Thursday, September 07, 2006


A bluesy wind is blowing through my life tonight. I felt it coming off the smooth waters of the huge canal I live on when I let the cat out for her evening patrol. There was exactly twelve blissful seconds of absolute pure night sounds - wind soughing through huge oaks around the house and just the crickets - before the incessant thrum of traffic pounding up and down I-4 up river and the sounds of arguments from the trailer park across the defensive spanse of water came back as the drone of background white noise particular to my house.

It started me thinking about the days and nights of absolute pure night sounds that I lived with at the ranch in Indianola Valley, Utah. The closest neighbor was a mile and a half down the grade that snaked through the valley. You had to drive 4.58 miles to see black top and 13.7 miles to see a town. The closest one was Fairview. This is where we went for groceries, to mail a package, get molasses coated oats when we ran low.

Willie Nelson owned a ranch on US highway 6. The highway ran to Fairview from what used to be the town of Thistle, which is now underwater from a huge land slide courtesy of the mountain the Denver and Rio Grande railway tunnel went through. We went to watch local kids practice their ranching skills via the venerable art of goat roping at Willie's. Yes. There is such a thing as a goat roping. The goats were good sports about it with most of the hoary veterans simply running across the indoor arena and laying down for the efforts of a lip-biting 8 to 10 year old dressed in miniature Midnight Cowboy garb.

Legs splayed out to the side well above the normal level for stirrups, rope lasso twirling furiously, if not quite in a perfect oval, the youngsters would pelt across the arena after said goat, slide their pony up to the supine form in a mixture of hay chaff and dust, and fling a tangle of rope and knots in the general direction of the animal. Jumping off the pony, the young cowboy would throw themselves on the unprotesting goat, whip a few loops around the horns and hold up a hand, fingers clenched in a fist - cowboy catcher to pitcher parlance for a done deal - to the applause of the crowd hanging on the fences.

I learned the nuances of the Cowgirl Barrel Wave here - a short, choppy slashing of the air with an open free hand as she came pell-mell out of the shute to weave the karick knot in the ground around barrels spaced just so to the rythym of the horse's hooves pounding the ground. The Cowgirl Barrel Wave is very different than the Cowgirl Parade Wave.

Many of the competitors in the local rodeos were expected to try their hand at competition for local beauty queens and rode the circuit of parades for whatever needed celebrating: Fourth of July, Labor Day, Harvest, Hog Days. There is a corresponding beauty title and pageant to go with each celebration, of course and you have to know the Cowgirl Parade Wave if you want to be taken as a serious competitor. This would be the obligatory signal from atop a crepe paper decorated float if you won a spot in the court.

The Cowgirl Parade (and Beauty Queen) wave is a cupped hand affair that nods back and forth from a stiff elbow held aloft like one of those bobble heads on the dash board of pick up trucks. With it should come a smile, genuine if you espy someone you know out in the crowd standing two deep on the side of the road, pasted on but gracious if a rival's cousins or friends were shouting uglies at you in good natured side taking.

Those were some of the social noises to be had in town. The noises I ate, slept and worked with daily at home involved the whinering and chuffing of horses as they restlessly paced a corral waiting for a daily coffee can sized ration of sweet feed on hay, gathering thunder coming over the mountains from Spanish Fork, snow falling off of overloaded cedar branches to pol-lop onto the pile of snow below, the low of cows, blatting of sheep, and at night, bracketed by the busy click of crickets, the mellifluous harmony of coyotes or wolves under a moon bright night sky . It ain't nothing like the canned sound of it coming out of your t.v. or the movie screen. Believe me. It gets in your bones and travels up to your inner ear through your spine and sets off harmonics in your soul when you're THERE.

Other sounds were the chunk of logs that were stacked up in the silo for winter (and summer) burning. You see. I lived without running water and electric for over five years out there. I'd like to say it was because I chose to but the fact was that the economics of running electrical wire out from the main road five miles was cost prohibitive. You learn to cope just like our ancestors did. I cooked on wood, both baking and top stove, learned to bank a fire under a pot of stew simmering in a big kettle on the back of a wood-burning stove to be ready at dinner time late in the day, and could turn out a fair stream-caught trout over an open camp fire with just a spit or a skillet.

Much of the year was spent gathering dead wood and snaking it off the side of the mountains tied with a rope to the pommel of your saddle. The horses loved this work and vied with one another to see who could step proud with the prettiest curl in their neck as they traveled sideways with just the right amount of tension to keep the logs from rolling ramshod down the grade. Down on the road, the logs were cut into handleable portions and loaded onto a stone boat - the flat, low sled with curved ironshod runners that we used to haul anything behind the horses.

Back at the house, the logs were cut into neat lengths to the accompanying chur and brupt-buzz of the chain saws and we began the arduous chore of splitting the wood with an awl and mallet. I got quite good at this, too. There's a particular 'schunk' when you've placed the wedge just right and applied just the right amount of swing with the sledge hammer. Wood was stacked with a satisfying thunk in sorted piles in which it would be used: in a box with small chips and twigs to start one, resinous kindling sticks once you got a little spark and smoke, next size up sticks for building a hot fire, split wood for a sustained burn and big round logs for a slow burn. That took care of fire.

For water,we went up to the big corral and waited patiently for the two 100 gallon tanks on the back of the old 1966 Dodge truck filled up, carted one load up to the corral to replenish the water tanks greeted by the hoof sounds and nickers of between 22 and 30 something head of mares in various stages of gestation for the Wyoming racing and show circuit, or with their colts and foals running hip to shoulder to us and went back for a second load. This one snaked it's way up the hill chugging in second gear past the log house I lived in and fed a cement tank for the gravity flow water system we used to water our own horses, bathe, flush the toilets, and wash our asses and our dishes. We made this trek every three days, rain or shine. I used the time listening to the crickle and pollup of water splashing and gurgling into and out of the metal tanks to read, work on some needle project that was current or to write.

I worked in Pleasant Grove just north of American Fork five days a week keeping the books for a big truck parts store and driveline service. Those sounds were clunking, screeding, the huffing of big diesel tractors as they pulled into the lot next door at the trucking company with their 40 foot trailer loads of potatoes for Thunder Bay, Canada and paper or cardboard bound for Corvalis and Redding, California. My husband drove a truck for them.

I sometimes went along on runs learning how to drive a five and a four, brownie and a main - the two gearshifts used to coerce a fleshy old Kenworth conventional tractor pulling a loaded trailer down the road. You have to learn to listen for the gears in the dog box to chortle at about the same speed to slip the gears into place with the spining flywheel of the manual transmission, around 18 rpms. You also listen for the baugh-uck-uck-uck-ah of the jake brake slowing down the engine until the last 'uck' told you to shift to a lower gear. I got okay at backing in to a loading dock and pulled the toggle to the accompanying shush of the airbrake.

There were also the dropped tool sounds followed by mechanic's colorful curses, the ringing of phones and the bell on the shop door. Those were the job sounds, half my life. Getting from half one to half two involved an hours drive to and from each day. I used that time to meditate, think, sing, plan, listen to the whir of the car's engine and look out for deer that inevitably need to gallop across the road on a mission, no matter who's coming.

I liked my home half noises better than my work half life noises. I love hearing the saddle leather creeched as it shifted and the way horse's hooves chumped on the rock and dirt of the paths we rode over the mountains on our way past Horse Dick Canyon to get breakfast next morning just under the Uinta mountain range at a little restaurant there. It was our destination and soul reason for the all day ride. A bedroll, skillet, coffee pot containing coffee, some salt and pepper and a dab of lard to cook whatever we had for dinner in camp that night were unloaded while a fire was being built next to a little creek. The horses were always nosey. We would wake up with them standing over us in our blankets, velvety noses with their noisy breathing and teeth grinding in our face. This was to remind us to bring out their sweet feed while we made coffee with the water from the creek.

There were the sharp claps of concussion from the bullets I made when we went target practicing our quick draw and when I was forced to put down someone's small dog who had argued with a cougar and was beyond the ministrations of any vet. I hated those noises from the little dogs and the gun that ended it then. I was the understood sheriff of Hideaway Valley - the name of the settlement in the valley behind Indianola. This was one of the chores I had besides keeping eyes out for stupid hunters who shot at horses during season unless we painted day-glo X's or wrote 'HORSE' on their sides.

We had this huge line-back dun with size 2 shoes and feathered feet named Loco Poco. He was pretty close to being a Percheron in size. He was a dough-ball, scared of almost anything and fearsome as leader of our small stable. When it would rain or hail, he'd heard the rest of the horses up under the roof next to the barn and huddle against them mostly exposed and taking the brunt of the storm on his flanks as the hail rattled against the steel roof. But a garbage bag on the side of the road would set him off in paroxisms of a horse's rendition of the high step dance as if it had been a rattler. He finally conquered his fear of plastic garbage bags and delighted in dumpster diving into the recyle trash barrel next to the barn to haul them out. He would hold them in his mouth, shake them and then run from the noise, repeat this a few times, drop the bag and stomp it furiously. He was boss!

Every morning for quite awhile, we heard this loud scra-da-dap, scra-da-da-dap, scra-da-dap that would wake us up. If you went outside, all you could see was a line of horses standing at the fence looking at you. Couldn't figure out what it was so we'd just get up earlier than the alarm, go out, feed the horses and get ready for the rest of our chores. One morning, I happen to get up a bit earlier and was in the kitchen making sheepherders coffee (handful of coffee grounds in a pot of boiling water, grounds settled with cold water or eggshells), when the scra-da-dap starts up. I look out at the window and here's Poco dragging his hoof across the ribs of a piece of corrugated tin used to cover old fence posts. The other horses look expectantly from Poco's music to the house. Sure enough, when I walk out, there they are standing innocently at the fence nickering for their morning feed, end result attained.

The horses loved swimming. On the very hottest days when there wasn't a breath of air blowing, we would ride the horses up to the big corral and unsadle them. Bareback, we'd ride into the big pond to the horse's delight. We played a form of splashy water polo with a beachball and the horses loved it! Lightfoots had a mustang that one of their daughter's rode who's spiked mane reminded me of Cindy Lauper. The little mustang loved snorkeling under water and then spraying the results on whoever was closest. I ended up with gallons of water and horse snot on my leg from her. No one got out of the water until we were cold and teeth chattered. Then we would loll around the bank drying off before saddling up and riding back home. Pond sounds were: Nicker, whinny, splash-sploosh, schuck-cha, snortle, giggle, laugh, plop.

Horses like snow, too. Christmas time, we would hook up the stone boat to a pair of horses in their winter blankets, bundle ourselves up and make the rounds of the valley carrolling. Horses hooves in snow sound like a muffle plup-clup and the iron skids on the ice sounds almost like metal being rubbed together.

We had chickens. They're obligatory on any ranch or farm and their cluck and pick-pick-pick words blend in with ranch music. One day, we're standing out by the corral where our horses stayed when we hear this garble-garble-scree coming from deep in the pines above the house. It gets closer and closer, then this guinea hen barrels out of the woods in a flurry of feathers and dust and charges down on us. Now. A guinea is ugly. It looks like the after pictures of a turkey someone has taken a hammer and tongs to. He stops short of us, quarrels at us a bit and then and begins herding those chickens together. He fussed over them, watched after the chicks and went after a rooster he thought was too big for his britches. At dusk, he would herd them into the trees so they were safe from coyotes and foxes. If he set up a racket, you came out of the house in your unders with a shotgun and flashlight. We never knew where he came from so far away from civilization. And no one was reporting him missing.

One night, there was the sound of about 100 drunk cowboys and their women in the sweetest, harmonic accapella rendition of Amazing Grace you've ever heard. We were up at Baker's ranch at a fireside - our rendition of Saturday Night Out socializing up in the valley. Each family would take turns hosting it every few weeks until we made the rounds of the valley. Then we started the rounds again. A fireside takes place around a big bonfire at your ranch. The host usually provides the main course - turkey, ham, deer, beef, fish - and everyone brings a dish and a bottle or six-pack of whatever. You play music, talk the latest valley news, dance, laugh and then leave.

I was the entertainment at Rick and Jane Baker's that night. I brought my 12-string and led the troops in various 50s and 60s rock and roll and country tunes throughout the evening. It was a beautiful full moon in the first fringe of Autumn. Baker had this huge native flagstone patio down some stairs from the house surrounding an equally impressive iron ringed fireplace. He'd built flat seats atop the rails surrounding the patio that kept drunks from stumbling off the edge and rolling the rest of the way down the hill through the sage scrub to the gravel road.
It was getting very late/early and I set my guitar back in the case. Someone called out for 'one more for the road' having wowed every one with his Phil to my Don Everly 'Dream'. So. I let everyone get settled and started out in silence, 'Ah-may-zing Grace! How sw-eet the sounds, that saved a wretch like me-eee..."

As if directed by a master conductor, every throat took up the next line and sang along. We rivaled the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that night. I don't know where those perfect voices came from because they were all around us, each one swearing later that there was an angel singing next to them. We sang the words, miraculously remembering all the lyrics.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

T'was Grace that heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear...
the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares...
we have already come.
T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far...
and Grace will lead us home.

The Lord has promised good to me...
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be...
as long as life endures.

When we've been here ten thousand years...
bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise...
then when we've first begun.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

Then. Silence. For long, long moments, no one spoke. No noise except the crackle of the fire. The chirp of crickets started up some minutes into the silence signalling that it was a good time to good night. Then everyone drifted off to jeeps, pickups, cars and some on horseback to head home. It was a long time until the next fireside. No one seemed willing to break that magic.

I eventually moved from the valley at the urging of an Indian in full battle regalia. I also left Utah to come home to Florida for healing. But that's another story for another time.

We are bombarded with noises, sounds every minute. As I write this, I hear the fan blowing on me, the tick of my Lara Croft Tombraider wall clock and the clicking of the keyboard. There is one persistant cricket who remains the key note to all my life noises chirping merrily outside my 3:00 a.m. bedroom window. In the Orient, crickets are a symbol of good luck. He has been with me from childhood, calling out to that special someone by rubbing his wings together just so. Makes me wonder if he ever finds her listening back at him.

I don't know if the grace I find when I listen to the cricket's song is luck so much as good fortune to have lived the life and seen the sights and heard the sounds that I have been blessed with. All of it has been wondrous - the good, bad and hurtful. And througout my life's orchestral arrangement, there has been a cricket up in the string section.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


I love etymology - the study of the history of words - because it tracks our progress as a species with many side trips into history with curious asides about culture. You can click on the etymology link if you're interested. Musing on this, I left Tary and Karole Peace a 'Happy Labia Day' message when I reached out to touch their answering machine this past holiday weekend.

The word Labor gives a nod to the Frenchified word shift that occured when the Normans conquered England in 1086. I was 'there' because I can trace my maternal genetic material and lineage directly back to Sir Drieu of Normandy, a knight in the service of Robert Malet, a top commander in William the Conqueror's army. It pleases me that my ancestral family had something to do with a major language shift and all those lovely words that came through because of King Harold's foolery.

I'm sure that part of my warrior proclivities and stupid fearlessness are hanging somewhere on an allele passed on by Sir Drieu to me over a thousand years ago. You can see Drieu, also known as Drogo in the Roll of Battle Abbey and embroidered running around on the Bayeaux Tapestry. Our family name, Drury, shortened from the French de Rouvray, has played a part in England's history and culture, including run-ins with service to the illustrious Queen Elizabeth I and a theatre named for the family on Drury Lane - which may also explain my love of the dramatic and costume.

This genealogical snobbery has served me well when I've been looked down the long side of someone's nose, lo, those many times. I chortled gleefully to myself that while So-and-so thought themselves vastly superior for whatever reason, their ancestors were probably chasing sheep across some unnamed hillock burning sheep shit for fuel somewhere while mine rode blue. That and the results of a test in the happy hospital that diganosed me in the 99 percentile as part and parcel cause for my madness. It meant I could look at them dressing me down and know that there was only a 1 percent chance that they were smarter than me. Present circumstances told me where the odds were. Cold comfort at times, but still comfort. You have to cling onto twigs sometimes for whatever dab of sanity you can get while clutching the edge of a cliff or Celie stirring a secret ingredient into the lemonade in 'The Color Purple'.

Back to Labor. It comes from the Latin word for hard work - laborum with a side trip through a French coffee filter, labourer: to work, toil, pain, fatigue. Women coined the word labor way back in time with our travails (also another French word for 'work' or 'labor' - travalier). As in LABOR, childbirth, the trip through the Mouth of Creation or labia. Lab-yrinthine, lab-rus, lab-ia, Lab-or. Virginia Sapiro chronicles in 'Women In American Society' that the bulk of the world's entire work mass, something like 70 to 80 percent of it, is performed daily by women cross-culturally and pan-continental. Any gal who's tried to wrestle a man off a couch and pry the remote from his hands to take out the trash can attest to that, no matter how much her dude talks about his hard work compared to her 18 hour days at home and at 'work'. Think about lions if you're prone to argue.

So. It was appropriate that I left the Peace Women a 'Happy Labia Day' message. You did know that I was going somewhere with all this, didn't you? I left it after spending the night at Martha and Jim Marshall's home where I'd gone for pasta Bolognaise. We drank up the remnants of 3 very good bottles of wine and groaned as we pushed ourselves away from the table. I brought hand work to do with me to labor over (I should insert a smiley face here) to justify my night away from doing work at home.

I finished the beading on a reversible corset belt I am making after they went to bed, three dogs and two cats in tow. It must be like Wild Kingdom in there. Martha had tried like a trouper to stay awake to watch the end of an English whodunit with me but finally gave up. I farted about on Martha's computer, checked my image in the hall bathroom and wondered if there were some way to airbrush out the deepening downturn around my mouth and what looks like the beginings of a goiter on my neck (It's fat. And aging). Having sufficiently dinked, I went to bed in the guest room.

A visit to Martha's is like a trip to the MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry). She takes you on tour of her online world, shows you emails from a gallery in England that has sought her out, teaches you some bit of arcane computer technique, and clues you in on progress with the commissioned Project From Hell, or PFH (pu-fuh when said with a LABIAL fricative). This is a large canvas propped up behind the couch. She cusses the dogs for peeing on the new living room rugs then comforts them because of the scolding. She cooks scrambled eggs and cheese with oat toast for me and Jim after having cooked and eaten earlier. This is served with her muscadine jelly preserves (where in the HELL she found time to make jelly amidst the thrum of her life is mysterious!) Then she answered seventy two emails and other online correspondence, put together the last bit of a proposal to a designer and read the paper. All of this happens before my well fed arse saunters out of the guest digs. Martha is Mach 10, hair afire. And it looks it now with the coppery red-gold stripes her stylist just put in. You can almost see the smoke rising off of her.

Now. What were you going to say to question that women do 80 % of the world's work? Martha did it ALL. Before breakfast.

( Image: "Farm Women at Work," Georges Seurat, the Guggenheim Collection)

Monday, September 04, 2006


From the Shadows - Acrylic on Canvas, Martha Marshall

by Tary Peace

Again the Dark Man beckons me
To lay with him a while.
He calls me to come to the cool darkness
And rest
There in the pitch of eternal night
With him who holds the mirror of all my sin.
He promises peace and forgiveness.
I fear I will only find the relentless gnawing
Of the tail-eating snake,
but stay and stay.

It’s the Bearer of Light that keeps me here.
She offers the golden day
And dew.
She calls to me with bird-songs shouting,
“Rise up! Be with me!
Come see the ibis and the stork.
Come see the sea-cow on the shore.
I am your breath and the marrow of your bones.
Be bathed in the beauty of this fine day,
And stay and stay!”

(Editor's note: A poem by Tari Peace, pulled From the Shadows of the comments page from the previous post and illustrated wonderfully by Martha's painting.)

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Jane Mansfield blows me a kiss followed by a hair toss and moue from Marilyn Monroe. Coats and bags in hand, they are leaving the show bar next to the store in the dicey part of town with a gaggle of tipsy admirers. Transvestites hold court both on stage and off during show hours but it has long since closed with the last of the audience and performers drifting out onto rain soaked early morning streets to find cars parked in the alley and behind the club. One stoplight set to a perpetual wink at this hour paints the slicked pavement lurid red like nail polish poured out of a bottle. I am forewarned.

As I unlock the decrepit old door of the store, a beat up black Dodge van pulls up to the curb. The windows are smudged and darkened hiding a mysterious interior. A tall, thin man dressed in a coal colored wool coat, turtleneck and jeans gets out, greets me with a leather-gloved hand. Pale blue, almost white eyes encased in craggy and ominous features are softened by the lopsided smile he flashes me. Shaking back a fringe of shoulder-length dirty blond hair showing streaks of silver, he pulls a rickety wooden chair from the alley and places an upturned white plastic bucket next to it below the grimy store windows.

I return from the dark interior with two longneck Millers and we sit silently, watching the stragglers from the club totter out on size 12 high heels with sycophants in tow. The club owner is last. Locking up behind him, he executes a tired salute our way and walks off.

My visitor is quiet and I follow suit. It is an easy silence, much different than his other forays into my life where he chases me down dark passages as I try to run from him all the while encased in an invisible marshmallow, my slow-mo steps just a nick away from the hatchet or dagger he threatens me with. But tonight we’re at peace with each other. Half way through the beers we start talking about George, my cowboy lover from Montana in decades past. Jim, the Marlboro man who taught me how to rope, quick draw a Rueger Security 6, and make my own bullets is also on the bill tonight as we discuss my archetypes – the ones who desert me at every rough spot in the road and my penchant for attracting beautiful, interesting but very dangerous and rowdy men throughout my life.

Who better to hash this out with me than my very own Dark Man? He is anathema for all fears and unsettled business unnamed, still powerful. But tonight, he is my advocate as he has been on other nights, other occasions. We talk about how I still dream of Jim running off to another woman or worse yet, just leaving and not telling me. Jim leaves me in some pretty unrespectable sitches, facing imminent disasters of one stripe or another. Worse yet, embarrassing me by choosing some bimbo with boobs instead of brains. In real life, infidelity infrequently happened to me as it has in one form or another to almost every woman. But it is more the specter of being abandoned at my most needful times that we hash out along with hidden meanings for my dreams, my archetypes and their significance. Why can't I get over this?

Pretty slick having a dreamtime therapy session to work out issues with archetypes and my mental boo-boos with the Big Daddy Nasty archetype of all. We all have a Dark Man in our dreamscape. You know yours, don't you? I’m told that my dreams are more vivid and richer than most. I agree. Three D, Panavision and Technicolor with emotions, sounds and smells. Jeez.

The Dark Man beer and chat session happened between dreams that would make any creative blocked Hollywood screenwriter green with envy for storyline. One involved Croatian expatriates returning to their capitol with vital information involving an assassination attempt on a high-level government visitor from the United States. The three men are a journalist, professor of history, and a former military officer. Beset on every side and pursued by Croat terrorists, they hang precariously from rocks above the Black Sea, exchange gunfire, hide under bracken and freezing water to escape detection as they make their way from one safe house to another. Car chases, witness to brutal crimes, unexpected aid from a rebel in a dingy old motorboat, separation from the coffee colored ex-commando threatens their mission leave me gasping for breath, heart pounding.

The next dream involves a train chase with dump trucks rigged as rolling bombs. Counter agents, specialty forces, cops and innocent bystanders battle it out at high speeds by automatic weapons, high tech gadgetry -- all on trains. The mission: Bad guy elements from the current administration are going to blow up a depot used to temporarily store transported chemical and nuclear waste.

Instilling fear in a public rattled since 9/11, they will be able to use this latest staged terrorist act to implement an even more restrictive regime installing a defacto dictatorship who will not leave power when their temporary visit is up. Agents, both good and bad are dressed in white making it impossible to tell which side they’re on. One particularly vicious woman orders a rival agent dangled over the side of a boxcar so that he is smeared and dismembered along the side of another car in a train yard. Another gory segment involves a woman being burned alive as a bomb goes off in a dump truck she is locked into. This is all very realistic down to the crisping flesh, horrible screams and terribly toasty. They’ll need to get Industrial Light and Sound Studio to do the special effects.

Parts of this scenario are being filmed from a helicopter for media propaganda to cover the crime. Nasty Girl, who looks suspiciously like Condalezza Rice makes some of her goons redo a part where a dump truck drags a utility vehicle in front of the runaway train because the cab ends up too far from the tracks to be believable by a gullible public.

This takes place while an incendiary device on the train is ticking away in its last seconds. Does she care that they will be right THERE when it goes boom? Nah.

I wake up drenched and heart pounding from this one.

This is my typical sleep cycle. Fall asleep, dream, get up, pee, drink water, pet George the cat who has joined me in bed, go back to sleep, dream some more. Sometimes, I have several of these action adventure dreams. Other nights, I have serials or sequences where a dream takes off from a point I awoke from like a mini-series.

My dreams are unlike the soporific morphine induced dreams of pain. Yes. I've used. Legally. Given copious amounts of the drug during hospitalizations for accidents injuries and my one lone surgery, I can tell you that morphine dreams and the accompanying hallucinations are nothing to chase. Mine involved very Bosch-like amorphic beings with body parts that just ain't right which morph and slither against a very twisted landscape. Morphine dreams were ominous and all dark - Toto and Dorothy in an Oz gone very, very wrong. I have my share of symbolic dreams, of course. And I work out much of the hidden messages encoded there. But I much prefer nights in my private screening room.

Vampire wars, invasions by aliens from outer space (and Mexico), harrowing spy plots, international intrigue, bodice rippers from the 1700s, even comedy – all find a screening in my brain. I’ll always have plenty of ideas and entertainment. Sometimes, after a particularly active night I wake up exhausted. I guess I shouldn’t bitch.

Who can beat having your very own in-house psychotherapist to hash out past romantic blunders with no $175.00 an hour bills, no long discovery process to develop the analysand/analyst relationship, trust and rapport - it's all built in. But sometimes I ask, can’t a girl just sleep?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Putting the 'Win' in Spin

(Eds. Note: This was sent to me by my friend, Joan Rosen in Tallahassee, Florida. It's a topic close to my heart having studied linguistics at University and knowing how language changes culture, and NOT the other way around. Pay particular attention to the 'dumbing down of America' charges. It's something that I will touch on in future posts. - Dina)

This essay is a great bit of insight, and it explains an awful lot about the decline of almost every aspect of US society. I would go a little deeper, though, and suggest that the problem is not just a lack of language skills: more fundamentally, it's a massive -- and growing -- deficit in the area of cognitive skills generally. As we dumb down our public schools, our civic dialog, our media, and our parenting, we end up increasingly ineffective at both communicating and understanding information that is necessary for arriving at a desired outcome. We see the pervasive effects of this decline in everything we do, from ordering a pizza to mitigating international conflict.

Nuance isn't just some esoteric part of the creative writer's craft. Meaning matters. For example, when the TV "news" covers a motor vehicle crash (which they euphemistically call an "accident," as if it somehow "just happened" absent human intervention), they typically say that the driver "lost control" of the car. But hey, I guess we all know how it is: one moment you're driving along, everything proceeding normally, when out of the blue, *poof* -- "Hey, where did my driving skills go?!? Oh nooooo..." In reality, the driver *relinquished* control by consciously deciding to drive too fast for conditions or to divert their attention to another activity (e.g., applying makeup or making a phone call); they certainly didn't just "lose" control as the media would have us believe. This is a calculated strategy to appeal to the me-centric, no-responsibility, hyper-sensitive, feel-good baby-boomer sensibility, which categorically precludes hurting anyone's tender wittle feewings by making them appear responsible for their actions. Think about it...if we are manipulated to feel sympathy toward the driver's situation -- poor Driver! -- we feel all warm and fuzzy and good about ourselves, which makes us want to watch more of the news broadcast and warms us to the products displayed in the ads. If, on the other hand, the reporter says "this idiot switched lanes recklessly, overcompensated, and ended up spinning off the road into the canal," we might transfer some of that mean ol' critical negativity onto their precious advertisers, and that could end up hurting some shareholder's bottom line -- and we can't have that, now, can we?

That was a fairly innocuous example. But try this on: you've probably never noticed that the administration shills always say that "the terrorists" are out to git us -- not just "terrorists" or "a terrorist." This is a relatively amateurish (yet, when used on the mostly-dim American public, highly effective) attempt to convey an image of an organized, unitary, arbitrarily eee-vill adversarial force (of which we must, of course, be very afraid) rather than the dynamic, complex situation that actually exists. After all, demonizing Armies of Rabid Evildoers Bent on Chaos as if the real world were a comic book storyline helps whip up the fear better than objectivity ever could. And fear is what keeps getting SAIC, Northrop Grumman, Booz-Allen, and all the other "homeland security industrial complex" beltway bandits those fat corporate welfare contracts. The spinmeisters wouldn't dare refer to the actual problem by its real name, religious extremists, because that would alienate "the base" (you know, our own Taliban) and shed light on the growing deficiencies of the American intellect -- and we can't have that, now, can we?

So, why did so many people vote for Bush in 04? I'm afraid that a big part of the answer is that (in addition to relinquishing all interest in actually understanding current affairs -- dereliction of our citizenly duties, if you will), Americans have become utterly helpless in terms of their ability to critically parse even the most simplistic language, rendering us vulnerable to spin and propaganda on the grandest of scales.

Thank you Jesus for Fox News... Now. To the essay.

Kathleen Reardon

Why We Can't "Win" Any War
If you've read my previous blogs, you know that I explore beneath the surface of what people say and do in politics. Purposeful deceit does emerge, but more common are unexamined patterns of thinking. Socrates disparaged the unexamined life and spent much of his helping people discover their own limiting habits of thought.I'm putting on my blog philosopher hat for a few moments to endeavor to do the same.

If we're not alert to how language is used, how it shapes our thinking and thus our decisions, we make ourselves predictable, manageable and often wrong. We limit our options and close down any hope of creativity. Words are not harmless and using them as if they are is, at best, naive. They are shaped by thinking and shape thinking.

Words that work well in one context can also be borrowed for use in another where they actually do not belong (what modern philosopher Stephen Toulmin refers to in his book Return to Reason as language being "desituated" or "disembedded"). And that is what happens when the term "win' is applied without adequate forethought or for political advantage to the war in Iraq.

Consider this -- In the past, winning a war meant annihilating or in some fashion destroying by force an enemy's leadership and major forces. The defeated enemy's beleaguered followers were largely content to go home even if they harbored anger and disdain for the victors. That facilitated what could reasonably be called a "win." In short, a "win" was possible then. Many thousands of lives may have been lost, but a "win" of sorts could nevertheless be called, especially as the other side usually surrendered.

The enemies America has now, many in Iraq, most elsewhere, are bred from near infancy to hate. They are as committed to their cause as those who lead them. Terminate their leaders and others emerge to take their places. Living to go home is not high among their priorities - beleaguered or not. Dying a martyr is. We've seen how those who hate America and Israel (soon to more evidently hate Europe, Australia and other countries, many lying low in the false hope of being spared) are emboldened by both failures and successes of their enemies. Both can be used to foster recruitment to the cause.

Today's terrorist enemies also don't seek to win a war; they seek to change the world. Losses along the way are expected when the goal is so substantial. They come as no surprise and are planned for in advance. This is an enemy that might be contained, outmaneuvered, driven back, controlled, and managed, but not one against which it's even sensible to seek, especially in the short term, a definitive, final "win."

Yet, thousands of lives, countless dollars, and valuable resources have been diverted from increasing and improving national security and the development of much needed intelligence operations in order to achieve such a "win" in Iraq. Ingenious people who are capable of coming up with counterintuitive strategies of the "Greeks-bearing-gifts" type should be gathering in Washington, D.C. right now as guests of the White House, no matter their political leanings, working day and night to outsmart this enemy. But, instead, the Bush Administration and many members of Congress cling to a win scenario they can't even define, let alone achieve. Predictability is the kiss of death in negotiation, politics and war, and yet we're extremely predictable in our need for a "win." Once predictable, we're manageable. And that can't be good. A much more clever means of succeeding will be needed. But it won't be found until simple, limiting constructions (win or lose) no longer shape the thinking of those who could make a difference.

While most of us think that ideas shape language, we are inadequately trained to notice how language shapes ideas and therefore decisions. And as we've seen, it can be used to excuse inexcusable actions.

If we don't, as a country, pay closer attention to how this works to our disadvantage and locate the fallacies hidden in our unquestioned assumptions, there is good reason to believe that the road we take will have one very unacceptable result: a place in the history books for a president and vice president who supposedly "won" a war but lost everything else that mattered.