Sunday, May 29, 2011

The World Is Round

Jet lag is a funny thing. I think it goes beyond your body readjusting its sleep schedule; you can feel dizzy, and like you're floating, generally unattached to the earth. As if your body has landed but not all the parts are quite present yet. Last week, a writer friend from home arrived here in Melbourne and was having some jet lag issues, the same issues I'd had the week before when I'd arrived in Sydney, and she mentioned a book called Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson. The book is about a lot of things, but the thing she explained to me is that (please note, this is me paraphrasing something she paraphrased, so apologies if I get this wrong) the main character has a unique take on jet lag, something along the lines of, your soul can't travel as fast as your body, so it takes a little time for the soul to catch up and reunite itself with the rest of you. Or, if you've read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, think of being stretched apart from your dæmon, then allowed to reunite again. I love thinking of jet lag this way! It seems right to me.

Today I'm looking at it from the opposite direction: I leave Australia tomorrow, and today I can feel my soul digging in its heels. It's happy here. It doesn't like change and it doesn't want to go home, and its protests are leaving me quite disoriented. So I'm trying to explain to it that we have to go home, and that it really will be okay. I brought myself to St. Kilda today and just looked out over the water, looked south at the big boats leaving Port Phillip Bay, to remind my soul that leaving is something people do. I wondered where the boats were going. Tasmania? I stood there at the edge of the water and thought about how far I am from home, so far it almost can't be believed.

Then I backed my perspective up a bit and imagined the earth from above, with me standing tiny on this little point near the edge of the bottom of Australia. I kept backing up until I could see the whole world, and realized that the water I was looking at was connected to the water where my sisters live, my friends and family, all over the world. I saw them standing tiny on their little points. The further you back up your view, the more you realize you are home. Maybe tomorrow, I'm not so much leaving as going back to my usual side.

This beautiful trip has been about places, but like all of my recent trips, it's turned out to be more about people -- friends. As I re-settle into my regular life, I'm sure I'll be blogging about it. Maybe I'll start at the end, like I'm doing right now, and work my way back to the beginning.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Two Recent Song Purchases, Plus, Leaving on a Jetplane

As this post publishes, I'll be recovering from my flight to L.A. and preparing to board my plane to Sydney. If you check back here 15 hours later, I'll still be on that plane, a bit grumpier and with bigger feet. A reminder that my appearance schedule for Sydney and Melbourne is here.

In other news, those of you who receive my blog posts as e-mails may be wondering why you've been receiving so many random e-mails in the past few days. It turns out that Blogger has been having some hiccups and sneezes, but all should be well again now. My apologies!

So, the Beatles song "Norwegian Wood" is about an asswipe with a sense of entitlement who sets a woman's room on fire with seemingly little provocation, but you might not notice that, since it's such a cheerful-sounding song, with a bouncy melody in a major key. :o) I enjoy the juxtaposition, not complaining, but one of the many things I love about the Aaron English Band's mashup of "Norwegian Wood" and Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" is that it's creepy. If this guy came into my room and started leering at my Norwegian wood, hell, forget the bath -- it'd be straight back out into the hallway for him. I LOVE the minor key setup with occasional flashes into the major key. I love Aaron English's eerie, beautiful vocal interpretation -- a series of great decisions for this song. (He is WAY too excited about the Norwegian wood, and listen (below) to the way he says, "biding my time, drinking her wine." *shudder*) I love the flute. I love that there are tiny little hints of "Kashmir" seeping in -- not the strange Kashmir-ish time signatures, but hints of the chord patterns. (What do I mean by that? I'm not sure how well I can explain it, but try this. First, listen to Thing 1: the guitar from 0:13- 0:22. Then, listen to Thing 2: the guitar chords from 4:11 - 4:27. Can you hear how Thing 1 hints at Thing 2? Imagine Thing 1 shifting a little bit, and breaking out of its cage. Mightn't it sound like Thing 2? If you can't hear it yet, try listening to Thing 2 first, then Thing 1. Thing 1 is from this band's version of "Norwegian Wood," and Thing 2 is immediately recognizable as "Kashmir" to anyone who knows the song. Also, the bass you can hear in the background starting at 0:23 (that's a bass, right? I don't really know my guitars) makes me think of Kashmir, but with descending notes instead of ascending. IMO, the entirety of this "Norwegian Wood" sounds like a song being played in anticipation of "Kashmir." While also sounding like "Norwegian Wood.")

The "Kashmir" part of the mashup, OTOH, seems to be pretty purely "Kashmir." I'm not catching any hints of "Norwegian Wood," though my ears could certainly be missing something. Actually, guaranteed, my ears are missing plenty things, but they're taking in enough to know that they love it. The lyrics of "Kashmir" are not my favorite (incomprehensible + cultural appropriation that makes me uncomfortable), but the music is AWESOME, of course, and the guitars have always struck me as A Reason to Learn Guitar. What a great couple of songs to put together! And thank you, Aaron English Band, for sharing the song on youtube and enabling embedding so that I can share it here. Readers, if you like it, do buy it!

My other recent song purchase is the motet "Ubi Caritas" by Paul Mealor. I purchased it from The Royal Wedding -- The Official Album. You are welcome to sneer at me for that. I suggest you listen to it first.

Happy taking off and happy touching down, everyone, in whatever sense that applies to you :o).

Thursday, May 12, 2011

"And the Whole World Collapsed"

In my last post, while (gracelessly) complaining about the way some nonprofit organizations try to drum up support in my neighborhood, I mentioned that before I contribute to a particular organization, I like to do research on it and seek outside opinions. At the end of this post, I explain *how* I do that, and give links to help you if you want to do the same thing.

But first, over at her blog There's a Botticelli Angel Inside, Snapping Beans, Rebecca Rabinowitz is trying to get some straight answers about the difference between the UK text of Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass and the American text. If you're knowledgeable on this subject, please head on over and enlighten us.

Trigger warning: the next three paragraphs are about a documentary I just saw on the subject of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the spectacular denial of Church officials. I will be brief and non-explicit, but that is the topic at hand, up until the bold Researching Nonprofits title.

Deliver Us From Evil (2006), by filmmaker Amy Berg, tells the true story of pedophile Father Oliver O'Grady, who molested, abused, and raped over twenty children while serving as a priest in several parishes in northern California from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. It also exposes just a few of the many priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes who treated, and still treat, this kind of abuse as a PR problem rather than a criminal outrage with victims who are left traumatized, alone, lost, and betrayed. Here is a quote from Father Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer and historian (and a decent man): "It's futile to ask the question, 'How can this [cover up] be? Why does this happen?' The system -- the monarchical, hierarchical governmental system that the people in charge of the Roman Catholic Church, from the Pope on down, firmly believed was willed by Almighty God -- is the reason why Roger Mahony [the Archbishop of Los Angeles at the time of the O'Grady cover up] is believed to be substantially more important and better than the children who were ravaged by Oliver O'Grady."

The title of my post is a quote spoken by the father of one of the victims while describing the conversation he had with his daughter in which she admitted, finally, after decades, that the priest he'd invited into their house had molested and raped her for seven years. This documentary wasn't easy to watch, but I strongly recommend it.

The one thing I felt was lacking was a list of organizations that support the victims of this kind of abuse; I wanted to know if there was some way I could help, and somewhere to point interested readers; but it didn't take much googling to uncover some possibilities. One is SNAP, or Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. From their website: "We are the largest, oldest and most active support group for women and men wounded by religious authority figures (priests, ministers, bishops, deacons, nuns and others). We are an independent and confidential organization, with no connections with the church or church officials. We are also a non-profit, certified 501 (c) (3) organization." And SNAP gave me a list of links to lots of other organizations -- check them out, if you like. Those links of course, lead to other links, all of which got me thinking that maybe I should explain the way I choose which organizations, out of the gazillions, to support -- in case it would be helpful to any of my readers trying to navigate the same terrain!

Researching Nonprofits

So. Not all charities are efficient, consistent, or transparent, and some, on occasion, are even dishonest or unethical. I just feel like it's good sense to look into a nonprofit, any nonprofit, even the big, famous ones, before donating. Usually what I do is try to learn as much as I can *about* the org, reading its website and maybe asking friends, so that I'm not surprised later to learn that I disagree with some of its positions or practices. But then I take it one step further than that -- I open up the websites for a few of the charity watchdogs out there and see if I can learn more.

Do you know about charity watchdogs? They're independent orgs that keep an eye on charitable, nonprofit organizations, study them, rate them, and provide reports about them for consumers. If you google the term "charity watchdog," you'll come up with sites like The American Institute of Philanthropy's, Charity Navigator, and the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance. (Disclaimer: I think these are all for USA charities only -- non-USAians might have to do some more creative searching!) If you're lucky, one of the watchdogs will yield some sort of report on the charitable organization you're wondering about. All you'll have to do is type the charity's name into the box, hit enter, and follow the site's guidelines for how to interpret the results. If you're less lucky, your organization will be one of the MANY organizations none of the big watchdogs have gotten to yet, and you'll have to do some more intensive research. Luckily, Charity Navigator has a page with some clear and helpful instructions and tools for pulling up your nonprofit's public tax return and analyzing it yourself. That probably sounds like an APPALLING activity, but I just used their tools/instructions to take a closer look at SNAP, and not only was it pretty straightforward, it was kind of interesting! Did you know that 501 (c) (3) organizations are required to report how much their CEOs get paid? Tax returns that aren't yours can be a little bit fascinating.

Having done my research, I now feel good about donations to SNAP. I am not in love with some things about their website -- links that unexpectedly download files when you click on them are not cool, and why can't I find a schedule for the upcoming national conference? But overall, I feel good about the work they're doing!

That's the news.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Walk in the Neighborhood, Charitable Orgs, and a Little Bit of Bones

It makes me happy that mail carriers understand the importance of getting your Netflix to the mailbox in time for pickup, to expedite the delivery of your next movie. I left my house a little later than I meant to the other day and saw the mailman down the street, beside the blue mailbox, getting into his truck, about to drive away. When he saw me running toward him with my red envelope, he stopped his truck and waited for me. :o)

To the charitable organizations with a policy of stationing aggressive representatives in Harvard and Central Squares to target sympathetic-looking pedestrians for donations: I do research into nonprofits before donating to them, I seek the opinions of people outside the organization as to whether the organization is going to use my money wisely, and I do not make split decisions about such matters on the street. To the charitable organizations that instruct their representatives to yell questions along the lines of, "Hi! Do you have a minute for the environment?": I have lots of minutes for the environment. What I don't have a minute for is you. Your phrasing is manipulative and rude and it makes me determined to give my money to an environmental organization that is not you. Just sayin'. Chances are I like the work your organization does, but I surely don't like the way you're trying to get me to support you.

(Please note that my quarrel is with the organizations, not the representatives who are only doing their jobs. Also, BTW, here's a tiny handful of favorite nonprofits I've done my research on and would like to plug: Doctors Without Borders. Pathfinder. The American Indian College Fund. All great orgs to contribute to.)

So, randomness is good, right? Which is why I'm going to talk about Bones now. I sniffled my way through last week's episode, "The Signs in the Silence." I cannot NOT cry when Bones herself is near tears.

One of the things that makes Bones so dear to me is that she's stuck behind her own inability to express her feelings, especially when she senses they are irrational. And when she's feeling a lot of feelings, her struggle with her own inability to express them causes the feelings to get jammed up and burst out everywhere willy-nilly, in a way that's outside her control. She's a person who normally seems cold, except for when it couldn't be more obvious, from the feelings flying everywhere, that she has an enormous heart. From the writer's perspective, she's also an awesome narrative tool, because she can say sentimental things that, by virtue of them coming out of her mouth, do not sound sentimental.

Plus, in this last episode, there were no embarrassingly shameless plugs for Toyota! Though I expect that as usual, the science in the episode was crap. I don't watch Bones for the science or the mystery; I watch it for the relationships, the heart, and the humor. I jot down the verbal exchanges when they amuse me. A few exchanges between Bones (forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan, played by Emily Deschanel) and her partner in murder-solving, FBI agent Seeley Booth (played by David Boreanaz):

BONES [looking skeptical]: Do you even know what superconductivity is?
BOOTH: I know it's better than regular conductivity.

BOOTH: These honesty people tell more lies than the average bear.
BONES [looking skeptical]: Upon what criteria are you determining that the bear is average?
BOOTH: ... How many lies it tells?

BONES [looking skeptical]: There's a rational explanation for his powers. It's not magic.
BOOTH: Maybe not, but it sure is magicky.

BOOTH: Bones, you think a potato gun and a beanbag gun could generate the same fig newtons per square inch?
BONES [looking exasperated]: It's just newtons, Booth.

Finally, a nice exchange between (atheist, pragmatist, and skeptic) Bones and (God-fearing, practicing Catholic) Booth. This takes place in a graveyard, at the end of possibly the funniest Bones episode ever, "The Double Death of the Dearly Departed" (link is to a promotional youtube vid for the episode):

BOOTH: Look, if I die, I want you to do me a favor --
BONES: Well, you will die, Booth. It's inevitable.
BOOTH: All right, whatever, Bones. When I inevitably drop dead before you, I'd like you to come out and, you know, spend some time and talk to me every once in a while.
BONES [looking skeptical]: Well, I'll feel foolish knowing that you can't hear me.
BOOTH: Promise me.
BONES [after a pause]: I promise.

(I think that sometimes she expresses her feelings better than she knows. ^_^)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Regarding "The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going to Miss Almost Everything"

After two weeks of lovely, restful travel I am back home and am blogging from my red couch. So many things to do. I have about 40 books out from the library (mostly for work), about 150 movies on my Netflix queue (many for work!), a megaton of email (mostly work-related!), lots and lots of, um, work, less than two weeks until I fly to Australia, my Christmas cactus is in bloom, an orchid died, and the flowering trees in Cambridge are all abud. (Isn't "abud" a word? The dotted red line is telling me it isn't. I'm going to use it anyway.)

Fueled by my outrage, encouraged by friends, and armed with some great suggestions, I'm moving forward with opening a new checking account at a bank that doesn't suck, and closing my Bank of America account. (I blogged about my banking rage in an earlier post.) Have you heard of community development banks? They're commercial banks, but they have a mission to generate economic development in low-to-moderate income communities, and serve those communities. Imagine, for a moment, banking with an institution that tries to do some good in the world with the money you lend them and/or the fees you pay. What an idea. It almost makes your head explode, doesn't it? Thanks to my pals, and especially to D, for getting me on the right track.

Also thanks to CW for linking me to Linda Holmes' post at NPR's blog Monkey See: "The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going to Miss Almost Everything." It's a sad, beautiful, and even joyful look at the impossibility of any of us ever doing all the things we want to do -- and especially reading all the books we want to read -- in one lifetime. We may as well surrender -- and be grateful that the world has such a wealth of art for us to surrender to. The post makes me teary and very happy to be alive.

It also makes me want to get off my laptop and stop rattling around among my own thoughts. Bye, everyone!

Monday, May 2, 2011

And Thereto I Give Thee My Troth

Text messages on the morning of the royal wedding:
CORDELIA: What is a troth?

ME: It's a kind of trowl.


So. In Verdi's opera Il Trovatore, the handsome, maniacal stalker Count di Luna is determined to have the lovely, brainless Leonora, but much to his fury (which is a passion raging fiery in his breast, or some such -- he goes on and on about it), she has fallen in love instead with a gasbag named Manrico who frequently flies off the handle at the slightest provocation. Unluckily for all three of these bombastic individuals, Manrico's stepmother Azucena is harboring a secret: the Count and Manrico, sworn rivals, are actually brothers. To avenge her mother, who was murdered by the Count's and Manrico's father a very long time ago, Azucena leads the Count, Leonora, and Manrico to tragic ends.

Welcome to the world of a certain brand of tragic, romantic, unintentionally-comic opera, everyone. The music is gorgeous and everyone is completely insane and it is frankly kind of awesome and hilarious. There is a scene in this opera wherein Leonora has taken poison in order to save Manrico's life -- specifically, she has promised herself to Count di Luna in return for the Count sparing Manrico's life, but then taken a fatal poison to thwart the Count's desire -- and Manrico, not knowing she's taken the poison, is yelling at her (interminably) for betraying his love. In the meantime, Leonora is flopping on the floor in front of him (on account of the poison), but he's so wound up in his rage that he doesn't notice she seems a little under the weather. Finally, she sings, "I am dying!" He gasps in grief and horror and is like, "NO WAY!" I mean, seriously? Good grief.

Anyway. Did you know that lots of movie theaters all over the world play simultaneous (IOW, live) broadcasts of performances of the Metropolitan Opera? My parents took me to one this weekend and it was fun; I am not generally a fan of opera music -- quite the opposite -- but it's different when you can see it performed. The sets are AMAZING and I particularly fell for Dmitri Hvorostovsky as the evil Count di Luna and Dolora Zajick as Azucena, the woman avenging her mother. If you have a passing familiarity with classical music, there's a good chance you'd recognize the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore. (FYI, the production in that video link is not the Met production). Check and see whether there's a theater near you for watching one of these spectacles. It made me want to go to an opera at the Met for real.