the streetlamps dim
to push sleep past the sidewalk
up through windows
like an ether
with a deep breath that never exhales
collapsing with the smog and the traffic
until asphalt footsteps are as loud
as the ringing in your ears
and four o’clock comes
from endless birdsongs
as if it were
About this poem
Written decades ago, but I’ve reposted it. Probably my favorite poem that I’ve written, and it’s the only one that I’ve memorized.
Daybreak tells my reading lamp that it is not needed anymore.
Note: I have a more stream-of-consciousness YouTube review of Logan here: https://youtu.be/3aHF3ZgCzfw
I’d been trying to figure out why I think Logan is a brilliant movie and for a few days I couldn’t put my finger on it, until I saw it a second time.
Answer: it doesn’t have cheese.
The movie treats itself not as a movie made up of people with “amazing” superpowers, but more as a straightforward western-style thriller, with characters that regular people like us can relate to. There aren’t any tongue-in-cheek moments, or blatant fan-service easter eggs that would make you roll your eyes upon recognition. There are no snappy puns, one-liners, or cliches. The fourth wall is never broken. There’s no mcguffin, and nature or luck or coincidence never steps in to save the day. There’s no wasted dialogue of the heroes and villains telling each other what they’re going to do to each other before they actually start fighting. It’s continually self-reflecting but never self-aggrandizing. There’s no posturing.
Everything is laid bare, everything is exposed. Everything is honest. Everyone gets hurt.
Logan reminds me of three Clint Eastwood-directed movies: Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, and Gran Torino. Each is an intimate tone poem, a moment in a much bigger universe, each with a definitive ending. Logan has the same methodical pacing as the Eastwood movies, taking its time and keeping the story simple. You could even say it’s sparse, compared to the typical blockbuster superhero movie. There’s a lot of open road, there’s a lot of time to talk, there’s enough time to do nothing to the point that the real truths get squeezed out to break the desperate silence.
Now for the players. Hugh Jackman, like a seasoned jazz musician, has portrayed the character for so long, for so many times, that he can now improvise his moves organically, seamlessly, going from rage to sorrow to emptiness to hope, and make us believe every step of it. He is the hub of the story, the caregiver, the caretaker, the son, the father, the friend, the provider, the protector. His constant limp, the source of which is never explained, is a constant reminder of his fragility, whether or not his healing factor can still squeeze bullet shells out of his battered body. His hidden reserve of Wolverine power is still there, but we know it’ll be gone soon. He is dying from within, from age and time and relentless hardship. He is dying because he refuses to give up. And the closer he gets to that moment, the closer he gets to being like us, the more we identify with him.
Patrick Stewart, like our own elders, plays the burden as well as the movie’s conscience. He is the load that we all bear on our shoulders throughout life, but also the lessons that we learn from carrying it. For all intents he is Logan’s father, suffering from senility and Alzheimer’s and making everyone suffer when his telepathic episodes flare up. He reminds us that we all affect each other, even when we try not to, even when we distance ourselves. The steel water tower that acts as his home and psychic shield serves like our own convalescent facilities, where he hide away our seniors when they become burdensome, when they become “too much” to handle. Stewart portrays a nonagenerian with schizophrenic unpredictability, wavering from a wise teacher to a giddy child to a stubborn patient. Anyone who’s ever taken care of a senior can identify with Logan when Charles petulantly sticks his tongue out to show that he has indeed swallowed his meds. And when you’re just about sick of his shit, he becomes fragile again, needing to be carried and dressed and guided. The way I see it, for an actor to portray an old person that well, he must have studied them, spent enough time with them, enough to understand and sympathize with them. A lesser actor would have aped the role, would have made it either too comical to be believable, or so dim and hopeless that the performance becomes monotone, one depressing note. I believed Stewart’s portrayal because he reminded of my own real life parents and grandparents.
Dafne Keen portrays Laura, the product of an organization that values control and profit at the cost of innocence and natural progress. She never had a childhood. She was never given a proper birthday party. As Wolverine began as Weapon X in the comic books, Laura was raised to be a weapon, an X-23. And just as Patrick Stewart could have portrayed a senior without depth or nuance, Keen could have lazily portrayed Laura as a killing machine, like in a Terminator movie. Since she didn’t speak for the first half of the movie, she had to show us who she is through her physical movements, her eyes, her subtle gestures, her convincing way of eating cereal just like any other American kid would while still keeping her survival instincts at high alert, and ALL of this without parody or exagerration. When she showed that she could kill without hesitation, we still needed to be assured that that’s not all that she was. She used her body to shield Charles from gunfire not because she was programmed by scientists, but by natural instincts. Her rubber ball and backpack could have been cliched props, but they were believably hers, her only possessions. James Mangold, the director, kept her at a distance from us, the audience, just long enough so that when she finally did talk, and the verbal floodgates opened, it was a wonderful, cathartic moment of relief.
Stephen Merchant as Caliban is the sacrificial lamb in all of this, the penitent man, the alarm clock, the bargaining chip, the closest thing to the movie’s comedy relief. He, like the other adults, is filled with regret since he used to help the Reavers round up mutants. He atones for his past sins by helping Logan take care of Charles, by doing what he can to help the few remaining mutants safe. His skills are limited because he is also dying. And for most of the movie, he is disposable, a liability–he wasn’t even welcome to join Logan and Charles on their ultimate goal, buying a Sunseeker boat and living in the middle of the ocean. Merchant’s portrayal of an albino mutant telepath who is allergic to light could easily have been overdone to the point of being comical or two-dimensional. Instead, the movie’s focus is on his effort and allegiance, desperately trying to make himself useful somehow, some way. His last gesture, of committing suicide to provide distraction so that Logan, Charles and Laura can escape, is a poignant one, that tells us that no one is ever, absolutely, useless.
As for the bad guys, there are plenty. But I think the true villain in this story is time. The atrophy that comes with time. The time that is never enough. The time that we lose through neglect, and regret that we could never get back. The death that, given enough time, comes to all of us.
Which makes our time here more precious. No time to waste on superficial dialogue. No time to waste on unnecessary subplots and characters. No time to waste on flashy costumes.
I think director/writer James Mangold and Hugh Jackman, who I’ve heard came up with the original story in a dream, respects time enough not to have an open-ended ending. Logan is dead, Charles is dead, Caliban is dead, and the children will reach Eden, period. The movie doesn’t require an alternate timeline in an alternate universe. It doesn’t need continuity with other X-men movies. Nobody will be resurrected here. There are no maybes.
I think this is why I admire this movie so much. It had an uncompromising goal, and reached it.
A geek friend posed these questions to me, here are my answers:
What’s your favorite series/franchise?
Right now it’s Marvel Studios, because the Netflix shows have put them past Star Wars for me. But the bottom line is it’s all about Disney right now–they’re killing it on all fronts.
What’s the most underrated film/comic/book/whatever in your opinion?
Comic book: The Question, although I haven’t read it in a long time. It was the first non-generic superhero comic series I ever got hooked on, plus Bill Sienkiewicz did a bunch of the art. Movie: Joe Versus The Volcano–it reminds me of a Coen Brothers movie and has countless allegories wrapped up in a goofy comedy.
What’s the most overrated film/comic/book/whatever in your opinion?
Tim Burton’s Batman: IMO it’s misguided, just like Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Here’s a curveball: 2001: A Space Odyssey, to me, is both one of the most underrate AND most overrated movies ever. It’s simultaneously genius but also self-indulgent.
What’s your favorite decade?
The 1970s. The best detective movies, the best war movies, the best dramas, best rock and roll, Star Wars, Billy Joel, etc. It was the last decade where anyone can do any kind of art without thinking too much about commercialism and marketing and metrics. Record stores offered refunds and exchanges if you didn’t like the vinyl album you bought (no kidding!) Star Wars created the blockbuster and changed the industry both for better and worse. Also, in the 70s America was still “hungry”–we had the gasoline crisis, cold war, everybody was in the middle class, and there were no tech or economic bubbles. During the 80s, the Reagan years, America was at its wealthiest in history, compared to the rest of the world, so the music and movies kinda reflected that (Go-Gos, John Hughes movies).
If you could speak to your younger (20’s?) self, what would you say? (you don’t have to answer if it’s too personal)
Favorite and least favorite MCU films?
Favorite is 3-way tie with Avengers, Iron Man, and Winter Soldier. In their own way, each movie felt fresh. Least favorite is Thor: The Dark World except for the miu-miu part, that was funny.
Also, favorite and least favorite parts of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, if any?
Favorite EU game is the X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter video game for DOS back when you still had to use your imagination. For books, I don’t read the new stuff but my childhood favorite was Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, with Luke and Leia, written right after A New Hope came out in theaters. Again, it was the 70s and Alan Dean Foster just wrote what he felt in his heart, without so much pressure from the suits or studios. Now I really like Star Wars Rebels.
What’s something that hasn’t yet been adapted to film that you would love to see?
A decent Stephen King movie like The Stand, which has been made into a limited series but it absolutely sucked. If they could take the talents of Steven Spielberg combined with Frank Darabont’s writing, and make an HBO series out of The Stand, it would be fantastic. The first season of The Walking Dead, which Darabont initially produced, is the closest I could think of to what a good representation of The Stand should be.
Do you feel that some things shouldn’t be adapted and should instead stay as a certain form of media?
Yes, like Bach’s Illusions or de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, I think is best left to literature. Even 1984 they couldn’t quite get it right, but Snowpiercer was a good homage to it. It’s like loving a song then seeing its mediocre video–most of the magic happens in the interpretation and imagination of the reader/listener. (Again, that’s why 80s music is so-so to me, because often the pop stars are already planning out the video even before they’ve finished writing and recording the song.)
Do you feel that the movie industry is ‘in trouble’ or stagnating in any way?
I think the movie industry is on the verge of getting so fluent with CGI that it’s not “wow” anymore, and I think that’s a good thing. We can get back to good scripts and telling the story, more minimalist approach but with absolute technical control that we get with modern technology. It’s like when they figured out how to make color movies–the first few movies were done just for the sake of making a color movie, but after people got used to it, they went back to focus on the story. Jump forward a few decades and you have movie makers PURPOSELY making black and white movies because it serves the story.
Any other industries/avenues that you feel are in trouble?
Any companies that run their business like the DCEU franchise, and I’m not saying this just to bash DC movies (again). It’s 19th century thinking, not trusting your subdivisions, not knowing enough about your own business that you don’t know how to pick the right people to help you in running it. It’s not just movies, it’s also in government and in any large bureaucracy. Heck, even Apple is going through it right now. All of a sudden, Microsoft is the fresh one!
Thoughts/advice about the youth of today, if applicable?
The youth of today got handed a lousy deck of cards, and my generation is largely responsible for it. We got spoiled during the Reagan years (before China joined the global market), dot-com years, the real estate bubble, those years of indulgence combined with 9/11 has resulted in a worn out, depressed, used up and fearful America. BUT here’s the bright side–because of the rubble, I think the young people are forced to be scrappy and inventive and cunning and hungry, and they are willing to try ANYTHING. And just like the 70s, maybe we’re on the verge of an artistic and cultural explosion, if it’s not already happening. Keep in mind that Nixon was the president in the early 70s, and he got impeached, and during his era and immediately after, there was an explosion of creativity. Out of the rubble, amazing things.
In August 1974, we were brand new in America. My Dad held 3 jobs–as an engineer by day, cab driver on weekends and working nights in the kitchen at the South Gate Drive-In.
The three of us would take our used tan Ford Pinto in through the back entrance at 5pm, and my Mom and I would wait for the movies to start while Dad worked in the kitchen. His shift would end around midnight, and by then I would be fast asleep in the back seat.
On the night of August 8, 1974, I remember us driving home, and my being half asleep, and hearing on the AM radio about Richard Nixon resigning as president and Gerald Ford becoming president, then pardoning Nixon immediately. The whole thing sounded immensely important but I had no idea why or how the puzzle pieces fit. I drifted in an out of sleep while listening to the news bulletin.
Maybe that’s why All the President’s Men is one of my favorite movies of all time. Maybe that’s why I absolutely love the idea of investigative journalism. It’s as much a part of my half-dreams as my reality.
There is a reason that people who have worked all their lives to become part of the Establishment, when accused of being part of the Establishment, are offended by the accusation. And there is a reason that people who have stumbled all their lives to become part of the Anti-Establishment, when accused of being part of the Anti-Establishment, embrace it wholeheartedly.
Some would say that a website exists on the hard drive of the machine that acts as the server that’s connected to the Internet.
That may have been true during the Web’s infant years, but not anymore.
A website is on backup drives of other machines, maybe in the same building, maybe in the same city street. It could also be in the cloud, on some other machine halfway around the world.
It could be in a laptop of some kid in a bedroom who used a free software to download the complete website, so he could review it even without an Internet connection. It could be a .zip file. it could be on a memory card, or a thumb drive. It could be on a writable DVD. It could be on a floppy disk.
It could be a set of printouts that a graduate student has clipped together to read on the train. Parts of it could be citations in a book or a term paper. Parts of it could be on a website that mines and classifies images and phrases for specific topics. Parts of it are probably on Wikipedia, Google images, and Reddit.
Parts of it are definitely not on the same machine as the other files. Video files are on YouTube, statistics files on Google Analytics, and sound files on SoundCloud. Not to mention its other bits and pieces that are scattered throughout Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, and LinkedIn, to name a few.
So where on Earth does a website exist?
It’s everywhere. It’s anywhere.
So where should a person work on a website that’s everywhere and anywhere?
Jose said to me tonight, “But I thought you loved doing all those things!”
My confession to him:
90% of what I can do, I HATE doing, that’s the truth.
I have an eBay store because I couldn’t find anyone else to sell my stuff on eBay. I absolutely hate the tedium of selling on eBay. To help raise money for charity, I must sell on eBay.
I like producing a podcast but would rather just write the show notes, direct it, but let somebody else (prettier and more social) talk in front of the camera, have someone else slavingly edit the footage, create graphics and lower thirds, figure out how to encode it for the Internet, upload it to YouTube, fix the audio levels, microphones and hardware, have someone else set up the cameras and figure out exposures and focal lengths and lighting and set design, etc. etc. etc.
I like to write content and design the story flow of websites, but would rather have someone else actually build it, code it, promote it through social networks, market it, and create the graphics for it. I have ideas on web marketing but would rather have someone else spend hundreds of hours tweeting, instagramming, meme-ing, and facebooking to spread my ideas.
I like to sing, write music and play the piano, but I would rather have someone else figure out the technical aspects of recording it, figure out the proper microphones and multi-track recorders and hardware conversions, and posting the music onto YouTube or Soundcloud or WordPress.
I like to draw but hate the technical aspects of Photoshop, even though I’m pretty good at it now. I would rather just sketch out an idea, then hand it off to someone who will clean it up, add color to it, composite it, get it press ready at 300 dpi, rasterize it for portability, convert it to an EPS or PDF file, embed it into a document.
90% of what I do, I hate doing.
10% is inspiration and God-given talent. The other 90% is blood, sweat and tears.
The high road isn’t where they walk; they’re just doing their jobs, and the road appears.
From their 7am meetings to their emergency surgeries before the next dawn breaks, to their pro bono work and community service, to their finding precious time to be with their own families in addition to trying to save members of other families, the people at the Keck USC Department of Surgery are basically that, people. But they have extraordinary duties, and they walk extraordinary roads.
Dr. C has a painting that his young son made hanging on his office wall, flanked by decades of medical books, certificates and honors. Dr. S has a wall that represents a variety of religions, because, as he says, “We need all the help we can get.” Dr. N drives her daughter to school every morning and just had a second child, and went back to work days after her own doctor said she was well enough to go back to being a cancer surgeon again, because diseases don’t go on vacation. And Dr. B wrote a poem about me that made me feel good about myself years ago, after we had a long talk consoling each other.
Most patients get to know their surgeons when they’re absolutely needed, but I got to know them during less critical moments. I got to know them by their first names. I got to know them when they weren’t performing miracles. And I was still impressed.
I was there when a young physician from abroad, wanting to finish a clinical studies project before funding ran out, agreed to live in a tiny apartment down the street from the hospital so he could complete his research. I was there when a team of surgeons returned after performing back-to-back liver transplants that took the better part of two days, and still had enough left to ask me how my day went.
Some might say that this is part of their job, that it’s simply good bedside manner. I would say that any of them could have quit their jobs to make it easier on themselves, but they chose not to.
I admire them. What they do continues to be a mystery to me. I do my best to speak their words so that we can have meetings and can work on projects that support what they do in the operating room, what they see when looking into a microscope, what they intuit when they read a sheet of paper with numbers and graphs.
I have my own road to walk, and that road is clear to me. But to me, the road that they walk is as mysterious as Wonder Woman’s invisible airplane. I see them move their hands, their eyes, their whole body, manipulating these instruments, the table, the room, the moment, conducting this invisible orchestra of absolutely intense effort, to make the patient, after everything is said and done, alive and better.
Alive, and better.
This is what families want to hear.
This is why the road is higher, even though it probably isn’t.
Because, for the sake of those we love and want to stay alive and better, it needs to be.
I am now twice as old as you are, and feel damn lucky that I’m still here.
This is what happened since you became me.
You stopped being delusional about being a hero and decided that you’re happier simply being a genuine shmuck.
You believe in God more, not because you are desperate or needed a crutch, but because you did a bunch of research and have absolutely no explanation for a great many more things that you’ve seen since then and now. But God is different, more universal, as is your understanding. Also, God is probably female, but maybe not. You’ll start to have fun not knowing everything.
Those foreign and classic films that you’ve watched, you’ll appreciate them more as you get older. You’ll have less time to watch movies like those, so it’s good you got them out of the way.
The Natural will not be your favorite movie anymore, and Roy Hobbs was an idiot who should have made the right choice earlier in the movie. You won’t have a favorite movie. You won’t need a favorite movie. You won’t project your own personal shortcomings to the protagonists in movies anymore, because they aren’t you, and they were never real.
Speaking of which, you won’t care too much about The Phantom of the Opera musical as much, because, well, see above. You will appreciate Les Miserables, The Lion King, and even Cats more than Phantom. I’m thinking of selling those collectible Phantom of the Opera crap you bought to impress girls. They didn’t work.
You will stop using James Bond ringtones, and you will realize that it’s okay to fight windmills as long as you’re not in denial about it. Fighting windmills is a good fight, whether or not Dulcineas exist.
You will have no problem admitting that many of the things you do, many of the things that you create or design, can be utter garbage sometimes, because you will have created enough to still have a lot of good stuff left after you’ve filed away the garbage.
You will know what old feels like.
You will be glad that you decided against doing a lot of stupid things that you would have regretted, that you’d still be paying for at my age.
You’ll be fatter and uglier and slower, and you’ll have no choice but to accept that.
You’ll be funnier and wiser and overall more talented, and that will be that.
Somebody will invent the idea of humblebrag. Don’t use it. Just brag if you feel like it, and let others judge you however they want to. You’re not going to stop them from doing so anyway.
Since you will constantly have everything to lose, you will be passionate as if you have nothing to lose.
You will have a better understanding of silence.
You will get tired more easily, so when you do have energy you will waste less time on things of compromised quality.
You will NOT automatically become a better person as you get older. If anyone tells you otherwise, disagree with them because thinking like that will make you lazy.
Nothing is guaranteed.
I was already satisfied. It was already fulfilling. I already got what I needed from the x-wing battle and the lightsaber battle, and then the BIGGER lightsaber battle with Rey and Kylo Ren. I was already satisfied.
And then you gave me one more place to go, a very different planet with islands surrounded by a fortress of ocean. You left Chewbacca back at the ship, and you led me up the steps to follow Rey. And we climbed, and climbed, until I almost became impatient. And then we knew that we were going to Luke, even before he appeared in the clearing. And then Rey, never taking her eyes off his, fumbled for his lightsaber. And then she presented it to him. And the world became even bigger than what I thought it had already become.
And though the moment was incomplete, it felt complete. It felt right. It felt like Star Wars again.
“A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.”
This line was spoken near the end of Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, and it’s stuck with me long after the movie ended. It is, I think, the central theme of it all, perfectly describing the human race, it’s/our imperfections, our constant search for trying to make things better, trying to make things perfect, and never ever getting there.
If you look at it a certain way, it’s tragic because it’s inescapable. But if you look at it another way, like a child’s drawing of a butterfly, it becomes its own reason, something simple, beautiful, a good enough reason to try, to keep going.
Tony Stark wanted to make things perfect, to safeguard the Earth and wrap it up, cradle it with his blanket of technology. And he mucked it up temporarily. But he was forgiven.
Natasha Romanoff (“Nat”) wanted to be the touch that calmed Bruce Banner’s rage, and when she couldn’t, she chose to betray his trust and break their bond in order to save everyone else.
Clint Barton sacrificed his own peace and safety, his family, his quiet house, in order to share that peace and safety with his teammates. This segment of the story, in my opinion, is the most important part of the movie. It is the anchor, the comfort food, the warm blanket that Tony Stark wanted to wrap the world around but couldn’t. Just like Popeye’s can of spinach, Barton’s home was the energy boost that everyone needed before they went on to the second round against Ultron.
Lastly, Wanda Maximoff, the lost child of war, the one who feels everything while in control of so many many things, and is simultaneously afraid, lost, awestruck, and vengeful, and constantly looking for guidance. I think the movie is shown most powerfully through her point of view, that of the emerging butterfly, seeing a world for the first time through a new set of experiences as well as the most powerful of tragedies.
I haven’t yet talked about the Vision, because I don’t think it’s his time yet, I think that’s for future Avengers movies. But it will be fascinating following him as he discovers the gray area nuances, triumphs, and failures of the human race, while his technological side aims for black and white perfection.
All this, and some action too.
In the first movie, the Avengers were, understandably, showing off. It was two and a half hours of pissing contests, butting heads, and out-heroing the other guy/gal. In this movie, they don’t have to do that anymore. Director Joss Whedon and his creative team took us down a different path, a slight turn away from the shiny weapons and Fourth of July explosions, even though there were still plenty of those. Along with the action and digital eye candy, we got a relatively deeper story, multiple stories, that cemented the fact that these characters are not caricatures anymore. What made the best action movies better than the rest–from Jaws to Star Wars to Raiders of the Lost Ark, from Die Hard to Braveheart, from last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy to this year’s Daredevil–are the people. With warts and all.
As for me, my own digital, technological, overscheduled life needed this movie. I saw it relatively early on a weekday morning, in a large theater but with only a handful of people, so the energy in the room was different from opening night. I watched it as my mind was just entering the day, uncluttered with detail and worries. I was thankful the movie was loud enough to make the explosions worth hearing, but not so loud that it dulled my senses. I was relaxed throughout the whole thing.
When Hawkeye welcomed us to his house and family, put on his plaid overshirt, hugged his kids and rubbed his wife’s pregnant belly, it comforted me. When Iron Man told Captain America not to steal his chopped up logs, I laughed. When the Black Widow slid her open palm against the Hulk’s open palm to calm him down, and he conceded with trust, I nodded my head. When Clint became Wanda’s surrogate big brother, even for an instant, I understood.
These moments won’t make the frontpage headlines. This isn’t what the kids want to see, it isn’t what sells the popcorn or the Halloween costumes. For some, these moments are unnecessary. But that doesn’t mean they’re not beautiful.
peppers on my tongue,
you make me remember
delaying the water and the milk
and the rest, and the rest
that tasted better
because, it all.
We lost Finn, a rescue cat, today to a feline virus. After months of vet visits and sweat and tears, and Kristie the foster mom’s sleepless nights and days of work and worry to save him, and a group of people pooling together enough money to try experimental drugs and pay for blood tests and whatever, we still lost him.
Finn loved to wait until you bent over to pick something off the ground, then jump and stand on your back forever. Forever. And when you tried to stand up, he would take out his retractable mountain climbing gear and latch onto you, lovingly, painfully, excruciatingly. But there was no malice there, he was just being Finn.
Depending on how he was behaving, he had many names. Finn. Fin-Fin. Finnergan. Finnster. I forget the rest right now.
He had sad-looking eyes that were always happy and content, I don’t know how else to describe them.
He never ran out of hugs, and he hugged like a human, or at least he knew how to hug like a human so that us humans would feel more comfortable around him.
Finn was young when he had to be euthanized. His organs were failing and he couldn’t breathe anymore despite the medication. Everyone knew he was in pain. He wasn’t supposed to suffer anymore.
I will not be talking about this on Facebook or Twitter. This isn’t about “likes” or retweets or shares or how well I can write and make people cry about it. This isn’t supposed to be news that you can swipe through with your thumb.
As for animal rescuers and animal foster parents and anyone who is truly dedicated to animals, I’ve noticed something different about this group compared to other groups. They’re always working. They’re always tired. When you take a picture of their lot, not one person in the picture will be grinning ear-to-ear or making peace symbols, or have a beer in their hand. No one will be high-kicking, or have perfect hair or makeup, or perfect clothes. They will not be posing inside Disneyland.
I write about them but am not one of them; I haven’t done enough to deserve that.
Their focus is not on what group they belong to. It’s not what awards they will win, or where they’ll get written up, or how color-coordinated their t-shirts are. Even though they have an amazing network of people with a variety of knowledge and skills, they’re not into “socializing”, unless it will lead to being able to help even more animals.
Their job and passion and aim is to help, save, and nurture animals, and to help people who need help with their animals. Their job is to save you a $75 vet visit when all you need is a $15 flea treatment or a steamed chicken and rice mix to help settle down your cat’s stomach until the diarrhea goes away.
Now that I think about it, these cat people all have war faces. The kind of faces you see people wear when they’re fighting a seemingly insurmountable battle against an unstoppable enemy. Sometimes the enemy is an insidious disease. Sometimes it’s the carelessness of other human beings. Sometimes it’s bureaucracy. Sometimes it’s lack of resources–food, medicine, donations, volunteers. Sometimes it’s our apathy.
Sometimes it’s the simplest thing, like a dismissive swipe of the thumb to skip past the sick cat that needs help, to get to the world famous cat that’s already getting ten million hits on YouTube.
Between the rise and fall of a leaf caught in a persuasive breeze comes a moment of pause, of reflection.
The roof and the ledge, and the paint, and how they all change the direction of the wind, unless it chooses the height of a cloud.
The storm and the ocean, and the beckoning warmth that feeds it, and the shifting cold that kills it.
Ledge of the sea floor, not deep anymore, show yourself and claim the lives of this island.
Hunger determines its end, either one way or another, one choice or another.
Wrath is the time pressing on beneath a surrender.
Applause will appear as secure as a bliss, but will never be sure of its tender.
Ledge of the floor, not deep anymore, show yourself once as defiant.
Distraction and dot mark time in a way that convinces a man of his staying awake.
The folding of hands, then spreading them out, then walking away and not looking back.
When sanity calls, the numbers recalled, for laws are made to be polished.
Ledge of the floor, not deep anymore, not deep as I had acknowledged.
Stop. Remember what Joseph Campbell said about the dragon scales, what was written on each one:
Thou shalt get to thy appointment by 10am. Thou shalt take thy vitamins. Thou shalt pick up the dry cleaning. Thou shalt have breakfast while checking thy email, watching the TV news, texting to thy colleagues, and trying to hold a conversation with thy loved ones.
On the scales of our own contemporary dragons is the word “more”, which isn’t too far off the old “thou shalt”. For some reason, we want more. We need more. And to have more, we create circumstances that give us permission to indulge in this “more”, and we have renamed the permission. We now call it “errands”.
It isn’t enough that we simply sit and talk. There’s enough to talk about, since we now have access to more information than ever. One hour’s worth of surfing the Internet will yield at least an hour of good discussion, and yet we don’t do that. Instead of ruminating, tasting, savoring these wonderful spoonfuls of knowledge, absorbing it into our blood and feeding ourselves with its nutrients, we gulp it down and shove it through the system. We go through it so fast that we soon feel hungry again.
My God, the Higgs boson particle. My God, the mapping of the human genome. My God, the treatment of cancer without having to use embryonic stem cells.
My God, our first black president. My God, a woman president. My God, a goal for equality for all. Just these topics could engage a dinner table with amazing conversation for at least seven sittings.
Instead, we re-tweet an article we never finished reading. Its title was good enough, on to the next good title. We watch five-minute videos that are so overproduced that there is nothing left for our imaginations to contribute. We come to the dinner table with an arsenal of half-topics and a constant flood of new topics lighting up our mobile devices every ten seconds.
Our phones ring, we take the call. We respond to every text as if it were a game of dominoes, as if we will lose if we don’t lay down the next tile. Every person we know is organized into folders, subgroups, chat rooms, virtual hangouts, and is represented by a geolocated icon. But if we ever run into these people, we will only have two minutes to talk, with one of those minutes spent synchronizing the address book on our cell phones.
Yes, more gets done. We have more notches on our virtual belt of accomplishment, of being acknowledged as “one that has done a lot”. But what did we really do besides regurgitate?
One of these days, I will have a one-hour, face-to-face conversation with someone, about a small handful of topics. Our phones will not ring because we will leave them behind, turned off, in the glove compartment. We will not have the crutch of technology to verify our facts and opinions. We will make mistakes. We will get less done. And life will go on.
I downloaded this app http://www.font.my/
and made a font from my own handwriting. It’s not perfect but not bad. Here’s a sample:
The words are from one of my poems, “a.m.”:
the streetlamps dim
to push sleep past the sidewalk
up through windows
like an ether
with a deep breath that never exhales
collapsing with the smog and the traffic
until asphalt footsteps are as loud
as the ringing in your ears
and four o’clock comes
from endless birdsongs
as if it were
My mom described it best:
“It looks like Tacloban went in a shredder and was spit out.”
The Philippines was never a bright, colorful Disney movie, at least not where the people live. Where the people live, it’s often overcast with a haze from pollution or the latest storm, or a combination of both. Humidity is high, so the air in front of you is not quite clear. Pockets of government are corrupt, continuing this lack of clarity. The country is financially poor. The streets aren’t swept by big vacuuming trucks once a week like in America, so the scum and trash that were brought in by the last storm stay until the next storm brings its own. Nothing looks new.
I watch the news on an oversaturated television and want to turn the color down. I want to turn to a standard definition channel, where the pixels aren’t as crisp. I want to lower the brightness and minimize the contrast. I want to turn off the stereo sound.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper is a good guy, and I know he means well. But his eloquent, almost poetic narration just doesn’t match. His American cadence combined with first-world broadcasting and editing equipment is too polished, too perfect, for this country that is far, very far, from perfect. It needs to be closer to gray.
They need to show the mud-encrusted feet of the Filipinos, unprotected except for the thin soles of rubber flip-flops, tsinelas. They need to stand a local boy, dressed in a kamiseta, a plain tanktop shirt, and hand-me down shorts, next to an American soldier, with his steel-toed boots, flak jacket and helmet. They need to show the corrugated steel roofs that, under even perfect conditions, barely protected the homes of the poor.
I watch the news, and I cry for the country of my birth, the country that I and my family left when I was seven years old. I shake my head, wondering if the actual truths of this third-world country will ever be understood by a first-world country like America, with its wall-to-wall carpeting and two-car garages, its wine-tasting and fitness trails, its color-matched bathroom linens and traffic lights. I wonder when the Philippines will once again fade into the background without rectification.
When I was a young design student, a classmate showed me on an Apple computer how to brighten a picture, to make the blacks really black and the brights really bright, and to increase saturation so the people in the photograph “popped out” more. And then he put the two versions side-by-side, with the before photo on the left and the after photo on the right.
On the left is where I came from. On the right is where I went, where I am now.