Marisa and I went to Brighton for a few days to catch The Gossip. Kid Carpet opened and offered up a very amusing set using various old electronic toys as instruments. The Gossip put on an excellent show, as always. They are the only band that make me want to dance (not that I follow through on the urge, though I did nod my head, which is a really extraordinary amount of movement for me at a show). I would strongly suggest that you see them live if you have the opportunity.
After the show we huddled in the green room and I offered up suggestions of hotels to band members who didn't want to crash with friends, then sat in the back of their van navigating through a town I do not know. The desk clerk was charmed by the post-set dishevelment of the group and offered his demo tape. Later we split up and took Beth to dinner; it was strange and interesting to sit and catch up on all the scandals from home.
I'm so glad I moved away. I just wish my friends could all come here.
Now I'm preparing a feast; I was up all night baking pies and wore an old tattered Smithfield shirt in tribute to Stella and Al, since I won't be able to see them until this weekend. The turkey is in the oven, the table is set, and Marisa is teaching my son how to make candied sweet potatoes. I fly away on tour at some point in the middle of the night.
This has been a terrific week -- hope to see many of you on the road.
From (the other) Byron:
Ban the Piano!
My 21st-century composition "manifesto" was published in newmusicbox, the web magazine for the American Music Center. Here's an excerpt:
"As a Chinese-American composer who writes from the margins, I know that I must abolish the central love of my youth -- the piano -- and find other tools to survive in a new music world where noise and silence excite me as much as melody and rhythm..."
Read the whole manifesto for free and let me know what you think.
These are soon! Come see me read ~ and in New York, I'll have to take a "personal risk" -- hmm.
Mon., Nov. 28, 7pm--BUFFALO, NY, Talking Leaves, 951 Elmwood Ave.
Stella has a great card with the caption If you want to know how he'll treat you, ask what he thinks of his mother. I think it would be safe to extend the concept to friendship; if you want to know whether a new person is a good prospect or a potential catastrophe, they will usually tell you all that you need to know within five minutes.
I have a marked love of disorderly behavior and impulsive, charming people, but if someone tells endless stories about treachery and deceit, I pay attention. A stated history of failed friendships, matched with a conviction that other people are at fault -- when I hear these stories I know that no matter how much I enjoy the person, they will eventually grow to hate me. This does not worry me or change my behavior; I just enjoy the person until the inevitable break. I can't be tempted into a fight, not even to defend my own reputation, so I have to shrug and move on.
This has only happened twice in the last five years, because it does not mesh with my own pathologies. I am well aware that I am often silent and withdrawn, happiest either alone or performing. It can take years of acquaintance before I feel even remotely capable of real conversation, no matter how much I like the person. This means that I am perceived to be prickly, standoffish, or any of the assortment of gender based insults. But I am also very loyal, and have several deeply meaningful friendships that have spanned decades. So when I get tangled up with someone who will turn on me, I am often perplexed.
If someone has reached their late thirties without ever maintaining a close friendship for more than a year, it would seem to be a pattern. Certainly nothing to pass judgment on, or even change. Just something to notice.
Recently I found myself standing next to the Swiss Family Tree House at Disneyland Paris listening to my daughter debate the theories of Lacan. I replied why don't you go ride a roller coaster like a normal teenager? She just laughed at me and said because I'm not normal, silly!
Later that same night we left the kids at the hotel with my mother and went walking next to the Seine. Past Notre Dame we encountered a group of hip young things smoking and practicing music on a banjo, a couple of guitars, a french horn, a trombone, and a tuba. We sat and listened until some bike punks showed up and started doing jumps that took them flying at high speeds right past our heads. Byron whispered I could take 'em but in fact, he could not, so we wandered up into the Latin Quarter.
We found a table at Cafe Contrescarpe and the waiter said something to my arm before dropping a glass of wine on my foot. We all laughed and I remembered the first trip to Paris when I sat in the same cafe, depressed by current events and the realization that I had once again chosen to take on complicated work projects that left no time for writing. I wondered if I would be satisfied with my life if I continued to commit all of my time to community organizing, and decided the answer was no. I started to think about my whole life, from the fundamentals of our family structure to the complexities of my social scene. I realized that I felt trapped, and that is probably the feeling I dislike the most.
From that afternoon four years ago came the series of questions that took us from Portland to Seattle and then to England, so abruptly that many of my friends still do not know that I've left Portland. From being bored and stuck in the Northwest, I've become the sort of person who travels half the year. I move easily across wildly divergent social scenes. I do the work I wish to do, which looks something like it did back then but also includes lashings of time to write, even time to write things that I have no intention of publishing.
Sometimes being selfish is the most appropriate choice.
Next year I'll buy some white poppies.
I have a panoramic photograph of the 351st Infantry Regiment during training at Camp Dodge, Iowa, before they were shipped off to fight in Europe.
They are standing in orderly rows, hats correctly aligned, except one man in the very back row who shoved his hat back and stared at the camera with a half-smile.
They are all so young.
My son bought a poppy with his cake money; he told me that injured soldiers used to sew them out of silk, and they are red because of the blood in the trenches.
Happy Armistice Day.
Funny: he works in the computer industry and is married to a writer. I never would have predicted any of us would turn out the way we did.
Particularly when I evicted Byron.
I've waited too long to report on the tour, but I would feel strange if I didn't write about it before setting off on the next one:
One of the great mysteries of life in a British market town is the relative lack of consumer goods. This is not a criticism; I moved here on purpose and one element of the decision was a desire to escape the rampant commercialism of my homeland. I detest all aspects of shopping. But when one needs to purchase essential goods, like underwear or shoes, it would be nice to have more than two choices.
This is entirely separate from the perplexing point that many items are not adjusted for currency. Something that costs ten pounds here is often ten dollars back home, and the exchange rate is in my favor.
I am also baffled by the fact that every other European city I've visited is affordable (and often cheap) compared to the UK.
Someone I once had a long semi-clandestine relationship with (my reasons for secrecy at the time revolved around lawsuits and a legitimate need to be perceived as respectable) responded to a recent journal entry about looking wholesome with this:
No, you do not look wholesome. Trading black for striped white and generic blue does not let you off the hook. You shall forever know better.
Fair enough. Though until recently when I proclaimed that I was pure and innocent nobody quibbled. Lately the most common response has been yeah right.
People not especially close to me fail to understand that I am talking about a purity of purpose rather than a specific code of physical conduct.
The truth is that I think that people should treat each other decently, with honesty and a high regard for ethics. I also worked in health education in the early 1990's, which means that I am scrupulous about matters of hygiene and hector my friends mercilessly about their sloppy habits.
What does that boil down to, in our reductionist identity-engrossed society? Nothing that matters.
On the way out of Paris the Gare du Nord train station was unseasonably warm, the air muggy, too warm for a jacket. I walked down the stairs just ahead of Byron, who whispered you're turning on the tourists. I scowled at him and asked what do you mean? and he started to tell me that people were staring at my tattoo. Just then a disheveled drunken man walked up and started shouting what appeared to be compliments, before saluting my left arm. I just kept walking.
We found a table at a crowded cafe under the Eurostar departure gate, and before we could order a different drunken wreck of a man made his way to our table. He stood in front of me making elaborate lewd gestures as I stared straight through him. Two well-dressed elderly ladies at the next table laughed, and one turned in her chair to stare at me.
I am not accustomed to creating such a stir. As a general rule, people do not talk to me at all, and they certainly do not come right up and make sexually suggestive remarks about my body. I felt confused and queasy, and wondered out loud if All Soul's Day makes people more crazy than usual. Byron shrugged.
The women at the next table stood to leave. The one who had been staring pointed at my shoulder, indicating that she wanted to see the whole design. I obliged, pulling my sleeve up to show the top of the dagger. She reached out a hand and traced the design, smiling, a gold tooth flashing. Her friend stood back, nodding.
We were all smiling when she started to roll up her sleeve. Byron laughed but I froze. Before she had pulled her sweater far enough to show the first line I knew what she was about to show us: a serial number etched on her forearm in smudgy ink. I reached toward her reflexively, then flinched back. We did not need a translator to understand as she asked if we recognized what it was.
Concentration camp, Byron replied, and she nodded, still smiling, before turning to leave.
Last night we went to see Dig! and before the movie started I wondered if I would feel morbid nostalgia for home. Luckily, there were only small glimpses of bridges. The strongest response we both had was a sincere rapture over the tambourine boy. I particularly liked his spectacles.
But perhaps the film kicked off something in my mind, because I woke up this morning with a compelling need to purge the last of our boxes. We've been here sixteen months and we are not completely unpacked; partly because we have run out of cupboard space, but mostly because I do not want to make decisions about what to keep.
I was sufficiently paranoid to bring all of our tax documents and identity papers in my carry-on luggage, but there they have sat, in the suitcase under the bed. The boxes represent a similar lack of planning and wealth of resources. Byron found a tape of Beth doing Straight to Hell eight years ago, the soundtrack of our impoverished early years in Portland, and I wiled away the day sorting through the detritus of an abandoned life.
This morning my son woke me by reciting the poem he learned in school yesterday:
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Guy Fawkes, guy, t'was his intent
By god's mercy he was catch'd
And what shall we do with him?
Of course, my son is a stoic, so he delivered the lines in a weary voice.
Tonight there will be a bonfire on Midsummer Common and we will sit on top of my narrowboat to watch the fireworks.
During our recent visit to Paris we had dinner with various interesting people, including a businessman. I know lots of people who work for businesses, including but not limited to nefarious multinational corporations. But they all have technical jobs - mostly doing obscure research. This fellow is employed to make business for a company, and also advise other companies on how to do business. We were fascinated and pestered him with questions, but no clarity was achieved.
I exorcised some of my guilt over being a bad daughter (I moved to a different country and never call or send photographs) by taking my mother to the top of the Eiffel Tower to watch the sunset. The children tumbled about laughing while we stared down at the lights of the city.
Twenty years ago, I would never have predicted that this would be my life.
My favorite local bike mechanic has moved from the market square and is now a mobile vendor. Right now he can be found on Queen's Road near Burrel's Walk. You know, just off Garret Hostel Lane.
If you need to buy a bicycle or get any repairs done, definitely consider the trip. He is one of the best I've ever known, and I do know an awful lot of bike mechanics.
It seemed excessive to use more blood and gore than was strictly necessary, and besides, how many words are there to describe excruciating pain? I wouldn't read a book that was gross and depressing. I wouldn't lead a life ruled by those themes.
I often just, well, talk.