Monday, June 29, 2009

Hole in the Day

The great Ojibwe chiefs Hole in the Day (father and son), Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk, were tranformative leaders here in northern Minnesota in the 1800s. There is a park named Hole-in-the-Day near Leech Lake, a few towns over from where I sit today typing. I'm in Bemidji visiting my parents before heading down to Mille Lacs for a meeting. The younger Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk was handsome, diplomatic, charismatic, one who traveled to Washington to meet with President Lincoln as part of his work on land treaty negotiations. I'm taken with his picture, above, shot in NYC during that trip.

I'm online courtesy of the Kitchigami Hot Spot wireless network. I should be on the lake but it's cold and windy. I hope Dad and I can go out later. It's very quiet on the lake this long weekend. I woke this morning and sort of tip-toed out to the lakeshore. Just beyond the dock was a merganser--I didn't see her chicks but Mom says she's got them. Two loons cried out further in the bay. Mom's got yellow finches at her bird feeder. Down the bumpy road, yellow ladyslippers have started to wilt and fade but I see now red-and-yellow columbine in new bloom and the wild pink geraniums.

My dad was awake early reading and watching CNN in the living room on mute. They just got air conditioning in the house because, even though the lake weather can be cool and breezy it can also be unbearably hot and humid, and Mom doesn't like the heat. The lakehouse is pristine; Mom keeps out the spiders and the bugs and the rusty water from her pipes. It's a home for them, not a lake cabin, and I try not to get bummed that we can't flop around wet and barefoot and let the screen door slap and build campfires out near the beach. Mom is afraid of even contained fires in the woods and they don't have a slapping screen door.

Right now, at this moment, I feel a gravitational pull to clarity, one thing or the other. Black or white, not gray. I'm really a little sick of the gray. We all live in the gray all the time, it seems. Can't be expecting wisdom to come down completely on one side or the other.

My dad and mom have a storm scanner set up in the second bedroom to warn them of oncoming bad weather but I'd rather just go out to the dock and look up at the sky. I rather resent the loud bleeping of the weather watcher; I'd rather the loud screeching of the loons. Technology intrudes on nature.

And I can't expect work not to blur into home and home to stay separate from work. I text on my cell phone at my son's game and I take calls from home when I'm at the office.

Blending makes things easier, I suppose. It's the only way to juggle our multiplex lives. If I take a stand on separation--THERE WILL BE NO TEXTING AT THE TABLE!--I get the stink eye. If I tell myself, today I will not check Outlook, today I will not check Outlook, it seems a trap, like I'm a bulemic, fasting all day only to pig out come 9:00 pm, because sure enough I'll make it through a lovely day of gardening, and biking, and G&Ts on the porch, and then I get into bed, bring up the laptop to the top of my lap, and click into work.

Can I tell you something? Last Friday my husband and I went to a backyard party. It was lovely, at first. A blending of families from our son's hockey team and a few neighbors, and the younger kids. The teen boys all gathered at another house to watch the NHL draft. We were friends with some of the gathered, not so much with others. We shared really good homemade salads and grilled chicken with aioli and some beers. We played that ball-golf game that people make with PVC pipe and rope. And then at the end of the night the conversation of a few couples turned racist. It was a small comment or two but I can't say "a little racist" because that's like saying "a litte pregnant." You are or you're not and they were. Are. And so my husband and I looked over at each other and left. And we felt uncomfortable about it through the next morning. About not saying anything, I suppose. About feeling complicit. And I thought, "I'm blending my values and politics and belief systems into a wider circle of people and I don't really know who they are and what they believe."

I do believe that blending in is a part of life; we all assimilate one way or another. We blend the old and the new. We blend the strange with the familiar. And we all bring to our lives our own beliefs and preferences (and fetishes and extremes) and through them alter our surroundings to fit. Too much one way and we lose control; too much the other and we lose serendipity and the charm of an arms-wide-open view.

I'm about to learn the wisdom of chiefs Hole in the Day thanks to a work assignment. I know my small examples here pale to their struggles: between traditional life and customs and the new white immigrants. Between life and death. I imagine that their best diplomacy was that precarious blend of clarity and compromise, between a strongly held belief system and what they did/we must do to survive in this world.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Traveling Pants

I'm in Philadelphia for a university press conference, where book professionals and vendors get together to share ideas, horror stories, martinis, crowded elevators, visions of the future. It's the last night of a three-day affair and I'm bushed. I'd go for a walk to get something other than artificial air but I have one more reception and collegial dinner and I'm storing up energy for that.

I'm never quite satisfied with what I pack for a business trip. I don't have it down to a science, like some people. Some of my Boundary Waters canoe trip packing has helped me out some. The primary goals for a week on trail aren't so different. You want to be light, but prepared for weather. It's good to have ease of comfort and clothes that are versatile. A quick-dry top, for instance, can double as a swimsuit tank.

No matter my intentions for packing light and easy for business, I always have two problems: too many shoes and too much to iron. The shoes are definitely a woman thing. Shoes for walking, shoes for a dress, flats with jeans. Yada yada.

I did land on a really versatile lightweight suit and the pants carry over well to evening. They're black, well-fitted, tailored. I looked around the reception room last night and counted over 36 women wearing black tailored pants: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

I love my friend Lisa's Facebook updates when she travels: "looking forward to a big featherbed, a nice quiet dinner, some alone time with cable TV in my hotel room." I would say that's a sisterhood, too, especially for busy moms. I brought toenail polish on this trip because I pictured just such a night of "me time."

Sometimes I think creepy things about hotel security--like what if there were remote cameras in the rooms, with central monitoring stations not unlike security in casinos or the Houston control room for NASA. I chuckle to think what the sisterhood of travel might reveal through the cameras and the responses by my imagined voyeurs:
"Damn, how can that girl read through so many magazines in one night? Did you see her eat that whole chocolate bar? Why do women always pick that IN TREATMENT on HBO when there is so much else?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A pox on PowerPoint Creator

Notice how I only find time to post on Sundays? And I'm procrastinating because I'm preparing my PowerPoint presentation for tomorrow morning. I like PowerPoint about as much as I like WalMart. It's cheap, low-end, and everywhere.

In fact I'm feeling like one big Luddite today. It seems all my technology is pressing down on me. For instance, I'd like to go for a run/walk tonight with my little I-pod Shuffle but my son lost his ear plugs for his I-Pod Mini and so keeps using mine and I'd go get them but then I have to go through this whole routine of wiping down the little white ear buttons with rubbing alcohol because, well this is gross, but because he has what we call here "sweet potato ears."

And I'd load up some new songs for both him and myself except our home Mac needs an OSX update and without it we can't use I-Tunes. Or Netflix. Or online banking through TCF. Except for the life of me I forgot my Mac user name and password and somehow didn't write it down.

Our small digital camera is out of batteries, too, and doesn't take a charge. It has a few nice pictures from Oslo on it. When those batteries ran out in Oslo, Megan and I both decided the price of Norwegian batteries was too high so I took a dozen or so other photos on my cell phone, which I'd load up on to Facebook but I can't do that on this laptop (I need a work IT professional to install the photo uploader) and I keep forgetting to bring the cord into work.

And speaking of my phone, I just opened my AT&T bill and saw that they charged me $57 more than usual because, apparently, my phone keeps attempting to auto-sync by wireless and it's racking up the minutes doing so.

They're doing all kinds of sewer work in my Highland neighborhood and every day that repair work trips off the power in our block. I come home to 13 blinking digital clocks--on the stove, on the coffeemaker, on the undercabinet radio, on the alarm clocks--and it's one big fat metaphor for my Life in the Digital Age, everything yelling out for attention.

Ken and I stopped by Korte's to pick up some coffee beans and potato chips (he needed the first for the morning; we had some good French onion dip left over from our Friday night party) and on the rack in front of the register were the magazines of the week: "The Tweet Smell of Success" and "If you're over 5o, you can't ignore Facebook anymore." Geez, what happened to celebrity snooping and UFO spotting? And then, the credit card machine broke down at our register and we didn't have cash.

You know that night last spring to honor Earth Hour, the effort to get people round the world to turn off their lights? I'd like to declare a project called In Praise of Analog and make it last a week. I'd like to take my pointer finger and pull the big hand toward the little hand and flip off the thin rubber band of the morning newspaper and spread the sheets across the dining room table. I'd like to talk to my mom with my ear cradled on the heavy plastic of a rotary phone receiver, winding the curly cord around my waist as I cook.

Think of the extra calories we'd burn if we had to get up to turn the TV whenever we didn't like what was on?

Monday, June 01, 2009

May it please the court

Saturday we got a letter in our mailbox about a bankruptcy proceeding for which we "may have a claim." The attorney named as trustee in the case reminds us to file with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court against my husband's former company, a small business that had valiantly stayed afloat for almost 25 years before closing its doors last December in the midst of the worst downturn its owner had ever seen. My husband and his colleagues were cold-calling firms, sending out their lowest bids, figuring how to turn a buck--a foot in the world of possible success, a foot in the world of shutdown. His boss scrambled at the end and was able to honor her commitment to pay her employees before shutting down. So we have nothing to claim and feel bad for her just seeing this document.

Imagine the number of proceedings going on in courts around the country? Imagine the number of claims in the proceedings for GM alone, which declared bankruptcy bright and early this morning. The day of declaration must seem very sad for those who have tried so hard to give it a go, but I know the day of reckoning and grief was earlier, when the leaders and management privately looked each other in the eye and said it was not going to get any better, the bottom had fallen out. As in a marriage breakdown, often you know before you know.

Another court action: in an hour or so the Minnesota Supreme Court hears arguments from Al Franken and Norm Coleman's lawyers on the vote recount. This thing has become so protracted that they ought to declare bankruptcy and get a fresh start. I'm willing to re-vote. I'd bet voter turnout would be much less than in the fall, not just because we've already voted in our president but because we might not care so much about our two Senate nominees anymore. Their near-tie is indicative of the predicament of our political system. And it seems we're heading for a statistical tie on so many fronts. Those who choose to vote (or speak up) are the most ardent participants on either side and we keep zero-balancing. Who speaks for the middle-roaders or about-to-opt-out citizens? Who is willing to rally the reluctant, draw out their passions? And if politics and religion aren't our motivators anymore, what is? Certainly not money, in these bankrupt times. (Breaking even is the new success.) Peace? Family? Love?

I for one am glad I don't have to rally the reluctant in Congress as Supreme Court nominee Sonya Sotomayer will do this week, meeting with Democrats and Republicans in person and by phone. Can you imagine the rough spots of the phone call with Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky? Well, I would be scrambling to fill it with small talk: "How 'bout that filly Rachel Alexandra, huh?" Maybe throw in a little subliminal message: "She sure is something."

My husband is back to work now; in fact, he leaves tonight for California. In many ways he has a fresh start; in many ways he has the lead-up to his old firm's bankruptcy decision still weighing on his mind. Gotta keep digging in; gotta keep moving forward. And I'm on furlough today, paying back my debt to the public debt as an employee linked to our state budget woes. I'm not supposed to work on this unpaid day but I will, furiously. I've got my own rallying to do. Gotta keep digging; gotta keep moving forward.