Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"I could have been a signpost, could have been a clock/As simple as a kettle, steady as a rock."

The Song: "One of These Things First," Nick Drake. Words & music by Nick Drake. Track 4 of Bryter Layter, 1970.
When/how acquired: Purchased CD, 2004.
Listen/watch here.

My elementary school library was small, but at least three shelves were dedicated to Bobbs-Merrill's "Childhood of Famous Americans" series, biographies that humanized the great names of American history by showing us episodes from their early years. These episodes may or may not have been true; the books were meant to be moral guides as much as anything else, and most people who become famous as adults don't have biographers keeping track of their childhood achievements.

Typically, my favorite of these books made no pretense at all at nonfiction. This was Virginia Dare, Mystery Girl by Augusta Stevenson, who wrote about a dozen of these books, including volumes on Benjamin Franklin, Molly Pitcher, Buffalo Bill and the Wright Brothers. Virginia Dare was, of course, the first English child born in the New World, part of Sir Walter Raleigh's Lost Colony. She disappeared with everyone else sometime between 1587 and 1590, but legends persisted of a blonde girl who lived among the Chowanocs, and an 18th-century surveyor reported meeting Hatteras people who had gray eyes.

Virginia Dare, Mystery Girl was pure speculation about the young Virginia's life as an adopted member of a native tribe (adopted by the chief, naturally). The book was originally published in 1958 and has not been brought back into print with other titles in the series -- maybe because it was fiction, maybe because its treatment of native cultures would now seem ignorant and insensitive. The book's hard to find; I'm seeing only two copies on ABEBooks.com right now, one priced at $30, one at $87.19. My birthday's in November . . .

Anyway, I read the book so many times my mother told me to stop checking it out of the library, and what I remember about it was a climactic scene in which the young Virginia proved her standing as a member of the tribe by beating a rival at something called "mudwalking." According to this book, the Chesapeake Indians hunted waterfowl in the swamps, and used their children to walk across the surface of the marshes in order to retrieve fallen birds. The mud is like quicksand, full of sinkholes, and adults were too heavy; children were light and could move fast enough to get across and back without being sucked in.

That image of mudwalking, of moving fast enough to avoid breaking a surface, captured my imagination. According to Ms. Stevenson, the key was to keep your feet moving, and not look down. I tried it myself, in puddles and muddy fields, but could never get it right. My feet stuck, and I knew that if I'd been Virginia Dare, I'd have drowned in quicksand.

But I never forgot the image or the metaphor, and sometimes I think I've been mudwalking ever since. As another month ends and another season turns, I understand that my days of mudwalking are coming to an end. At some point I will have to stop moving from task to task, look down, and get real about all those other things I could have been or done.

Monday, May 30, 2011

"She said, 'I'm tired of the war/I want the kind of work I had before/A wedding dress, or something white/To wear upon my swollen appetite."

The Song: "Joan of Arc," Jennifer Warnes. Words & music by Leonard Cohen. Track 4 of Famous Blue Raincoat, 1987.
When/how acquired: Purchased cassette, 1987.
Listen/watch here.

Today is both Memorial Day and the feast of St. Joan of Arc, which feels appropriate. Joan was 16 when she left home -- at the direction, she said, of the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine -- to fight for Charles VII against the Burgundians and the English invaders. At the age of 17, she led Charles' troops to victory and watched as he was crowned King of France.

Some records say that she wanted to go home then, but she saw that the English remained in France and needed to be expelled, and that Charles' policy of appeasing the Burgundians would lead to disaster. Indeed, the Burgundians kept fighting, despite Charles' ruinous truce with them, and Joan was captured in Compi├Ęgne in May 1430. John of Luxembourg, an ally of the Duke of Burgundy, sold Joan to the English for a fortune, and the English used a corrupt Bishop to try Joan for witchcraft.

Joan was charged with heresy and with "difformitate habitus," degenerate or monstrous dress -- the military apparel that disguised her gender and protected her from rape. She was heard to say that she wanted to wear a dress, but wearing a dress in prison left her even more vulnerable to threats of rape. Her friends brought her soldier's clothing again, and she insisted on wearing it -- the trousers tied to her blouse and jerkin, offering her some protection -- even though she knew it would prove the charges against her.

She was burned at the stake as a heretic on May 30, 1431, looking at a cross and calling the name of Jesus. The campaign to clear her name began within a generation, but her sainthood was not finally proclaimed until 1909. She is, of course, the patron saint of France, but also of soldiers (particularly female soldiers), prisoners, captives, and rape victims.

Her story reminds us that death is not the worst thing that can happen to soldiers in wartime, and that devotion to a righteous cause can often approach the divine.

Today, on Memorial Day, I particularly remember my father's college roommate, LTJG Danny Moran, killed in action off the USS Coral Sea on January 15, 1967. I don't remember Lieutenant Moran, but his widow, Kelly, was a much-loved presence of my childhood, and she would probably be surprised to know how often I still think of her.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"I find sometimes it's easy to be myself/Sometimes I find it's better to be somebody else."

The Song: "So Much to Say," Dave Matthews Band. Words & music by David J. Matthews, Peter Griesar, and Boyd Tinsley. Track 1 of Crash, 1996.
When/how acquired: Purchased CD, 1996.
Listen/watch here.

I was first on stage at the age of five, in an adaptation of Peter Pan by the Linden Knoll School. My twin sister and I played Lost Boys, and sang "I Won't Grow Up" and -- if memory serves -- "A Pirate's Life." We wore ugly olive-green shirts and shorts, and sported very short haircuts. It was the best time I had had in my life to that point. I liked the glamor of it, I liked the applause, but most of all I liked the pretending.

Theater is one of the oldest human art forms. I would argue that it is the most valuable. Of all the fine arts, theater is the one that teaches us empathy. It challenges us to imagine what it's like to be someone else, dealing with situations we'll never face in real life.

Those performance reality shows don't interest me -- not "American Idol," not "X Factor," not "The Voice," -- because that culture of stardom is diametrically opposed, even inimical, to what I value about live performance. Live performance, to me, is not about adulation of the individual. It's about exploring alternate realities with others in order to find new ways to connect. It's about diffusing oneself, not concentrating it, trying new selves on in an effort to make our real selves kinder and more insightful. The best theatrical productions are not star vehicles; they're ensembles in which the whole is greater than sum of its parts.

I think, I hope, The Importance of Being Earnest is that kind of ensemble. We're all having a great time up there. We make each other laugh and admire each other's work, and I think that shows. I'm so glad to have had that experience, and sad we only have five performances left. I'll miss it when it's over.

If you'd like to come see us, performances continue tonight, tomorrow, and next Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Call 207-626-3698 or visit Gaslight Theater's website for details.

Friday, May 27, 2011

"Having been some days in preparation,/A splendid time is guaranteed for all."

The Song: "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" The Beatles. Words & music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Track 7 from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967.
When/how acquired: Gift LP, c. 1977.
Listen/watch here.

The Importance of Being Earnest opens tonight at Gaslight Theater. Shows run tonight, tomorrow, Sunday afternoon, next Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. We're having a good time with it. The weather's supposed to be crummy again this weekend, so if you're in the area, you should come see us.

This was one of the first albums I ever owned, and is one of a handful I've owned in three formats. It's one of those permanent works of art I take for granted. I won't listen to it for months, or even longer, but will hear something from it again and think, "Wow, that's just amazing." It always sounds fresh to me, and I hear new things in it every time.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"You know I like it, though/I like this car a lot."

The Song: "Dodge Veg-O-Matic," The Modern Lovers. Words & music by Jonathan Richman. Track 9 of Rock N Roll with The Modern Lovers, 1977.
When/how acquired: Purchased cut-out cassette, c. 1984.
Listen/watch here.

When haters call Jonathan Richman "precious," this is probably the album they're talking about. It is unapologetically a kids' album for adults, featuring not only this song but others called "Ice Cream Man" and "Rockin Rockin Leprechauns," plus a cover of "The Wheels on the Bus" that features a monster. (I used to sing that one to a little girl I babysat, whose mother wasn't thrilled that her two-year-old was singing about monsters.) Still, I defy you to listen to this album and stay in a bad mood.

My own car is still moving, unlike the Dodge Veg-o-Matic. It does need some work, which I'll probably have done sometime in the next couple of weeks. It's not a small amount of money, but it's less than a car payment plus insurance on a new car would be, which makes it acceptable.

We're having a second consecutive day of sunshine here in central Maine, which is making me feel almost recklessly optimistic. Last night's final dress rehearsal of The Importance of Being Earnest went very well indeed, and I find myself talking like Lady Bracknell even offstage, which is becoming annoying even to me. Still, Lady Bracknell is easier company than my last major role (Sister Aloysius in Doubt). The weather's supposed to get rotten again this weekend, so you might as well come see us, if you're anywhere in the neighborhood. Details are here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"I need to laugh, and when the sun is out/I've got something I can laugh about."

The Song: "Good Day Sunshine," The Beatles. Words & music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Side Two, Track 1 of Revolver, 1966.
When/how acquired: Gift LP, c. 1979.
Listen/watch here. (Also check out this truly odd cultural artifact, an episode of "The Beatles" cartoon series based on the song. No, those are obviously not The Beatles' own voices.)

The sun is out this morning for the first time in almost two weeks. It's amazing how much of a difference it makes not only to my mood, but to Dizzy's as well. Things that felt overwhelming last week feel like minor hassles, even the fact that my car's Check Engine light is on AGAIN.

My relationship with my car has become dysfunctional. I love my car. It's been with me for 11 years now, and it has more than 140,000 miles on it. It's paid for, and costs almost nothing to register or insure. I don't know how much longer I'll be driving; eventually, as my field of vision continues to narrow, I'll have to quit. I want/need/expect this car to be the last one I own.

But I admit that I need to sit down with someone who can be objective, and figure out just how much I can keep putting into its repairs. The idea of buying anything new (it wouldn't be new, it would be gently used) fills me with despair. This, I understand, is why people stay in jobs and relationships of all kinds well past the point they should leave. And this is also why I find myself making excuses for the car, and keeping secrets on its behalf, to avoid having these conversations with people who would take my side over the car's.

The car, I understand, has no feelings in this matter.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"If I'd have paid attention to what others were thinkin', the heart inside me would have died."

The Song: "Up to Me," Bob Dylan. Words & music by Bob Dylan. Disc 2, Track 3 of Biograph, 1985.
When/how acquired: Gift cassette, 1985.
Listen to an excerpt here.

It's Bob Dylan's 70th birthday. Happy birthday, sir.

These are lines I wouldn't mind having on my tombstone:
If I'd have thought about it I never would have done it, I guess I would have let it slide
If I'd have paid attention to what others were thinkin', the heart inside me would have died
But I was just too stubborn to ever be governed by enforced insanity
Someone had to reach for the rising star, I guess it was up to me.

This cassette box set was a Christmas present from my parents, my senior year of college. I needed it. I needed this song in particular.

When I present myself to be judged, I won't be able to take credit for anything good I ever did, because those were the things I did without thinking, the things I did just because I had to. When I've thought about things, I've made some pretty bad decisions.

That is not in any way to say that I am good by nature.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"When I think of heaven/Deliver me in a black-winged bird/I think of flying."

The Song: "Rain King," Counting Crows. Words & music by Adam Duritz and David Bryson. Track 7 of August and Everything After, 1993.
When/how acquired: Purchased CD, 1994.
Listen/watch here.

It's still raining here. Watching the news from Joplin, Missouri and Minneapolis, I can't complain. I hope the Family Radio left-behinds will rally to help the victims of this weekend's disasters. Ways to help are here.

This album came out in the fall of 1993, but I don't think I bought it until after the year turned. It was an essential part of the soundtrack of my summer of 1994, when I got back into amateur theater (playing a housekeeper, of course; servants are my specialty), took my first solo vacation, and had back surgery. I spent a big chunk of 1994 on the road, and have a vivid memory of listening to this album on the drives to and from Dulles Airport.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"A lot of people won't get no supper tonight/A lot of people won't get no justice tonight."

The Song: "Armagideon Time," The Clash. Words & music by C.S. Dodd & Willi Williams. Track 10 of the Grosse Pointe Blank soundtrack, 1997.
When/how acquired: Purchased CD, 1997.
Listen/watch here.

It's early in the morning on the East Coast of the United States, but it feels safe to say that predictions of the Rapture were premature, at best. Cultwatch.org offers compassionate advice for people who genuinely believed that Jesus would return today, but it's hard not to feel impatient with them. It's hard to imagine a greater sin of pride than presuming to know the mind of God, especially since the Gospel of Matthew is explicit: "Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour" (Matthew 25:13).

If that weren't enough, the rest of that chapter makes it even more clear: preparing for the second coming has absolutely nothing to do with predicting dates for the end of the world. It's about looking for Christ in everyone, and doing what we can for each other while we can. All those people who battened down the hatches in preparation for being taken up to heaven don't seem to have read to the end of Chapter 25.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the king will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me."

Then the righteous will answer him and say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?"

And the king will say to them in reply, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."

So all you Rapture believers, unless you were out there in the food banks and the shelters and the hospitals and the prisons, I'm not interested in a word you have to say. Disappointed, you say? Ungrateful, I call it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"There’s only one step down from here, baby/It’s called the land of permanent bliss"

The Song: "Sweetheart Like You," Bob Dylan. Words & music by Bob Dylan. Track 2 of Infidels, 1983.
When/how acquired: Purchased cassette, c. 1984.
Listen/watch here.

On any given day, this is my favorite Bob Dylan song. People say it's sexist. I don't hear it that way. I hear it as a conversation held very late at night, at closing time, between a man and a woman young enough to be his daughter. It's a song that got me through some hard times when I really needed the help.

Bob Dylan turns 70 this month. I'm grateful to him for this song, and for so many others. So much has been written about him, more has been said, and I don't have much to add. I suspect he's not a particularly nice guy. That strikes me as spectacularly irrelevant. He's brought us all along on his personal journey, which has helped me feel less alone. For that, I am grateful.

My friend Tom Ehrenfeld introduced me to this album in the summer of 1984, and I have owned it in some format ever since. It gets dismissed as "minor" Dylan, which annoys me. Who gets to say what's minor? What Infidels is, is personal. Even its overtly political songs ("Neighborhood Bully" and "Union Sundown") feel like laments over personal betrayals rather than efforts to change the world. Dylan, 42 when he made this record, is taking stock at midlife and mourning his losses, including the loss of the better self he hoped he'd be.

The quantum physicists talk about an infinite number of parallel universes, in which, theoretically, an infinite number of parallel selves are living the lives we didn't choose in this one. In at least one of those universes, I am celebrating my 22nd wedding anniversary today. All things considered, I think I'm better off in this one.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"I am trying not to have a bad day/Now everybody knows the way that is."

The Song: "The Train," The Roches. Words & music by Suzzy Roche. Track 6 from The Roches, 1979.
When/how acquired: Purchased cassette, c. 1987; purchased CD, c. 1990; downloaded MP3, 2007.
Listen/watch here.

My dear college friend Laurie Richardson introduced me to The Roches in our freshman year, and the songs on this album have been part of the soundtrack of my life for almost (erk) 30 years. Lines from this song, in particular, come up for me almost once a day. Today's quotation might just as easily have been "He's miserable and I am miserable/We are miserable..."

It's been raining all week. They say we might see some sun tomorrow. I'm trying to have a sense of humor about this, but the week has not gone well, I am very behind on almost everything, and I spent most of yesterday in tears for reasons real and imaginary. Even standing on my head, which almost always helps, made no difference at all to the bleakness of the landscape.

The world turns. Things are bound to get better. They always have before.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"You look surprised/You shouldn't be/This world is full of creeps like me."

The Song: "Creeps Like Me," Lyle Lovett. Words & music by Lyle Lovett. Track 5 of I Love Everybody, 1994.
When/how acquired: Purchased CD, 1994
Listen/watch here (that's a live version with John Hiatt).

I may have to declare a news boycott this week, as the Creep Parade just goes on and on. It's more than distracting; it's demoralizing, even depressing, as the rain continues in central Maine and I feel more and more overwhelmed.

I'm supposed to go to Portland tonight to see Steve Martin, but am not sure I'll get there. It's a dark drive at night, made much worse in bad weather. I do not want to be that person who pushed her luck once too many times. I have an extra ticket, and I could also use a ride; if anyone's interested, send me an email.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"You can't call it cheatin'/Cause she reminds me of you."

The Song: "Cheatin," Gin Blossoms. Words & music by Jesse Valenzuela and Doug Hopkins. Track 12 of New Miserable Experience, 1992.
When/how acquired: Purchased CD, 1992.
Listen/watch here.

It's shaping up to be a good week for tabloid reporters, as powerful men are forced to deal with the consequences of their actions. These situations are often more complicated than we want to admit, though these complications never reduce anyone's personal responsibility. No, there's no excuse for a man who simply takes what he wants; but how many people had to conspire, for how long, to make him believe that he could?

The most troubling part of the news about Arnold Schwarzenegger's secret child is not the child, but the secrecy. This was a secret that he and the child's mother kept for a decade, possibly even from the child. How could any marriage survive its revelation?

We all keep secrets, sometimes for very good reasons. I know a bit about that. I'm not someone who believes that honesty is always the best policy. But except for sociopaths, what secrets do is divide the self into pieces - the part the world sees, living the secret, and the part that remembers the truth and hides it. The more secrets, the more pieces, until it becomes harder and harder to keep track of who knows what and what the truth actually is.

Which is why it is literally true, sometimes, that the truth can set one free. I don't expect or want any more information about the Schwarzenegger family than we've gotten. But I hope that the revelations set at least a couple of people free.

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Give blood/But don't expect to ever see rewards."

The Song: "Give Blood," Pete Townshend. Words & music by Pete Townshend. Track 1 of White City: A Novel, 1985.
When/how acquired: Purchased cutout cassette, c. 1987.
Listen/watch here.

An easy choice today, as I'm giving blood this afternoon. If you can, you should.

I still have a case of cassette tapes in my car, and another big box of them in the spare bedroom. I don't play them -- my car stereo still has a cassette player, but that's the only one I own -- but I can't bring myself to give them away. They were all so precious to me, in their time: hunted for, saved for, purchased when I'd have been better off spending the money on something practical.

This tape I remember buying, though I don't remember exactly when. It was in a cutout bin at the Kemp Mill Records store that used to be at 19th and M Street in Washington, DC. I found it during my lunch break on a weekday. It cost $1.99, and I was as delighted as if I'd found a dollar on the sidewalk.

White City is, as its full title suggests, a story cycle. A video was made at the same time, but I've never seen it. It's similar in subject matter, if not in tone, to another of my favorite acquisitions from around this time, the soundtrack to the 1985 movie Absolute Beginners. Which I also, as it happens, own only on cassette.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"I also dreamt, which pleased me most/That you loved me still the same."

The Song: "Marble Halls," Enya. Words & music by Alfred Bunn and Michael William Balfe. Track 10 of Shepherd Moons, 1991.
When/how acquired: Purchased cassette, 1992.
Listen/watch here.

I am not ashamed of loving Enya, nor of loving this album in particular. It is infallibly soothing, and this song is probably my favorite track.

This version is part of the soundtrack of The Age of Innocence, but the song itself is quite old. It was written as an aria for the 1843 opera The Bohemian Girl, and is probably the only part of that opera anyone still remembers. It features prominently in James Joyce's short story "Clay," when the elderly spinster Maria sings it at a Christmas party, after making a choice in a game that predicts her own death.

Has everyone heard/seen these predictions about the end of the world on May 21? It's not the first time people have predicted the end of the world, and will certainly not be the last; in fact, I think the Mayan apocalypse is supposed to be coming in 2012, so we'll see whose gods prevail. I feel pretty complacent about this, as I have a hard time believing the Almighty keeps much track of human calendars.

And if the world DOES end on May 21, I won't have to worry about knowing my lines for the opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest on May 27. So that's a bonus.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"President say, 'Little fat man, isn't it a shame/What the river has done to this poor cracker's land.'"

The Song: "Louisiana 1927," Randy Newman. Words & music by Randy Newman. Track 1 of Good Old Boys, 1974.
When/how acquired: Purchased LP, 1987.
Listen/watch here.

Today's post is going to be a little scattered, I'm afraid. I'm a little scattered. Yesterday I got lost two separate times, driving to two familiar places in daylight, just because I missed the turns I needed to take. It's more than a metaphor.

But things could be worse. I live on top of a hill, in part of the United States that is not currently underwater. Nothing, not even fire, is as devastating as flood; as Randy Newman says, it washes everything away, and ruins even things that may look unharmed. It's time for me to make another blood donation, and while I do that I'll see what spare change I can scrape together for the Red Cross. It's important.

This album may have been the last I bought on vinyl. It was either this one or the New York Shakespeare Festival recording of Threepenny Opera (which I lost somewhere, and would love to have again in any format). I didn't even own a record player, though my then-fiance did.

I bought this album when I had no money to spend on anything. It was the soundtrack for Arena Stage's production of the musical adaptation of All the King's Men, which I had seen as my friend Carla's guest (she was working there). That's still one of the best things I've ever seen on stage, and I don't understand why it's not produced more often. Candy Buckley was devastating as Sadie, Casey Biggs was remarkable as Jack Burden, and the great Stanley Anderson was phenomenal as Willie Stark. All the King's Men was, in fact, a play before it was a novel, and its roots in Greek tragedy are obvious on the stage.

But I digress. I've been digressing. I feel flooded myself, and need to shake things out and dry things off and save whatever's salvageable. And yes, I know that's cryptic. I don't quite understand it yet myself.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

"Most of the time/I'm clear focused all around/Most of the time"

The Song: "Most of the Time," Bob Dylan. Words & music by Bob Dylan. Track 6 of Oh Mercy, 1989.
When/how acquired: Purchased MP3, 2005.
Listen/watch here.

Between one thing and another, it's been a tough week. I'm a little overwhelmed, and if you're waiting for a work project from me, I thank you for your patience and promise you'll hear from me very soon.

In the meantime, I'm going to try to stay offline for most of the next couple of days. I'll check emails in the morning and evening, but if you need an immediate response on something, call.

I was late to this album, which I've come to consider one of Dylan's very best. My friend Allison Burnett used to rave about it, but I don't think I ever even listened to the whole thing until reading the first volume of Dylan's memoirs, which discusses the making of this album at length. Allison was right, as he so often is, and Oh Mercy probably stands third among my favorite Dylan albums, after Blood on the Tracks and Infidels.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

"I know I will be loosened/From bonds that hold me fast/And the chains all around me/Will fall away at last"

The Song: "Fisherman's Blues," The Waterboys. Words & music by Mike Scott and Steve Wickham. Track 1 of Fisherman's Blues, 1988.
When/how acquired: Purchased cassette, 1989; purchased CD, 1990.
Listen/watch here.

My dad leaves for Crete today, to join the USNS Big Horn (T-AO-198) as an ordinary seaman for a Mediterranean cruise that will last at least four months.

I don't know what to write about this that would not be much too personal for him, me and the rest of the family. But I can and do say congratulations and good luck, and I hope it brings you everything you're looking for. Fair winds and following seas, Dad, and safe journeys wherever you go.

This song makes me feel better about almost everything. I think I need to listen to it a few more times.

Monday, May 02, 2011

"May your strength give us strength/May your faith give us faith/May your hope give us hope/May your love give us love."

The Song: "Into the Fire," Bruce Springsteen. Words & music by Bruce Springsteen. Track 2 of The Rising, 2002.
When/how acquired: Purchased CD, 2002.
Listen/watch here.

On my flight back to Portland over the weekend, I had the privilege of sharing my seat with Banks, a seven-year-old black Lab who works for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He and his handler were on their way to a kennel outside Portland for a week's R&R, having recently returned from Japan. His handler said that Japan had been worse than Haiti, although the destruction in Haiti had been worse, because "at least in Haiti some of the people we found were alive." She's been doing this work since the Oklahoma City bombing, in 1995.

Banks let me pet him, and licked my hand, but looked at me with eyes that have seen things I hope I never see. He is so good at his job that he's coming up here for breeding purposes, in hopes of making more puppies that will search for victims, and save them if they can.

This world has heroes, and not all of them are human.

I am sitting here much later than I'd expected to be up, watching the celebrations after the announcement of Osama bin Laden's death. This is not a death that brings anyone back. It might even lead to more deaths, if bin Laden's followers decide to retaliate. I have a nephew serving on an Air Force base in Japan and a father who's about to fly out to a Navy supply ship in the Mediterranean on Wednesday. They're not safer today than they were yesterday.

And yet I'm grateful, and I'm astonished, and relieved in a way I can't explain. Brave, brave men went into that compound in Pakistan and did what was necessary. So many people have died, over the past 10 years, to get to that one firefight, and I am grateful to them all.

All of us Americans need to live in a way that deserves such courage, such dedication. All of us people do.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

"Precious time is slipping away/You know she's only queen for a day/It doesn't matter to which god you pray/Precious time is slipping away."

The Song: "Precious Time," Van Morrison. Words & music by Van Morrison. Track 9 of Back on Top, 1999.
When/how acquired: Purchased CD, 1999
Listen/watch here.

Today is my mother's 70th birthday. I miss her so much, and would like to think of something good to do to mark the occasion. Instead I'm going to build sets, I'll do some manuscript work for a client, some copywriting for another, some publicity work for a third. I'll pick Dizzy up from the kennel late this afternoon and work well into the night, scrambling to catch up after three days in New York. I guess those are all good things, although if Mom were alive we'd all be in Virginia Beach helping her celebrate. I wish we'd thought to do that anyway, even without her. I live too far away from my family.