Monthly Archives: August 2008

The moors

I walked out of Glenfall and down the road, past the Howwood Inn and up past the football pitch, down along the road that leads to…god damn, I’ve forgotten the little village, it’s where Michael lives, I remember walking down that road several times in company of Michael and Knoxie and Spider, too and from copious amounts of drinks, particularly one sunny Monday when I attended a barbecue with several chefs from the Johnstone area who tend to have Mondays off and I got a sunburn. First and last Scottish sunburn I must say, a unique event in the annals of history. One of the chefs lay comatose on the grass after a long wedding weekend, a wreck the like of which I have never seen after days of drinking and no sleep and a memorable but highly ill advised battle amongst the men with their wooden skean dhus which had left him with the most hideous bruises imaginable.

But today I made the first right up the hill and towards the moors, the sky was grey and it was raining, light rain, the sort of rain where the air is half water half mist and the wind blew hard against my face. Last I was up here was late spring and the day was clearer, Ben Lomond rose up in the distance covered in snow. Ben Lomond today lay shrouded in mist, unseen, looming on the edges of my imagination, the world reduced to the steep climb between the trees of Skipton wood, the gurgling of the burn to my right. I love the woods, and yet…and yet coming to the edge of the trees, seeing the green expanse of the moor rising open before me fills me with a fierce joyful sort of wildness. The wind screams up here, mist driven into your face, hair whipping around your head. Sheep watch you warily and if you come too close they bounce away (there is something about sheep running that always makes me laugh and I’ve tried to pinpoint why I find it so delightful but haven’t quite been able to put my finger on it). I wandered fiercely joyful along the curve of the moor, the bog of the old damn to my left, heather and moss and long grass beneath my feet, a sort of gothic elf today not having packed at all for moors so I had my trousers rolled up to my knees, long black socks, smart black trainers, black sweater…and I tried to take pictures but the moors in the rain defy capture.

It got exciting when I came to the first burn, having passed the hill where an early pict settlement supposedly once lay though nothing now remains…that too loomed large in my imagination as it could not be seen really through the weather. But the burn ran high, after a minute peering up and down in a vain search for likely rocks, I grinned and stepped into it, and continued to squelch happily on my way. The moors don’t go on far enough for me, they are over far too soon, and I had to make the left through the gate to pass the little farm. This time I was squelching through mud heavily enriched by cows, luckily I came to another burn and freed myself of the enrichment. And then back onto the lonely little country roads and winding down the hill and the sun came out to sparkle on the wet grass and summer flowers and pick out the shaggy coats of the cows as they stood watching me incuriously curious. This one was my favourite, all alone in his field and I spose unhappy in his loneliness, he stared at me and then followed me for 20 minutes or so, ambling slowly alongside the fence

I almost danced down the hill, past the trout fishery, down and down and back to Howwood. The world was gloriously beautiful as you can see


And the small things full of wonder.

Once the sun was out the pictures came alive of course, the light against dark clouds extraordinary and beautiful. Still, the sun did not come out for long, and played hide and seek with the rain which never quite let up. It had almost disappeared again for the last look back to where I had come from:

And now I am sitting in an airport, on my way to London and 4 days of great things…

From LA to Glasgow

I rode my bike home on Friday night, a late night train ride and finally I was on my own in the mist and the darkness. The moon hung orange yellow in a wedge just over half full. I love it when the night is like that, the moon is like that. I had been to Grand Ave performances and danced and danced to Very Be Careful, they were as phenomenal as everyone had said they would be, cumbias the way I love them. My legs hurt the next morning but I love to dance outside under the stars…and I love L.A., the diversity of it, the abuelitos and the folks my age and the cholo kids and the two white goth kids and people of every age and race and nationality and idiom there mixing it up, dancing all around the plaza. And dancing cumbias! Chingado! I love it.

Saturday I hung out in echo park in the morning, and then Sunset Junction! Antibalas Afrobeat something or other! Phenomenal! They were amazing live, and though the horrible $15 fee to get in (for suckers) means that hipsters are incredibly over-represented at this great event, still, there’s a mixed up crowd, and lots more dancing…hanging out with Charles who got us in through his apartment and meeting a whole new crew of folks and talking about sci fi and anarchist zines from back in the day and the politics of Vegas and zombies and I don’t even know what else. Such a great afternoon that included bottles of champagne, rum with lime juice, elotes, pupusas, a lot of walking and staying out until I had missed the last train home. Damn. That was sad. Or maybe it’s just sad to live in Norwalk. But Sunday got back to Norwalk late and had to pack desperately and try and finish up everything and…

Here I am! Sleepy, very sleepy. But Scotland. My aunt and uncle’s house smells always the same, and that is impossibly comforting for some reason, like home away from home. I got in really early, will certainly try to never fly Continental again but sometimes for the cheap fares you just have to. Still, the people were nice enough, you can just tell they work for a crap company that is cutting every single corner. But I am here, it feels a bit like home, the rain is falling softly and the world is a colour of green that I had forgotten and Margaret Burt came over for tea and she is one of my absolute favourite people even if I started falling asleep. You’d think it would be Margaret given she is over 70 I believe and brilliant, but no, it was me. I worked for the entirety of two flights editing a manuscript you see, and the damn thing is still not done but close, and I am feeling GOOD about that.  And I get to talk to my little brother tonight and see him tomorrow, and then it’s off to meet new and amazing people and when I took my two hour nap this morning I couldn’t sleep at all for the excitement of thinking about it. New friends and old friends, new ideas and catching up and more new ideas, a jaunt to London and a trip to Aberdeen where I have not yet been, life is very good, though at present I am really looking forward to the hour hitting 8:30 or 9 when I will feel somewhat justified in getting more sleep!

Sheepherders and the California Minimum Wage

So I’m doing a wee bit of research for a fellowship I’m applying for…money is money, and money paid to do something akin to what I want to do is good money so I’m applying. So I’m trying to explain the abysmal situation that most working folks in LA find themselves in, and from there heading down the ladder to all those who are sometimes with work, out of work, unable to work. And what my writing might be able to do about it…I’m writing a good line to be sure, but it’ll take a hell of a lot more than writing for damn sure.

At any rate, I was looking some stuff up about the California minimum wage and discovered this juicy tidbit from off of the official California Department of Industrial Relations (a misnomer if the below quote is anything to judge by…you can read all about it yourself at http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/faq_minimumwage.htm):

Q. What is the minimum wage?

A. Effective January 1, 2008, the minimum wage in California is $8.00 per hour.

For sheepherders, however, effective July 1, 2002, the minimum wage was set at $1,200.00 per month. Effective January 1, 2007 this wage was increased to a minimum monthly salary of $1,333.20. Effective January 1, 2008, the minimum monthly salary for sheepherders will be $1,422.52. Wages paid to sheepherders may not be offset by meals or lodging provided by the employer. Instead, there are provisions in IWC Order 14-2007, Sections 10(F), (G) and (H) that apply to sheepherders with respect to monthly meal and lodging benefits required to be provided by the employer.

Yeah, I thought that was pretty sweet. Sheepherders. I’m glad they’re taken care of, or are they? I suppose a minimum monthly means they can’t be paid less then that for their work…how many hours do sheepherders work anyway? The ones in the bible seemed to be on pretty much 24/7 but it’s been many years since I spent time reading about them…

Actually this minimum wage takes care of no one really. A full time worker will earn $16,640 a year. That means a mom with her two kids is living below the federal poverty limit even though she is working full time. Though I guess she’ll be better off working at Burger King than herding sheep. Perhaps.

It’s really too bad that the Department of Industrial Relations’ Frequently Asked Questions section doesn’t include just how people are expected to live off of under $1,400 a month when the average 2 bedroom apartment in LA is now renting at $2,100. Forget about healthcare, car insurance, clothes, utilities, food…

For general info on just how badly you are fucked on minimum wage look at http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/2008/01/the_california_53.html, of course, the folks earning minimum wage already know all that.

Is perjury the same when it is the police who are guilty of it?

Luckily for Saul Eady, the police’s own recordings of a stakeout contradicted the testimony of detective David Friedrich. Accused of attempted murder, the other man arrested with him had already been convicted and received a life sentence…the only real evidence was the detective’s sworn testimony that he had seen Eady at the scene, driving the van involved in the incident. The tapes proved that at the time Friedrich never identified Eady, and that key things that Friedrich testified to under oath hadn’t in fact happened quite the way he said they did. In fact, nothing at all like the way he said they did.

So Eady is a free man, and what will happen to Friedrich? The District Attorney thinks he was just mistaken…such things happen after all. So what is the dfference between simply making a few mistakes, and outright lying? This sounds like lying to me. Which is perjury, and should be prosecuted. Even were it a simple mistake, it would have ended with an innocent man spending his life in prison as far too many other cases do. Eady had a good lawyer willing to put the extra time into getting additional evidence, and then to sift through 3 hours of confused police recordings and present them back to a judge. Very few defendants in our system have such a thing as a motivated lawyer, most in Eady’s position would have gone to jail for life. So what are the consequences for Friedrich and a broken justice system?

tango and transgression

Saturday night, it’s late, I’m playing soccer tomorrow morning, so just wanted to capture a few thoughts..

Went out to the Ford Amphitheater tonight to a show called Siempre Tango, the place is beautiful, it was my first time there and I hadn’t realized how beautiful it would be, nor how small…and we ate bread and cheese and fruit and dark chocolate, and had wine sitting on the stairs. Few things in life can beat that really!

I didn’t get a program…but the first half was a pianist, a modern composer. What is left to compose? I wondered. I am a lover of Beethoven and Mozart and Schubert, generally speaking modern piano leaves me rather cold, especially when jazzed up with a synthesizer added, the tap of cymbals, a bass…it sounds to me always like elevator music. I most enjoyed when he played alone, he was quite a superlative musician and I tried to follow the structure of the music, the sudden changes in key and tempo. Last night at Larry’s we were talking about how in this day and age it is no longer really possible to transgress, it is no longer possible to shock those involved in the arts (of course those not involved in the arts and living in the midwest are still susceptible) and I suppose it must be true of music as well. Nothing sounded really different to me, parts of it I loved and most of it I did not…I wonder how you can measure what is good and what is not…the age old question I suppose. But it is always nice to stretch my own musical knowledge and challenge my own likes and dislikes, find value in the new.

But those thoughts only occupied me for a short time, during the last number I sat and thought about Impromptu, where George Sand lies under the grand piano when Chopin is playing…in college I knew a pianist, and it is indeed quite extraordinary to lie under the piano when they are playing. And I wish I could lie under the piano in the Ford Amphitheater. It must be incredible.

The second half was…can you guess? Tango. Solid and traditional and I liked it much more, which worries me. I love tradition but I also like the new, I don’t always want to fall back on what has been done over and over, or always prefer the old to the modern. The dancing was beautiful, absolutely lovely…I must confess, however, tango has never been my favourite. It has that element of show to it that to me detracts from the beauty of the dance, it always feels choreographed though I suppose in small smokey clubs of Buenos Aires there are moments where it is not. Perhaps I would like it then. But as I have seen it, it always feels overly dramatic, as though the dancers in even their personal interactions must overblow everything, speak in self important and highly self-conscious periods, allow long tense pauses to stretch between lines, stare at people in a way that could either be sexy or more likely frightening. All that makes me want to laugh in a way, as it tickles my sense of the absurd as does anyone who takes themselves entirely too seriously, and the likelihood of me ever dancing with anyone wearing that much pomade or a black velvet jacket is pretty much nil. Unless he looks like Alejandro Fernandez perhaps. Who dances rancheras which I think after all I prefer.

So what I loved most about last night was the magician, he had a yo-yo sort of thing that he played with, he pulled flowers out of nowhere, he made tables and glasses of wine float. He made me happy. And even with all of my personal preferences above, the dancers were brilliant too, as spectacle they had everything to recommend them. Especially when one of the dancers fell out of her dress, well her top half fell out of her dress, and shocked the audience. Though we all knew it was ready to go at any time. That perhaps could count as transgressive though it was totally unplanned, so I suppose it must remain merely shocking. And I definitely enjoyed hanging out with Celine and the guys working with channel 36 over intermission, we saw a drunk couple tottering off downhill and knew that we would be friends with everyone when they suggested wheeling the two down on the moving dolly. Sadly the two of them had already gone round the bend before we thought of that.

A good night on top of many previous good nights and life is feeling above all good.

Night

I love the night, there is something about it…and there is something about being out in the darkness, out in the city at night, perhaps because this is LA and there are so few people on the streets, perhaps because I am a woman. But  I wandered Glasgow as well, I love traveling lonely through the darkness. There is something transgressive about it that only adds to the joy of just wandering streets without really being seen, passing houses where life is being lived inside and you remain the outsider, alone, free. It is different on my bike of course, more speed, more focus on getting from here to there, more wind against my skin and less time to think…I like both, but certainly I feel safer on a bike, I feel that I can go more places and stay out later then I might try on my own two feet. I can’t run so fast in chanclas, and I am realistic about my ability to defend myself though i admit to occasional dreams of invincibility. But in the night you feel part of the long tradition of writers who wander sleepless through their cities, who collect images to put onto paper, who make foreign streets live and breathe so that you feel that you have also walked them…I feel utterly alone in the darkness, and yet at the same time part of something, united with others across time and space, it is an extraordinary feeling that I treasure and that keeps me up long past my bedtime.

I have had three nights of brilliance, and I am happily exhausted. Wednesday out with Larry and I drank far too much of course, paid for that the next day but I learned that Thomas Wolfe was 6 foot seven and wrote standing up leaning on his refrigerator and using it as a table, he scribbled a handful of words on each page and let them fall into a crate…and he delivered his manuscript to Scribner like that, in crates upon crates. We talked about what it means to be a writer, what it means to be an editor…as someone that goes over sentences time and time again, who seeks perfection, I can’t really imagine how such a writing process is possible, it fascinates me, and is the finished product, refined and cut down by a third to a half…is it his or the editors? Raymond Carver’s stories as well are lean and spare and terse due in great part to his editor as well…I knew the editor’s names on Wednesday, I will look them up believing them of great importance but not tonight.  Tonight I was filming Gary interview Larry and Denise…talking about writing and politics and then we drank a few bottles of wine and talked about Chandler and where he wrote and how, and we talked about the FBI and the CIA and Guatamalan immigrants and Bukowski and Roman Polanski and the Maltese Falcon and how there were two previous versions of it, and how To Have and Have Not was one of Hemingway’s worst stories and yet such a brilliant film…last night I was out with Chris and Charles and talking about politics and Dark Night, Watchmen, old movies and anarchist politics. In short I am fulfilled, meaningful work done for love alone, work that will change the world, that gives me hope and happiness, that is real and true and good. And good conversation about words, writing, theories, art, movies, conversation that challenges what I think and adds so much eccentric brilliance to what I know…I am so glad it is possible to have both. To me this is what I’m fighting for really.

And I have the night, it is mine to pass through, to exult in.

Life is beautiful

Happiness…a purity of happiness that is so rare, I filled the train with it, and arriving in Norwalk it was far too big to fit on a bus so I walked the 2 miles home through the darkness singing aloud to ska-p on my headphones and feeling as though life…well. Life is truly beautiful.

Shall I share the secret? It is that I have changed the world. A tiny little piece of it to be sure, but in a way that may impact the lives of many others. It’s a bit similar to the high you get from a good action, like the day we used press and the city housing department and a critical mass of protesters to force the police to protect human rights rather than property rights and force the armed security guards of the Morrison hotel to let us in. Tenants cheered us as we roamed the corridors. That was a good day but today, today was even better. Today gave meaning to so many years of work and belief. Today represented the difference between tenants cheering organizers and organizers cheering tenants. It showed me how many years it can take for someone to step into their own and the immense beauty of such a thing in action. It validated the need for long term vision over short term gains, how right we were to always struggle against the demands of quick fixes, emergency responses and funder driven results. It is a deeply profound thing, a permanent victory not a momentary one, and one that builds speed as it goes, irreversible and always stronger. I believe that what will come from here will be truly extraordinary…bigger then I could ever imagine because it is not just me who is fighting, but us. This whole world is like Estero beach in Mexico–wealth, education, privilege, pristine English and usually a white skin on one side of the fence, and everyone else on the other. I am still on the right side of the fence, and together with the friends here with me I believe we shall tear it down…at least this small section of it. Prove that it can be done. Make a difference for our community and help it step into its own. It takes so long because the fence is hardwired inside most of us wherever we stand, the feeling that we are where we are supposed to be is so hard to overcome. Most people don’t even know it’s there, or how much they give way to a perception that whiter, higher class, more professional is better. It takes us working together to overcome it, and now I don’t just believe it is possible, I know it is. And this is the only thing that can move us to the conversation about what must happen to make real change, this is what it takes to move thousands to action, not hundreds. It is what the mass movements in latin america have proven…who will risk all for incremental change and a sensible plan of minor policy adjustments led by those who risk nothing? Professionals should put themselves in service of the vision of those who do risk all, and never seek to limit it believing that their position means they know best. For this to happen there is a desperate need for those who can stand up to privilege and direct it, who can articulate where the greatest need lies, articulate the vision not of what is possible but of what is necessary, who can grow into leadership and bring others with them. It takes rejecting once and for all the idea that poverty and marginalization makes people less than those economically above them and that solutions come from the top. It takes the poor stepping into responsibility, taking ownership of struggle, speaking their minds, educating themselves in what they don’t know, and holding themselves and others accountable to the greater vision. It is popular education and years of work and friendship. It is helping people discover within themselves their own capacity to do all of these things, and the courage they always had to risk standing up…standing up always bears a risk. And I watched them say they were taking it all on with a smile, and it was so beautiful I almost cried. Life is beautiful when it has this sort of meaning…and it is in risk that we find the meaning.

I rode the train home, saw the potential in everyone around me, and loved them all. Mi gente.