Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Summer Solstice

eyelashes flutter against the single pane
like determined moths convinced they can penetrate
edison’s invention, confusing filament with fulfillment
just like I confused your presence with present tense
expecting you here now but you’ve gone
leaving only traces of yourself
tiny hairs on the pillows
stains on the sheets

thoughts race quicker than the fog rolling in
water vapor's smoky irridescence spaning the sky
lights and darks jumbled reminiscent
of unsorted laundry, your clothes in a heap
memories of a long, sensuous night
summer light puts on a winter pageant
special guest, I’m improperly attired
my shirt’s off as i press against the cold glass
and my nipples remain supple
awaiting your caress

chill warmth of desire
your steps on the stairs
on what has been the longest day of a year
of waiting

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Vacation's all i ever wanted...

June Lake, California

Me and the Herman Boys II Men

Mammoth Hot Springs, California

Hot Sprung

The Truly Great Outdoors

Cap'n Homey

Candid Camper Camera

Monday, August 29, 2005

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

So I finally did it—took the plunge and left the city for a spell. Headed out on that highway, looking for adventure with the Herman brothers. Before I left, a coworker, a friend, another friend, and a stranger—all women—suggested that maybe it wouldn’t be wise for me to head into the wilderness "alone," i.e. alone with men. In other words, the speculation was that some harm might befall me, a solitary woman, in the company of unchaperoned men. In fact, I’m putting it in much nicer terms than the cautionary comments that were levied my way, including the very blunt, “You’re gonna get raped.” I have to say I found these well meaning reactions to be very bizarre and … well… quaint. I’ve known the older Herman brother for five years now. We’re buddies. The other brother I’d only met once before, but we got along right well. It never for a moment crossed my mind that I might be endangering myself by agreeing to drive to Central California with friends.

Anyway, I wasn’t worried and given that I’m back in one piece, well, hey. Women and men can be friends without anything untoward happening. The only injury I did receive occurred on the first day of our trip, when I sliced my hand open right nicely, while trying to shove a pinecone up Soyboy’s ass. He was bent over, stretching or some such. I saw a pinecone nearby and couldn’t resist. I charged him as perhaps my reproving women friends thought might happen to me. He batted it away in such a way that the edge ripped into my hand. But what’s a little bloodletting among friends? The next day, from a distance of about 30 feet, I lobbed a desiccated mushroom at him, nailing him right in the back of the head. I was rewarded with sound of it striking a hollow gourd. Violence doesn’t stem only from men; musta been all that fresh air.

The trip itself was grand in its own way. We spent the first two nights in a tent cabin in Mid Pines, about half an hour outside of Yosemite and the third night at a tent cabin in Curry Village, at the heart of the Yosemite Valley. During the days we explored the Wawona area, Lemke and Pothole Domes, Lukens Lake, Dog Lake, the Merced Grove and Tuolumene Meadow. On Day Four we drove to June Lake and pitched proper tents for a couple days of more "primitive"-style camping.

The trip actually began on Monday evening. Marc had arrived earlier in the day, flying in from Ft. Lauderdale. That night he and I met at Azie, the French-Asian fusion restaurant where Soyboy dallies as a sous chef. We had a number of tasty treats as well as the treat of watching Soyboy in action. Highlights there included some damn fine short ribs; duck w/ mashed edamame and stewed cherries; heirloom tomatos, goat cheese, and bacon; oysters w/ wasabi tabiko; and cinnamon rubarb gelato. Marc and I also had the chance to interact a bit more than we had during his previous visit. After dinner, he and I left Soyboy to his work. During the walk to our respective homes, Marc recounted a recent trip he’d taken with his brother and his brother’s friend. Apparently this woman and Marc didn’t quite hit it off so well. Interesting as it was, I wanted to know why he felt compelled to share that with me. That’s when he point blank asked me if I was going to be a bummer during the trip. I told him I couldn’t make any promises….

The funny thing about his question is that for possibly the first time in my life, I had difficulty slipping into vacation mode. I was a bit stressed out for the first couple days, and while Marc’s question probably helped me keep it under wraps more than I might have, holding it in probably didn’t help me feel better. Still, I really can’t blame him. Vacation is sacred.

The truth is, I’ve really needed a real vacation, and it’s simply been too long, especially under high stress conditions. The first couple days I worried about everything it was possible to worry about, mostly cash flow and how to resolve or learn to accept some situations at home. The other factor is that I was extremely ill-prepared for the trip, which is not my typical vacation m.o. I even had to stop and get trail shoes immediately after the guys came to get me, and many items that I'd had in my hands somehow never made it into my bag, including my camera. Fortunately, the tenor of the trip was that we were flying by the seat of our pants the entire time, which was part of the adventure. We didn't have any firm plans or ideas about where/how we'd be staying except for the last couple nights when we'd be meeting up with a group of Marc's friends from L.A.

I’m surprised I didn’t loosen up right from the get go, when the boys arrived with the rental: a PT Cruiser. When Soyboy called and sheepishly said, “I just picked up the car. You’re not gonna believe what they gave us,” I knew from the tone of his voice that it had to something ridiculous, and I was right. There’s hardly anything more ridiculous than driving to Yosemite in a gold PT Cruiser. The car actually handles pretty well, considering that it’s a glorified Neon. It got pretty decent mileage, which was particularly helpful given gas prices these days. We did have to fill up at one pump that was going for a very painful $3.50/gallon. But overall it proved to be a worthy, if utterly silly, vehicle. We had fun making fun of ourselves in it.

The first two nights we ended up at The Yosemite Bug Lodge, Hostel & Campgrounds, located in Mid Pines, which is 25 miles from Yosemite Valley. We wound up in a decent tent cabin—a canvas tent set upon a wooden frame—surrounded by a lot of pine trees and oaks, which we explored in the dark the first night we arrived. After congratulating ourselves with a bottle of Jack Daniels, we scrambled up a series of boulders until we reached a plateau upon which we laid ourselves out, beneath the canopy of stars and a textbook Milky Way.

The next day, we criss-crossed the park, hiking in and around as many spots as possible, and as sunset neared we scampered up some rocky explosions to watch the sun take a dive, its fiery light cast upon the Sierra Nevadas as if it were a real-time film projected on granite. We toasted the occasion with Tecates and burning sage.

My fear of heights and subsequent vertigo kicked into gear more than I would have liked on the trip, but for the most part it didn’t keep me out of the game. There were moments, for example at Lemke Dome, where I simply got to a point where I wasn’t willing to ascend any further, but I told the boys to continue onward and they did, waving to me from the top. Meanwhile, I discovered that I was sharing my resting place with a rattler that I heard but never saw thanks to a highly motivated rapid descent on my part. I also experienced pretty acute vertigo while steering the Cruiser through the Tioga Pass with both boys napping soundly. After that, I refused to take the wheel for the rest of that day.

We never saw any black bears, although we heard plenty of tales and received several warnings. On one road, bear lockers were strategically positioned next to a turn off, and at Curry Village, we were told the next day that bears had ripped into a couple cars in the parking lot. Not our little Cruiser, though; no, our car was attacked by crab apples from the tree we’d unwittingly parked beneath, having arrived at our overnight home in the middle of the night. That morning as we were packing up to leave, several deer came into the vicinity, absolutely fearless. It was kind of sad, actually to see these wild creatures completely turned onto human ways: raccoons climbing on picnic tables, chipmunks and ducks willing to be hand fed.

While we were in Merced Grove, the least oft visited of the Park’s three giant sequoia groves, I thought about how on the one hand, environmentalists and conservationists such as John Muir, have done an amazing thing, preserving all these natural resources. But I also thought that if a Native American from way back were brought to this day and age via a time machine, he or she would surely cry for what we have done.

At June Lake, we met up with a group of Marc’s friends—Ed, his girlfriend My and her 14-yr-old sister Christine, Brian and May, Tim, and Rachel. The group of us had three campsites and pitched our tents in proximity of one another. There were plenty of shenanigans punctuated by microbrews and a variety of sakes and wine, distributed amongst the large group. We also had many fine sober moments of boating and troll fishing on the lake and an excursion to nearby hot springs. The last night was filled with star-gazing and a campfire joke-off between Marc and Ed. Then came morning goodbyes and the long drive home.

And that was my summer vacation: granite peaks, glacially carved valleys, meandering meadows and glittering lakes. I don’t know how I’m gonna swing it, but going away made me realize I must manage to do it more often.

Monday, August 22, 2005


How soon things change. A few weeks ago I was high on the golden hog, and now it’s a struggle just to keep my eyes open amongst all the chill and gloom of August. If you're living in the United States, you probably have no idea what I mean unless you live in Alaska. Or San Francisco. Believe it or not, last week it was even colder here in SF than it was in Anchorage. The culprit: fog.

Sure, there is a certain beauty to the vaporous gatherings of the marine layer. The San Francisco Chronicle recounted environmentalist Harold Gilliam's picturesqe depiction of the many variations of Bay Area fog, including “wreaths and domes over Alcatraz; arches over the Golden Gate Bridge; eddies and fog falls that look like cascades over Twin Peaks in San Francisco and the Sausalito hills; surges and combers over the Peninsula and past the top of the hill in Daly City; rivers of fog at places like Candlestick Park; and the so-called fog decks, where fingers of fog skip over the bay and into Berkeley.” I’m certainly down with all of that. But that’s just it. I’m down!

Generally speaking, I’ve acclimated to the weather here more than I would have thought possible upon my initial arrival five years ago. I landed here in a July and spent the first six weeks in Pleasanton, across the Bay. The entire time I had to re-live the daily shock of leaving the house in the morning, say around 90°F and emerging from my 40-minute journey on the Bart to low 60s of San Francisco’s Financial District. It only got worse when I moved to the Oceanview and Richmond districts, where it was usually in the high 50s. I don’t think I saw the sun more than 10 days out of the six months each that I lived in those neighborhoods. In particular, mentioning the Richmond always makes people smile as they wax poetic about the bustle of Clement St. with its Asian and Russian vibes and about the proximity of Golden Gate Park. As charming as they are, those elements were not enough to keep me in what felt like a perpetual deep freeze. I maneuvered from living situation to living situation until I finally ensconced myself in the Mission and don’t think it was an accident. The Mission is one of the sunniest, warmest neighborhoods in the city, thanks to Twin Peaks, which serves as a kind of natural fence that the fog tends not to breach. But even here, we’ve been hard pressed to see the sun lately.

Of course fog forms in other parts of the country, and, in fact, the absolute foggiest spot in the nation, says the Chronicle, is “the aptly named Cape Disappointment at the mouth of the Columbia River in Washington state.” But San Francisco isn’t called “Fog City” for nothing. There’s some kind of science behind it, my understanding of which goes something like this: as the summer heat settles in the nearby Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, the warm air rises, creating changes in the atmospheric pressure. This produces winds, which push the warm air over the much cooler temperatures of the ocean surface and voila—fog. Maybe I only get partial credit on that answer. The important thing, as meteorologist Jan Null says, is that "you have to think of the air as a fluid, and that means it takes the path of least resistance.''

Gilliam again provides an apt description of the end results: “Fantastic fog forms may develop as the advancing white mass encounters obstacles. It may come in surges like a slow-motion surf, exploding into spray on the ridge at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, forming a standing wave over Sausalito, whirling horizontally in eddies around promontories, and pouring over Twin Peaks and the Peninsula hills, where it forms fog falls and fog cascades down the leeward slopes. If it comes in low on the Bay surface, it is likely to billow in domes over Alcatraz and Angel islands. At times a fog deck will appear part way up the Berkeley Hills and build out toward the Bay."

With this river of fluid air weaving its way through and around all the 43 hills and valleys of a city surrounded by the bay on three sides, we’ve got microclimates up the wazoo. Even on the mornings where I’ve been lucky enough to see a hint of sunrise, by the time I travel to work in the Financial District, fuhgetaboutit. Sometimes we get a little burn off in the blocks around my office, but it remains nearly impossible to see the East Bay, which is ironic, because the sun is probably blazing there. On the reverse trip, I know I’ll see the sun for an hour or two, but by then who cares? I’ll be inside rustling up dinner or trying to decompress and by the time I get my druthers up to go back out, the grey will have us back in lock down.

Of course some people actually like the cool mist, or at least see some humor in it. Me, I’m just ready for the fog machine to wear itself out so I can quit having to wear garments that 30 years of living in Michigan has convinced me are only meant for winter. Groaan, this fog. God knows it can be beautiful, sweeping across the city like a ballerina with nimble feet, but that’s mostly when it’s in the distance. When it descends like a vulture and just sits there, I start to feel claustrophobic, like I’m one of Camus’s ill-fated characters. I notice I've been wringing my hands a lot lately and listening to melancholic "AM Gold" music, like Glen Campbell’s version of “The Wichita Lineman” and The Kink’s “Young and Innocent Days,” while having flashbacks to several of Andrei Tarkovsky’s pictures. I keep thinking about The Stalker, which I only saw once but which has stuck with me, lines like "My conscience wants vegetarianism to win over the world. And my subconscious is yearning for a piece of juicy meat. But what do I want?," sneaking up on me under cover of this pea soup weather. My mind likes especially to recall a poem used in The Stalker, one that Tarkovsky’s father wrote, of which I found a translation by Maria Pearse:

Now summer has passed,
As if it had never been.
It is warm in the sun.
But this isn’t enough.

All that might have been,
Like a five-cornered leaf
Fell right into my hands,
But this isn’t enough.

Neither evil nor good
Had vanished in vain,
It all burnt with white light,
But this isn’t enough.

Life took me under it’s wing.
Preserved and protected.
Indeed I have been lucky.
But this isn’t enough

Not a leaf had been scorched,
Not a branch broken off…
The day wiped clean as clear glass,
But this isn’t enough.

Not exactly uplifting I know. That’s just it: Like a friend who overstays the welcome, the fog discomfits me. I feel nostalgic, burnished (having recently lived golden) but burnt. It’s as if I have cotton between my ears and rustling tin cans where my heart should be. I alternate between feeling clammy or raw, and I can do nothing but retreat into my dreams. I fantasize about a different life, a life of sun and girls and evergreen nature. I spend more time in The Other World and consequently am easily startled out of a reverie madness into another of horns blaring, doors shuddering, pigeons fluttering too close, homeless people shouting at invisible enemies. The noise—everything hovers too close. I just wanna put on my chamois shirt w/ the hoody, retreat into myself, and come back out when the fog is elsewhere, where I can point to it in awe of Mother Nature’s artistic talents. That’s why I’m getting’ the hell out for a few days. Yosemite take me away! When I come back, either the fog will have dispensed or if not, perhaps I'll have refreshed my capacity to live amidst it and not be afraid.

Then again to human is to be fickle. I actually love the fog. It’s just that I’m satiated. Feast or famine. Always feast or famine.

Friday, August 12, 2005

That Which By Any Other Name

Genghis Khan - Fashion Statement

I have been restless lately, and in my restlessness, I have pictured myself in far-flung places. Like Mongolia. Last summer an amazing cultural event took place there, one that hardly made a splash in the news in the U.S., but that I haven’t been able to get out of my head: everybody named themselves. What a powerful thing it must have been to label oneself, a pronouncement of who you are condensed into a few syllables or less, and to do so en masse.

The facet of language constituted by names is fascinating. In my own heritage names are very convoluted. For one thing, my mother’s maiden name turns out to be my grandfather’s mother's name, not his true patronymic surname as was used by his brothers. Meanwhile, all of my dad's male siblings share one last name, the same one that I bear, but his sisters all claim and share as their maiden name one that is different than their brothers’ surname. The boys were long on grudges and refused to carry a name of Portuguese origin that is too much a reminder of colonialism.

I was shocked some years ago when my Portuguese cousin Montezuma (who, after spending a few years in England now goes by Monte, pronounced "Monty"), told me that in Portugal, parents must choose names for their children from an official list of government-sanctioned first names. In other words, in Portugal it's possible to have an illegal first name. This new knowledge put his first name in a whole new perspective, not to mention those of his siblings, Anastasia and Boaventura.

The cultural significance of names cannot be understated. MAR (Minorities at Risk) "tracks 284 politically-active ethnic groups throughout the world from 1945 to the present—identifying where they are, what they do, and what happens to them. MAR focuses specifically on ethnopolitical groups, non-state communal groups that have 'political significance' in the contemporary world because of their status and political actions. Political significance is determined by the following two criteria:

  • The group collectively suffers, or benefits from, systematic discriminatory treatment vis-a-vis other groups in a society
  • The group is the basis for political mobilization and collective action in defense or promotion of its self-defined interests."

For example, though Chinese have been in Indonesia for centuries before the Dutch colonialism of the 1800s, "the group has been compelled to abandon their Chinese names and adopt Indonesian-sounding names in order to acquire [Indonesian] citizenship. Since 1966 Chinese language schools and the use of Chinese language are prohibited." Surnames have such significance in China that a Tenth Century document entitled "The Hundred Surnames" has survived the ages and is still in use. The ancient work is written in poetic form to aid memorization by school children. The 438 names contained therein, "still account for 90% of all Chinese surnames in use. In fact, the top ten surnames account for 40% of the population," with Zhao the most popular.

One name that is easy to remember is that of Malcolm X, the "X" symbolizing among other things, his rejection of his birth name "Little," which he regarded as a legacy of slavery. Black Americans have suffered much owing the loss of the names. Daniel Atkinson, in the liner notes to the Howard Wiley Trio’s Twentyfirstcentury Negro, comments on the process by which “we as blacks have been painted into a social, economic, and cultural corner.” Amongst the few weapons of slavery he lists is “changing our names and destroying our languages.”

In 1920s Mongolia, a Communist effort to eradicate the clan system, class structure, and hereditary aristocracy, led to the abolition of all family names. Gradually, over decades of existing only on a first-name basis, the majority of Mongolians all but forgot their ancestral names. As Gordon York noted in a Globe and Mail article, it was “a system that eventually became confusing when 9,000 women ended up with the same name, Altantseteg, meaning ‘golden flower.'” Don’t laugh. I read elsewhere that in some areas of Germany, it’s not uncommon within a family for all the sons or all the daughters to bear the same first name, most typically Johann for the boys and Anna for the girls.

However, as far last names go, genealogist Rhonda R. McClure states that surnames are a “modern contrivance.” The Romans were the first to use cognomina, or family names, but the concept didn’t really catch on in Europe until the 13th and 14th centuries, tracking the development of commerce. Countries and regions known for trade adopted the institution of surnames more quickly than in places that were primarily agricultural or pre-modern. More modern yet then is Mongolia.

After Mongolian democracy was reestablished in the 1990s, a law was enacted in 1997, requiring the people to take on surnames. However, the changeover was not immediately embraced. The majority of Altantsetegs and everyone else only got on board with the new ordinance when a system of mandatory citizenship cards was instituted. Still, by last year more than 10,000 of the country’s 2.5 million people had not yet complied, despite compelling reasons to do so. York noted, “One name might be enough when most people were nomadic herdsmen in remote pastures, but now the country was urbanizing. The one-name system was so confusing that some people were marrying without realizing they were relatives.”

It makes me wonder what other names were in vogue for girls besides “Golden Flower.” For instance Donna Przecha’s “The Importance of Given Names” affirms comically that some of the virtue names of Victorian-era New England—names like Prudence and Charity and Patience—“appear quite strange to modern ears. In view of 20th century meaning, ‘Freelove’ does not seem to be an appropriate name for a daughter!” I’ll say! A name like that would definitely have caused confusion in San Francisco, let alone Mongolia.

But it’s usually surnames that identify familial relationships. Last summer, the Mongolian government cracked down, fining anyone failing to get a citizenship card before the national election in June. Virtually overnight, civil registration offices were flooded with those eagerly or reluctantly awaiting the opportunity to legalize their last names.

How cool is that? It's like birth of a nation’s collective consciousness, with thousands of people simultaneously transitioning into a different order of metaphysical significance. That may sound melodramatic, but names are wrought with many things that affect us, even subconsciously, and don’t think the Mongolian’s didn’t know that.

Many chose carefully. The director of Mongolia’s Central State Library, Serjee Besud, published Advice on Mongolian Surnames with maps and lists of regionally historical names. In addition to suggesting that some choose the name of a mountain or river in their ancestral region, York paraphrased Besud’s comments that “others prefer the name of an ancestral occupation: Blacksmith, Herdsman or Writer. Some names are linked to clans: White Camel or Black-and-White Horse. And some names have more obscure origins. One surname in the book … is Seven Drunk Men.”

Elsdon C. Smith reports that in the United States, 43 percent of surnames are based on a location with most of the remaining names being either from the father’s name (patronymics), reflective of a job or occupation, or derived from some kind of action—like seven men sittin’ around gettin’ smashed.

The most popular name chosen by these modern Mongols turned out to be Borjigin, meaning “master of the blue wolf.” A reference to Mongolia’s creation myth, Borjigin is also the tribal name of Chingis or Genghis Khan. Said Besud, “It’s like fashion. But it has no meaning if everyone has the same name. It’s like having no name at all.” A factory payroll manager whom York interviewed said, “I don’t like [ the idea of appropriating the Genghis Khan name]. You should have your original name. If you use a different name, it means you have different blood.”

His comment reminds me of the institution of women changing their names when they marry. I’m not saying that it’s wrong or bad, but I don’t think I could do it. I always think, how could I be one person my whole life and then suddenly become someone else?” because that’s how I’d see it. Other’s clearly don’t view it that way, or, if they do, they are happy to become this new someone. One friend of mine changed her name when she married and almost immediately she became a more confident person. She was able to leave a lot of baggage behind by shedding the name associated with her childhood self.

In The Healing Wisdom of Africa, Malidoma Somé writes, “A person’s purpose is … embodied in their name, thus constituting an inseparable reminder of why the person walks here with us in this world.” I suspect he was referring more to given, or first names, but a similar degree of importance attached to names is present in many Native American belief systems as noted in the Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees:

“The Indian regards his name, not as a mere label, but as a distinct part of his personality … and believes that injury will result as surely from the malicious handling of his name as from a wound inflicted on any part of his physical organism. This belief was found among the various tribes from the Atlantic to the Pacific and has occasioned a number of curious regulations in regard to the concealment and change of names. It may be on this account that both Powhatan and Pocahontas are known in history under assumed appellations, their true names having been concealed from the whites until the pseudonyms were too firmly established to be supplanted. Should his prayers have no apparent effect when treating a patient for some serious illness, the shaman sometimes concludes that the name is affected, and accordingly goes to water, with appropriate ceremonies, and christens the patient with a new name….”

Maybe that’s why an unasked for nickname can rub the wrong way: you neither want to admit that you are what others see reflected in you or you don’t want to become that which others ascribe to you. Canadian Albert J. Parker, founded The Kabalarian Philosophy in 1930. Followers adhere to "a logical explanation of mind and its relationship to mathematics, language, and consciousness," which extends to names. A brief analysis of my first names (I consider myself to have two) was most interesting in that the names couldn't be more different from one another and yet, the traits attributed to both of them are pretty similar and do seem to be representative of me. I'll leave you in suspense on that one. Try your own name out though. Also keep in mind that in the Kabalarian belief system, one's birthdate and the family surname must be considered together to present an accurate picture.

During the same reverie that got me down this trail, I thought changing my name to Genghis. Then I found about that by Kabalarian definition, the name indicates: "You could organize the work of others, though in your impatience to see the job done efficiently, you would likely step right in and do it yourself." Genghis doesn't seem like the the right type of name for someone who is most naturally suited to living a life of leisure. Maybe I'll put Mongolia and the name change on the backburner.