Thursday, November 16, 2006

I Knew Someone Who Knew Someone

On the first of this month, I received an email from my friend Kate. She was upset over the death of her friend Brad, an activist who had been murdered by a paramilitary group in Oaxaca, Mexico. Brad traveled around the world for Indymedia documenting political and social struggle in areas ignored by the mainstream media. He was on the lines of a teacher's strike in Oaxaca when the military opened fire, and was killed by a single shot to his abdomen.

Kate had included a picture of Brad with her email and after clicking on the file, I thought "My God, he looks familiar. I think I met him." I got my current apartment through Kate. There was a birthday party for her the last December she lived here...three years ago? Four? (At what point did time begin moving so quickly?) Anyway, it was at this party that I met Brad. I had a nice conversation with several people there but can't recall if he was one of them. It may just be that his presence was noticable whether you spoke with him or not. He was tall and lanky and cheerful.

The cover story of the Village Voice this week is about Brad's death. Appearantly he was well known enough and his work was respected enough within progressive circles that his death has been quite a shock to that community. I emailed Kate to warn her that she might want to avoid the Voice this week. Losing someone you cared about is difficult enough without having to be reminded of their death every time you pass a newstand. I also understand that grief, despite how it feels at the time, is not eternal and told her I would save a copy of the issue for her. It is something that she may want one day and this is a case where reading paper is more satisfying than reading online.

The cover of the issue is a painting of Brad but you don't have to be a lapsed Catholic to recognise it's also a Christ image. I put it on the pile of things "to be read" in my kitchen, but I find it too eerie and heartbreaking to have the paper facing up in the same room where Brad relaxed and laughed with friends just a few years ago. I turned the paper over and lit a candle.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Nature or Nurture?

I am definitely my mother's son. The email she sent me yesterday on election day concluded:

Please God, Rick Santorum will not only lose, but he will fall off a twenty story building tomorrow. I'll keep you informed.


I should point out that if Santorum had fallen off a twenty story building, I would have heard about it on the news, although it is nice that my mother planned to let me know. However, re-reading that passage, it sounds vaguely like she's ordered a hit on the man. If she had, well, I would be the proudest son in the world.

Ah yes. I drank in Santorum's defeat like a fine wine. Literally. When it was announced that he had lost I grabbed an open bottle of wine from the table and took a satisfying swig, too happy to wait to pour it in a glass. My friend Karl (Heitmueller, not Rove) had had a get-together to watch the election returns and finish off the booze and candy left over from Halloween. Heading over, I expected a glum night, convinced that Republicans were going to steal the election. I've never been so happy to be wrong. When I got home I flipped from channel to channel, staying up late to wallow in the Democrats' victory. Plus David Cross was on the Carson Daly show. He was funny.

When I went to vote yesterday I got bounced from polling place to polling place. This didn't seem the product of a sinister conspiracy so much as basic human incompetence. Riding the subway to work afterwards, I read the following passage and it seemed appropriate for election day and what some people think this country should be like:

Cargo cults have have sprung up again and again in the Pacific. During World War II, American forces arrived at the island of Tana to recruit a thousand men to help build an airfield and army base on neighboring Efate Island. When the workers returned with tales of white and black men who had possessions beyond the dreams of the people of Tana, the whole society was thrown into turmoil. The islanders, many of whom had earlier been converted to Christianity by British missionaries, stopped going to church and began to build landing strips, warehouses and radio masts out of bamboo, in the belief that if it worked on Efate for the Americans,it would work for them on Tana. Carved figurines of American warplanes, helmets and rifles were made from bamboo and used as religious icons. Islanders began to march in parades with USA painted, carved or tattooed on their chests and backs. John Frum emerged as the name of their Messiah, although there are no records of an American soldier with that name.

When the last American GI left at the end of the war, the islanders predicted John Frum's return. The movement continued to flourish and on 15 February 1957, an American flag was raised in Sulphur Bay to declare the religion of John Frum. It is on this date every year that John Frum Day is celebrated. They believe that John Frum is waiting in the volcano Yasur with his warriors to deliver his cargo to the people of Tana. During the festivities the elders march in an imitation army, a kind of military drill mixed with traditional dancing. Some carry imitation rifles made of bamboo and wear American army memorabilia such as caps, T-shirt and coats. They believe that their annual rituals will draw the god John Frum down from the volcano and deliver the cargo of prosperity to all of the islanders.

--from Breaking The Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon by Daniel Dennett

Monday, November 06, 2006


So yesterday I stopped by the gallery to pick up the painting I bought while drunk. [As recounted in this entry]. It goes without saying that I was a little concerned. What if the painting was not quite as impressive as it had seemed on that night several weeks ago? I had thought of going to the gallery to look at it with clear eyes, but decided I would just leave well enough alone. If the painting sucked then I would deal with it when the day came. Well, that day was yesterday and...the painting is even better than I remembered. My first emotion was a sense of relief, which was rapidly followed by the sense of pleasure created just by looking at it. So...whew! Dodged that aesthetic bullet.

I know I don't post here that often. Unlike others with online journals, I don't think of these entries as a private diary made public so much as I think of them as pr or intentionally public dispatches. In other words, I never for a minute fool myself into thinking that what I write is private or personal no matter who reads this site. So when I post here, it is something that I want to share. "Don't mind sharing" might be the more accurate way to put it. This tends to limit the number of things I offer for public consumption, even if my public loves me.

However, it looks like I will be posting a little less this month, if that is possible. Most of my free time will be spent trying to write a novel. My friend Kate talked me into participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short). It is a group that tries to inspire people to write a short novel of 50,000 words during the month of November. The idea is: just write. You have to get in the habit of producing (at least 1,666 words per day, but who gets a chance to write every day?) without worrying about whether it's as good as your favorite author or what people will think of it. Assume no-one will ever read it and just write.

As someone who doesn't do anything unless he has a deadline looming, it is ideal. Unfortunately, why the group picked November of all months, I'll never understand. In addition to having one less day than most other months, it also contains Thanksgiving, which eliminates several days for anyone who travels or has other obligations. But if you keep waiting for the perfect time to write, you may never actually write.

I need some sort of deadline to get most anything done. But paradoxically, whenever I have something I feel like I have to do, I'll avoid it as long as humanly possible. Hence, the length of this entry when I should be working on my novel. Hence, the fact that this weekend I cleaned the apartment, ironed my shirts and finally sealed the cracks along the floors and floorboards that were letting in cold air.

So even if I don't finish my novel by the end of this month, at least all my other chores will be completed. I should point out that my word count is currently at 4,277, whereas my 16 year old nephew TJ is at 6,540.

And no. No-one gets to read the novel when it is finished.