Friday, May 23, 2008


After Sunday's Obama rally here, the bug bit me. I am getting junkie-like on the primary politics.

I saw John Edwards campaigning in San Francisco in early 2004 and was wowed by the sheer sparkling charisma he exuded. When you meet these people in real life, you realize why they thrive in public life--they have star power. So knowing that Obama is terrifically charming even via muddy YouTube video, I was prepared to be wowed in person.

I wasn't prepared for when, to the anthemic churn of Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising", the announcer said, "Welcome our next First Family, the Obamas," and Barack, Michelle, and the two little girls stepped up onto the stage, I would feel such a shock of emotion. I was glad I was wearing sunglasses, because behind them tears were filling my eyes. He hadn't even said a word. It was the kids. I pictured those little girls living in the White House and I lost it.

They waved and then Michelle hoisted the younger girl up into her arms and, after Barack hugged and kissed them, carried her off the stage, holding the older girl's hand.

My brother and his girlfriend had waited in line since 7:30 am, so we flooded in right at the front and took up at the side of the stage. For a few hours there I cursed my lot, wedged in tight, standing in the 90-degree sun. I managed to jam myself down into a sitting position to work on the Times crossword, pressed in on all sides by a canyon of legs. The Decemberists, whose stage was blocked from our view by Obama's stage, were reduced to a pleasant abstract floating sound. But once Obama took the stage, I forgot all about the four layers of sunblock sliming my neck and face and ear-tops, the smeary newsprint self-tattooed on my hands and legs, and the claustrophobia-induced ill will I had been accumulating toward my fellow ralliers. The guy makes Edwards look like a hack.

Not just because he's a superior speaker, utterly in command, utterly engaging, but because I felt it so deeply. I really just believed pretty much everything he said. Believed it not only as in, Yes, this affirms my core beliefs, but as in Yes, I believe you. I haven't felt that way about a politician since the singular Paul Wellstone (about whom, it turns out, I still get teary when I bring him up.)

Ann (head below) clutched his hand and said, "WE LOVE YOU."

I did not reach through the frantic grasping herd of arms, fearing the fate of some of the signs passed out earlier--

--but I felt totally satisfied and amazed to have seen him so close, and at such a massive and exhilarating event. I do not think I have ever been in a crowd of 75,000 people before.

To circle back to the start of all this: ever since this rally, and since seeing all over the news images and reports from this thing I had experienced myself, I have become obsessed with all things presidential-race. I have now bookmark-toolbarred the Huffington Post. I hit "refresh" on the New York Times front page every hour. I can't stop checking the Delegate Calculator, watching the little opposing bars slowly fill up and the slider click into place. The Onion's Election 08 guide provides necessary comic relief. ("Could Hillary Clinton Have What It Takes To Defeat The Democrats in 2008?")

And I can't help but read the comments that people make on these posts. I am dumbfounded by the feverish hyperbole there: I am a lifelong Democrat lesbian single-mother antiwar activist who's had three abortions and I would sooner vote for McCain than Obama!!!, is kind of the level people go to. Hillary basically just said she wants Obama assassinated!! Like that. Wild irrationality and ad hominem attacks better suited to Perez Hilton or The O'Reilly Factor. What is strange is that at this point, the commenters are attacking each other more than their favored candidates. The Hillary-supporters (excuse me, "Hillraisers," as her site previously roused them to become--a moniker that now seems to have vanished), having little concrete ammunition against Obama himself, revile "the Obama camp." The supporters hate the message-board versions of each other far more than they hate the candidate.

Who can blame them, really? Fallacy-ridden and inflamed with vitriol, they all make themselves odious. Fanaticism is ugly, regardless the cause.

I obviously love Obama, and have from the start. Hillary was never my favorite, anytime in her political career. But of course she would be a fine leader, and although I'm totally exasperated by her desperate politicking and her offensive (if cunning) invocation of civil rights and suffrage as she campaigns to get her votes counted from the states where Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot (shameless!), and her claim to such desirable support from, uh, white voters who consider race a factor in their voting (really? that's the demographic we want to focus on in this next election?)--all right, this sentence is sounding passive-aggressive, but I really do mean it when I say that although all of the above, I think she's important and ferocious and a barrier-breaker. I don't think she's the devil. But her tactics bum me out. Hard.

Meanwhile, my students are nuts for Obama. They cannot write a single objective sentence about him. When he comes up in class, they practically begin to glow.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


With everything spread out on Donal and Mike's vast rosewood dining table, our team of four collated, trimmed, stapled, re-trimmed, banded, and photo-inserted right up until 7:19 before racing over to Tiga with our story cargo. The books came out beautifully and the crowd turnout made my heart grow a size. Thank you all my dear friends who showed up to hear us read and who bought 7" stories and hung out.

June will hopefully bring the next edition, and then July another set. I have some fantastic authors lined up. Maybe I can keep doing them remotely from Oberlin next year as well--as if I needed another excuse to visit Portland as often as possible. I am doing my best to avoid pre-missing. I am already all too susceptible to pre-nostalgia.

The next day T & I went to the coast to stay with friends who are renting a sweet little sea-shack at Cape Meares.

Emmett originally came from Tillamook County, perhaps the coast, who knows? He was the happiest I've ever seen him. Galloping down the beach, nose perpetually atwitch, investigating beach mortuary (is this particular cove where all sea birds go to die?), sunbathing flat-out on the deck.

We wandered the beach and the wetlands, read, lounged, ate, drank wine and coffee, lay in a hammock, drew, made silly video clips, etc.

Time went more slowly, in the best possible way. Probably at least partly due to freedom from internet. I think there is no wi-fi in paradise. I need to get there.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Exciting news on the platypus, one of my favorite creatures on earth! That is not an ironic exclamation point. ("Henry James said you get eight to use in your lifetime," growled my late great teacher Frank Conroy, and yes, I'm using one of them now.) Scientists have unraveled the platypus's genetic code, and it is an evolutionary treasure, bearing avian, reptilian, and mammalian features.

The platypus is intensely private and secretive. From their first discovery by British scientists in the late 1700s, they have proven maddeningly elusive. Few people ever see them in the wild, they are difficult to catch, and they seldom give birth in captivity (only twice since 1944.) They have poisonous spurs on their feet. They are much more intelligent than their fellow monotreme the echidna (i.e. the only other egg-laying mammal.) And they have voracious appetites--a platypus can catch and eat half its own weight in one feeding--and a sixth sense, an electrosensory ability to detect even minute changes in the electrical field generated by their prey.
In her delightful book Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World, Ann Moyal describes how in 1943, Winston Churchill himself initiated the plans for the first platypus to be brought alive to Europe. After months of covert planning--for some reason, it was treated as a top-secret operation--Winston set sail in his platypusary-equipped ship. Alas:

Almost through the Atlantic, a thriving and healthy Winston was feeding ravenously. Within four days' sail of England, disaster struck. The ship's sonar detected the presence of a submarine. The rapid discharge of depth charges into the surrounding waters saved the ship and its men. But the jarring detonations instantly killed the platypus. His highly sensitive, nerve-pocked bill, designed as a complex sense organ to detect the smallest insect at the bottom of the river and to respond to the slightest vibrations of the natural world, was unable to deal with the violent explosions of men.
In same book, you can read all about how the platypus (once it was determined to be a real creature, not a jackalope-type hoax) was caught up in a 90-year debate about taxonomy, creation, and evolution, with massive infighting involving Sir Richard Owen and Charles Darwin himself. Plus it contains beautiful color plates of old platypus drawings.
On that note, here is an assortment of pictures from the folder called PLATYPUS on my computer. I don't know where they all came from, apologies to the original photographers and posters of them, whomever you may be. Behold, enjoy, marvel.

P.S. Also, platypuses do not have nipples--they secrete milk through their skin!

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Eight Belles running, Eight Belles down. From the NY Times.

I didn't actually mean to watch the Kentucky Derby. I was making chocolate cupcakes, and I happened to step into the living room with sticky spatula in hand about a minute into the race. So I saw Big Brown surge way ahead, and Eight Belles gamely holding on behind him, the only one who could even close to keep up, and the victory, and the absurdly privileged son being obscured by his mother's giant flapping Derby hat as she hugged him. I felt both revolted and intrigued by the commentators' reiterations of how amazing it was that this was li'l Jacob's first Derby he'd ever attended and his braggart dad's horse won the race. In my head this instantly became the genesis of a novel that would inevitably tangle into a patrilineal mess of resentment, inadequacy, and failed entitlement.

Then the camera cut to a distant shot of Eight Belles, an ominous silhouette, lying on her side. A dog or cat sprawled on his side looks the like the ultimate relaxed. But a horse on her side looks terribly wrong, a mountain tipped, a ship blown over.
“She went out in glory,” [her trainer] said, his voice breaking. “She went out a champion to us.”
Broken-legged, lying in the dirt, with no comprehension of what had happened to her, no understanding of sacrifice, and no cause to have died for, by a needle injection at that, in front of an audience of drunk people in foolish hats--that's glory? And for some reason it only makes it sadder, to me at least, that it was the filly who broke her legs. The only girl in the game. Only 38 have entered the Derby before her, and only three have ever won.

Her story's like that of Ruffian, an all-time great. Ruffian also died at age three of a broken leg, following a match race (which they no longer do, as a result) with a colt called Foolish Pleasure. Her injury was particularly horrific; by the time they managed to halt her, her leg was so broken her foot was flopping like a half-on shoe. They did splint her and attempt to save her, but when she awoke from the anesthesia she thrashed so violently in her padded stall that she smashed her elbow, dislodged her cast, and sabotaged all the efforts of the surgery meant to save her. Down she went.

I used to be a total horse girl, one of those, with like sixty Breyer model horses that I bought with my babysitting money, each with its own name, kept in immaculate condition. I built makeshift stables out of scrap wood in the garage using a bandsaw, hammer, and nails, and I sewed little horse blankets that snapped around their chests. I had a pair of red cowboy boots I wore everywhere. My mom unearthed a list of life goals I made when I was eleven; one of them, a hybrid of my peaking horse-fanaticism and nascent feminism, was to raise the first Triple Crown-winning filly. (With many underlines and exclamation points.)

But then on a family trip to Winnipeg I actually saw my first real horse race at Assiniboia Downs. It was not at all what I thought. This was no Black Stallion or Seabiscuit romance. This was not down in the barn with the sweet smell of hay and horse sweat, the grooms currying hides to a sheen and prying dirt clods out of hooves, holding out a carrot to feel the huff of warm breath and velvet lips searching my open palm. It was concrete bleachers and betting windows and feverish-eyed, leisurewear-ed people milling around studying the fine print in booklets and chugging alcohol. It dawned on me that this business was not about the horses.

No matter how marvelous the animals or how seductive the faux aristocracy around it, there's ultimately no love, majesty, gallantry, or heroism in horse racing. Inbred, shot up with painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and steroids that keep them going at any cost, they're just bred and flogged toward the money.