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April 30, 2009

About suicide, but not in the way you might think...

I'm supposed to attend a small group event next week that looks at the problem of suicide and how various new media might contribute to or help mitigate the problem. In preparation for the event, various participants have been sharing their online footprints. At first it was just PR and media types - here's my company, here's my research. Follow me on Twitter!

But yesterday and today, it's been the personal stories. The families of teens and young adults who killed themselves - bullied to death by peers, or silently suffering crushing depression - now politicized and energized to work publicly on this issue through websites and foundations, each gently telling their story. The documentary about teen suicide that aired on PBS last night. The news reports of laid off family men taking guns to themselves and sometimes their spouses and children. And the 45 pages of background reading with statistics.

I'm not sure I can take much more of it. Each story hits me from a fresh angle, and claws at me. It's for the same reason that I can't and don't watch garden-variety local tv news and their tragedy of the day anymore. It literally hurts every time.

I was a bit apprehensive about signing up to participate in such a group given the topic, but I agreed because I think it's an important issue, one that's touched me at times in my own life. And besides, how do you say no to something like this?   But I do wonder what's going to be left of me, emotionally next week once the two-day meeting is over if just the preparation for it seems so very hard.

April 30, 2009 at 05:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 29, 2009


This month, my book club has set aside our usual book-length novel or work of non-fiction and took up a curious offer. Poetry magazine offered 10 copies of its April issue for free to book clubs for discussion, and we took them up on their offer.

Initially, I was disappointed, as the April issue turned out to be Poetry's Translation issue, and if there's one thing that confounds me with poetry it's poetry in translation. How can it possibly be translated? If poems are the best words in their best order, how is that replicated in another language with different sounds, rhymes, patterns, meanings?

Ultimately, though, I'm enjoying wrestling with the problem of poems in translation - which ones work, and which don't? Do poems that are translated from languages that are further from English (non-germanic or romantic) have greater or lesser levels of success? Are there different moments in the poem of greater or lesser success? and what about translating as a group project?

And it's nice to be exposed to some more modern and less canonized poems. One one hand, it reminds me of the value of the canon - these heavily anthologized, read and taught poems are masterful.  But on the other hand, some of the poems in the magazine are truly radical, and remind me of the ways in which the canon is limited, but poetry isn't.

But the best side effect of reading and re-engaging with poetry has been a desire and the inspiration to start writing poems again. Not many, and none good, but it's nice to flex that long-disused creative muscle.

April 29, 2009 at 08:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 28, 2009

Trying not to see

I rowed this morning. It was my second outing of the year, on day four of a early hot streak. The trees, emboldened by the heat, have been pumping out the pollen, covering us in a hot, green, itchy haze. But the river was mostly flat, aside from a warm wind from the southeast, pushing debris, and water and boats into the dock.

I set out gingerly, knowing that my still-raw hands from Saturday's row would be the limiting factor on the day. Quickly, though, I lost myself in the row, enjoying the remembered rhythms of oars, boat, water and banks.

Until I was buzzed by the helicopter.

It was flying low, and slowly, more of an extended, gradually moving hover, rather than a true buzzing. And it wasn't a military helicopter, usually the culprit in the loud and low boathouse fly overs. Was it a rogue traffic reporter out for a joy ride, dropping in close to see the contours of the river?

And then I remembered.

It was a small item on the bottom of the front page of the metro section - a short narrative that laid out in clipped newspaper verse a family tragedy. A 12 year old boy, out fishing with his father, enticed by the cool and seemingly calm river on the first hot weekend, slips and falls into the water. His father tries to save him, but must be rescued himself. The boy never resurfaced.

Oh dear god, I thought as I rowed, they must not have found him yet. I turned and squinted up stream, and in the distance saw the police boats slowly trolling the river.

My stomach lurched, and suddenly every stick, every clump leaves or log or plastic bag became the body of a little boy.  How could I stand the horror of a small hand, or sneakered foot protruding from some mid river tangle of rocks, wood and trash?

I couldn't. I turned my boat around, away from the horror, and one family's tragedy now consuming the local police, and determinedly softened my gaze. I would look at everything and nothing, take in no specifics, and try desperately not to see.

April 28, 2009 at 12:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 15, 2009

Lessons learned

Life is one long series of lessons, or at least it seems that way sometimes. Lately life has been delivering up a motley, amusing and occasionally even useful assortment.

Recent lesson #1: skin cream is not like fine wine - it does not get better with age.
In a fit of spring cleaning, I purged my bathroom of various expired medicines and personal body products. I do this periodically, but for many years I had been holding onto a particularly beloved skin cream. It's expensive stuff and smells heavenly, like herbs and citrus and eucalyptus. So I'd always doled it out to myself in small doses, saving it for "special occasions." But I'd done that for so long, that the stuff actually turned rancid, which I learned yesterday after liberally smearing myself with the stuff - the first blurp out of the bottle smelled lovely, the following one, much less so. I didn't quite catch on for one or two dollops, either, so I spent the day well-moisturized but oddly scented.  The purge also revealed that similar issues plague shampoo, too.  The takeaway? Products are meant to be used, so use them.

Recent lesson #2: Do not get the cute, fat gerbil at the pet store. Unless you would like your gerbil census to swell nearly exponentially from 3 to eleven less than twenty-four hours after you get home from the pet store. Lesson thoughtfully provided by my friend L.T., a stay at home mom who after gerbil sitting with her two daughters for week thought it might be time for an early lesson on suburban small animal husbandry. She got a tad more than she bargained for, and sadly the two boys, Peach and Rainbow Flower Blossom had to go back to the shop. Marshmallow and her brood stay.

Recent lesson #3: contact lens wearers often look oddly stare-eyed in photographs. For more natural looking photos, take the lenses out. I learned this one after sitting through a session and a half with a professional photog for headshots for work. After I returned for a second sitting, he asked me what I didn't like about the earlier ones ("Aside from everything?..."). And after taking a couple of initial shots, he explained his theory about contacts and strange-looking eyes (born out by looking at the first few shots.) So I went and popped the lenses out, and lo and behold, the photos look much more normal and natural. They're still not awesome, but at least I won't shudder every time I see them circulating on the internet.

April 15, 2009 at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 13, 2009

cat behavior modification

It's been getting steadily worse over the past few months. First Oscar, then Daisy, making ever bolder leaps into previously forbidden territory.

First they just started getting up on the counters, but would quickly jump down. Now, they're up on the counters and stealing food, licking clean bowls left to soak in the sink, and even venturing over to the stove, to sample whatever is cooling in pans left on the stove to clean after dinner has been eaten. Dinner at home has become a ritual of sitting down, and standing up mid-bite to yell, run to the kitchen, grab the squirt bottle to reinforce a sharp "No!" with a stream of water. Lately I've resorted to giving the cats a dinner time "timeout" in the bedroom, if only to have some peace to eat my meal.

But it's not working. They still get up there, only now, they jump down as soon as they hear me get up from my chair in the front room. I've started trying to clean as I go more, so there's less deliciousness available on the counters, but sometimes that's just not practical when the food is hot and waiting to be eaten and the clean up messy and time consuming. The spray of water seems pretty ineffective - Daisy sometimes snarls or bats it away, Oscar just scampers off to lick the water from his fur elsewhere.

Just yesterday evening I was sitting, rather proud of myself for making pork chops with a rhubarb apple compote (sadly not as good as its sounds, and a rather unappetizing neon pink color that doesn't go well flavor-wise nor visually with the pork.), baked polenta topped with thyme-scented sauteed mushrooms and steamed spinach. I was just chowing down, when I hear a tell-tale Thump! and turn towards the kitchen to see Oscar scurrying away with my lunch - the other pork chop - dangling gently from his jaws.

It's not like I'm underfeeding them - the vet approves of their current twice a day, can and quarter regimen.

So I'm not really sure what to do. The problem is getting worse - they're getting up on the counter more often, and are more boldly carrying things off. They're also attacking each other more. Daisy stalked Oscar and then viciously chomped on his butt right in front of my while I was using the computer yesterday. I put it down to spring fever, and I make sure to crack the windows so they get more porch and bird-sassing time, but it's not helping in either regard.


April 13, 2009 at 03:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack