Thursday, August 26, 2010

whales and such (Yoo Hooo! Monterey Bay Aquar-i-um...)

 Isaac this past July on a whale watching trip in the Monterey Bay

My friend Kate (geez, I have the coolest friends) has an article in the new Monterey County Weekly about whale watching in our bay this summer, which has been fantastically stellar (modify superlatives? why yes, I think I will, thank you.).

In one paragraph, Kate states, "Connecting with nature is the best way to inspire children to grow up committed to conservation, according to educator David Sobel, author of Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education. It’s crucial to give children a chance to build a lasting, nourishing love of the wild before they are burdened with worries about overwhelming environmental problems. Observing nature can also help lengthen attention spans and combat digital addiction." (emphasis mine)

Back in April of this year I wrote a couple pieces about my feelings on the new exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and how I thought they missed the mark for kids, making much the same point Kate does. Jenny Sayre Ramberg of the Aquarium picked up the blog piece right away, and we proceeded to have an interesting discussion within the comments. I also wrote a follow-up blog on the subject. That is as far as I got at the time. Until now.

Besides Kate's article which gave me renewed interest and vigor in the subject, I am rather concerned about what might be happening as the MBA takes down the beloved Outer Bay tank for the next 10 months to revamp it into the "Open Sea" exhibit coming in July 2011. First, let me say that the Outer Bay is/was a classic. In place since 1996, it is an enormous wall of glass where you can watch from ground level or sit upstairs in the dark and take in hammerheads, tuna, rays, and an amazing array of amazing creatures go on by. The balcony seats are the best in the house, in my opinion. I've been taking Isaac there since he was 3 months old. The beauty is unmatched, but more, the serenity is untouchable.

With the new and "improved" exhibit, they promise to address climate change and plastics pollution, as "as always" point to positive solutions. So my question again is HOW will that happen? In what FORM and in what ORDER at EYE LEVEL will these things come at us? I am also not comforted by the dangling carrot of more "multi-media experiences." Again, in my past discussion of this topic, I stated that I thought the screens were being a little too heavily relied on and upstaging the animals themselves. I don't want to play a game about a sea turtle, I want to watch one swim by. I don't want to be sucked in (and have my child sucked in) to a video of the sunfish, when -- if the tourists would quick flashing their bloody cameras for a second -- one might swim by in the flesh.

My aquarium renewal notice just arrived in the mail...I'm no Julie Packard when it comes to my ability to financially support this resource, but still. I need to know how my money will be spent.

Jenny, I think I will have to belatedly take up your offer to give you a ring at the aquarium. Hope to talk to you soon.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Save the Words!

You must go to the coolest site I have seen in a long time.

I am the proud new mama to the word "starrify." "I hereby promise to use this word in conversation and correspondence as frequently as possible, to the very best of my ability."

For the sake of our youth, the future leaders of our planet, you must make it a habit to gravitate toward any education professionals willing to use their little gold stickers to starrify rather than reward. (consider it an entry under "school search part 5.")

With many thanks to my pal Eve for this one.

Friday, August 20, 2010

going back to clean out the house, part 2

I stop at the bank to give my brother one less thing to do. “I need to leave some information about my mother's estate...” I tell the woman. “And when I say 'estate,'” I mumble to myself minutes later as I head back out the door, “I mean the 650 square-foot rental full of dust and expired toothpaste coupons.”

Most of the sorting, of course, is paper. The things I found in my mother's house. I really can't decide what is more precious:

The envelope addressed to the White House, stamped and ready for battle, or maybe the DVD titled “Life or Debt: Simple Steps for a Lifetime of Financial Freedom”...still unopened.

The business card of a “Middle Eastern dance artist,” or mom's current membership card to the NAACP.

Mom's passport, renewed and up-to-date, without a single stamp in it other than the invisible seal of optimism, or –and this could be the topper— the lyrics to “Born to be Wild” handwritten on looseleaf.

Magazines about living with Diabetes, wrist braces, neck braces, canes, walkers, prosthetic breasts, I toss each in turn into the donation pile, with the same mantra: “Well, mom, you don't need these, or these, or these. You're free now.” It should make me feel better, but it doesn't.

The phone rings and I see from the caller ID it's the consolidation company that paid out on her bills. They aren't collectors, no harm in talking to them, and so, I do. When I inform the woman that my mother is unfortunately deceased, she stops short and sounds genuinely sorry. I leave her with my brother's phone number. When we're ready to hang up, she expresses her sympathy once again, but then just can't help herself, “Have a great day!” she effuses.

I find an old Polaroid of mom from some Halloween past, dressed as a devil and hamming it up for the camera. I tape it at eye level to the door jam so devil-mom can watch over us as we sort through her books. In my delirium, I find this somehow hilarious, though my siblings don't get the joke. “What is that? Why is that there?” one or the other of my sisters keeps asking. “Is that Rita?” Better it were a photo of her with the same impish grin holding a whiskey sour instead of a pitch fork and toasting us while we sweat in the hell of her tiny house, the ceiling fans all dangerous blades, the monopoly game up for grabs.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

going back to clean out the house

Mike and Isaac drive me downtown to pick up the shuttle. And, as my ride departs, it first takes me through the same territory I just traveled to get to my starting point. I see this somehow as significant. But I am weary of metaphor, worn out by searching for signs within signs, really just glad at the moment not to be listening to anyone's cell phone conversation.

Here we are. Flying to get to the people we love and left. Or to where they used to be. The man across the aisle gets on his phone and my reprieve is broken. “Ron's plane is delayed,” he says into his cell. “I'm on my way. I'm on the bus.” And then, “How'd the night go?” I sense something right away. He continues: “How's the breathing? (pause) Vitals?” Ridiculous and apropo. Really, can't we just take a break from signs and synchronicity for a while? What to make of it all?

Here we all are, at the final moments, at the big transitions, relying on the same technology and futuristic inventions that allowed us to get this far apart to begin with to rush us back to see the people it separated us from. It either makes perfect sense or none at all.

Take a look at Sharon Old's poem called “The Race.”

In Marina, a girl gets one the shuttle – 20? 22? Her mother is there seeing her off, three big curls of hair just out of their forms sit on her head for bangs. Her daughter wears a pink baseball hat. She climbs aboard the bus and takes the free front seat, greeting her seatmate in the quick, jovial way of her age – heavy with optimism and expectation, vulnerable, not yet touched by too much grief. The girl promptly buckles her seatbelt and turns her head to catch the gaze of the mother, who is staring back. The two keep eye contact with each other for 30 seconds or more while I watch. Finally, a tiny, audible gasp trains my eyes away from the mom and back to the girl. She wipes her eyes and straightens her pink cap. She is late to take in the reality of the leaving, and I envy her. For my part, I have been long awash in tears.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

crazy stuff at the library

I have just arrived at my library – or, one of them in the general vicinity of my residence – to new hours posted on the door. More hours they are closed. And I groan and slump and continue through the automatic door. Where will the crazy people go, I wonder? And believe me when I tell you I count myself among them.

As I type this there is a homeless man, one I see often in the area, at the table to my left cutting up periodicals and what appears, at least, to be book covers. One would think this might be a problem at the library, but the reference desk guy just came over and hauled off the 20-year-old with the laptop next to him instead. It sounded serious. Porno printouts? Too many downloads of American Idol finals ripping through the system? Makes one wonder. In the process, Homeless Man called a loud, boisterous greeting to Reference Guy and Reference Guy answered him politely and solemnly.

Homeless Man is a familiar face around here, we exchange greetings frequently, and sometimes change or apples, plus starved as we are for community, between him and the two former Brooklynites who've just reunited like loud, long-lost lovers to my right, talking about the days when baseball was “a gentleman's sport,” I'm feeling pretty much cozy in a “gang's-all-here” kind of way. It's like when you see a woman on the shuttle bus to the airport who also shows up in front of you at security. If you weren't fast buds by then, then when she sits down in the same gate area as you, you are considering inviting her to your family reunion. We are a social set. Like it or not.

It is really disconcerting – that tearing sound – Homeless Man again. Though he doesn't bother me nearly as much as he could. The last time I was in the library there was a woman crying hysterically while she perused the shelves, alternately reciting the rosary and commenting on magazine covers. It went something like,”Boo-hoo-hoo. Snort!! Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is...Oh, look! Oprah and Ellen!...with thee-hee-hee-hee...SOB!” The time before that, it was the sleeping man next to me awakened by his drunk friend to much commotion; and we can't forget the man in the Russian accent pacing on the grass just outside the window when I tried to escape to a private corner, shrieking tirades and curses into a cell phone that would have given Mel Gibson a run for his money. The Russians have whole dictionaries of vulgarities, though he was choosing to use ours.

Libraries are tricky places. Not as innocent as they seem. I've written about them before this way.
I need to confess that I have also been the crazy person in the library. In our last family visit with my mom in April of this year, we set her up with Skype. She had been suspicious of the service from the start, although ultimately we managed two very successful video calls before she passed.

I had been taken back by how much I had felt like I'd “visited” afterward, as opposed to calls or emails, which admittedly, I hadn't kept up nearly well enough. I had been looking forward to establishing the Skype dates as a regular thing, but we'd only be granted the two.

So I was in the library one day, working on an audio piece I have yet to finish, when a Skype call came in from my mom. I hit answer and tried to keep my voice low. “I can't hear you!” my mother kept shouting from my computer screen. I scooped up my things hurriedly and headed for the door.

“I'm in the library, ma.”


“The library!” I shuffle quickly past the homework helpers, a crowd at the online catalogue, cord dangling, bag and limbs akimbo.

“I still can't hear you, dear.”

“That's because I'm trying to be quiet. I'm at the LIBRARY!”

“WHAT?” says the little lady in my arms again, as I zoom by the check out counter, finally the foyer, and out onto the front steps.


“Oh,” she says, finally satisfied and wholly unconcerned. “That's nice.”

I attempt to hold a relatively normal and brief conversation with my mom while on the library steps, sun shining onto screen, battery dwindling, public passing by, as she regales me with the details on the height of her cosmos, the fate of her day lilies. At last, I ask her to please call me on Skype only when we've arranged it beforehand or when she knows I'm at home.

“Call YOU? I didn't call you,” she tells me.

“Of course you did.”

“No, I didn't.”

“Well, I didn't call YOU.”

“You didn't?”


She insisted that Skype did it on its own. Can I count a third Skype call, then? Another connection before she left? Can I count us among the crazy people?

Monday, August 16, 2010

War, Letters, Love

Pictured: Heath Proskin, Bill Minor, Richard Mayer.
Photo Credit: David Hall., Monterey Herald.

There is a project I've been a part of for a while called "Love Letters of Lynchburg" that is truly unique and interesting on many levels. Yesterday, we did a performance - a CD release party - that was a reading of love letters between two people from during the Civil War, backed by a live trio on an original score. All of it orchestrated by the charming and extraordinary Bill Minor, who happens to be distantly related to the two wartime lovers. Here is a link to an article about the performance that gives a little more background. I'm tempted just to copy and paste the article, since I'm not sure how long the link will be good for, but anyhoo...

It was one of those times when you realize late on the significance of what you're doing. Bill asked me to read the letters of Susan Leigh Blackford, essentially to be Susan, and I wouldn't think of saying no to Bill. Along the journey, I learned how fascinating she was, the time was, the relationship she had was, and yesterday, how much our merry little band could touch people with the story. As one person noted in thanking us, the exchange was plain and simple an anti-war statement, nevermind from a war none of us can remember or even imagine.

I want to refer back to two poems, of mine and of Ruth Fainlight - from which mine takes its architecture - that I posted on this blog two years ago. Fainlight's poem in fact speaks specifically of wartime letters again.

How much do you use pen and paper anymore? Do you? What can it change to see personal communication become electronic? What does each do to shape the time we're in? How do we participate in that shaping?

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