Sunday, December 21, 2014

Softly carbonated blue and mornings

Gray and light gray and blue. There’s a patch of white and yellow where the sun is already too high in the sky for it to be 7:30 in the morning. Here in Portland I see so little of the sun, its transverse short and hidden by the low stone wall of winter clouds.

I’ve been waking up so early recently. 6 am and my eyes will spring open, not gradually, and I think, I could go back to sleep, but I can’t. There’s no more sleep to be had. So I read. And I make coffee. I have a little breakfast. I shower and am still late to work.

In the past it has always been hard to wake up in the winter, wake up into the dark still, up out of bed in to that morning air that always the frostiest. Morning cold is always the worst cold. People talk about the comforts they like most in the winter, the things they depend on to propel them through these chilly mornings: slippers, carpeted floors, the heater in the bathroom, the automatic setting on the coffee maker. The northern hemisphere is focused on Christmas and the promise of heated floors for everyone.

It’s actually not that cold this morning. There’s something spring-like about the weather: wet and chilly but not frigid, the morning blue and green. It’s just the Pacific Northwest. Even with global warming, the Pacific Northwest is just like this, the weather unpredictable at times, and some days are mysteriously lovely and springlike even when your brain tells you it’s Christmas and it should be snowing.

When I woke up, I stared out the window through the laced and crisscrossed blue black fingers of the cedar outside my window. Dark against the ambient morning blue, watching it wave, framed by the window, I often find myself expecting some mysterious shadowbox play to begin, its characters rising up out of the dark lines of those branches.

I felt like a kid. I felt like it was spring, and I felt that giddiness that you sometimes feel on spring mornings. It’s a very particular feeling that I associate with some very particular morning when I was seventeen. I can’t remember that morning anymore but I can feel it, right there on the edge of memory. A day that I can never recall but have almost remembered on so many days of my life so that I remember the almost remembering more than I can remember that exact day in my youth. It’s like the bubbling and popping of the brain on Zoloft when everything feels connected in an unspecified, fuzzy, carbonated way.

It’s just a little taste, a little tease. We’ll have some good days, some warm days in February. And we will have a lot of rain. It’ll rain until July. It will rain today and get a bit blustery and it will feel like winter again when we go out of the house to get our errands done. But I’ll find this day again, in late May or June, when the crocuses are blooming and the garden can’t wait for summer, and I’ll remember that I always already almost have remembered this memory before.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sites for meditation, sites for living, sites for having stuff

A friend years ago had a crush on this girl named Stephanie. I was seventeen at the time and Stephanie was twenty-two, and although both my friend and I felt very mature, I could still tell there was something very different about this twenty-two year old’s life. I thought my friend’s crush on this woman was a little ridiculous - a little too earnest considering the situation. Stephanie did not really seem interested in dating my friend. Stephanie confessed she was having a difficult time with her own relationship. Stephanie had a job other than going to school everyday. So I couldn’t worry that much about my friend’s infatuation with this woman; my friend’s constant pining and concern about what Stephanie thought about her.

I was not impressed by Stephanie. I thought she probably did not return any of my friend’s affection, that perhaps she was even annoyed by it, but tried to protect my friend from any heartbreak even when I thought it would probably be best for everyone if she just came out and said, you’re sixteen and it’s just not going to happen.

However Stephanie’s apartment always impressed me. Its aesthetic affects me still. The apartment was always clean. Small, its walls were white and unpainted. The hardwood floors were a light, honey colored brown. Worn down, they could have used some refinishing. Stephanie owned very little furniture and there were very few decorations. There was a couch, a chair, and a bed with a white cover. She’d hung no paintings on the walls, but there were a few plants set around the apartment, healthy and green, tendrils rappelling down from the top shelf to collect the light from a window overlooking downtown Birmingham.

I always knew that my apartment needed to look like this: simple, white, and clean. 

It never has.

I have too many things. Even now as I look around I see things that I should get rid of. Treasures on tables that I should clear to feel happier, calmer. These things come to me unbidden and I can’t escape them. At work, I have a stuffed monkey and a small spongy purple alien on my desk, gifts from coworkers. And because they’re gifts I can’t get rid of them. They just sit there taking up space and staring at me as I stare at my computer screen. But even the thought of dumping them or stuffing them in a drawer makes me sad, as if the secret world of things had desires and needs for attention and love like animals in a shelter.

I don’t make a lot of trash at all, which sometimes becomes a problem when something starts to stink though the trash bag isn’t a quarter full. But there’s still too much. And there’s still too much stuff here. Just things. Just too many things in my apartment. But I never know what to give or throw away.

There’s always more to get rid of and there’s more to buy. We all have those mental lists of things that we would like, things that would make our lives easier. I dream of new speakers and a new pannier for my bicycle. I need a spray bottle to keep some of the plants moist and a shoe rack to organize the space by the door. I want to finish building this small aquarium to fill with duckweed and Marimo moss balls. I have no idea where I would even put it. There is no more room left for plants. There’s no room for anything. And I don’t need more things. I need fewer.

I saw an advertisement for Amazon’s “Cyber Monday” specials and clicked on the link. I don’t think I knew just what to expect and most of it was uninspiring, the odds and ends of Americana. A thermos. A trampoline. A sale on fleece tops. A set of golf clubs made from plush material for infants. These are the things we could do without, the things we could buy for ourselves when we need them, on a whim, in the grocery store. There are no dreams behind these gifts. They don’t need to be on sale. They are novelties and trivialities.

And then there was the best, most bizarre item being offered up on sale on Amazon’s Cyber Monday. I said, which of these things is not like the others? It’s billed as a “Meditation Grotto of Sorrento.” Within a faux envelope of rock “carved” with roses, a statue of Jesus frowns out, the sacred heart aflame in his chest, his upturned palms punctured and bleeding. 

In the photo it looks as if the statue could be fairly large standing on this lawn, but at thirty-six inches tall, the statue actually seems awkwardly sized, as least to be out in a great open space like this. The seller describes the piece as a, “timeless, European-style grotto… [a] "destination spot" for meditation.” It’s always nice to be able to bring a little bit of classic European meditation inspiration to the United States. I can’t find any reference to a Grotto of Sorrento like this actually existing in Europe.

If I had a lawn, what would be in it? How much more crap would I have? Lawn gnomes and those shiny balls on pedestals. Cheap water fountains lined in black plastic with koi fish swimming for raccoons to eat. A garden overrun with herbs and flowers and plants growing tangle that discourages tending. A compost heap smelly and overflowing. A resin Jesus tucked away by some tree near a concrete bench. You know, for meditation.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The meaning of life

E. O. Wilson has completely disappointed me in the end.

Entering college, freshmen were asked to read his book The Future of Life, which I thought would be a horrible, sentimental, general plea for saving the environment, a book which can do no one any good because despite how fascinating animals can be, depictions of our vastly differing biomes here on Earth inspire no one to rush out and give up electricity and modern convenience and renounce their cars. Instead, Wilson’s The Future of Life gave us the facts. He gave us facts that as an 18 year old I didn’t understand we could quantify, facts that we had only hoped at and facts that were dismally depressing about the state of our environment. It was inspiring, interesting, clear, well-written. I have recommended it to numerous friends over the years.

A Harvard entomologist and world-renowned ecologist, Wilson is a pretty smart guy. He knows a lot, and importantly he can synthesize and coalesce a lot of technical information into very clear writing. However having just finished reading his most recent book, The Meaning of Human Existence, I would have to say that Wilson’s ability to integrate information and ideas seems not to extend past any discipline that ends with ology.

Throughout the book, Wilson vaguely encourages the humanities, not for any great contribution they have made to human existence but because they represent this particular human condition of bungling through reality with our particular senses and emotions. He notes several times, in fact, that religion and philosophy (which he seems to conflate) sought to explain the universe at one point when there were no structures for scientific study, but now seem to consist of nothing but dogma.

Wilson believes science explains everything. That all we need to know about the universe, about our minds, can be and will be eventually be determined by science. He writes, “The self-contained worldview of the humanities describes the human condition - but not why it is the one thing and not another. The scientific worldview is vastly larger. It encompasses the meaning of human existence - the general principles of the human condition, where the species fits in the Universe, and why it exists in the first place.” He’s right - the humanities and science do have different goals and means of investigation and purviews. And I think he’s right that human existence has been molded by the physical world, by evolution, by the universe, but I’m not sure a study of the physical world, of the universe necessarily points back to human existence.

Here’s the deal, I think science is fascinating. And more than fascinating, I think it’s important work. Our scientific exploration of the natural world is the key to understanding where humans came from, how and why we act in particular ways, how our planet fits into the universe, how medicine can cure ills, and one day how to effectively use resources not only to prevent destroying the planet but perhaps also to equalize the human condition and reduce suffering. But even if neurobiology and cognitive science can one day show that our human quest for meaning in life is located in a certain connection of neurons, a trait related to a particular gene, what then does that say? Science cannot describe how we exist - it can just describe the material conditions of the universe.

I do not believe we should all be scientists. I don’t think we all want to be. Some of us want to explore in different ways. And though I believe scientific discovery is vital, we lived, unhappily or not, for millennia without the knowledge we have today. Modern medicine has been lifesaving, but a new, thinner computer we could live without if we needed to. Every human should be able to think like a scientist, should be able to think critically and understand modern methods and theories and knowledge. We should be able to reflect on science in the humanities, just as science historically has been influenced by philosophy and art. I do not think that perfect scientific knowledge is the only end goal of human existence nor do I believe that it will solve all our problems.

This book was an apologia for E. O. Wilson. As an early contributor to the evolutionary theory of inclusive fitness, decades later he now conclusively puts that theory to rest. And this book contains some remarkable connections described in well-written, easily digestible form concerning the human condition, human behavior, human evolution, and the social nature of several species on Earth. This book is a justification of a man's life's work. The one thing Wilson does not do is provide us something new here. He doesn't address our needs and projections and desires and lives as human beings. He doesn't address our drive for meaning and fulfillment. And while he does explicate how we fit into a larger picture of the Earth and the universe, he does not address the meaning of human existence.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Unthoughtful in Oregon

That the Republicans are again in control of the Senate cannot be a disappointment to me. I knew it was coming. I accepted it. It was inevitable. It seems like this sort of flip happens at the end of every president’s second term. The country doesn’t think the President has done enough, that not enough has happened, that their lives have not been significantly transformed because they have haven’t. And that’s not the president’s job. But the country uses this midterm election to stick it to a lame duck president who probably wouldn’t have been able to get much done anyway. The country votes against a president who has two more years in office or doesn’t vote at all, effectively saying we’re already done with you and we’re already looking at 2016.

Fine. That’s fine. I expected as much. I’ve accepted that these are the years when nothing gets done. The country will stagnate for a while. And this is the voice of the people, all the people of America, the great expanding shelf of people without an education, without a thought, with strong convictions and little critical thinking. The country is crazy and that’s why I don’t live there. I live in Oregon.

Yesterday we voted to legalize marijuana in Oregon, which is important not only because the modern consumption and perspectives toward the plant have changed significantly in recent decades. Most importantly, there is no reason so many should be penalized, should be jailed for the possession of marijuana, especially since we know that nationally black Americans men are incarcerated for possession at a far higher rate than white Americans.

But I doubt that Oregon voted to legalize marijuana because so many people here were thinking about social injustice. So many out there were probably thinking about ease of access, cost, their own pleasure. This is fine. These are completely valid reasons to vote for something, to support a cause. Yet it seems to me it’s a huge problem that so many of us cannot support causes that have no direct link to us. If it has nothing to do with me, I can’t be bothered, or it can’t matter, or there’s no reason this law should pass, or it must be wrong.

It is completely disheartening that Oregon voted against extending drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants. Enough of us here in Oregon are so illogically stuck on their status here in the States that we can even think about their safety and our own, that we cannot even accommodate their lives here in anyway and cannot seek to sympathize with them.

And it’s disheartening that Oregon voted against labeling GMOs. In a report for OPB, Ryan Haas noted that neither side on this issue openly told the whole the story about the science behind the safety of GMOs, but it’s completely insane that any of us could say to our fellow citizens, no, you don’t have the right to know, to choose. It’s insane that we vetoed a tiny label, something that would cost nothing. And I can’t believe anyone is still falling for that line corporations are feeding us about the price of food increasing. We regulated chemicals to get rid of the hole in the ozone. We regulated the car industry decades ago to ensure that there were seat belts in every car and car makers just cried and cried and said the whole industry would collapse. We required food producers to label ingredients and calorie counts and exposures to allergens but people still shop at grocery stores, we still eat so much crap.

A friend told me he had heard that the GMO bill up before Oregon voters was severely flawed, that it didn’t do enough, that there would still be unlabeled GMOs on the market. And this was an argument I’d heard myself from the anti-labeling campaign spearheaded by our favorite food producers Monsanto and Kraft. Here’s the deal: you sometimes have to start somewhere. I complain a lot about the shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act, but with a fiercely partisan congress, it’s amazing that any compromise was achieved at all. There will be revisions and modifications and reworkings to the ACA but we had to start somewhere.

Oregon needs to hold itself up as an example to the rest of the country, as California and New York and Washington state do. We need to put out bold ideas and have the bravery to vote for these bold ideas. So many progressive projects have been implemented in the past, projects that the rest of country have or will eventually take up, but we need to continue to vote for these projects that improve our communities and aid others, even when at times they may require small sacrifices from us as individuals.

This is perhaps the most disappointing result that was delivered Tuesday: Oregonians are not willing to think of other people. People voted against driver registrations for all as well as their neighbor’s right to know the contents of the food they buy. And while I believe the passage of this marijuana legalization bill will prevent so many from needless persecution from this drug and will perhaps help remedy the injustice of black incarceration rates, I do not believe most Oregonians voted for this issue for much more than their own pleasure.

Having lived in Alabama, I remember driving around with a bumper sticker of a blue dot on a red square. A bright blue dot in a really red state, as the slogan goes. Birmingham was a blue dot in a red state, and not even that bright. Here in Oregon, I’m starting to feel the same way. There are certain places, certain people who are bright blue dots in a sea of apathy and self-centeredness, which is all the sadder when I know how much potential this state has. We are privileged with the resources and beauty and current zeitgeist of Oregon today. Now we really to become more conscious of that and of our community and begin to think about what we can do not only to improve our own lives, but how we can accommodate and be conscious of the lives of others.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Certain days have their own music

There are certain perfect things that could have happened and this was one: Mike, the owner of the Red Fox, took and break from the bar and sat down with us. I introduced him to my friend Booth and told him that Booth had been playing music, that he had produced an album in the past few years, and that we had been talking about musicians who care so much about their music, their sound, that they work and work and work, and tinker forever, and it becomes so hard to put out an album, to produce something full and you just want to scream, put it all out there, play it, and come back to all the details.

Mike launched into to all the details. He talked about sound equipment and we talked about musicians. We talked about how sometimes it’s worth coming in to a recording session and knowing what has to be done and know that it has to be in a certain time. Sometimes it’s not worth the technological advantage we have to be able to record and manipulate and lay tracks and edit tracks and snip and cut until the final most perfect sound can be produced. Sometimes music can perfectly be a recording of musicians playing music in a room. 

Adam and I woke up with music in our heads that morning. The neighbor who lives above me was loudly playing some record at 9:30 in the morning, the bass and guitar and drums transmitted down through the skin of the floor. We had stayed up late, our waking difficult, the pressure behind our eyes deep, and our moods delicate in those first few minutes. But we soon accepted the rhythms and vibrations; I had never heard any other sounds coming from his apartment and I couldn’t fault him for his suddenly and early decision to listen now.

We woke up and got coffee, the bleariness from our eyes quickly fading. We went grocery shopping and biked around the neighborhood, the weather warm for one last dry weekend in October. And everything just seemed really lovely.

I met Ryan that afternoon for a drink at Red Fox. The afternoon clouds lovely soft and modulated pastel in the sunset. We had seen some really beautiful sunsets this past month, already missing the color in anticipation of the coming months of rain here in Portland.

Ryan left and I stayed over at Red Fox, reading until Booth met me. It seems like there have been so many albums released lately that have excited me. Aphex Twin and Thom Yorke and Caribou. Doesn't it seem like a return to the days when people still cared about listening to albums?

Sometimes it’s nice to just catch up, talk about music. We talked about how he makes music; about his plans for a new album. And I walked away energized, like there was so much to do, so much that could be done.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Flight times

A little lift and the earth made two curvatures away from me. The ground beneath me tilted up and then back and sharply down; the sky above paralleled this parabola but with the movement of the plane, the angle and trajectory of the clouds contrasted sharply with the sky’s rocky companion. And my palms began to sweat, yet I was fine.

Sometimes, actually all the time, most of the time, hopefully, for those of us who aren’t neurotic, we don’t even consider the times our deaths are close, our lives immediately more tenuous. Because really, our deaths are always with us, hidden inside every moment, every sudden derrame cerebral, every hidden black widow spider, every gas leak, every car crash, every random mugging on the street.

It’s funny how we have this idea of the TSA security checks as stressful because it’s true. This agent is sweet as he says hello to the pre-scheduled passengers. That agent is reticent, quiet, unresponsive as she checks our boarding passes against our IDs. That one is a little tired and monotone as she reminds everyone to take off their belts, their shoes. I come out past the small-millimeter wave scanner, putting my arms down, the agent barking, okay, this way, and struggling to rapidly put away my computer, put my shoes back on, sling my belt around my waist, and I realize that my heart is beating a little quickly, that I’m a little nervous, that there’s no reason to rush. Everything is fine and really I’m haven’t done anything. I was prepared for the flight; I didn’t bring bottles of liquids; there’s nothing to explain. There’s no reason to worry.

Adam and I drank a bloody mary. It was ten in the morning and this was the beginning of our very short vacation to San Francisco. But really, you know me. I’d drink a bloody mary on any morning, any morning that I didn’t have to be responsible, to report to someone else. And then the flight was delayed: it was fleet week in San Francisco and there was an air show and President Obama had landed at the airport and everything was to be delayed by two hours. It was literally President Obama’s fault that our flight had been delayed.

Michael, the flight attendant, hands us free drinks “on Obama” and asks if my boyfriend and I “going home.”

There are times I become worried, even at home. I don’t lock the door when I step out to get coffee across the street then worry that some stranger has slipped inside the apartment in my absence. I worry that the cat will be run over. I worry that I’ve left the stove on, though I haven’t used it in days, and that the building will go up while I’m at work. A couple got mugged the other day down on Mississippi Avenue and maybe I’m next, maybe I’ll have been listening to music with John at his house late one night and on my walk down someone will take advantage of the hour and my inebriation.

The waiting, the sitting is hard enough, but it’s the constant state of tension that really gets to me while traveling. The tension between gravity and motion that one can distract oneself from but which stays just there at the edge of consciousness. The tension between here and there, between leaving and not yet arriving, heightens one’s sense of vulnerability. I hate to think about what I would leave behind if my life just ended. Suspended in that fluid state I have time to think about how fragile every moment is, how fragile my existence is, particularly as this suspension squeezes through wind and clouds and place and time 30,000 feet over the planet.

How do you stop though? How can you refuse to take this flight, to forego biking to work, to stop leaving the house? I just have to take another sip, wipe the sweat of my palms on my jeans, and beginning writing. The two hours of this flight will pass and we will arrive into another movement, a travel across a city, a difference experience, world without end.

Friday, October 3, 2014

It's not just but what can be done?

We all feel so very small sometimes I think. Even here in America.

We’ve seen all these movies about darkly determined futures in which everything is controlled, about future fascist governments that control the population through technology and labor. The US went crazy over The Hunger Games. I don’t think we all necessarily see this as far off, as a warning or prediction. Some of us have fallen for conspiracies, that control is much more far-reaching and complete than we are led to believe. Some of us have fallen for theory. And some of us recognize that in some ways, for some peoples, governments and societies have become more concerned about their own preservation rather than the will or happiness of their own people.

Ilham Tohti, a Beijing-based Uighur scholar, was recently found guilty of separatism in Urumqi, the capital of the western Chinese province Xinjiang. Tohti advocated in his scholarly writings cultural sensitivity and equal treatment for Uighurs, but did not advocate succession from Beijing.

As described by the New York Times, when he was dragged from the courtroom after being sentence, he screamed “It’s not just! It’s not just!”

I was describing this scene to my friends and they seemed unperturbed. He’s a Uighur! It’s Xinjiang! What can you do? These are people who lived in China near the border for years and saw up close how minorities in China are treated. Not just foreigners feel like this – I believe a majority of people in China and in every country feel powerless, have no idea what can be done. We brush these things off because Xinjiang is far away. We brush these things off because we have our own lives and our own struggles and what action can we take that would make any difference?

I think the first thing we have to do is shed our indifference. We all can’t fly to Hong Kong to support the pro-democracy protests there, but we can follow the developments in the news. We can think critically about what is happening in Hong Kong. We can attempt to understand the history of that place and the desires of those peoples. 

I don’t do enough. I don’t support my community enough. I don’t support other people struggling enough. I don’t attempt to express my frustrations. I don’t spend enough time thinking about what can be done. But paying attention may be a first step to doing more. It’s sometimes about being well-informed to be sympathetic then to be ready when it comes time to be active here in our community. Even if there is not a lot I can do about the Uighurs in Xinjiang, I cannot convince myself to be indifferent.

Friday, September 19, 2014

sketchbook no. 13

The other night at Red Fox, Ryan, Mikiel, Allison, and I were looking at photos we had taken over the past few years. We all had our phones out, cooing over memories and hair cuts. A few nights before that, my friend Greg, a friend from high school visiting Portland, had sat on the edge of my bed and scanned my photo album. He asked about some of the newer photos, made jokes, inquired about friends. Then we flipped through the older photos from high school. Do you remember her? Remember when this happened? Did you ever do this while at ASFA?

We looked through the photos I had taken out of Tony, talked about him and his art and his life and his death and that time he slapped me and that time we thought about running away to Manhattan together.

Why don't we do that? Have little photography viewing sessions. Particularly with printed photographs. I love printed photographs. I miss having little prints all over my house.  Growing up, our foyer was devoted to photographs of family, hanging on walls and collecting dust in frames on the top of the piano.

I propose asking little groups of friends to submit photo albums of their favorite photos. Let's print everything. Then we ask that group of friends to come in, sit on a couch, look at photos, and reminisce. And we'll do little groups of this all night long. We can look through everyone's photos and watch friends share memories and hear all the secret histories of these prints. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mid-Autumn Festival

It started with champagne. Adam and I chopped vegetables, cut meat, with glasses of champagne next to our cutting boards: asparagus, mushrooms, spring onions, chicken, and quail eggs. Greg stood behind us at the stove, a wok cooking “Cola Chicken,” some recipe he had brought back from China. Luke started the fire in the pit outside.

I didn’t even get drunk that night but the moon was so beautiful, what little we saw of it, above the building next door, through the leaves of the tree. 

And it was so orange and round, so close, it seemed like we could just walk up to it. Climb a ladder onto the roof to get closer.

Chang’e found herself floating up to the moon, leaving her husband Houyi behind.

Greg told us the story of the moon goddess who found herself immortal but lonely on the moon with just a jade rabbit for company. Though he lives in Beijing now, Greg and I had gone to high school together. Birmingham, Portland, Beijing. The moon was round, the eighth full moon of the Chinese calendar and we were celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival.

Lee and her boyfriend were there, too: another friend from high school and her boyfriend, a man who had grown up in Birmingham with us but whom I had never known. 

Bench by bench we sat around the fire, orange silhouetted against we only knew was around us: plants and spiders and crickets and racoons watching us, ready to invade after we retired to the house. Greg and Ryan. Misti and Allison. I kissed Adam. Daniella and Ryan came out. Luke and Alisa helped make dinner. They had all just arrived back from a camping trip, just in time for the festival. Daniella’s friends from Vancouver were visiting.

Chang’e and her jade rabbit.

Adam’s roommates groaned when I told them I had bought moon cakes. I’m not sure anyone really loved the moons cakes. Except maybe me. Like a Fig Newton filled with lotus paste or red bean paste or date paste, they’re solid and sweet, brick-like. I don’t even mind the egg yolk baked into the middle.

And they look so perfect in their red packages, not sealed because they last forever, the tops of each cake decorated with the art nouveau impressions of Chinese characters and design.

I bought a string of paper lanterns set on a line of Christmas lights for six dollars at the Japanese market going out of business.

Greg had suggested we celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival. Adam and his roommates remembered celebrating in China. The rest of us were experiencing it for the first time, here in Portland, by a string of cheap lights and a fire with moon cakes and the Chinese barbeque Adam was busy seasoning. It was Sunday and there was plenty of wine.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Six years in the sunset

He said, “I don’t approve of this.”

He was looking at the fox head mounted on the wall above him, its tiny dark eyes fiercely looking down at us.

A lot of foxes, painted, drawn, photographed, can be found on the walls here at the Red Fox.

I agreed with the stranger, ahead of me in line for the single restroom in the bar, and added that I didn't think the owners hunted and stuffed this head themselves. They don’t seem like the types. It was probably gifted to them.

From across the bar I heard, “And this is white tea!”

A bartender, a big man, tall, tough but never threatening, showed a bag of tea to his boss. They held their noses to a bag of dried leaves.

During the summer almost everyone crams into the tiny patio to share their drinks. The booths extend down one side of the park. A tin roof protects the patrons from whatever rain there may be in a later season and what bright light it can shield from us now. We spend afternoons watching the sun patiently set behind the West Hills, beautiful sunsets painful in our squinting eyes.

When I first moved here, is this what I thought Portland would be like, almost pastoral as much as a city can be. Visitors sometimes complain about suburban Portland can be, and though I never think of it as suburban, it does have a completely different energy than other cities even here on the West Coast.

At six years, I don’t count the days until I have lived here another year.

When I moved here I could not imagine how much my life would change. Today I’m prone to worry how much my life would change. And it will. It all will.

When I moved into the neighborhood, Mississippi Avenue was a still a quaint street with some cool bars, a few coffeeshops, a restaurant or two. Today its blocks and blocks of boutiques and condos and construction. There are two new tea shops. The neighborhood made a store change its insensitive name. The patios at Bar Bar and Prost and Moloko brim every night with loud, drunk, young men and women, bridge and tunnel clientele I can only imagine.

There’s always Red Fox. Everyday I can drink on short patio at Red Fox where one bartender studied linguistics in college and that guy just finished building a banjo and this other one collects vintage detritus. He handed me a paper page torn from an old magazine, an advertisement for Columbia Music House promising me twelve free CDs. And we remembered and looked through the listings and said, Whoever bought this CD? and Wow, I remember when this was popular.

But if Ryan were to leave Portland, if Mikiel or I were to move out from our apartment building, would I hold office hours (those hours after work) at Red Fox as often? I might find a new bar. I buy cheap wine to eat with my meals instead, watching documentaries on Netflix before reading a little and turning out the light.

The nights are cold now this week and it smells like fall when I wake up, the windows open, the apartment a mixture of damp earth, fir trees, coffee, and the lilies Adam gave me. Soon enough it will be raining in Portland, Oregon again, but the patio is covered at Red Fox.

Friday, August 22, 2014

China and Ferguson

America’s gaze is focused inward, away from our borders, our coastal cities, toward our heartland. And the world’s attention has followed with us.

Obama said, “As Americans, we've got to use this moment to seek out our shared humanity that's been laid bare by this moment."

What happened to Michael Brown is not only tragic – the brutality of his death a profound violation of humanity – but also revealing of the darkly systemic racism that still exists in this country.

The entire country is talking about the situation in Ferguson. The world is looking at America, critical of the violence and continued history of suppression we are creating for ourselves.

China, expected to be critical of the situation, was largely silent, picking up some news from American outlets, until a critical editorial was posted on Xinhua

Austin Ramzy writes for the New York Times:

“While Chinese state news outlets can be highly critical of problems in American society and its government’s actions abroad, they can be slow to comment on events in the United States that may provoke discussion of similar phenomena in China, such as violent crackdowns last spring on protests against a planned chemical plant in the southern city of Maoming.”

This year we saw acts of terror, death, in Shanghai and Kunming and Urumqi. Tensions between the majority Han Chinese and China’s minorities, a suppression of minority culture and rights, military action against minorities have resulted in extremist responses. But I am not sure that a national dialogue has been generated about this problem in the same way that America was forced to talk about our prejudices and violence over the past several decades. The killing of Michael Brown and the media coverage and the statements made by the public exemplify the continued racism that exists in this country. America still has so far to go; black Americans still face so much racism and irrational fear and stereotyping and suppression. And though there may be many deniers of this racism, though there may be many people who justify these actions which should be labeled racist, America will talk about this. America will look inward and through shock and anger and outrage we will argue and enlighten and come together.

In China, the government cares about equality only as complete social integration. Cultural difference is tolerated so long as it does not constitute a separateness. And though many Chinese talk about oppression and inequality and human rights, these discussions are not wrapped into the national fabric as they must be here in America. Can events like this shape the Chinese consciousness like they do in America if the dialogue is not open in the same way? I fear that the conversation concerning minority tensions is so limited in China that what is seen publicaly are the extreme acts of terrorism but not the simple resistance of minorities to dominance and dispersal.

It should be noted that the Chinese commentary in Xinhua stressed that the real issue here is that the U.S. hypocritically chastises the human rights abuses of other countries while having so many problems at home. And the Chinese government is right. It is hypocritical. We need to do so much more for our own people who face systemic and overt racism here in America. But the difference may be the protections we have enshrined in our government for minorities, the actions we are working to integrate legally, and the conversation the people of our nation have in the media, in offices, at home, with friends about these issues.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

From The Hamlet by William Faulkner:

"In the first place, he did not want a wife at all, certainly not yet and probably not ever. And he did not want her as a wife, he just wanted her one time as a man with a gangrened hand or foot thirsts after the axe-stroke which will leave him comparatively whole again."

Friday, July 25, 2014

A course in global perspectives

In a couple recent posts, I made critical comments about situations in other parts of the world. In one post I wrote about the Cuban economy and in a more recent post I wrote about the developing war between Israel and Palestine. Even as I argued that should the U.S. embargo end and U.S. companies begin opening factories in Cuba, the work provided by these factories would not significantly lift the Cuban poor out of any sort of dire poverty nor would it enlarge the Cuban economy significantly. I believe something more needs to take place in Cuba - to see the growth and development equal to America, China, or Europe, any country needs to foster local business development and entrepreneurship. A economy cannot thrive and develop by just importing jobs.

What I wanted to acknowledge even as I wrote that post is that even if while I ponder long term development and growth from my apartment in Portland, Oregon, from my office by the river, over coffee and the New York Times, there are families in Cuba who live in poverty right now. I cannot blame these families for wishing for relief right now, for welcoming with open arms a Nike factory and the jobs and steady (if meager) income that could be provided. The immediacy of the present trumps my abstract projections for economic development.

In this same way, when considering the situation in the Gaza Strip we must consider the lived experiences of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. In response to my last post concerning the war in Gaza, an Israeli friend left a few comments detailing some important facts the international community should keep in mind which also highlighted her perspective on the situation.

I argued that the resultant deaths from the Israeli attacks in Gaza seem disproportionate to the effects of the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. I also believe that as a modern world leader, Israel has a humanitarian responsibility, even to Palestinians, and developing greater humanitarian efforts in Gaza and the West Bank would hopefully ease tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians and help open a path toward peace.

I do not believe that this view is naïve or misguided, but my friend is right that I do not live in Israel. I do not live under the circumstances of these tensions. I do not have to take shelter due to the threat of rockets. Perhaps this would change my perspective and prerogative.

My friend is also good to point out that Hamas does not have the best intentions. Hamas is not protecting the interests of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip; it is not taking steps to alleviate the humanitarian situation there. Hamas is focused solely on Israel, on vilifying Israel, on fighting Israel, and legitimizing itself. It is set against recognizing Israel and thus against taking any step toward living in peace with the Israelis. Israel is taking the steps it is because Hamas has placed rockets and stored weapons in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas has purposefully placed these weapons in populated areas to use their own people as shields against Israel. As the New York Times reported, “Well into the conflict the Hamas radio station was telling civilians — already reluctant to leave homes given their history of displacement — not to heed Israeli warnings to flee, calling the warnings ‘psychological warfare.’” It wasn’t until recently, probably because of the large death toll, that Hamas has become more active about warning residents to avoid activity in certain parts of Gaza.

Navi Pillay, the United Nations’ top human rights official, has voiced criticism over Hamas’ attacks on Israel and particularly from launching those attacks in densely populated urban sites. On the other hand, Pillay has also criticized Israel over the large Palestinian death toll. She says, "There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes."

Obviously our experiences, our histories, shape our perspectives of the present. While I am not a proponent of the death sentence, I can understand how the family of a murder victim can demand it. Emotional situations affect our perspective. But I think what should be telling in situations like these are what those outside the conflict say. Much of the world is critical of the death penalty still meted out by some states. Much of the world is critical of the Israel’s forceful action in the Gaza Strip and the number of Palestinian deaths there. Criticism like this needs to be heard and considered. In these situations, every country, every person should ask themselves, “Why are the actions of my country being criticized as such and what does it mean for my country?” 

With over 800 Palestinians dead now, we should all hope for a ceasefire. But we should all, the entire world, be thinking about active ways to ease tensions, alleviate suffering, and work toward stability, particularly in Israel and Palestine but also across the globe. We need a few brave ideas and we need a lot of brave people to actualize them.

Friday, July 18, 2014

260 dead is the beginning of the second catastrophe

Someone said to me recently, “So what? The Israelis are just supposed to let down the Palestinians in Gaza continue to shoot rockets at them?”

And I said, “Yes.”

And he said, “Because Israel and can handle it? Because no one is dying in Israel like they are in Palestine?”

He got it. We had just been looking at the death toll for the current Palestine Israel conflict. Today, there have been more than 260 Palestinian deaths in the past week; there have been 2 Israeli deaths, and one was caused by friendly fire. Israel has now invaded the Gaza Strip.

This is not to say that the Israelis should just accept this shower of rockets from Gaza. And this is not to say that the situation isn’t dangerous for Israel. But as a country with a superior air force, which support from the US government, with a strong, stable economy, Israel should be able to deal with the danger of Palestinian militants in a different way than just blindly killing scores of Palestinians.

The aggressive acts by Hamas-affiliated Palestinians are committed out of desperation. The Palestinians have nothing. They do not have access to building supplies. The Israelis collect taxes for the Palestinians but will not disburse it to them. The Egyptians have withdrawn support. The Palestinians have limited access to the rest of the world other than what can be smuggled from Egypt and Iran.

What Israel and the world must learn is to be charitable even to our enemies. Israel has pressed in upon the Palestinians and have offered little support for the people they have displaced. Israel is not going away. Palestinians must accept this, but Israel must be a little more accommodating.

Negotiations have between the Israelis and Palestinians have been continuing for decades. I do not expect these peoples to come to any accord anytime soon. But in the mean time, Israel can aid a suffering people who are their neighbors and with whose history theirs will be forever entwined. Israel can provide monetary aid. They can provide building supplies. They can provide food and water. Alleviating the stress and suffering experienced in the Gaza Strip may alleviate some of the pressure that contributes to these missile attacks. Not only would this be a humanitarian gesture, but it would be strategic to continuing negotiations, to compromise, and to finding final peace.

What has happened instead will probably be remembered as a second catastrophe. Palestinians continue to die; Palestinians will continue to suffer; nothing will be solved. With this latest aggression, the world needs to hold Israel accountable for its crimes.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Long trip; long odds

My sister left this evening from Birmingham, driving with our cousin’s fiancee to Tampa, a ten hour road trip to visit our madre who has recently moved to Florida. It’s a long drive, especially with a very young woman my sister only knows casually though my cousin. And then there’s Tampa. And madre. And who knows what they’ll find on the way as the foothills of the Appalachians around Birmingham flatten out around Montgomery to fall flat to the coast, where they will leave behind the trees and green for the Serengeti of coastal Florida.

I wish I were my making this trip with my sister. We need to have a long road trip like this together, especially if it’s to visit madre in her new home of Tampa, Florida. We need to explore that city together, to sit on the beach and make snide remarks about Florida, sidelong remarks that might puzzle our madre even as she pretends she has heard nothing.

My sister, Evian, has had long week. She’s fretted about a “friend date” as she calls it with a man we befriended years ago when I still lived in Birmingham. Not even a date, my sister just wanted to meet new people in Birmingham, make new connections, but she found the spectre of the rendez-vous with a near stranger overwhelming. Understandably, I should say.

I found myself recently in a group who started joking about how absurd it would be for young gentiles to try their luck on JDate, the Jewish dating website. They imagined awkward questions like, “So Jesus… Is he just some hot guy on a cross, or is he… your savior?” I stopped listening and my mind started to think about how in Islamic tradition Jesus is not the messiah but he is considered a prophet. And then I thought about the upcoming Ramadan holiday. I thought about the Muslim students in my boyfriend’s class who would be fasting.

The group had moved on from dating services to celebrity gossip and I knew that none of my thoughts would be interesting if shared. They wanted jokes and dirt and scandal and another drink. Often I want to talk about China and language and novels and the news when everyone else’s head is moving another way. Which doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t like the company I find myself with, but it does mean that sometimes hanging out with some people at certain times isn’t as interesting or as fun as it can be for other people in the group.

Forging relationships, meeting new friends, can be difficult. Meetings between new friends require a great amount of concentration; one has to adjust to the mannerisms and speech and energy and interests of another person. One must defer to them; one must hear them and respond. Simultaneously one must not come across as too proud or cocky or sad or lame or boring or neurotic or judgmental. The pas de deux is difficult but sometimes it’s the only way to move forward.

Like my sister, I also find social engagements nerve-racking, energy-sapping, and awkward. And I feel many people feel the same way when first meeting a new person. There are those of us in the world who may be socially apt, who may find any social situation effortless, but I think for the bulk of us, it can be trying. We ease into friendships.

And to avoid loneliness, we just have to do it. We have to say hello.  We have to say excuse me, do you mind if I ask what you are reading? We have to say, could I buy you a drink? We have to put up with the awkwardness. And boringness. And insecurity.

I'm always grateful for the friendship I have with my sister. It's easy. When last in Birmingham, we drank margaritas together and watched tv and played with the dog. Simple, not boring. I miss her all the time. But now we need to start planning that road trip: Birmingham to Tampa, all the way down the Florida coast. All the way to the beach, to more margaritas and sunshine and private jokes and hours of all our favorite tunes.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cuba is not Vietnam is not China

She said when her boat arrived in Cuba from Massachusetts, the boat owner asked her to pull out a bar of soap. She had been instructed to bring as many cheap bars of soap as she could. The owner of the boat shaved a sliver of soap from the bar and gave it to a woman who returned with a week’s worth of produce, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Some friends recently described their experiences traveling in Cuba. They both were appalled by the poverty in which Cubans live. They seemed to feel great sympathy and pity for what they describe as the abject poverty Cubans live in.

And I said, if everyone is so poor, why wouldn’t you just give all the soap away to everyone.

Certainly I understand the idea that you might need to protect yourself as a tourist, that it’s not always a good idea to draw attention to yourself, to flaunt your wealth. It makes sense to remain inconspicuous when traveling in any country. But if the people of Cuba are living in the crippling poverty as described to me that night, how could one not want to give up something as simple as soap if one finds him or herself in that position?

Last week I listened to a series of stories about Cuba on NPR. One woman described the residents in Mariel longing for the end of the U.S. embargo, believing that with its end will come a period of opening and great prosperity in Cuba. I agree. I think the embargo is antiquated and it is time to normalize relations with the country. I, too, believe that lifting the embargo could do a lot for the Cuban economy, but I cannot believe that the situation in Cuba will change drastically just because the U.S. will open itself up to trade with the nation.

One of my friends that night said that once the embargo stops he sees factories opening in Cuba and extolled what benefits that could bring the economy. “I mean can you even imagine what a Nike factory opening in Cuba could mean for these people that only make twenty dollars a month?” He pointed out the economic lift that had occurred in China and Vietnam because of the U.S. factories that had opened in those countries.

China is not Vietnam. While the U.S. and China have very large populations and the largest economies in the world. In terms of GDP, Vietnam ranks only as the 55th largest economy in the world according to the U.N., directly under Ukraine, New Zealand, and Romania. Cuba, with its economy “on the brink of collapse” according to my friends, ranks only a little below this as the 65th largest economy. And let’s point out one very telling fact: Vietnam has a population close to 90 million people whereas Cuba only has a population just over 11 million.

With a population including over 1.3 billion people, China has an extremely large workforce and domestic market. But it is obviously not just population and the factory work sent from the U.S. to China that has buoyed the Chinese economy. Let’s remember that Japan held the title of second largest economy for decades. Japan’s current population is 126 million, much less than half that of China’s, and relatively only a little larger than that of Vietnam. (And to put it in perspective, let me also mention that the U. S. population is currently coming in around 318 million.

So what then makes a successful economy, like those of China, Japan, the U.S. and Europe? Innovation. We understand it when we think about the U.S. and Europe and Japan, but it is time we understand that the Chinese economy is not just propped up on manufacturing.

I’ve heard it before: China has dozens of large metropolises you have never heard of. Americans know Beijing and Shanghai and Hong Kong, but what about Guangzhou and Nanjing and Shenzhen and Chongqing. My boyfriend lived two years in Kunming, a city in Yunnan province I had never heard of, with a metropolitan population quite a bit larger than that of Portland’s. The real estate market is huge in China and people are making money.

I like to say China has dozens of huge companies you have never heard of. Xiaomi, Tencent, Weibo, Feiyue: these are only a few of the companies that America has even the faintest inkling of but are huge in China. Sure, Nike sells shoes in China, but China has Feiyue, which now hipsters in Brooklyn buy for six times the price they would pay in Shanghai. Apple has a relatively small presence in the Chinese smartphone market, and this fall, Xiaomi, one of the other major players there, hopes to offer a phone to the American market.

A Nike factory in Cuba isn’t going to change the Cuban economy. With manufacturing wages may be lifted, people in general may come to have more disposable income or more stable jobs, but it will not automatically produce the prosperity we experience in America or China or Europe or Canada. Sure, the embargo must be lifted, but the Cuban government and the Cuban people must also search for a way to push internal economic security, to push for and encourage local innovation and entrepreneurship. Imported jobs manufacturing foreign developed commodities will not grow an economy.

It may be idealistic to say the Cuban people should hope for something more than just to see the end of the embargo because I don’t have a solution. If we are truly concerned about the conditions in any country, we must definitely see that American manufacturing cannot import prosperity. The Cuban government and people must find a way to nurture innovation and put in place an economy that invests and develops internally.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

How not to be angry

You tell me.

I feel angry all the time recently. I feel angry about the cars that cut me off while I am biking. I feel angry about men or women who say, “Uh-huh” when I say thank you or when they bump into me and I say “Thank you.”

It kills me when someone asks for my opinion, I give it, and then they start an argument. It’s worse when they say I am argumentative because I have defended myself.

People are absolutely ridiculous when they defend derogatory words, like “tranny,” while still pretending to support the “LGTBQ community.”

I find myself upset when a friend asks me why I wasn’t at a party, why I didn’t stay later than 3 in the morning, that he would have loved to see me there later, that it was charming to see my boyfriend there.

Drugs and the importance we place on them as mind-opening, as subversive, as something one has to do to be interesting makes me angry.

And it makes me angry when people on drugs think they are being conversational, or clever, or funny when they make non-sensical remarks or sounds or motions when they are high. Boring, I just want to start screaming THAT WASN’T A PLAY ON WORDS, THAT WASN’T CLEVER, AND YOU ARE NOT FUNNY. These remarks are pertinent for people who are not high, who don’t do drugs, too.

I am angry when people don’t walk on the wrong side of the sidewalk even when they see that the sidewalk is full of people walking in both directions and bikes and trying to get by them.

I find it disgusting when people try to quote Foucault or Marx and get it all wrong but pretend they are telling a TRUTH. Don’t even talk to me about the people who still have an interest in Freud. And on the other hand, I find myself ruffled that people would completely dismiss some thought or opinion or feedback just because a speaker invokes a philosopher.

I’m irked when a person believes they are producing something better than other people we know and yet they’re just deluded, narcissistic, and hypocritical. Your party isn’t better. Your art isn’t revolutionary.

I’m hurt when I share an idea and someone ridicules it, or becomes short with me about it, or will not begin to consider it and brainstorm with me, but rather shoots it down, dismisses it immediately, and I’m left thinking its better to always keep my mouth shout.

Here’s the thing: all these things are minor things, issues to be shrugged off and forgotten. We’re all busy, our minds occupied on other issues, on other projects. We don’t fully consider what we’re saying; an off-hand remark or response, something insignificant to one person can take on a completely different, more significant meaning for someone else. And all of these issues, all these things I’ve listed above, I know logically I have committed these crimes. I have been inconsiderate. I have made others angry. I have made other people feel like shit. And I know I have to you forgive and you have to forget and we all have to get over it and get over ourselves and just move on.

But right now, I just can’t. It’s just anger. And I can sit down and relax. I can meditate. I can have a drink. But I just feel more anger. I think this will pass but in the meantime, it just seems like there is nothing I can do right now. It’s a quagmire and I’m pissy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

sketchbook no. 12

Here's a little piece of performance art I think could have a great visual impact:

A group of actors crowd around telescope installed at a cafe/bar. They pick target who will wall by them on the street, then they'll whisper animatedly, take turns looking through telescope at the target. When the target walks directly in front of them they go silent, look away, stare. When the target passes them they commence whispering and laughing.

Adam and I were sitting in a restaurant the other day; he was talking about someone who had walked in.  I didn't turn my head.  I asked Adam to describe him.  When I acknowledged that I knew the person in question, Adam said, "You haven't even looked!" I told him I had been trying to see the person in the window's reflection behind Adam's head, and even without seeing the person directly, I had known whom Adam had been speaking of.

We do a lot of looking, and it's interesting how obvious and overt we can be about it.  Or how discreet.  And the feeling of being looked at can be disquieting but also pleasurable occasionally.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Pax Perpetua

Ryan said, “Do you need a crystal?”

I didn’t think I needed a crystal. I didn’t know what a crystal would do for me.

Ryan rummaged around his pocket for a second; he held out his fist to me. The little rock he dropped in my hand was weightless, so tiny. It seemed orange but also purple and I thought for a second it might be amethyst. He told me it had broken off from one of his crystals and that I could keep it.

The day cleared up on the drive to the coast. Light blue skies, the atmosphere hazy, and fat, lazy clouds with flat bottoms settled firmly in the sky. Warm, I left my jacket in the car when we stopped in Corvallis for lunch.

There have been days when I have left work in the afternoon exhausted. So I would stop by Red Fox for a drink. Whiskeysodabitters. The bartenders there don’t even ask me anymore because they already know.

Ryan and I sit on the patio, our office hours we call them.

We just bitch and bitch. And rant. Then we laugh a little bit.

This week Ryan paced the patio. I’d had never seen him so anxious.

I told Ryan I was packing for the coast. “Toothbrush? Check. Ring of protection? Check. Emergency flask? Check.”

“Did you remember to bring your crystal?”

Yes, I carried the little crystal bud in my pocket. I had discovered it to be more translucent with white scratches and flaws than colored as I had first thought.

Signs warn drivers to slow down to 30 miles per hour before turns that fold quickly in upon themselves, that wrap around the feet of hills. The land falls away past the road, and every once in a while I see a creek burying itself in a ravine to the other side.

I rested my head for a second in the back seat, but then, “There it is!” We were tumbling down the last hills of the Coastal Range toward that flat gray slate, the ocean.

We found the lodge south past a town call Yachats; it looked a little Bates Motel like. Two low buildings, flat gray faded with white trim, a lawn away from the beach. No signal on my mobile phone. No phone in the room to call for help. A poor wifi connection that was absolutely useless. The place was tidy though.

A loud booming, paced, sounded from around the rocks, the unknown rumble of destruction interrupting from the movie theater next door. It caused a primordial fear; a fear activated in a deep cluster of neurons, never to be revealed and identified and dissected. White spray jumped from the chasm and I did not dare get closer to the edge, to walk farther past the rock wall to discover the source of this sound.

Devil’s Churn at high tide, the water surged and sprayed a little, though we had heard that the tide that afternoon would not be that strong, that usually the display in the chasm looked even more treacherous.

Signs warned against “sneaker waves,” water that would tangle around your legs and pull you back over the cliff, into the ocean. Here in this place, even a little wave, water around the ankles and a little spray, did not inherently seem that benign and I wondered what it would take to let me become so comfortable so that the water could take me unaware.

I lost that little piece of crystal on the beach. It must have fallen out of my pocket, a sacrifice to the ocean to keep me safe. And nothing happened. There ended up being no reason to worry.

At night, on the beach, around the fire, we drank and there was laughter. The dark was dimensionless except for the crests of waves blossoming like unnaturally white teeth in widening smiles. The ocean at night seems flat, more like a screen, than that immense regression toward the horizon that awes during the day.