Monday, July 30, 2007

paul thinks the moon is boring

O cold marred magma, O turning pitted gibbous!
Your elliptical eccentricity, your diurnal libration,
Is strikingly inconsequential
To our insipid imagination.

I was first introduced to astronomy when my father told me to walk in a circle around a small fern to demonstrate how we see the phases of the moon from Earth. This was the most incredible thing I had discovered in my four years on this planet, and the only thing to trump the small green lizards whose tails came off in my hands and then grew back again.

Two years later my father built his own telescope in our attic. He even ground his own lens. That was a couple decades ago, but I can still recall the smell of whatever the sticky-smooth, orangish substance was that he used to polish the glass.

Then I saw the rings of Saturn. They were really out there, just like all the books said they would be. What about Pluto? Or comets? Were they really out there, too? And how did those rings around Saturn get there anyway? And why are there craters on the moon? I remember believing then that all the answers were already known, and that all I had to do was read enough books in order to discover them. This belief soon proved false, but not before I had come across enough unanswerable questions to lead me to General Relativity at a relatively young age.

For some reason, the notion of gravity as a consequence of the curvature of space-time was much easier for me to grasp, and a lot more interesting, than some other more fundamental concepts immediately applicable to life. Fractions, for example, were completely lost on me, as was the generally agreed upon notion that science was not cool and MTV was. Even now, I can’t add fractions, or dress the fashion, but I can explain why a clock would tick faster as it approaches the event horizon.

And even though I’ve been thinking about the fabric of space-time and event horizons for longer than some of my classmates have been alive, I still find the subject matter infinitely fascinating. In fact, I don’t know what could be more fascinating than an impossible-to-ponder-all-the-possibilities universe right outside our window—except, maybe, those tiny tail-falls-off-and-grows-back-again lizards.

So, speaking of infinitely fascinating subject matter, I was shocked to hear a friend of mine say recently, “The moon is so boring, it would be better if we could project movies on it . . . or something.” I do realize that I am a prisoner of my own perception paradigm, but even so, it had never occurred to me before that someone might find the moon to be a boring thing. To my way of seeing things, this was blasphemy, absurd, and untrue. All my wonder, curiosity, passion for science, appreciation of the natural world—my solace within the confines of unnatural surroundings—it all began with the phases of the moon. When I look up at the glowing, pitted gibbous today, I am no less astounded than I was when I was four.

I felt sad for my friend and for our closest lunar relative. I wondered what it would be like to be a prisoner of a perception paradigm that did not include moon-magic. Was Saturn boring too? The constellations? I felt like I was in sixth grade again, when all the kids thought that I was boring, and I thought, Sometimes I am more at home in the universe than I am among my own peers.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

the beginning of the end of a very long journey

She thought she had been traveling for as long as she could remember, which was a very long time because the seabird had a very good memory, but the ever-questing seabird had finally come to rest.

She knew she was home because she wasn’t looking for it anymore.

Friday, July 20, 2007

on the scale of things, relatively speaking

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stares—on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

~Robert Frost

Which is more vast and complex: the universe or the human experience of it? I never can decide. I imagine that this would be easier to determine if we had a highly sensitive vastnesscope with which to detect the average vastness absorption spectra of any given system—lots of blue in that open-system universe, some yellow showing up in that closed minded individual. A complexity scale would come in handy, too. How complex is the universe? Oh, it weighs in at about 257 VLU (very large units), that’s a little bit more than a medium sized orange, and a little bit less than my cat.

Now that I think about it, what I really need is an unfathometer so I could ask, “Hey, Todd, how unfathomable is the night sky?” And Todd could answer within a 5° ± accuracy range, “Well, seems to be about 81° RU (ridiculously unfathomable)." Of course my next question would be, “Hey, Todd, how unfathomable am I?” And Todd would tell me to place the unfathometer under my tongue for six to eight minutes to get a good reading. I presume I am a great deal unfathomable, but then, so are cypress trees and leaf-cutter ants. Which makes me wonder, Is insignificance scale invariant?

Recently, my cosmic imagination has been stuck in a scale invariant rut. All the usual late night ruminations about vastness, complexity, and other such unfathomable things, eventually wind up falling into my scale invariance memory basin. I think this is because the relation between scale invariance and fractional dimensionality puts a significant twist in the paradox of nondenumerable infinity and seems to lead to the satisfactory conclusion that, indeed, something can come from nothing. This is a very big thing, as far as I can tell, since apparently the coming into existence of the entire universe rests on this single, difficult-to-accept concept.

Also, it seems to me that some species of information may be scale invariant, and depending on what form the scale invariant information takes on, or more accurately, what kind and how many quantum particles the information is made of, I think it’s possible that the universe could have been planning on me for the last 13.7 or so billion years. Not that this would make me any more significant than the onion I chopped up and put on my pizza; the universe would have had to have been planning on that onion too, and this I must concede if I am to be a non-discriminating scale invariant information theory maker-upper.

So the real stickler is that even if I’m right about this whole S.I.I.T (scale invariant information theory) thing, which may have absolutely no scientific basis whatsoever but it’s my imagination so I can make up whatever I want, I still come around to the inevitable question of significance. The reality of my own insignificance on the universal scale is something that used to bother me a lot as a kid. Perhaps this early, intimate familiarity with ultimate futility is what compelled me to begin questioning the nature of the universe, and human experience, in the first place.

Today, however, I have learned to reconcile the knowledge of my insignificance on the universal scale with the understanding of my significance on a much smaller scale. Namely, the one that consists of me, myself, and my cats. I love my cats, and to them I am rescuer, food giver, care taker, pooper scooper, adopted mother, and basically god. That’s significant enough for me to sleep at night. After, of course, I contemplate vastness and complexity, the human experience of the universe, and the necessity of an unfathometer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

places i have lived

1. Small house (apartment?); Lakewood, CO
2. Coast Guard housing; San Juan, Puerto Rico
3. Coast Guard apartment; Queens, NY
4. Rental house on Aqueduct; Littleton, CO
5. Grandma’s basement; Littleton, CO
6. Pulte townhome; Parker, CO
7. Mom’s apartment; Littleton, CO
8. Dad’s townhome; Parker, CO
9. St. Luke’s Loony Bin; Denver, CO
10. Mom’s apartment; Littleton, CO
11. Ron’s house; Littleton, CO
12. In my truck; Various Cities; CA, OR, WA
13. Emily Dickinson studio; Denver, CO
14. Emily Dickinson studio (corner unit); Denver, CO
15. Ron’s house; Littleton, CO
16. Pearl St. studio; Denver, CO
17. In my truck; Davis, CA
18. Weird apartment; Davis, CA
19. Matt’s apartment; Sacramento, CA
20. Tiny studio; Sacramento, CA
21. Ron’s house; Littleton, CO
22. Logan St. one bedroom; Denver, CO
23. US Coast Guard basic training; Cape May, NJ
24. With Nicholas Hartshorne (deceased: Thank You, Nicholas!); Portland, OR
25. Irving studio; Portland, OR
26. Glisan house; Portland, OR
27. With Andre; Snohomish, WA
28. Seattle house; Seattle, WA
29. Seattle house #2 (with bitchy lady); Seattle, WA
30. Gordon’s studio; Portland, OR
31. Nob Hill studio; Portland, OR
32. Weird house; Portland, OR
33. High-rise; Portland, OR
34. Vista St. High-rise; Portland, OR
35. The Adeline studio; Portland, OR
36. Condo; Portland, OR
37. The Adeline studio (again); Portland, OR

Monday, July 16, 2007

professional ice-cream eater (the one that earned me a "B" in advanced poetry writing)

Did I ever tell you
about the marvelous day
I ate ninety two scoops of ice-cream
before they melted away?

You may say, “That’s impossible!
A truly astonishing feat,
to eat a ninety two scoop dripping, slipping,
tipping tower of sweet!”

Well, that’s just what I did
and I’m here to tell the tale,
so gather in close
and listen up well.

It wasn’t that easy, no
it took some preparation:
Lots of sleep, some TV, and proper
ice-cream eating education.

I slept in on Monday,
I slept in on Tuesday too—
I would have slept in Wednesday,
but I had some practicing to do.

I went out to the ice-cream shop
and ordered up a single.
I ate that scoop so fast, indeed
my tongue began to tingle.

I ordered one more scoop
(I had to work on my technique)
to overcome the trouble
with a cone that has a leak.

I watched TV on Thursday
to give my teeth a rest.
After weeks of eating ice-cream cones,
I thought that would be best.

On Friday I was ready,
my days of practicing were through.
I wouldn’t stop at seventy,
I would eat all ninety two!

As I walked up to the counter
I felt a shiver in my knees,
“Ninety two different scoops
on an ice-cream cone, please.”

Strawberry, peanut butter, pistachio, rocky road,
caramel, coconut, and cherry a la mode.
Mint chocolate chip, cookies and cream,
butter pecan, and fudge truffle supreme.

Blueberry cheesecake, coffee almond swirl,
peppermint, peach, and raspberry whirl.
Banana surprise, chocolate chip cookie dough,
(Could you spare me the scoop of vanilla though? Yuk.)

I took that ice-cream cone in hand
and smiled because I had a plan:
Eat a little from the top, and a little from the bottom,
when I reach the middle, I’ll have eaten the whole lot of `em.

My plan worked quite well,
I am happy to say.
I ate all ninety two scoops
before they melted away.

People looked at me in awe,
they clapped and cheered and sang, “Hurrah!”
I handed out my business card to everyone on the street,
“Professional Ice-Cream Eater, My Business is a Treat.”

Saturday, July 14, 2007

i don't like gum

I don't see the point of chewing something that isn't food. Which brings me to my next point: It's not food. You're not supposed to swallow it. And I don't know about you but I believed them when they told me if you swallowed gum it would stay in your stomach forever, or for seven years or something. So I never chewed gum becuase I was afraid I might accidently swallow it and spend the rest of my life with gum in my stomach. How could you accidently swallow it? you ask. Well I'm not sure but that's what I was afraid of and the last time I chewed gum, which was five years ago, I accidently swallowed it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

my first true love

I have read somewhere, “I know a woman who would marry a poem,” though I cannot remember who said it, or who it was said about, and after having searched now in all the possible books in my collection, I shall have to quote the line here and appropriate the author as soon as I come across it again. Perhaps it was Browning about Browning, or Yeats about Maud, but now that I think about it, it may have been someone about Edna St. Vincent Millay. I’m not sure.

I am sure that it could have been written about me, by anyone who might know me well enough, or even by someone who has known me briefly but has heard me speak of my favorite poem. Anyone would surely have noticed the devoted reverence and singular, empathetic adoration in my voice.

I would marry a poem if I could and I know which one I would take to be my lawful, wedded husband.

I found Tennyson’s “Flower in the crannied wall” when I was fifteen, just before I was admitted to the juvenile loony bin for being, admittedly, a juvenile lunatic. I came across it as I was studying for the literature part of the GED examination. I was actually searching for the answer to a question about "Daddy" and in doing so I had just discovered Sylvia Plath, and that she rose with her red hair and ate “men like air,” which I thought was very interesting.

But when I found “Flower in the crannied wall” I thought that someone else before had felt exactly the same way that I do; that I was not alone; that maybe it was ok to have so many questions and so few answers; that I had found a tiny sliver of miraculous beauty in a dark, dark world; that I had found myself, my soul, and my true love.

Tennyson’s little flower saved my life. I even graduated from high-school.

We have been together ever since and I think we shall be ’til death do us part.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

everybody read

Reading is extremely important to me but I hadn’t noticed the extent to which reading has been a cornerstone of my entire life until I thought about it for an assignment. It all began with some star bellied Sneetches who had “bellies with stars” and some plain bellied Sneetches who had “none upon thars.” My mother must have read Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches and Other Stories to me a million times when I was very young because I had it memorized before I could actually read the words.

These stories and their lessons are an integral part of my moral composition.

From The Sneetches and Other Stories I learned not to judge others by their appearances or differences; I learned that stubbornness can keep you stuck in one place while the whole world goes on around you; I learned that sometimes you don’t do the right thing and now it’s just too late; I learned not to fear something just because I might not understand it completely. I don’t know who I would be today if my ethics weren’t firmly grounded in the teachings of Sneetches, but I perhaps wouldn’t have grown up to be such an ardent advocate for the lives and rights of indigenous people around the globe.

I also loved the music of Dr. Seuss. His books incited a love for words, lyricism, literature, and, ultimately, poetry in all its incarnations. I have read that Dylan Thomas and W. H. Auden cite Edward Lear and nursery rhymes as their first poetic influences so I don’t feel so ashamed of admitting to my totally un-academic primary influence at this point. Besides, the Sneetches led to Winnie-the-pooh, which led to E. B. White (and consequently, as far as moral composition goes, vegetarianism), which eventually led to Jack London, Herman Melville, Shakespeare, Tennyson, and D. H. Lawrence, to name a few influential favorites.

But more than a moral compass and few fancy literary references, reading gave me worlds to explore, ideas to ponder, opinions to disagree with, new ways to see reality, and sanctuary. I didn’t grow up with television or friends; I grew up with books and what I found in them became everything to me. I still count the tubby bear with very little brain as one of my oldest and dearest friends and I return to visit frequently. I truly am what I read.

In my experience, reading has always been a solitary endeavor. Prior to my introduction to the Everybody Reads program, I had not considered the widespread implications of a group of people reading and discussing the same book outside of academe. It seems to me now that this particular project has the potential to connect individuals in a community in profound ways. Most fundamentally, if only for a brief time, reading the same book gives all kinds of different people something in common. Even if ideas and opinions about the book differ, an incredibly diverse population may be linked through an artistic medium.

Suddenly, the businesswoman has something in common with the server who is delivering the wine. And the city commissioner has something in common with me. It seems a venerable platform for inciting communication across social boundaries.

I am interested in the different ways to communicate a message to a diverse population, but I am especially drawn to the mission of Everybody Reads because of the message of next year's chosen book A Long Way Gone. I feel a personal attachment to the plight of Ishmael Beah because I’ve had a close friend who was a Sudanese war refugee. Ojulu and I were coworkers in a commercial greenhouse and we spent long, extremely hot hours together doing difficult labor, learning to communicate, planting seeds, trading stories, laughing, and we even once prayed for a crop of canna lilies that we accidentally planted upside down.

Ojulu taught me to suspend my preconditioned notions of the way the world works, and I tried to teach him how to drive. He had a bullet wound in his ear and scars the size and shape of small pebbles all over the side of his head from shrapnel. Ojulu was fluent in five languages, and rapidly learning English, and had dreams of becoming a doctor. Still, customers would walk in to the greenhouse and shout at him as if he were deaf, dumb, or no more a person than the shrubbery they were shopping for.

I know that what Ojulu suffered in his life is unimaginable. I know that he continues to suffer from the war and he always will. Witnessing the cruel treatment he endured in the place that was supposed to offer safety and relief from the cruelty of his homeland was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I have hope that Ishmael’s story may enlighten a public, provoke empathy, and instill compassion so that others like him will be safe here and offered the respect and solace that they deserve so much.

Maybe the community reading of A Long Way Gone will change some people’s minds and attitudes. Maybe it will cause one person to think before he or she assumes something about a person’s life based on the color of their skin. Maybe communication can create change.

Maybe the world would be a better place if everybody read The Sneetches.

Monday, July 2, 2007

question, asked with as many infinitive verb forms as possible

I learned how to roller skate forward and backward and how to round my corners to pick up speed. I finally learned how to control the tips of my skis, although I never could understand how to make them come to a complete stop. I learned how to do long division and then I learned how to multiply fractions, but now I can’t remember how to do either one. I learned to sing in key, but only when no one was listening. I like to play the guitar, but I haven’t in a while because I can’t remember where I put it. I wrote a couple songs, but I forgot how to play them. I learned how to iron, get a job, wait tables in a fancy restaurant. Later I learned that I didn’t want to wait tables. But it was too late. I learned how to make the best of things. I wanted to travel extensively, but I settled for seldomly. I wanted an education but first I had to figure out how to pay for one. It took a while to learn how to work and go to school at the same time. I learned how to overcome obstacles. I wanted to defeat the dragon, but instead we called a truce. I learned how to bear impossible burdens. Then I learned how to adopt homeless kittens and feed them and give them a good home. I learned how to make lasagna and how to bake chocolate chip cookies. But what I really want to know is, does anybody know how to unwrap the damn CD celophane wrapper?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

tres colores (translation follows but i'm still learning so it might not be perfect)

No tengo palabras bastantes
Para decirte como la poesía
Me hace una mujer loca como
Una gata que tiene hambre.

Solamente puedo tratar de
Mostrarte el color de la noche
Y mi alma que esta llorando
Porque no tengo palabras bastantes.

Amado mío, cuando estoy contigo
Yo puedo oír los latidos
De mi corazón.
Y cuando no estoy contigo
Yo puedo oír los latidos
De mi corazón.

Soy un pajarito del mar
Atrapado entre
Amor salado del mar y
Libertad sosa de azul.

Escribo para que
Yo puedo decir lo que no puedo decir.
Escribo en español para contar la verdad.

Three Colors

I don’t have enough words
To tell you how poetry
Makes me a crazy woman
Like a hungry cat.

I can only try to show you
The color of night
And my soul crying
Because I don’t have enough words.

My love, when I am with you
I can hear the beating of my heart.
And when I am not with you,
I can hear the beating of my heart.

I am a tiny sea-bird
Trapped between
Salty sea-love and
Bland, blue freedom.

I write so that
I can say the things I cannot say.
I write in Spanish to tell the truth.