Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pep Talk from NaNoWriMo--12 hours and counting!!

Dear NaNoWriMo participant

Well, we're on the cusp of another beautiful noveling November. The turn-out so far has been phenomenal. Between our main program and Young Writers Program, we'll have over 90,000 authors on board by the end of the week, making this officially the largest NaNoWriMo since the event was first adapted from an Andorran mule-wrestling ceremony back in 1999.

For those of you who are new to NaNo, I want to quickly run through the noveling schedule for the month ahead.

Step 1: Keep reading this email; learn the secret of NaNoWriMo.
Step 2: Wait for 12:01 AM local time on November 1.
Step 3: Write a novel.

No problem.

Okay, back to Step 1. The secret of NaNoWriMo. Which is this: There is a door in your brain. The door has been there your whole life. You may not have noticed it before because it blends in with everything else in your brain. Weird art. Mismatched furniture. Squishy gray bits clinging to everything.

So what does this door have to do with your novel?

Your job this month is not so much writing a book (which is intimidating) as it is finding that door (which is easy).

It's easy because you'll have guides in November who will take you right to it.

These guides are also known as your characters. They're kind of an abstract notion now, but you'll meet them in all their glory in Week One of NaNoWriMo. They'll be a strange lot. Insecure warlocks. Stamp-collecting squirrels. Teenage detectives.

Whoever shows up, go with them. And go quickly. You may have a general sense of where you're going together; you may not. It doesn’t matter. Just write your allotment of 1667 words (or more) on November 1. Don't edit any of it. Editing is for December. Then come back and write another 1667 words the next day. And the next. And the next.

By Week Two, you'll be at the door. A few words later, you'll be through it. You'll know you're there because the writing will feel different. Less like work, and more like watching a gloriously imperfect movie with cringe-worthy dialogue, heaps of confusing tangents, and moments of brilliance so delightful that you'll want to scream.

Once you've stepped through that door into the vast reaches of your imagination, you'll be able to return there as often as you like. It's an enchanted, intoxicating place, and there are other great things besides novels in there.

But we'll talk about that later.

Happy noveling, everyone! We're so glad to have you writing with us.

Chris Baty

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Who left the cat on?

I didn't come up with that joke. It's plagiarized--and I don't even know from whom. That's the worst kind of plagiarism.

I saved this picture for my friend Beth who, 18 years ago, used to giggle every time I used the phrase "tapetum lucidum." You'll either have to look it up, or ask Beth. Once she's done giggling.

Okay--you thought I was kidding about National Novel Writing Month. I am not. As a matter of fact, I've been rather busy dealing with panic attacks this last week thinking about the subject matter about to come crashing down around me starting Thursday. Then my back went out. Actually, it was my neck and shoulders. The chiropractor called it "A Cute Tortellini" or some such thing. All I know is it meant I could only look forward, and only in pain. This is not a good thing for a writer to have right before NaNoWriMo. I can't afford it, but I'll be back to see the Italian Chiropractor tomorrow night to make sure I can move (and type) on Nov 1.

Hardly the way I intended to celebrate the one-year anniversary of meeting Dave Grohl, but Dave's wife would never have approved of what I actually had in mind.

I can't just keep typing things for you to read. Didn't you hear I have a very cute case of tortellini? My left arm is going numb. Does that make you happy? Jesus, sometimes I think you people have no ability to entertain yourselves. I also think I am watching too much House. Let's all pray for that writers' strike that Hollywood is threatening: It means my TV shows will disappear for November and let me write.

Wait a minute. Am I really willing to cross the picket lines for this impending novel? I'm not even published (college doesn't count) and I am a traitor to my compadres. Just when I thought there was nothing worse than being a no-name plagiarist.
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Monday, October 29, 2007

The Only Thing I Need for Christmas

Oh yeah--this is it. This is what I need. It's the new "walkstation" designed by Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic and Steelcase. That's right, you can work while walking! (Or walk while working, I'm not sure which.) With a price tag at a modest $6,500, once you split it up between all my friends it only comes out to about $1000 each! Isn't that what you were going to spend on me, anyway?

Or I could start riding that exercycle in the basement again. But this is so much COOLER!!
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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Another Racing Casualty

Today was the Breeders' Cup, held at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.
Curlin stole top honors, but another racing tragedy stole the show. Irish thoroughbred George Washington shattered his front right ankle near the end of the race. The injury was so severe that a screen was rolled out and the horse was euthanized on the spot. Another bitter reminder for those of us connected to the racing industry that our livelihoods rest on the delicate legs of horses too young to race.

Rest in peace, "gorgeous" George. For the scene behind the brown curtain...
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The Great Pumpkin Rides Again

If horses read blogs, I would take this time to thank Julian for today's adventure. As it seems unlikely, I thanked him with molasses treats before I left the barn, instead.

Today was the kind of ride I dream of. (I have to dream of them, as they are so very rare!) The weather was crisp, the wind smelled like fireplaces, and all the goddamn mosquitoes were dead. More determined than ever to escape the ranch after the last failed riding attempt, I made it to the barn around 4 p.m. today. Before Julian had a chance to start his dance, I longed him in the covered arena. He bucked and snorted on the end of the line. I kept my snorting to myself.

After a good ten minutes, I tethered him to a stud in the barn (one of these days he will pull it all down around us, but happily today was not that day) and let him cool his heels as I curried and brushed him. As he started pawing at the sand, I tacked him, and considered re-naming him "Quit it!" due to the number of times the words left my lips during the process. Still dancing after being tacked, I longed him again.

He was full of energy, still kicking out this second time around, and not hesitating to canter endless circles around me. I made sure to temper these with several "walk" and "trot" commands, just to make sure he knew I was there. He did.

Still snorting and half-dancing, we made our way out to the front of the barn, where I had remembered to drag the mounting block before I even caught him. In a blessed coincidence, Dan (50% ranch owner) was passing by just as we came out and held Julian as I mounted, saving me a guaranteed 15 minutes of pirouetting with my horse.

I'd like to say I looked smart in all black gear on my all black horse, but instead I bore a strong resemblence to the Great Pumpkin on horseback. I had topped off my black breeches, gloves, helmet and coat with an orange hunter's vest. One, I did not wish to be shot through with an arrow meant for a local deer and two, should I be dumped in the woods by my noble steed, I thought it prudent to be dressed in something that would make my body easier to find. Hey--I'm nothing if not practical.

Both Dan and Tam (100% of the ranch owners) looked a little nervous about me taking off on my own, but Tam remarked that my vest would make it easier for her to follow me from the ranch house with her binoculars. I told them should I not return by dark, to send the Mounties. We jested, but it was reassuring none-the-less that they were home during my outing. I don't fear getting hurt on a ride near as much as I fear getting hurt and not being able to get help until I've suffered for an unreasonable amount of time. I knew for a fact that they would indeed ride out to find me if I didn't make it back. That is worthwhile insurance to have.

Luckily, their services proved unnecessary. Julian and I navigated the long drive and the short path along the road that led to the corn field without incident. He glanced back over his shoulder a few times for his buddies, but kept moving forward. As we entered the field, I changed my seat and gathered the reins.

And he ran.

Warning: You should not run a horse who is not in good physical condition--just as a human shouldn't go from walking to running marathons in one fell swoop. Having said that, we both found cantering through endless acres of cut corn to be absolutely invigorating. He slowed to a trot as we crested the hill and came up alongside his herd on the other side of the fence. I explained to him--to my horse--that running with him freed my soul, as I scratched his withers. He seemed uninterested.

So we ran some more. We cantered along the rows of corn, then circled around and ran along the edges of the field which were bordered by woods. We would save those trails for another time. We cantered up to the owners of this farm working with a chainsaw to clear brush. Julian did not like the sound of the saw, so we went left and cantered again across the field towards the road, which was several acres away. As it came into view, we easily swerved right and cantered along with the cars and trucks that passed us by. I wished I was not wearing a vest so distracting that it would draw their eyes from my handsome partner.

As we rounded the property again, I rode up to the owners. It took a few shouts to get their attention, but once they turned around, Julian captured it quickly. I wanted to thank them for giving us this rare freedom. They asked his name, and his wife came up to pet him. The husband noted that he looked pretty anxious to move on. We don't get out much, I explained, and it made him a tad nervous. Unlike his wife, he seemed comfortable staying at a distance from my dancer.

As we trotted away it occurred to me that I had introduced my horse but not myself. Typical. Julian is a hefty distraction where social interaction is concerned. There is no questioning his role as the center of attention among mere humans. I would learn their names later.

It wasn't until I was cooling him out that I remembered the singing. I had forgotten to sing. Though the beautiful harvest moon that would later rise had not done so yet, I sang a few lyrically-challenged phrases from Moonshadow. His ears flickered back and forth, and he asked to run. So we ran--galloped--and the wind ripped my words from the air. Even the wind knew that galloping was worth far more than singing. Julian's head bobbed with the effort he put into his sprint. It is not easy for a horse so large to move at such speeds, and he was focused and serious about winning this one-horse race.

I can say without reservation that we did indeed win today.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Let the Countdown Begin!

November 1 is the first day of National Novel Writing Month. This event is the bastard brain child of novelist Chris Baty, who wrote No Plot? No Problem! This is all based on Chris' theory that the only thing keeping writers from completing a novel is a lack of deadline. (We don't have time to quibble over talent, here. We'll worry about that later.) There's a little more to it than that, of course, but that is the essence of the matter.

I have participated in this event a couple of times, and I will be attempting it again this November. What this means to you is that I will be even harder to reach than I typically am. And since the book I am choosing to write is Below Sea Level, it is safe to say I will be more of an emotional wreck than usual as well, once November 30 rolls around. I'm trying to think of it as ripping off an enormous emotional Band-Aid in one fell swoop. It is going to sting a bit. But DAMN will it feel good to get that thing off!

Keep reading to get the true low-down from Chris Baty...

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2006, we had over 79,000 participants. Nearly 13,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

So, to recap:

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month's time.

Who: You! We can't do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: Sign-ups begin October 1, 2007. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Still confused? Just visit the How NaNoWriMo Works page!

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Bush May Lack Gene for Human Speech

Andy Borowitz
Sat Oct 13, 3:00 AM ET

Creators Syndicate - A team of genetic scientists stunned the world today by revealing that President George W. Bush may lack the gene necessary for human speech.

The scientists, who had been studying the genetic differences between humans and chimps, made the discovery about the president almost by accident, a spokesman for the group said.

"We happened to be looking at the blood work from the president's recent physical," said the spokesman, Dr. Alvin Kunen of the University of Minnesota. "We found extremely high potassium levels, indicating a banana-rich diet rarely found in humans."

Prompted by the banana clue, scientists probed the president's DNA further and found "no evidence" of the gene that enables humans to speak.

From the White House, the president had no comment.

But even as some in the administration angrily questioned the scientists‚ findings — arguing that the president often said things — Dr. Kunen said that many non-human primates were capable of producing basic, "speech-like" utterances.

"In our experiments, we were able to teach a female baboon named Bonny to say such things as 'tax cut,' 'evildoer' and 'regime change,'" Dr. Kunen said. "This should not be confused with actual human speech."

In a related finding, the scientists said that former President Bill Clinton possessed an "abnormal double-gene" for human speech, meaning that it was "virtually impossible to get him to shut up."

Clinton's DNA was culled during his second term in office, when the former president's genetic material was widely disseminated.

Award-winning humorist, television personality and film actor Andy Borowitz is author of the new book "The Republican Playbook," to be published October 2007. To find out more about Andy Borowitz and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at


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Thursday, October 25, 2007


Back in Arizona, where the temperatures didn't drop until well after sunset, Julain and I often rode with the moon. I would saddle him as the sun set and we would make our way out onto the well-worn trails left by the local ATV riders.

We had only one or two roads to cross, but if your headlights should catch us, we were a comical sight. To both Julian and myself I typically attached numerous blinking lights, such as the kind you would put on a bicycle, or your dog's collar for night walking. In this way, Julian had both headlights and brake lights. Of course, these simply made us look like an impromtu Electric Horseman and provided no real navigational light, but Julian was not in need of that. His eyes were my eyes, and he seemed to have no difficulty transversing the desert with no light but that of the moon. Even my eyesight would adjust gradually, until I could make out the shapes of the shrubs and abandoned sofas we wove our way through.

On these rides--as with most rides--I often sang to Julian. I don't think this was one of his favorite parts of the experience. Occasionally, he would pin his ears momentarily as my voice cracked or lost pitch. Unfortunately for him, I like to sing when I'm riding, and so, on those occasions when he seemed particularly sensitive to my tone-deafness, I would sing, but very quietly. My favorite song for these night rides was, of course, Moonshadow by Cat Stevens. Again unfortunately for Julian, I could never remember the words, so he was subjected to the chorus over and over.

He was a good horse.

Last night seemed a good night for moonlit riding in Wisconsin. The fields of corn surrounding the farm were finally mowed, and our riding range was expanded exponentially.

Though wishing to race for the farm after work, I drove at a speed respectful of the possibility of vaulting deer. Despite my best efforts, the sun had dropped below the horizon by the time I reached the barn. In great haste I caught up my steed and tacked him in lightning speed--truly the only speed in which it is possible to tack a steed of the herd-bound, dancing variety.

As I donned my hunter's vest of neon orange, Julian had fully realized I was intent on separating him from his herd--and under cover of darkness, no less! I told him about the large moon lighting our way. He was not impressed. I led him, dancing in step to his fast-moving hooves, out to the front yard, where a pathetic step-stool/mounting block mocked me from the edge of the drive.

Julian spooked. All four feet stamped in quick succession as he jumped to the right (thankfully, as I was on the left). I led him in a circle, attempting to calm him with a feeble human voice. The rest of the herd grazed on well behind the barn, out of sight, but certainly not out of mind of poor Julian, who soon spooked again. Large feet again stamped out his emotions on the driveway. He spun in a fast circle around me, pivoting on the point where my gloved hand grasped tightly his bridle rein. Getting loose would not be good, as I had propped open the farm gate with the hope of riding through it. The idea of his running through it without me, and without our Electric Horseman lights (at home in my basement), was not a good one. I was lit, but he was black, head to toe.

As we danced our dance, I realized I had lost again. Lost to his herd-boundness--something we didn't have to deal with when it was just the two of us on the Arizona farm. I looked out over the moonlit fields of razed corn and sighed. Dancing all the while, I led him back to the barn. His nerves only increased, while mine remained reserved, resigned, and disappointed.

It was all I could do to untack him in the barn without him tearing off half-dressed. I used my draft horse voice to try and keep him focused, but he was already gone. I dropped his bridle and saddle (carefully!) in the barn, still hanging firm to the lead on his halter. I tried one last time to make contact with him before releasing him back to his friends, and pulled the halter over his ears. He spun on his heels and ran for the herd.

Left on my own with the barn and the moon, I untangled my tack and put it all away. Lastly I retrieved the laughing step-stool from the drive, stashing it back behind the hose in the barn.

As I prepared to make the drive back home, I tried to look at the bright side of our aborted moonlight ride. No one had fun, but no one got hurt. With horses, that always counts for something.

So my Beetle, Galaxy, and I made our way home in the moonlight. And still I could not remember all the words to that song. Galaxy didn't seem to mind.

Oh, I'm bein' followed by a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
Leapin and hoppin' on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow

And if I ever lose my hands, lose my plough, lose my land,
Oh if I ever lose my hands, oh if.... I won't have to work no more.
And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colours all run dry,
Yes if I ever lose my eyes, oh if.... I won't have to cry no more.

And if I ever lose my legs, I won't moan, and I won't beg,
Yes if I ever lose my legs, oh if.... I won't have to walk no more.
And if I ever lose my mouth, all my teeth, north and south,
Yes if I ever lose my mouth, oh if.... I won't have to talk...

Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light.
Did it take long to find me? And are you gonna stay the night?

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

All the Pretty Horses

Photos by Brett Williams on Flickr

When you work all day on a computer with Internet access, it is hard to stay away from the unfolding disaster that is California On Fire. Everywhere, people are fleeing. Families who have made it out with their pets wander the parking lot of Qualcomm Stadium, as animals are not allowed inside. People with livestock--horses, goats, cattle--are less fortunate. Many have made it out with a trailer or two of their own or their neighbor's horses, but find themselves barred from re-entering the areas in danger. There, horses, goats and everything else domesticated run to and fro in their pens, struggling to breathe.

I don't personally believe that hope is an emotion possessed by horses (goats, maybe ;o) but I know very well that fear is, and I can feel (imagine) their fear from here. It makes me pace the floors of my home in helplessness.

Horses stand in a pen as fire threatens the Bonita neighborhood in San Diego, California. More than 300,000 people have been evacuated and around 1,000 homes destroyed as ferocious wildfires raged unchecked for a third day across California on Tuesday.(AFP/Getty Images/Eric Thayer)


As stables fill, owners urged to rely on friends, family to house animals
By Elizabeth Fitzsimons,

October 23, 2007

Trailers wrapped around the Del Mar Fairgrounds yesterday morning, some waiting as long as two hours to unload some of the thousands of horses evacuated from ranches and backyard stables threatened by the county wildfires.

But by 9:30 a.m., the fairgrounds' 2,400 stalls were full. Horse owners who didn't make it had to look elsewhere: to friends and family with barns or land, to an evacuation site in Lakeside or stables in San Juan Capistrano, Thermal and Indio.

Much of San Diego County is horse country, home to thoroughbred breeding ranches and countless backyard stables housing family pets. As many as 300,000 horses live in the county, and when people flee from the fires, so do the horses.

Volunteers with trailers and law enforcement, including a team of San Diego mounted police officers driving horse trailers, went in search of horses to rescue.

Dianna Bonny, 44, of Olivenhain towed one of the last trailers into the fairgrounds. But she still had 21 other horses she needed to move.

The wind was whipping ash, dust and palm fronds as Bonny pulled two horses from their trailer and into stalls. Horses in the row stomped their feet and threw back their heads. Some bared their teeth.

“We should have started this at 4 in the morning, but you just don't know,” she said, shaking her head.

Nearby, word carried fast that the fairgrounds had closed.

Horse owners in Rancho Santa Fe and Olivenhain were looking for other options: calling friends with barns or even large yards outside the evacuation areas, or gathering horses into other paddocks and outdoor stalls in areas away from trees and chaparral.

At El Camino del Norte near Del Dios Highway in Rancho Santa Fe, which was ordered evacuated, about a dozen people were parked at a roadblock. Several said they were moving horses from Rancho East, a private stables in the neighborhood with about 60 horses. By midafternoon, only about 10 horses had been moved off the property. The decision was made to take the rest of the horses out of the barns and into the stables' outdoor pens.

Cardiff resident Gerri Minott said she had taken one of her horses from Rancho East to Ride America, a horse boarding and training facility in Carlsbad, but a race horse she owned was too high-strung to be moved. She put that horse into a Rancho East paddock.

“Smoke just got worse and worse. We moved them out of the barns, where there was wood, into steel-pipe pens,” she said.

Geanna Schmidt moved her horse at 5:30 a.m. and then helped others in Rancho Santa Fe and Olivenhain. At 1:30 p.m. she had just returned from taking a horse to a yard in Encinitas.

“We were kind of hoping we could get one more load,” she said.

At a county-operated evacuation site at the Lakeside Rodeo grounds, horses from Jamul, Lakeside and Ramona were cataloged and photographed. Most had owners that were accounted for. Others had been picked up wandering the streets in burned areas.

The grounds had room for about 300 horses.

“Because the fire is all over the county, people are really scrambling,” said Jim White, regional director of the county's Department of Animal Services. “We're running out of places to take horses.”

He asked that horse owners rely on friends and family, not evacuation centers, to help them house their animals.

Thoroughbred breeders, some with farms in the eye of the Witch Creek fire, also evacuated their animals. The Golden Eagle and Ballena Vista Farms outside Ramona, which rank among the most prominent facilities in the state for breeding and raising thoroughbreds, were evacuated but had escaped major damage.

“We had taken an aggressive stance on fire prevention and it paid off,” said Larry Mabee who, with his mother, Betty, owns and operates Golden Eagle.

“It's an island in the middle of the fire zone,” Mabee said late yesterday morning. “No loss of buildings, no horses or people injured.”

On Sunday, thick smoke engulfed the countryside just north and east of Ramona along state Route 78 and flames crept over the hillsides. At one point Mabee went to check on neighboring Ballena Vista Farm, just across Route 78, but he couldn't see more than a few feet through the smoke. He later found out the farm was unscathed.

In North County, the major thoroughbred facilities in Bonsall – San Luis Rey Downs Training Center and Vessels Stallion Farm – took in horses of all breeds and other animals.

“We have rescue volunteers manning ham radios to guide people in through the road closures,” owner Frank “Scoop” Vessels said. “Unfortunately – or fortunately – we've done this before, and we're pretty organized and trying to do the best we can to help our buddies.”

About 200 spaces were available yesterday afternoon at the Galway Downs Training Center in Temecula. Four years ago when the Cedar fire struck, Debbie Constantino was out of town at a horse show. Her three horses, taken from her Blossom Valley home by a friend, were freed in the chaos and lost for weeks, ending up in Granite Hills, Del Mar and Bonita.

This time, Constantino was prepared. She packed up the saddles, the feed, the buckets. She took a Sharpie marker and wrote her cell phone number on the horses' left front hooves.

“I can't believe this is happening again,” she said. Her nerves were getting the best of her, and the horses sensed it.

But she and the paint horses were safe now at the Lakeside Rodeo grounds. She patted one on the thigh; in the other hand she held an unlighted Marlboro Light.

“I've been saying my prayers and I made sure I grabbed my Bible,” she said. “If anything happens to the house, I know I got the important things.”

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Dalai Lama becomes Emory professor

Finally, an answer to the question that has plagued academics for centuries: What does it take to win tenure?
By DORIE TURNER, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 17 minutes ago

ATLANTA - The Dalai Lama was formally installed as a professor at Emory University on Monday as Tibetan monks wearing large moon-shaped, yellow hats chanted and played cymbals, gongs and horns.

The exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, whose face is recognized around the world, now is the bearer of a faculty ID card.

"I suspect you will not need to carry this with you for identification, but in any case, we wanted you to know you are welcome," student Emily Allen said as she handed him the card, a present from the students.

In his first speech as a faculty member, the Dalai Lama encouraged his audience of thousands of people to look beyond money and fame for happiness. Education paired with destructive behavior is wasted, but knowledge used for good is a powerful instrument, he said.

"As a professor of this university, I think you should listen to me," the 72-year-old monk and Nobel Peace Prize laureate said with a laugh.

During the weekend, he delivered a lecture on the basics of Buddhism to thousands and participated in a conference on depression. He also joined with spiritual leaders from the world's major religions — including Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of India's Mohandas Gandhi — to discuss peaceful resolution of military conflicts.

As Presidential Distinguished Professor, the Dalai Lama will provide private teaching sessions with students and faculty during Emory's study-abroad program in Dharamsala, India, and periodiically visit Emory in Atlanta.

The Dalai Lama fled the Himalayan region in 1959 during a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He remains highly popular among Tibetans and is lauded in much of the world as a figure of moral authority, but China reviles him as a Tibetan separatist.

Chinese officials lashed out angrily at the United States after he received Congress' highest civilian honor last week. The Dalai Lama brushed aside the furious reaction, saying he supports "genuine autonomy," not independence for Tibet.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"The Reader" by Bernhard Schlink

[This is an excerpt from Bernhard Schlink's, "The Reader."]

"At first I wanted to write our story in order to be free of it. But the memories wouldn't come back for that. Then I realized our story was slipping away from me and I wanted to recapture it by writing, but that didn't coax up the memories, either. For the last few years I've left our story alone. I've made peace with it. And it came back, detail by detail and in such a fully rounded fashion, with its own direction and its own sense of completion, that it no longer makes me sad. What a sad story, I thought for so long. Not that I now think it was happy. But I think it is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."

"At any rate, that's what I think when I just happen to think about it. But if something hurts me, the hurts I suffered back then come back to me, and when I feel guilty, the feelings of guilt return; if I yearn for something today, or feel homesick, I feel the yearnings and homesickness from back then. The tectonic layers of our lives rest so tightly one on top of the other that we always come up against earlier events in later ones, not as matter that has been fully formed and pushed aside, but absolutely present and alive. I understand this. Nevertheless, I sometimes find it hard to bear. Maybe I did write our story to be free of it, even if I never can be."

Bernhard Schlink, "The Reader"

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Dog Day Afternoon

[This is another excerpt from my novel Below Sea Level. It is not for children, and it is not light reading.]

Standing over the dead body of the dog that meant more to us as a couple than any other animal we had yet to own, I am not believed.

We are burying Sage—a Dalmatian-Brittany spaniel cross I had rescued eight years prior that Eric grew to love as one would love a child, loved in certain ways more than me—under a circle of pines and the ever-shedding Eucalyptus tree, to protect her forever from the wicked Arizona sun. But there are roots, and they are making the process difficult—close to impossible. We are both taking turns in the desert heat of early May, but we are getting nowhere. A hundred degrees and the humidity of recent irrigation make us feel like we are laboring under water. As we work, our living dogs, Rosemary and Thyme, are getting worked up. Thyme is running fast and furious circles around the makeshift gravesite. Rosie has stopped running and has settled her slight figure just next to where I stand waiting for my turn to dig. She is trembling as she sits awkwardly, looking as if she might take flight any moment, and moves her gaze rapidly between Eric, me, and the body of her dead friend. She needs reassurance and there is no one available to give it. I have always anthropomorphized my smallest canine companion and, as a result, I can’t even bear to look down and see the expression I know is on her face—a wrinkled brow, a question. I reach deeper in my pockets for Kleenex I know I’ve already used up. I am trying to imagine how I can withstand the death of this dog on top of the omnipresent pain of my dying marriage. It is unimaginable.

As Sage lies next to the shallow depression rent with roots of a gnarled 50-foot pine, Eric snaps the handle of the old shovel we have been using. “Motherfucker.” He throws the handle across the yard. Thyme pauses for a moment before resuming her circles. “I’m going to Clint’s.”

Our retired neighbor Clint had a tool for everything—he’s the only man we know with a more diverse set of tools than Eric. He’s been building and rebuilding his farm for twenty-odd years, and a man raising children and then draft horses can accumulate a lot of useful equipment in that amount of time. I stay behind with Sage and with Rosemary, whose gaze I can feel moving repeatedly from Sage to me and back again. Mostly to avoid her gaze, I wipe the sweat from my face and neck with my shirt and start digging out dirt with my hands from between the roots that criss-cross Sage’s grave. Thyme, only five months old but already outweighing Sage’s fifty pounds, runs aimlessly through the trees, tossing her toys and then chasing them down, and stops only briefly to sniff her still companion from time to time. Thyme is not confused, because she is not aware. She is, however, panting heavily, and I worry briefly about her overdoing it in this heat. I don’t call her over, though, because I don’t need more complications.

Clint’s place is only three acres away, and I can actually hear something metal clang when Eric finds it and throws it in the bed of his truck. No sign of Clint. Eric will be relieved not to have to share his current mental state with him. Knowing Clint, he would have followed Eric back, and what couldn’t possibly become more painful and awkward would have. Eric is already on his way home—he is backing slowly all the way from Clint’s since the irrigation canals leave no room for Y-turns with a Ford F350—when my cell phone rings. I can’t believe that I pull it out to bother checking the number, but I do. It is my sister, Sam, calling in from across the country, probably with a funny story to tell. The pain is too much to carry alone, and I answer the phone. My voice is low and my nose is beyond stuffed up from sobbing, so she knows immediately there is something wrong.

“Sage died today.” I hear her gasp and feel guilty instantly for sharing this pain with her.

“I came home from work and saw that Eric hadn’t opened the dog door yet to let the girls in. He must have only been home a few minutes. I went out on the back porch and there she was, lying on the floor of the Arizona room.”

I hear Sam say something unintelligible. She is crying. It has been less than a month since she has thrown a ball for Sage. “I assume it was a heart attack. I don’t know.”

Sage had been coughing a congestive heart failure type of cough for months, now, and stopped being able to bear anything more than a twenty minute walk a few weeks back. At the time, I had mistakenly and naively figured she probably only had a few years left, and grew saddened at the thought. And last week, she was uncharacteristically clingy, wanting to be the lap dog she used to be. We couldn’t figure it out at the time, but it made a lot more sense now. When I found her that afternoon, she lay stretched out on her right side on the cool cement. I felt sick that she died on concrete and not on carpet, or grass, or her blanket, which was hanging on a line in the backyard to dry from being washed the night before. Her tongue was lavender in color, and spilled onto to the floor like some caricature of a dead dog. She was slightly warm, but only from the heat of an Arizona shade. Judging from her stiffness I figured she had died around lunchtime.

I don’t tell Sam about the coughing, the lavender tongue, the stiffness. She is crying hard now. We are both useless. Eric’s truck pulls back in to the drive. “I have to go. Eric needs my help.” I have ruined her evening, no doubt.

I am still crying as Eric brings over what I think is called a maul, but decided against asking to be sure. Anger has possessed Eric, and I’m jealous he’s found a way to not feel the pain, if just for a moment. He starts to attack the buried tree limbs with renewed energy, and I find myself surprised that he has not asked the identity of the caller. He was walking towards me as I closed the phone, wiped the dirt from it and put it back in my pocket. It is second nature to both of us that I should be quizzed on who would be calling me. He is ever convinced that I am being pursued by someone, anyone, who will treat me better than he can. Reassuring him that this is not the case is a full-time job. I find his lack of curiosity so unusual I tell him without his asking that Sam called, and we were both crying so badly we had to hang up. He continues to work in silence, the occasional dry sob escaping him.

It is now very warm, I’m-going-to-be-sick-and-pass-out warm, and I struggle to keep up with Eric, as if I ever could. Used to working outside all day, every day, even he is exhausted, and sweat covers his face, neck and chest. He shed his shirt long ago. He keeps resting on the handle of the maul as if he’s short of breath. Seeing him tire is unnerving because it is so rare, and I have to pull the tool from his hands—and his angry eyes—to get him to release it to me. I can feel his impatience as I make ridiculously little progress, and let him take possession of the tool after only a few minutes.

After roughly thirty minutes, we have made it about three feet down. I am worried it is not enough, but he says it is, and I defer to his assumed previous burying experience. I also know better than to argue with a deeply grieving, unstable man holding a 20 lb piece of iron. We both look at Sage and try to accept what we are about to do to her. He initially tries to shake me off when I reach for her at the same time, but relents and lets my arms join his under her body.

Lowering her into the cool bed we have created for her is excruciating, and my eyes close rather than risk meeting Eric’s above her as we hold her together. It is at this point I become aware that I am not able to feel my own grief because I am so overwhelmed with his. In some way this seems unfair to Sage, and I briefly find the energy to be angry with Eric. We have just laid her to rest when Rosemary flies without warning into the hole with Sage. Now her imagined grief washes over me too, and I am undone. Eric turns away and begins to cry once again. In my mind she has figured out what we intend to do, and she is horrified and confused. Whatever her true thoughts, she is undisputedly distressed. I scoop her into my arms and hold her as she scratches to be let down, now crying out with a high-pitched call. I set her on the edge of the grave and tell her to stay, and she does, eventually switching her gaze from my worried face back to Sage. Her face is now one tragic question. Eric and I find Sage’s favorite toys which lay scattered about the yard and lay them with her. Thyme perks up when she sees us collecting toys but retreats at Eric’s look. I am reaching for the broken shovel when Eric says, rather frantically, “Wait. She needs a tennis ball.”

I hold my breath and wait for him to find one and lay it between her paws. Death would have been preferable to witnessing this death of a friendship—maybe his only true friendship. Unable to put it off any longer, we begin to fill the hole we worked so hard to create just moments before. When we have returned all the dirt we had removed, we start collecting rocks from around the farm to lay them on the mound we have created. We have spent years clearing rocks from all parts of the property, yet for some reason we cannot find enough of them to do her justice. While Eric searches in the back of the property, I go around to the front of the house, to my flower garden. It is not a garden now—the heat, the gophers and my depressed indifference have killed its beauty weeks before—it is nothing more than a crescent-shaped piece of earth surrounded by heavy and variegated stones I have put there over the course of the previous months.

One by one, we move them to the backyard for Sage. We pile them on her to keep her safe from anything that would dare disturb the peace she has earned from her eleven years on this earth. I feel I could kill a marauding coyote with my bare hands should I catch one defiling her final bed. Rosie has gone back to playing with Thyme now, and seems reconciled to her loss, and I envy her desperately. The same cannot be said for Eric. He asks me to be left alone with her, and I gladly retreat. I try to stay occupied with the chores I have yet to complete. A few hours pass and darkness falls. No one eats, but Eric drinks interminably sitting in his office, multiple beers lined up in front of him to save him the hassle of getting up and down every few minutes for a new one. He easily downs 9 or 10 in the first 90 minutes.

On edge from his drinking but unable to stand the sight of him bearing this alone, I go and sit with him in his office, where he sits quietly. He has been there for hours. A few moments after I join him, he sets his beer down on the desk before him. He does not raise his eyes.

“Who really called today?”

I am caught completely off-guard, which in and of itself catches me completely off-guard. I am astounded that his fear has percolated through the pain of this loss to aim for me. Why should I have been surprised? We did not experience emotion even remotely the same. This had sent him God knows where, and I had lost his trail in our combined grief.

“I told you while we were outside.” Was he really questioning my honesty while burying my own dog? I could not believe that. Not even from Eric. There had to be some mistake. “Samanatha called while you were at Clint’s, and I hung up when you drove up so I could start helping you dig again.”

“There is no record of her call on your cell.”

This cannot be happening. This cannot be happening on top of the devastating death of my dog. I have wandered the house and yard for hours, trying to find a place for the pain, and trying even harder to find a place for his, and he has found time in his mourning to double-check the record of incoming calls on my phone.

That fucking phone. How many times had I wished I had left it lying in the weeds when he threw it out of the RV in Idaho during a drunken rage years ago? It had brought me nothing but hell. It was nothing more than a monitoring device he may as well have buckled around my neck the day I got it. Just the sound of it ringing—and I initially typed “wringing”—was now enough to double my heart rate, just anticipating the next tirade he was calling me with; or worse, fearing a wrong number that would lead to an endless, meaningless interrogation when the phone bill—with all its errantly damning numbers—came in the mail. I wished fervently that I had dropped it in the ground with Sage before we heaped the dirt back upon her.

These thoughts occupied the space of a second. Within two I was out of my chair in search of my phone, unwilling to stand falsely accused by a technical glitch.

“Sit down,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.”

It mattered. One more time, Eric had taught me that just when I was convinced there was no room inside of me for any more grief, there still was. My grief for Sage was torn now with renewed grief for us. I should have handed the phone to Eric while Sam was still on the line. I shouldn’t have answered at all, and she’d have left a message. I should have left the phone in Idaho… I left his office and went to Sage. I cried in anger now. How could a dog so loyal leave me alone in this life? Rosie crawled into my lap in the darkness, and together we cried.

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Friday, October 12, 2007


[If you are easily offended, Republican, or both, consider yourself forewarned.]

I'm not sure who started this whole Inspi(red) campaign, but I like to blame Bono from U2. Don't get me wrong--I'm all for ending the AIDS epidemic by buying iPods and sexy (red) T's--I just think it may have gotten a little out of hand. Or maybe I'm just getting Ti(red) of seeing those damn shirts everywhere.

Anyway, I got so hot and Bothe(red) thinking about it that I started jotting down a few new slogans they might want to use. They've already expanded things a bit by adding Admi(red), Ado(red), and Inc(red)ible (nice twist), but I think they could go further.

Here are some of my suggestions:

Reti(red): bumper sticker for old cars with new tires
Bugge(red): for the pissed-off British crowd
Expi(red): for the hipper deceased crowd
Beleague(red): our constitution of late
Surrende(red): a shirt to wear every April 15 as we file our taxes
Philande(red): the reason behind 75% of all divorces
Flatte(red): for women who have had breast-reduction surgery
Fea(red): what all chihuahuas deserve to wear
Tortu(red): for everyone the US supposedly does NOT torture
Plaste(red): for your average college student on any given night
Wi(red): for your average college student the morning of an exam
Bewilde(red): something for George W. to wear during press conferences and other public appearances

Suffe(red): for anyone who has ever experienced a Wisconsin winter
Trigge(red): for the Lone Ranger
Sh(red)ded: what you should wear as you ride this

Abhor(red): a shirt I'd like to give Ann Coulter.
Igno(red): for how most of us feel most of the time
Bliste(red): for those who have been in the sun too long
Blogge(red): okay, I made that up
Remembe(red): for all those who died on 9/11, and all those innocent souls on all sides who have died in our misguided attempts to seek vengeance afterwards
Fluste(red): a shirt I should have been wearing when I met my rock star
Dismembe(red): for anyone kicked out of a club they once joined
Inter(red): new graveyard dress code
(Red) Sea: would be great for tourism in the area, eh?

And why don't we throw in a little wildlife marketing, while we're at it? We could make shirts supporting (Red)-Winged Blackbirds,

(Red)-Tailed Hawks,

and Rhode Island (Red)s...

Fi(red) : the shirt I'll be wearing if I don't get back to work

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Back to Life, Back to Reality

[I told you Vancouver was a high-class affair. Tiaras mandatory! L-R: Heidi, Dolly, Tosh, Steph and Laurie, who has never looked happier ;o) ]

It is a real struggle to stay awake as the plane readies for taxi. My head throbs, my body aches, and my right calf in particular threatens to seize back into a Charlie horse at any moment.

Sleep after the concert was brief and interspersed with unsettling images. Lights out at 2:41 a.m. with leg cramps starting around 4. I eased myself (i.e. fell gracefully) out of bed to avoid disturbing my bunkmate. I clutched in desperation as my muscles spasmed. At six I awoke certain I was about to throw up the pancakes from the Hurricane Café a few hours earlier. Gratefully, the feeling passed, soon to be replaced by a migraine.

[Several adorable pictures of Chris with his kids onstage follow...]

“No leg cramps!” said a relieved Tosh as she greeted me in the morning. Still cradling my lower leg in my hands, she nodded at me. “Start cramping and your body’s telling you something.” I was listening—it had definitely grabbed my attention. I limped to the bathroom.

The ride to the airport was a blur. The driver snapped tersely at dispatch that the Sheraton had refused to let him unload and he would not be attempting that stop again. Meanwhile, one passenger snapped photos of the city as our monstrous bus weaved through the narrow downtown streets during rush hour. I realized that the only picture in my camera—after everything that had happened and everyone I had met—was a shot of the Fetish Fashion shop located just east of my hotel. My much-anticipated picture with Chris Cornell and the band waited patiently in one of my new friends’ camera. I was still feeling the idiot for flashing rabbit ears behind Chris’ head as the first flash went off. Have you ever been possessed by a ridiculous urge and found it happening before you could stop it? That is the story of my life. I behaved for the second picture, with the exception of daring to rest my hand on Chris’ back for one electric second. Every time I think of being so close to him I start shaking my head in disbelief.

I shake myself awake as our wheels leave the tarmac. Remembering talking to Chris’ wife Vicky after the show. A beautiful bronze-skinned waif. She wore an olive green, short-waisted turtle neck over a black mini-skirt that revealed how tiny she truly is. Tall black boots. Her mother, with the same waifish figure and cascading curls the color of coffee with just a dash of milk, appears a bit later, after we had met the band. As we had watched her with Vicky and the children on the side of the stage we had assumed she was Vicky’s sister—they looked nearly identical both in appearance and age. Upon being introduced to her by Vicky backstage just after the signing, we were all in disbelief. She was in Seattle to take the kids back to Paris, with Vicky to follow sometime after. We had no time to react as Chris walked up to Vicky and gently wrapped his arm around her shoulders to walk out with her. “You need rest,” he said. Who were we to argue?

As we had waited our turn to greet Chris and the band, we all told Vicky how much we enjoyed watching the kids—Toni, 3 years old and Chris Jr., 21 months—interact with Chris on stage. Their love and affection for each other is overwhelming. Chris Jr. wore an oversized black T-shirt with Black Hole “Son” in large white letters, while Toni wore a mocha smock over jeans and glittering tennis shoes. As usual, both children wore state-of-the-art noise-blocking headphones yet danced non-stop to the beat they couldn’t help but feel. Toni smiled and waved at her dad throughout, and after coming downstage to help him sing Hunger Strike, she turned frequently to wave to us in the front row, still all smiles.

As the kids danced at his feet, Chris joked about how difficult it was to steal baby Chris’ attention from drummer Jason. At one point he moved himself between little Chris and Jason’s drum set and tried to recapture his attention by flipping the mic stand to the floor and back with his foot, but succeeded only in nearly beaning Toni with it by accident. “I guess Daddy isn’t as cool as he thinks he is,” said Chris. Throughout it all, baby Chris strained to look around his dad to get a better view of Jason, who further amused him by twirling a drumstick through his fingers. “Okay,” added Chris. “Daddy can’t do that.”

Meanwhile, Toni was amusing herself by trying on bracelets thrown on stage by the crowd. She tried to put one on little Chris as he remained entranced by Jason’s Ludwigs. Later, Vicky told us that Toni stages her very own rock shows with her play microphone, while Chris Jr. is a big fan of and YouTube video that features him as a guest star.

As we approached 25,000 feet, I lose my battle and fall asleep, not waking again until I hear the announcement three and a half hours later that we are preparing to land. Safe to say I slept Like A Stone.

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Starstruck in Seattle

Front row (the band): Drummer Jason, Bassist Corey, Chris Cornell, Guitarist Yogi and Guitarist Peter
Back row (the rabid fans): Laurie, Angela, Nancy and Tosh

The more accurate, tired side of Chris and the band--Yogi excepted!

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Paramount Affair

[L-R: Tosh, Nancy, Heidi, Laurie, Dolly and Lydia. All photos by Steph. Thanks, Steph!]

Experiencing Chris Cornell’s show from the front row of the pit at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre was a testament to the resilience of a forty-one year old body. Ever since living in Seattle in the early 90’s during a time when I couldn’t afford a Soundgarden poster, much less a concert, I yearned for more than watching Matt Dillon channel Chris Cornell for his role in the movie, Singles, or running into Eddie Vedder at the local grocery store, or spying Layne Staley picking up a copy of his latest CD at the Fred Meyers on Capitol Hill. I wanted to hear them sing so clear and loud it made the floor beneath me tremble.

In Seattle on Wednesday night, it trembled.

After weeks of intense e-mail planning, eight like-minded female fans and I from across the country conspired to descend upon the Emerald City on October 3 with one goal in mind—to see Cornell from the rail. This might not be so noteworthy had we all been in our early twenties, as one or two of our group was, but most of our group fell between the ages of 37 and 48. At 41, I represented the mean. I was the perfect study model for this experiment.

I flew in first and staked a place in line around 1 p.m. as the other gals made their way down from the previous evening’s Vancouver show. Vancouver, while reporting an amazing 2 ½ hour set, had been a rather genteel affair—at least from the standpoint of the audience. It was reserved seating on the floor and the balcony. Seattle would be general admission and, generally speaking, it would be mayhem.

Life in the pit during any rock concert is interesting and fraught with peril. I have ducked teenagers before at Rage Against the Machine, Godsmack and Foo Fighters’ concerts, and I know how quickly someone else’s Doc Martens can find the back of your head. Life on the rail, I quickly learned, is another beast altogether.

The operative word here is pressure. You have the length of the opening act in which to breathe; once the center of everyone’s attention enters the room, breathing becomes a luxury not to be experienced until the show and all of its encores have finished.

Speaking of the main attraction… Chris entered the stage wearing black low-rise (emphasis on low) jeans and dark lace-up boots. He wore a ¾ sleeve T-shirt with horizontal blue and white stripes that for some reason looked like something one might purchase in France. A black double-breasted jacket topped it off. His hair was long, wild and full of curls, dyed a deep, almost black-brown. From ten feet away, his blue-green eyes could pierce steel—or melt it. Times like these one could be grateful for a rail to lean upon.

Though he entered to the opening strains of Silence the Voices, he carried not a microphone but rather a broom and dustpan from the Paramount’s janitorial closet. He shuffled to and fro as he made his way closer to the front of the stage, not looking up until he was front and center. Feigning surprise at the crowd already beside themselves, he began to sing, leaning on the broom and dustpan with eyes closed. Yogi’s guitar roadie made his way towards Chris and coaxed the cleaning supplies from his hands. Whether or not he re-strung the broom later is still unknown.

As Chris sang his anti-war anthem, a handful of easily-recognizable fans sat stage left, just out of the lights. Most noticeable was wife Vicky and their two children, Toni and Chris Jr. Vicky’s mother, a mirror-image of her daughter and assumed by most of us to be Vicky’s sister, joined them as well. The kids were soon at Chris' feet.

And then, it began. The pressure cooker. Our group of nine was stationed combat-style elbow to elbow, wide-stanced, front and center. Laurie and I split the very center of the stage. We were all determined to stay connected, but we underestimated the forces we were up against. Might as well have tried to stop a herd of stampeding buffalo. Somewhere in song number three, No Such Thing, I was faced with a decision. The crowd surge from behind, while expected, was far more powerful than I had anticipated. There were spear-like elbows striking my ribs with deadly force, and every pint of air I had taken in prior to that point had now been expelled from my body like the last dregs of toothpaste from an empty tube.

I still had my goal—my mission: to stare without reservation at the object of my affection, whom I believed would never be this close to my person again. I added one last minute goal as Let me Drown began: to survive the show conscious and free of broken bones. I was beginning to doubt my ability to achieve the latter. Try as I might to focus on Chris belting out the high notes directly in front of me, I could not keep myself from wondering at exactly what point the bones of one’s forearms might snap as they tried to stem the force of hundreds of rabid fans behind them. How many pounds of force were required to fracture a rib, I pondered as yet another elbow slammed between two of my screaming ribs. I was wishing now I would have worn one of those bull-riding vests. I looked to my right and saw Laurie, veteran rocker, holding firm, despite a split lip as a frantic couple in their fifties were lifted/dragged over her head. I glanced to my left to see new friend Dolly, a good 60 pounds lighter and 17 years younger than me, grimacing in pain but holding fast, still finding enough air to sing. If Dolly could bear it, I thought, surely I could. Though, of course, her bones would heal much faster…

During the next several songs I adopted a Zen-like approach to the experience. As I have no knowledge of Zen spiritualism whatsoever, you may feel free to take that with a grain of salt. I decided that sure, my body could have withstood this abuse much easier back in 1991, but mentally I was far stronger now than I was back then. And that is where I put my faith. That, and a fairly comprehensive health insurance plan. I had been careful to bring my driver’s license and credit card along for the ride, but I was now questioning the wisdom of leaving my health card back at the hotel.

Before we hit the fifth song, Outshined, women and men were being lifted, dragged and pulled over our heads by a bevy of security guards who wore the not-too-reassuring look of several large deer in the headlights. I stood more chance of being rescued by my new mates than by these guys, I decided. I hoped it would not be necessary. Dolly was under more duress than ever now, but I noticed that a man behind her had braced both of his arms to either side of her on the rail to provide some buffer from the relentless crowd. I found this both reassuring and envy-inducing, as all I had behind me was a young girl who, it seemed, would soon be fused onto my spine.

Chris. Songs—Show Me How to Live (through this, I thought) and Say Hello to Heaven (also appropriate). Yogi’s guitar screaming at us directly at ear level. My eyes fixed helplessly on that area between the bottom of Chris’ striped shirt and the top of his low black jeans. Every time he raised his arms above his head he revealed a land I would always dream of visiting, at which point I lost any and all self-respect and crumpled into the rail. I’d tear my eyes away to watch his face but as those eyes passed over the front lines of his fans I would be overpowered and forced to lower them once again. Was he even singing? Did it even matter? Breathing became less and less important. The shirt soon became unimportant, too.

Somehow I had managed to cling yet to the sign I had made on my coffee table two nights before. I was such a dork. I drew it with multi-colored Sharpies and covered it with laminate, expecting rain. All it lacked was neon lights. As Chris took his first breather and went acoustic he asked for, and received, requests. He recognized those from our group who had been in Vancouver the night before and made an effort to read the sign they had made up while sitting for hours in front of the venue. He chose one of their songs, Wide Awake, and played it, to all of our delight.

[Chris and guitarist Peter Thorn]

“Tom Morello used to say this was the most political song we ever wrote.” He told us. “But Tom didn’t write it, I did.” I looked around for Tom, expecting an argument. No Tom. He said something about never forgetting what had happened before, during and after Katrina, adding what we already knew—that this song had arisen from those emotions. He wrote, he played it, and we sang it.

At the next pause I held my sign up again, regardless of the risk to my ribs as my arms were no longer braced to protect them. To compensate, I bent at the hip and jammed my knees into the grill of the rail to create room to draw a breath. Later I would discover a rainbow of bruises to show the pressure my knees had absorbed.

My brightly-colored but pathetic sign still seemed invisible to Chris. Forty-one years of being invisible, culminating in complete transparency at the very feet of my number one icon. Me, bitter? I made a fateful decision and tossed the sign as carefully as I could to a point on the stage beside him. It hit his right boot. Shit. This, he noticed. He laughed and bent down, still holding his guitar, to pick it up.

“Just play it, Fucker!” He laughed. I was mortified but no more noticed than I had been a few minutes before. He held it up to the crowd to show the side which requested Call Me A Dog. “It landed this side up so I don’t have to play the other one.” He dropped the sign and launched into my song. My song.

He didn’t have to see me in the crowd, I reasoned. New BFF Tosh had offered me her spare pass to go backstage. Backstage to meet Chris Cornell. Top of my To Do list (okay, right under Evict Bat From Attic). All I had to do was survive another two hours of bone-crushing madness. Thanks to a healthy dose of adrenaline and pride, I did—even when he jumped down from the stage right in front of us and pretended to be a rabid fan of Peter, eventually breaking 4 of his 5 strings. Peter continued to play on his last string, unfazed.

Things moved insanely fast following the show. Most of us were fully occupied trying to re-inflate our lungs, but I think we all managed to find a comb and run it through our gnarled and sweaty hair. I’m sure it helped immensely. ;o) Anybody would be a beauty after sitting outside for 6 hours, then enduring 2 ½ hours of extreme heat and physical violence. We were a picture, to be sure. Within minutes of the show ending we were ushered by the tour manager along the side of the stage, up some narrow stairs. I passed a large trash can and was tempted to throw up all my nerves into it. Instead I dug out a melted Junior Mint and sucked on it, thinking it might make my breath just slightly more appealing than stomach bile. A group of 12 or so, we filed down a hallway and into an elevator, where I requested No Moshing from the exhausted group. I leaned gratefully against the wall of the little box until we reached our destination. I can’t tell you if we went up or down. I was still spinning.

Into a room that looked ready to stage a convention for door-to-door vacuum salesmen. Shabby chic. Okay—just shabby. No band, yet. We all noticed the table which held several iced waters and sodas. None of us had any voice to speak of (pun intended) and a young kid my friends knew from the Cornell Discussion Boards wasted no time asking if we could have some. They waved us over. A small woman stuck her head out of some nearby curtains and brought our attention to a small cluster of chocolate cupcakes with white frosting and chocolate sprinkles.

“Eat the cupcakes! They’re really good!” For the first time in my life, I had no desire whatsoever to consume chocolate cake. This, I thought, was powerful stuff. Give me a week with Chris Cornell and there was no telling how much weight I could lose. (Oh, the places I could take that last statement…)

Word passed through the small crowd that “they” were coming. “They” did indeed arrive, entering the room in single file. Guitarist Yogi, bassist Corey, Chris, guitarist Peter, and drummer Jason. I lost my balance and fell back on Laurie’s feet, who waved it off most graciously. The fivesome made their way across the room and into chairs behind a long table without incident. Goddamn—the pure talent!

We waited as a family of four asked Chris to sign dozens of professional pictures, which left him grumbling. Then a couple took their iPods up to be signed. So much for that original idea—my iPod and phone were all I had to be signed, other than my book, The Shipping News, which had ridden out the storm shoved into the left sleeve of my coat,

It’s funny—I am not a huge worshipper of signatures, but something about having them all right there, twiddling their Sharpies in anticipation, made me want to get every surface of every belonging I had tattooed with their initials. Thankfully for all involved, I resisted the urge. As I made my way to Chris, I thanked Jason and Peter, for whom I had nothing to sign. Bad groupie. Then, Chris.

Chris looked at me expectantly. Insert witty phrase here.

“Sorry I threw my sign at you,” I croaked.

“That’s okay.” He smiled. I started fumbling with my electronics. “I didn’t know—I didn’t bring anything to sign.” I looked up and he smiled still, kindly, no sign of him rolling his eyes, as I was doing to myself. “All I have is my phone and my iPod.”

He scooped them both up and pocketed them. “Thanks very much!” He said. “Have a great night!”

I took a step further down the line, feeling like I had just made a modern-day sacrifice to a modern-day god. I looked him directly in the eye. “You can have anything of mine you want.”

Jesus Christ [Pose]. What did I just say? I hoped my voice was still inaudible. He laughed again and put my items on the table. He signed them both and handed them back to me. He was still smiling, and I was amazed that it did not look pasted there. Oh, it may very well have been, but he did a remarkable job of making it look genuine. I was grateful for that. Tosh was moving right up behind me when I remembered the one thing I had wanted to get from him. (Not that. I hadn’t lost ALL my senses.)
I drew his gaze away from Tosh as I asked him if I could shake his hand.

“Of course!” And he did. Firm, friendly, warm. Eye contact. Heaven Beside Me.

Soon road manager Yonnie was yelling that we needed to get our picture and get moving. A small battle ensued as Yonnie and our group argued about whether we would be in front of or behind the table to get our picture. Funny how it comes down to the smallest things… We had to get Chris’ attention to confirm to Yonnie that yes, we could file behind them. File we did. A force stronger than nature made me stop directly behind Chris. I could not, would not, move any further. I had come a long, long way for this, and I don’t mean the distance between Wisconsin and Washington, or even the 17 years. Something else. I think I did everything but pee on his chair to stake my territory. Really, one of my finest moments.

Until, of course, I found myself holding rabbit ears up over Chris’ head as the first flash went off. Holy shit, I thought. I can’t take me anywhere! The girls told me to behave. Sure, I said, as my hand settled on Chris’ back. Anything you want.

Anything you want.

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Monday, October 8, 2007

John Henry Takes the Final Turn

Racing Great JOHN HENRY

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Thoroughbred great John Henry, two-time Horse of the Year who earned more than $6.5 million before retiring to the Kentucky Horse Park, was euthanized Monday. He was 32.

In his career, John Henry earned 39 victories, 15 seconds and nine thirds in 83 starts and earned $6,597,947. He was inducted into thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame in 1990.

End of John Henry's story.
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Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Shipping News

I'm supposed to be writing about Chris tonight. Not writing so much as typing. It is already written. But tonight I am tempted away from the computer by a book. A friend gave me this book months ago, and I thought it might keep me occupied during hours of waiting at the Paramount in Seattle. Turns out, my new friends kept me occupied and the book was simply a weight in my hand.

My plan was to finish the book in line and leave it in the lobby before the concert. You don't take books to rock concerts. Besides, the book was irksome--not in size so much as in style. I have never seen a book so full of partial sentences. I am used to Dickens or Stendhal, who begin a sentence one day and finish it the following week. This was different. Fragmented. Written by a writer with A.D.D. who couldn't keep track of a subject, verb, object and prepositional phrase or two. Not all at once. So she chopped it up. Single servings. Actions. Descriptions. Characters.

I marveled at the first few chapters and kept glancing at the cover to make sure I have read it right: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. The Pulitzer Prize for Fragments? It reminded me of a music video that never sat on one scene for more than a second--never long enough for you to be sure of what you were seeing.

But there was a story, suspense, in the short, abrupt phrasing, and I kept reading. The hero was an awkward, middle-aged human with no accomplishments and too much self-awareness. I was attached to him. Then, the concert. I still had at least three-quarters of the book left when the doors opened and the music started.

This was Seattle in October, and I had a suitable coat, fleece covered with a rain-repellent shell, and a zip-off hood. It did rain, and hard, for a few hours during the wait, but I had gotten there so early that I was protected from the weather from the inward curve of the box office and outwardly-curving marquis. I don't think they had time to replace all the bulbs on the sign that you could see from the Sound or Capitol Hill. The night before I walked towards it and it said "PAR MO " in neon orange letters.

But the coat I wouldn't discard, even for Cornell, and I found that when I slipped the book into one sleeve it stopped short at the wrist, which narrowed to half the book's width. So I watched--was crushed during--the concert holding fast to my jacket with The Shipping News lying protected in the left sleeve. I lost my sign--the sign I drew to request songs from Chris that he actually played when I threw it frisbee-style at his feet and he picked it up and said "Play it, Fucker!" laughing at me--but the book survived. So, too, a partial box of Junior Mints. I ate one before I met Chris. Took me two days to bring myself to throw the box away. For a moment, I thought of having him sign it. Luckily, decided against it.

I could not read the book on the flight home. If I was not sleeping I was scrawling notes about the preceding 24 hours. I was battered with memories like the crowd had battered me the night before. I needed no more bruises. Best to get it out while I could.

When I got home, I tried to transcribe my notes, and a few made it aboard the blogging vessel. But the book. While at the grocery store Saturday night Ginger had pulled the book off the coffee table and dented it with one threatening canine. My fault. I had left a Kleenex in it to hold my place. Ginger loves her Kleenex, and the paperback had almost bought it in her quest for my bookmark, which did not survive.

So I sat down with the novel before Ginger could finish it off. And could not get up. Oh, I managed to make it to the freezer for some Dove chocolate ice cream, but went right back to the book.

Tonight, I finished it. I have the taste of sea salt in my mouth, the stench of boiled squid in my nostrils. Images of boats, whole and wrecked, on the rocks of Newfoundland. A desire to learn how to make knots.

And now I write in fragments. Damn E. Annie Proulx.

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

Seattle--The Approach

E.J. Peiker, Nature Photographer

It will surprise no one to hear it was pouring when we touched down in Seattle. The jet engines from Horizon, Alaska Air and Jet Trans blew sheets of rain across the tarmac. The clouds were low enough to touch if you stood on your tip-toes.

We came in slow and low as we approached the airport, getting a close-up view of Bellevue and the University District—there’s the enormous Husky Stadium, right by the university gym where I worked off so much anger and disappointment on the bikes and weights after losing my heart so many years ago. Apparently there's no returning to this city without facing a deluge of memories.

Just ten minutes before we were in full sun above the clouds—maybe 10,000 feet? As we dropped in altitude it was as if we were climbing between the white cotton sheets of a luxuriously padded bed. At first our mattress was formed by shapeless mounds of gnarled wool but they soon gave way to something resembling the combed fiber one might find next to an old spinning wheel.

Unexpectedly, we dropped lower and felt the engines pull back until we were cruising somewhere around 20 mph. The elderly woman sitting next to me had turned as pale as the cotton we had just passed through. We all got free passes to the aviation museum at Boeing Field where a silent Concorde sat with its new friends, a WWII bomber and smaller, groupie bi-planes.

At this point, water was everywhere—above and below—and an invisible hand whipped white-frosted wakes into lake Washington. What deciduous trees we saw among the firs remained mostly green with only a few giving way to the rapidly changing season. Mt. Rainier was a no-show on this ride, but hopefully the outbound trip would make time for a mountainous diversion. I have had my breath drawn from my body on numerous occasions as our wings have tipped and dipped themselves in the perennial frosting of the Cascades. I have watched mountain goats leap from plane to plane amusing themselves with the constant stream of traffic through their altitudinous neighborhood.

Coming into the gate on this trip we are met with a series of minor delays. We watch idle planes, rolling planes, and breathe deeply the strong vapors of evaporating jet fuel. As we finally secure a parking space we find ourselves face to face with a Frontier plane. On its tail stands an enormous painting of a mountain goat. It appears to be smiling.

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

What if I told you

That I could take "Meet Chris Cornell" off my To Do list?

I suppose you would want to know more. You're going to have to wait until I get some sleep, first. Let's just say I owe my new friends BIG. A huge thank you to Laurie, Heidi, Steph, Angela, Lydia, Dolly, Christie and most of all, Tosh, for an unforgettable Wednesday in Seattle! I suppose it wouldn't hurt to thank Chris and Vicky, either. Thank you!!

Jason, Peter, Chris, Yogi and Corey
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Monday, October 1, 2007

Everlasting Gobstoppers

How one can be blue between the release of Dave Grohl's album and a live Cornell concert in Seattle without having tried Willy Wonka's new blueberry chewing gum is beyond me, but I have managed it. Willy Wonka came up, rather inexplicably, in a conversation with a friend today, and this evening it seemed the perfect background movie for packing and mood-lightening.

As I prepared a sign I'll never have to nerve to hold up at the concert Wednesday night, I listened more than watched a movie I know so well. Still, I was surprised when I heard Grandpa Joe read the date on the golden ticket.

"It says October 1, Charlie!" Get grandpa some shoes, and fast; it's time to get to the Chocolate Factory. If there's anything I love more than irony, it's ironic coincidence. A little Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream never hurt, either.
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