Monday, March 31, 2008

c'mon let's crawl to the ugly bug ball

i’m reading edward abbey’s desert solitaire right now. it’s wonderful. it’s confirming my suspicions, though, that i’m a suburban naturalist—i wouldn’t be the slightest bit interested in living in the desert, or any other wild place. i’m perfectly pleased with bumming around down by the river, satisfied to interact with whatever insects and small creatures i can find here in town. i might not be altogether content with the state of things here, or any place that’s populated by humans, but there’s definitely a symbiosis going on that i couldn’t function properly without. a while ago i discovered that without forcing myself into at least some human interaction, i transition from delightfully to uncomfortably mad.

this passage in solitaire stuck out to me:

“A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us—like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness—that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

a thought before sleeping

spring break doesn’t feel like spring break. so far i’ve been catching up on homework…and that’s about it. nikki and i had a fun little thrifting adventure today, and i bought way too many clothes to add to my pile of way too many clothes—the way i justify this excess is that i buy everything used, and as soon as i’m done with it it all goes back to the thrift store. so my whole wardrobe is basically rented. still, no one needs as much as i have.

speaking of having too much, i read some articles last night about privilege, power, dominance, social systems, etc…it wasn’t anything terribly special, but it sort of compiled and closely examined a bunch of ideas i’ve been thinking a lot about, and made me see things more clearly. while reading it i kept scrunching my nose and stabbing the paper with my highlighter, mentally congratulating the author with “fuck yes! fuck yes!” at every valid point.

the articles—i guess i should call them chapters but that sounds awkward—are from allan g. johnson’s “privilege, power, and difference.” the first part of chapter 7 detailed the fallacies of the individualistic perspective—that everything is someone’s fault, that there are “good people” and “bad people” and racism, sexism, and all the “isms” are just personality flaws, and that “…if you aren’t consciously or openly prejudiced or hurtful, then you aren’t part of the problem.” i never truly grasped what tremendous bullshit all that was, and i never fully realized to what extent i was neglecting to question the individualistic perspective.

“…patterns of oppression and privilege are rooted in systems that we all participate in and make happen,” he writes. “i’m involved in their suffering because i participate in a system that produces that suffering.” the author goes on to mention “passive oppression,” silence and the path of least resistance. “that’s all that’s required of most white people in order for racism to continue; that they not notice, that they do nothing, that they remain silent.” it wasn’t all centered on race, johnson also went into things like class and gender and sexuality in depth. “…no system of social oppression can continue to exist without most people choosing to remain silent about it.”

a constant theme throughout the chapters i read is the idea of the “path of least resistance,” how we all mold our behavior to whatever is easiest, most obvious and/or socially acceptable. johnson uses the example of getting in an elevator—most people walk in, then turn around to face the doors while riding up or down. as an experiment he stepped off that path of least resistance and faced the back of the elevator while riding; it really freaked people out, and some people even tried to get him to turn around. i thought that was an excellent example of societal pressure to conform, how strong and overt that pressure can be, even over something as trivial as facing the back of an elevator.

anyway, i’m leaving out a lot of what fascinated me, but you get the gist. i have to identify which “paths” i take and remedy them post-haste. or at least try to. it would really help if i was at all articulate. so many things to think about, so many things to change.

Friday, March 21, 2008

i am jack’s incredibly dull movie

the most recent assignment for my gender/movies class was an odd one. the professor gave us a choice of movies: fight club, the outsiders, american history x, or taxi driver. he also gave us an article about gender violence prevention, and asked us to apply that article to the movies, using five key themes from the article to re-write (in narrative format) five scenes from the movie and remove the violence, then analyze how those re-writes would affect the movie’s outcome. i chose fight club.

it was one of the weirdest things i’ve ever written. how do you take the violence out of fight club? i mean, it’s kind of a fun concept, because the movie is entirely pointless without violence. the problem i had was in taking it seriously. the article we read was about some serious solutions to a very serious problem, but the only way that i could feasibly re-write the scenes sans-violence was in a ridiculous, mocking sort of way. i don’t know if that was what he expected from the assignment or not; it certainly seems useless, if not counterproductive, to me. but i couldn’t see an alternative. maybe i could have picked one scene and really gone into it, given a lot of thought to the dialogue and the characters motivations, and actually done a decent job. but the way the assignment was structured made that nearly impossible. here are a few highlights from my paper:

Brief summary of original scene:

Tyler licks his lips and kisses the narrator’s hand, then pours lye on it and gives him a chemical burn.


Tyler licked his lips and kissed the back of my hand, but I could see it wasn’t an affectionate move. He had a bottle of lye in his right hand, and his left hand’s grip was keeping me in place.

“Our fathers were our models for God,” he said. “We are God’s unwanted children.”

“Stop!” I yelled, writhing under his grip. “We both had fathers who abandoned us when we needed them. They never provided us with the education we needed to be fully-functioning, compassionate people. But before he left, my dad tried to tell me that violence was not the answer. Did your dad ever tell you anything like that?”

Tyler paused, with the bottle of lye hovering over my hand. “He might have said something like that.”

“We should talk about this. Rather than hurting each other, rather than you giving me a chemical burn, we should talk about the way that our fathers behaviors made us who we are today, and see if we can possibly come to an understanding that would be much less harmful to both of us.”

He put down the lye. “Okay, buddy. Let’s have a chit-chat.”

Brief summary of original scene:

Tyler and the narrator just left the bar for the first time, and Tyler is trying to initiate their first fight.


Tyler looked me straight in the eye. “I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”

“What are you talking about? Why do you want me to hit you?” I was confused.

“How much can you really know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight? Hit me,” he persisted.

“I’m not going to hit you. There are other ways to get to know oneself. My high school basketball coach taught me that violence doesn’t solve anything. If you’re feeling like you don’t know yourself, that’s an issue that probably needs to be addressed, and I think you should see a therapist instead of trying to get into a fight with me.”

“You’re right; I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m sorry I asked you to hit me. Do you have a number for someone I could see about this identity problem of mine?”

“Umm, try the yellow pages,” I suggested.

How this re-write would affect the course of the movie:

This turn of events would completely invalidate the premise of the movie before it had begun in earnest. Without fighting, the movie Fight Club is an absurdist comedy with dialogue that I could only imagine to be completely peculiar and inane, as I have demonstrated.

what silliness. it was great to watch fight club again, though. i’m sure i realized the first time that there’s a lot of fabulous figurative language going on in the dialogue, but i don’t think i fully wrapped my mind around the richness of all the metaphors and similes that flow so naturally out of the narrator’s mouth every two seconds throughout the entire movie. that’s another thing that bothered me about doing these ludicrous re-writes. i felt like i was debasing the spirit of the characters, putting such idiotic dialogue in their mouths.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

follow your folly

creative nonfiction writing class is so wonderful. i wrote a twelve page (!) personal essay about the tour de fat, and i really like how it turned out. i won’t post the whole thing on here, just my favorite paragraphs, along with some pictures from the event.

Riding into the park we were greeted by a man pedaling an enormous, magnificently vaudevillian tricycle contraption. He sat atop a wheeled box which seemed a whimsical cross between wind-up toy, puppet show stand, Victor Victrola, and rickshaw. The plaid-suited rider, with winged top-hat, perched high in the air under the shade of an antique umbrella. The man clearly powered the craft, but before him sat a scruffy old sideshow monkey, mimicking his pedal revolutions and steering the front wheel with the sort of eerie, unnatural movement one might expect from a creature in a horror movie. A banana on the end of a fishing rod motivated the stuffed beast, and a more-lifelike portrait of him ornamented the sides of the vehicle. Bubbles spewed gleefully out of the phonograph horn as we followed the fanciful pair through a grove of trees and into the municipal rose garden.

My friends and I planned our Tour experience for at least a month, preparing our costumes and bedecking our bicycles, with the eagerness of a group of junior high girls getting ready for a school dance. I fashioned bracelets out of de-greased bike chain, made matching earrings, and a necklace out of old cogs soldered together to form a pendant. My dad made me a belt out of a spent orange inner-tube, with a cog buckle. I cut a full-circle skirt out of hot pink pleather; luckily, the fabric store where I work is early to stock Halloween fabric, so by August the shelves had accumulated freak-fabric aplenty. Intended as my quirky take on a poodle skirt, the dayglo-PVC masterpiece was adorned with a small, shiny black pleather cruiser cut-out in one corner. Underneath I wore a fluffy pink, black, and red petticoat, and flamboyant green-and-pink-striped knee-socks.

Nikki was a punk pirate. She wore a red-and-white baseball shirt, onto which she patched a black “Kiss Me, I’m a Pirate” embellishment. Nikki doesn’t have a bike, so she rode my Schwinn seven-speed cruiser, Athena, which I decked out to look like a pirate vessel—“The Streaming Strumpet of the Sea.” I traced and sawed ship silhouettes out of cardboard, painted them and taped them to the frame, along with a helm that I hooked up behind the handlebars. Throngs of plastic pirate miniatures lined the front basket and handlebars, affixed with sticky-tacky, up in arms against one another in a stationary and futile skirmish. A plush mermaid graced the bow, on either side of which a pair of black balloons with white Jolly Rodgers bounced in the wind. Pirate-emblazoned fabric covered the grips. A little plastic pirate flag fluttered merrily behind the saddle.

Meandering through the rose garden, which served as atrium to the expanse of green grass that would be our playground, I started to notice bicycles the likes of which I had until then only seen in pictures. First, I noticed a genuine penny-farthing leaning tall against the thick trunk of a tree. One woman rode a colossal tricycle chopper, red with silver accents and handlebars whose grips were level with her line of sight. A crimson cruiser and wind-vane-helmeted rider pulled a trailer equipped with seven speakers, flooding the air with music that made the earth vibrate. There were cruisers galore, in various states of repair and décor. Sting-Rays next to unicycles next to tandems. Recumbents made an appearance, including two elevated, semi-recumbent bikes of questionable center of gravity, which looked like office chairs grafted to children’s bicycles. The most dazzling, impractical, human-powered vehicles littered that park, glimmering brilliantly and overwhelming the color-saturated landscape.

The people were no less stunning than their bikes. One pair of men chose to clothe themselves in children’s Winnie the Pooh Halloween costumes; there was Tigger, whose shorts gave the effect of hot pants and whose top was some hybrid of baby-tee and bra, with a headdress of disembodied-Tigger-head. Piglet disturbingly chose to wear a Speedo rather than the costume’s soft pink bottoms, which were cut into pieces and worn as thigh-warmers. Jointly, their effect was part drag show, part 80’s club scene, part insane asylum.

Countless men came to the Tour de Fat in drag, or, more accurately in most cases, genderfuck. Genderfuck is the term applied to people who intentionally dress in a gender-confused manner, or display exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics of both males and females, to parody traditional gender roles. For instance, one masculine-looking man wore pink fishnet stockings, matching velour short shorts, a flesh-colored spandex tank top with oddly-shaped breast appendages, and a comb-over wig.

After what seemed like hours of enraptured overstimulation, my gang lined up to join a bike parade that was about to begin. We slowly made our way to the path, drawn in by the cheerful cacophony of bike bells. I chimed in with Calliope’s bell, and Nikki sounded Athena’s squeeze horn; its unrefined clownishness sounded like a goose squawking amongst doves.

The procession was slow, and covered significant ground. We looped through Hyde Park and the North End, tying up traffic and making all kinds of racket. In some areas there were bottlenecks, and in other areas our allowed passage was nearly free-range; sometimes we had entire two-lane streets to ourselves, and we would spread out vastly. Riding through town was like being part of a mobile circus, a sideshow cavalcade. Onlookers lined the street, gazing on sometimes in amusement, other times in utter bewilderment. Hundreds of us waved, shouted and jingled at the crowds. To the often perturbed-looking citizens whose idling cars congested the side-streets, I blew kisses, because they needed our love the most.

Cycling down Harrison Boulevard, we passed by the Boise Tour Trolley, headed the opposite direction. I watched Malyssa make the trucker horn-honking motion at the trolley’s driver; he tooted dutifully. The tourists and sightseers riding in the string of trolley cars gawked at us, fascinated. I wondered if the conductor might diverge from his conventional script of historical landmarks to explain the meaning of this spectacle. I wondered if he might be at a loss.

Nikki and I wandered over to the bike pen, where vigilant Tour staff members let people test out some of their most anomalous creations. One bike had twelve ratty running shoes instead of tires—six shoes to form each wheel, laid heel-to-toe in circles. The most popular bike for daring Tourists to try was one that had eight wheels, and unless you’d seen it, you could never guess where those wheels are: other than the two wheels which touch the ground, part of the normal bike base, there are six wheels of progressively decreasing size reaching, in an orange-caged arc, from the back ground-wheel all around to just above the handlebars. Each individual wheel contacts the ones previous and succeeding, so when the bike is in motion, they all rotate.

Also inside the pen, there was a cruiser with an attached sidecar; a bike with car tires; assorted variations on the theme of disproportionately-sized wheels; and a tricycle tandem with one back wheel and two side-by-side seats above the two front wheels, and rear steering. One of New Belgium’s commemorative red cruisers, which they present to their employee owners upon one year of service, had a partial frame that could swivel in the middle, so that the front and back wheels weren’t always lined up. These twenty-or-so bikes looked like surreal, impossible objects, like if M.C. Escher designed bicycles and Sandy Skoglund put them together.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

bloody stupid day

i wish ads like this ran in the U.S. i can’t count the number of times i’ve nearly been hit by cars on my bike. i’m really careful, too. the closest call was a couple months ago, i was going straight on parkcenter where it crosses with apple. i waited for green, looked over my shoulder and thought that the woman next to me saw me, then started going forward…she started going forward too, but didn’t appear to be turning. then suddenly she tried to make this incredibly sharp turn into the second lane, directly in front of me. the front end of her giant truck was about a foot away from me when she came to a stop. freaked me out something awful.

a couple days ago something similar happened, only this time i was expecting it—i started to ride into the intersection, but very slowly and carefully. the woman started to turn right into me, then saw me, paused, waved like “thanks” and continued turning. as if i had beckoned for her to go right ahead. it’s bizarre, because i’m so cautious and i make myself so visible on my bike, yet drivers rarely seem to notice me.

my friend andrea has been hit by cars five times so far. none of them even stopped to make sure she was alright. andrea’s about the most indestructible person ever, and she hasn’t suffered any major injuries, but her bike is beaten to shit. i don’t know what i’d do if i actually was hit. it must be such a scary experience.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008