Monday, February 28, 2011

It Still Moves

     I just recently visited the Gene Autry museum of the American West, and I picked up a cheap book called "It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways and the Search for the Next American Music."  I'm inconceivably thrilled to read it.

     The book starts with the following epigram: "A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image."  - Joan Didion

     In the meantime I am plugging through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Chronicles of Narnia.

     Other suggestions??

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Capitalist National Treasure

Lake Mead and its dramatically falling water levels.   
     After having spent the last few days in Las Vegas, I could write about any number of social issues.  I could write about the dignity of women (and men), or lack thereof, in a city where people line the streets handing out prostitution business cards.  I could write about the unnecessary decadence in a city that draws its energy and water from resources that are being visibly depleted.  Take a look at the picture of Lake Mead, which lies behind the Hoover Dam.  Its water levels are dropping drastically due to shamefully wasteful practices in California, Arizona, and Nevada.  The once mighty Colorado River can no longer even make its way to the Pacific Ocean as anything more than a trickle.  I could write about the escapist behaviors that once set this city apart from the rest of the country but are now permeating American culture.  What happens in Vegas, after all, never really stays in Vegas.
     But truly, these are all things that I knew I would encounter in a town that proudly claims the title of Sin City, and as such I had no visceral reactions toward any of the nonsense.  Disappointment that Las Vegas is perhaps the city that is most indicative of American culture, yes.  But also somehow coupled with a sense of apathy. 
     I did get angry unexpectedly, however, upon trying to visit the Grand Canyon.  Perhaps ironic that events outside of Vegas actually got me more worked up than anything Sin City could muster.  My aunt and I decided to get out of the city and drive over to Arizona to see the West rim of the Grand Canyon which lies in the Hualapai Indian Reservation.  A foolproof plan, we thought.  We drove miles and miles and miles through the Mojave desert, surrounded by red rock and Joshua trees, and as we climbed higher into the mountains, by junipers and snow.  We drove carefully through 20 miles of unpaved mountainous terrain before reaching a road block.
     We were instructed to park and enter the visitor's center.  Evidently the tribe owns the land at Grand Canyon West, and they can charge whatever prices they want for people who want to ooh and awe at the magnificent natural land features.  They asked a paltry $45 per person to ride a shuttle the remaining few miles over to the rim.  And if you want to try out their SkyWalk, a glass bridge that extends out into the canyon so that you can look down into its mouth, well, you've got to fork over another $40.  Appalled, we turned around and drove away. 
This is the closest I was able to get to the Grand Canyon.
     I was disgusted with the idea that natural beauty should be commercialized like that.  As an AmeriCorps volunteer living on a stipend that comes to about $4/hour before taxes, I literally did not have enough money to see one of America's most distinctive features.  Here I was ready to be moved with awe at America's natural grandeur, my heart already swelling with national pride as we climbed into the mountains, and lo and behold, capitalistic nonsense shoves its foot right down America's throat. 

Monday, February 21, 2011


     Amid my recent apprehensions about the mind numbing pace of technological advances (go read the Time article about the singularity, and you'll know what I mean), a priest's homily gave me some perspective.  He told a joke.

     There were some biomedical engineers working in a lab, and one day after years of grueling work, they finally announced that they had developed a technique that allowed them to create life.  God came to them and said, "So you think you've found the secret, do you?"
"Yes, we now have the technology to create life.  Your services are no longer needed."
"Ok, prove it."
So they began mixing some mud and water together.
"What do you think you're doing?" asked God.
"We're creating life.  This is the first step," said the scientists petulantly.
"Ok well where'd you get the mud from?  That's my mud.  Get your own materials."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

From the City of Angels to the City of Sin

     I'm getting ready to go on an a weekend trip to check off a few more states on my list.  I'm going to visit my aunt in Las Vegas for a few days, and we're taking a side trip to the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon.  Check and check! 
     As I'm packing and cleaning before leaving, I'm thinking about the monikers we give to our cities and what significance they might have. 

LA - City of Angels
NYC - Empire City
Vegas - City of Sin
Pittsburgh - Steel City
Detroit - Motor City
Chicago - Windy City

    What truth do they hold about the people who live there and/or the people that pass through?  It makes me giggle a little to think that the City of Sin lies in such close proximity to the City of Angels.  Perfect for those weekend getaways to blow off steam.  We've created something of a sacred geography in this country that fascinates me endlessly.
     I've never actually visited Las Vegas before, and I'm trying to withhold judgment, but I've a sneaking suspicion that it won't be my very favorite of the great American cities.  I guess I'll be looking to see what kind of things God is up to in Sin City, or if there's room for Him at all.  It very well might be that because that city needs Him the most, I might unexpectedly find His work in the cracks between the concrete. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Art of Journaling

     I recently found a creative writing journal of mine from senior year of high school, and I have to say that I'm rather impressed with my confidence and optimism.  One of my assignments in that particular class was to write an entry about where you saw yourself in 10 years. 
     "I hope to be an advocate for poverty awareness... I hope to be able to change people's opinions about third world countries.  With the current state of affairs in places like Darfur in the Sudan how can countries like the US remain unmoving?  It's so important to me that people become aware about what's going on in the world, and that we can all make a difference."

An Untitled Poem from High School
He has hands like yours.
He has a face, and hair,
and lungs, and a heart like yours.
He breathes, and he sweats,
and he coughs, and he bleeds,
and he cries like you.

But he is on the other side of the world,
so when he screams in pain
you cannot hear.
You close your ears to block out the sound
you don't want to hear.
And you sit on your couch,
on your cushy couch,
in your air conditioned life
where it is easy to forget.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

Be Mine XOXO

Happy Valentine's Day! 

I bought flowers, dark chocolate, and red wine for my roommates today.  And I played Frank Sinatra while we were making dinner.  It was glorious.

Here are some snippets from my favorite love poetry:


Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved. 

William Shakespeare
On Love
When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep,
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
  Khalil Gibran
The Passionate Shephard to His Love

1 Come live with me and be my love,
2 And we will all the pleasures prove,
3 That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
4 Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

5 And we will sit upon the rocks,
6 Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
7 By shallow rivers, to whose falls
8 Melodious birds sing madrigals.

9 And I will make thee beds of roses,
10 And a thousand fragrant posies,
11 A cap of flowers and a kirtle
12 Embroider'd all with leaves of myrtle:

13 A gown made of the finest wool,
14 Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
15 Fair lined slippers for the cold,
16 With buckles of the purest gold:

17 A belt of straw and ivy buds,
18 With coral clasps and amber studs;
19 And if these pleasures may thee move,
20 Come live with me and be my love.

21 The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
22 For thy delight each May morning;
23 If these delights thy mind may move,
24 Then live with me and be my love.
Christopher Marlowe

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hamburgers and Heart Attacks

It ain't that big. The whole United States ain't that big. It ain't that big. It ain't big enough. There ain't room enough for you an' me, for your kind an' my kind, for rich and poor together all in one country, for thieves and honest men. For hunger and fat.
The Grapes of Wrath
      There is a homeless man named Mike who has been living at the end of our street.  One of my roomies and I thought it would be good to bring him some food a few days ago.  We went to Subway and ordered a meatball sub (we thought it would be good to get something warm since it has been getting rather chilly at night around here). 
     When we took it to him, he was definitely grateful.  We hadn't seen him in a few days, so we asked where he had been, and as it turns out Mike had just been released from the hospital.  He had had a heart attack a few days before, and someone had called an ambulance.  He's 58.  His diet consists of a daily pint of beer and a hamburger from Jack in the Box.  It's what he can afford.
     I've written before about the deplorable state of the American food industry, but it became all the more apparent to me after talking with Mike.  It's cheaper for Mike, and other homeless citizens like him, to get a daily meal from a fast food joint than it is for them to get fresh fruits and vegetables.  His diet leads to poor health, and then taxpayers have to cover his medical bills. 
     Something needs to change.  To my eyes, it's the food industry.  If we make fruits, vegetables, and whole grains cheaper, people (poor and wealthy alike) would be more likely to buy them, and we would alleviate an unthinkable number of the stresses on our healthcare system.  If we can't do it out of concern for the people who hurt the most from social ills, then surely Americans can begin to make changes out of concern for their taxdollars and pocketbooks.  

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Attitude is Everything

     This snippet came from the Sunday bulletin at the Catholic Church I've been going to:
Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.
Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, and pray continually.
Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass... it's about learning to dance in the rain.  It's not what you gather, but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you have lived. 
Life is too short to wake up with regrets.
Love the people who treat you right, and pray for the ones who don't.


There could be love.
     Jonas, The Giver