head lo these many years. I sort of want to keep it. Maybe see if I can trade it in for a new electric guitar amp at the pawnshop. That $60K I could save on business school next year will have to go somewhere.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Let me tell you how it will be...there's one for you, nineteen for me

I've stayed up much too late this evening on an itemized deduction scavenger hunt...shuffling through piles of paper, scanning through electronic bank statements...realizing, hey, that book I bought on Amazon a few months ago is arguably job-related!

I wish TurboTax would add sound effects to the little refund counters up in the right hand corner that show (in green) the amount of your refund :) or (in red) the amounts you owe. When you enter some kind of deduction you can watch the numbers run up, and I can't help but hear that slot machine coin-dropping sound in my head, after losing money in the big government casino all year now I get to win some of it back! [I was in Vegas recently for a union conference and all that noise is still rattling around my brain.]

I am especially pleased to announce that in 2008 I hit the 7.5% requirement for medical expenses to be deductible. I made a spreadsheet with all the months and all my different bills, I'm very proud of it and I want to bring it to my mom so she can put it on the fridge to show how good I did.

There are a few people / entities I need to thank for making the 7.5% milestone possible: first, my employer, for doing its part to make 7.5% of my income such an attainable goal; to my insurance plan that requires me to pay full price for prescriptions until I reach the $2500 deductible; to the unknown Santa Rosa Scorchers player who ran up and slammed into me during that game in June 2007...I don't know why people kept trying to do that because it seems to cause injury. That hit was minor compared to what the hospital, physical therapist, surgeon, anesthesiologist, and knee brace manufacturer threw at me later. Like Ishmael said at the end of Moby Dick, "I only am escaped alone to tell thee."