Saturday, April 26, 2008

What identity crisis?

I guess my blog is just trying to find itself. It didn't get enough hugs when it was young, or something.

After one whole day, the white background bored me to tears. It was like staring into a void. I think the thing to do is give my blog some time to spread its wings, see the world and really learn to love itself.

Whatever. I'll probably change it again tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 25, 2008

All in a flurry.

Sometimes you just get sick of things and want to make some changes. It's spring, after all. Peep the new look and take the survey at right.

On another note, I plan on posting more poetry here in the near future (see "Heaven" below). More work-in-progress type stuff, which I wouldn't normally do - my whole purpose in starting the blog was to keep myself in the practice of writing for something other than work. I haven't written any new poetry in some time, so I need a reason to keep myself at it. Whoever out there reads this thing, it's your job to holler at me if you don't see anything. I'll go crazy if I don't have an outlet...

That said, read up and tell me what you think. I have a thick skin. I can take it.

Heaven is Hardly a College House Party.

I will be there, having done the impractical
and left without warning or a proper coat,
wearing only a light jacket as useless as a paper windsock.

I’ll be there, wondering how it is that
worms got around without legs, how
Constantinople was an inherent negation,
how Swift’s ‘Modest Proposal’ brought itself to bear.

I’ll probably hang in the back, thinking of words
to describe what I’m feeling
after I’ve been there a while, seen
what’s to see,
made the rounds,
peered into other rooms and eavesdropped
on the nattering, fretting, boasting
and postulating. These people simply
have more to say than I, their lips like gaudy parade floats.

I will be there, in all likelihood
looking for people
I hope showed up, steering them toward the mixed nuts
and half barrel so we can catch up
on all that has passed in the ditch between
parallel tracks we aren’t on.

I’ll go by myself so that I feel no obligation
to stay, to make it somehow worthwhile.
I’ll be in the dingy kitchen, unwashed dishes
scattered like dandelion stems, mismatched
plates and cups patterned in the manner of capillaries
strung like Christmas tinsel over bone.

Once I get there, I’ll be the one wandering
like a mountain goat
in valleys of denim, stone sours and furtive skin,
looking to see if it’s true what they say –
that there really is something for everyone.

Election year verse.

In celebration of National Poetry Month, a haiku:

Asking questions brings
so much to shove through the sieve
in such a short time.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I wish I was a graphic designer.

One of the more alluring parts of my job (and by alluring, I mean most enjoyable, quiet and creative) is designing stuff. Sure, I like the writing and also, sheepishly, the attention that can come with it. I do get e-mails from random fellow employees in the vein of "hey, nice story," or "you're a wonderful writer." That's gratifying, and it makes what can sometimes be a toil worthwhile. But there's something inherently satisfying about making things look a certain way.

I used to think that no matter what one reads, it's all about the words. But the deeper I got into my job, the more I started turning a critical eye toward other magazines. Since I write for two of them, it's logical that I've earned the right to be critical of them as a medium. By extension, I began to look at other media in a new light, silently (or volubly) critiquing their layout, the quality of the photography, the type of paper, etc. In many instances, I thought to myself, "hell, even *I* could do better than that, and I don't know what the hell I'm doing." So I started trying to figure out what I was doing. Luckily, I have two phenomenal and patient resources in the next room who usually wander in when I muse aloud about why I can't get something to work or when I ask for a critical (and trained) eye to look at my latest Frankenstein layout.

All of this has made me realize that the words are secondary. We eat with our eyes, and I don't only mean food. If something is unappealing to the eye, why pick it up to see if the words are any better? Consciously or not, this has always guided my department's mandate that everything that leaves our university goes through us first. We're getting better at working with people so that they don't feel as though we're lording over them, but it remains critically important that we maintain a certain elevated standard. Higher education is a competitive market. If your publications, your print materials and your advertising suck, so will your enrollment numbers. People choosing where to get their education are not unlike people choosing sex partners: does it look good on the outside and what does it feel like on the inside? Our job is to draw people in and then support that initial interest with a great all-around experience.

Perhaps this shift in perception has led me to think more like a designer than I ever felt capable of. I discovered that when I design stuff, I turn into a designer - I mostly ignore the copy (even if I wrote it) and concentrate on its place on the page (or card, or poster, or brochure), its adherence to "the grid" and so on. It's a transformative feeling and one that I hadn't expected. I don't know if being a writer makes me more attuned to design, or if I'm just one of those relentlessly creative types that's content to tinker with the look of everything he sees simply because I have very real obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

I mean, have you seen my desk?

Monday, April 7, 2008

36 righteous people.

Tonight my Future Milwaukee classmates and I were fortunate enough to visit a Jewish temple, learn a little bit about the Torah and the Talmud, and enjoy an early Passover seder meal with our new friends.

One of the things that struck me as Rabbi Shapiro told us some stories was the idea that there are said to be 36 righteous people on earth. These 36 people don't know that they are the righteous ones. They just live their lives as purely, kindly and simply as they always have, not treading upon their neighbor or their earth, reaching out to serve others in need as they would ask others to help them. The idea moved me, having learned firsthand in Italy and at work a very similar philosophy in the tradition of Saints Francis and Clare.

Rabbi Shapiro went on to say that as one of the 36 dies, another is born, perpetuating the great balance of righteousness in the world. The part that really got me was essentially the moral of the story: because the 36 don't know who they are, no one else does either - so if everyone carried themselves as though they were one of the 36, all of humanity (not just Jews) would coexist peacefully as one great mass of unadulterated righteousness.

It may sound a bit idealistic at first blush, but what's wrong with the power of positive thinking? Who hasn't fancied themselves the center of the universe at some point in their lives? Just don't act like it. That's hardly righteous.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Four thousand plus.

Most of the text you're about to read has appeared once before in a long-ago, far-away blog. I was cleaning out some electronic files and ran across materials I wrote during that era - much earlier in this interminable Iraq war. Probably over 3000 American lives ago.

It’s not always easy to digest war. People tend to get defensive over three things: politics, religion and children. Yet wars are usually waged (or staged) in defense of at least one of the three. This war is about all three in some way. Sure, it’s hard to really put into perspective what it's all about, what our motive is, whether or not we're comfortable with invasion and occupation under the guise of spreading democracy.

But, you say, surely our occupation of Iraq is not about children? Well, directly, no. But think about the implications it will have for this generation of Iraqi and American youth, and what a vastly different experience it has been for each. Many American kids are seeing war for the first time as it unfurls noncommittally on their TV screens every evening. Well, it used to be every evening. War coverage can be pretty spotty these days with so many corporate scandals, school shootings, ball games and storm warnings. Does a kid know what an RPG or an IED is? Can she wrap her head around the motives of a suicide bomber in the same newscast as the latest exploits of Paris Hilton? Many kids no doubt think of the Sunni Triangle as a board game.

Who plays board games anymore?

Perhaps the most revealing detail in our consideration of how war affects America’s youth is the manner in which our culture has desensitized kids to not only violence, but also its antithesis: peace. When is the last time you saw a news program, magazine or paper go out of its way to celebrate peace? With the popularity and ubiquity of video games, many of them violent first-person shooters, kids have a hard time grasping the meaning behind even these electronic assaults, explosions, decapitations and raids. Is it too much, then, to expect that they might give pause to more of it, all of it real, on the news at night? Can we realistically expect that children in our culture even see the news or understand its purpose? If I had kids, it would be impossible for me to explain to them how so many people they don’t know in a place they've never heard of have been ravaged by the political and capital ministrations of so few.

As I consider how Iraqi children might view the very same war, I feel a pang of guilt. Simply put, they don’t share our luxury of being removed from the war by a pane of glass.

Not all American children are shielded from or ignorant to what’s going on, nor are all Iraqi children so innocent. It breaks my heart to hear the stories of soldiers who return hostile fire while passing through dangerous insurgent strongholds only to find out that a couple of brainwashed ten-year-olds were pulling the trigger. In what way does this parallel our own country’s militia families and extremist parents who foment hatred and distrust in their own offspring, who teach them to shoot first and ask questions later?

No matter where young people in America live, someone from their area has been killed serving this country. Someone whose name is read out loud at 6 and 10 by local news anchors with every attempt at steeping their voices in understanding and empathy despite comparative detachment. Most of us will never have the kind of empathy that would give comfort to a member of a soldier’s family, yet we pass judgments. We pay taxes. We eat cheeseburgers. We make art out of the lives of others and expect people to give a shit. Worse – pay to give a shit.

Still, people everywhere close their newspapers, shut down their computers, turn off their televisions and tuck their kids in to warm beds, sighing deeply about the tragedy of it all.