31 August 2008

Color is the new black

How many blogs have this title this week?

It does seem like we have reached that tipping point (catchphrase brought to us, apropos of our topic o' the day, by Malcolm Gladwell) in this moment, seeing Obama shine on the convention floor on Thursday night, like what happened when gays finally Arrived in mainstream American popular culture. Music paved the way: think Bowie and then Jagger in lipstick and tights, and then the surgence (no resurgence here!) of gays (Rosie O'Donnell, Will and Grace, Queer Eye, Ellen) on TV in the 1990s.

For once I am looking up and noticing that we are part of a new multiculti phenom within this country: the mixed-race family. Perhaps we've never been so hip (as if!) as in this moment. Perhaps we never will be again.

But it seems to me any attempts at passing an immigration policy keeping people out of the U.S. won't go far, because as it is in my hometown, almost everyone is from somewhere else, originally. And never has that been more true on more levels.

For us, it's great. It means there are mixed-race kids and families from many countries all around us. It was like that where I went to elementary school for a while, and then there were fewer and fewer People of Color as we called them in the oh-so-politically-correct 1990s as property values soared because of tight growth limits. We sneaked in under the wire and now live in an elitist Disneyland to hear some people tell it, and to some degree they are right. But now families have sprouted up with all of these kids of different colors and cultures, and this town is transformed from within forever by this. Boulderites have always been interested in those beyond our own borders (which is what makes the New Rudeness so appalling [are we going to call these the Rude Oughts one day, looking back?]).

A couple of days ago, my daughter came home from school and reported that she and her new friends in her class had been comparing their skin colors. "I'm about the same color as Tracie, but Anya is a little darker brown than me," she said (names changed to protect the little). They are discovering the entire spectrum of color between them, and also that you can be exactly the same color as someone who does not share your origins.

During the Olympics, I wondered what the spectacle looked like to all of the children from China, the kids of adoptive parents here in the U.S. and perhaps around the world. Did they say to themselves, How does such a well-organized society not have room for me? Or did they say, I'm so very proud|ashamed|indifferent| [choose one or fill in your choice] to have this heritage? Some day, they will decide to have an Olympics in India, and my daughter will be of the It Culture. How will that feel to her?

It may be as Sunil said in his talk at camp in 2006: kids from India who are here will always feel a little outside things, wherever they go. Here, they sometimes get mistaken for Hispanic or Mestizo and presumed to speak Spanish. In India, they are clearly Americans. (All of which just makes the fact that camp is a couple of hours away an absolute miracle to me. Amazing to me that when we chose to live here and adopt that we wound up this near the marvelous resource that is the Colorado Heritage Camps.)

I've been on both sides: shunned for my differences (still happens -- I'm just not like some of the other moms!), and celebrated for my luck at being in the "right" place at the "right" time, so I have some empathy and compassion for my daughter on all counts. I look forward to seeing what she makes of her origins, how she relates to her identity through her skin.

29 August 2008

The usual suspect

I am blogging today without the usual aha! that sends me springing for my laptop. My mind is filled with old film reels revealing motives and means of the usual suspects from my past. Life sometimes feels like a director's extended cut of that scene where Detective Kujan looks at the wall and sees all the ingredients of the elaborate story that Kevin Spacey's character Verbal has fabricated before his very eyes.

I see everything in a new way today, as Kujan did in the movie. When I was a kid, I wonder now why did we go up to the mountains, or camping, or anywhere? It often seems in retrospect that the prime suspect in question always had some secret agenda, some reason for doing things that he wasn't sharing with us. He always seemed to have a secret, something to hide from us. I'm just starting to see that I still have a little of that but don't like it in myself. Setting up a reason to lie about anything is dangerous -- it foments mistrust. He didn't trust us to agree with the importance of whatever was really driving him, I am guessing. In other words, keeping secrets meant he knew he was in the wrong, but it was more important to him than anything else that he had the reins and the means to hold onto them.

Our daughter is just getting familiar with the notion of slavery. We have been to Mt. Rushmore recently and she's been introduced to a handful of presidents (she barely knows what a president is), including Abraham Lincoln, who made it not okay to have slaves, but more importantly said that it wasn't necessary for any people to be slaves to any other people.

And when I look back at that time, I think we were slaves, kept in the dark as long as possible by a despotic, delusional warden jealous of our every song, our every in-joke. When my mother talks about the times he resisted her impulses to go get a job or learn to drive a car, it fits neatly into the frame.

Today I heard the story of how they had a plan for a while to grow their own food, living on a farm in rural Colorado in the mid 1960s. And he said he was going to Las Vegas to buy farm equipment, around the time he was thieving electronics equipment from the company he was working, and conceiving elaborate plans for getting time off work (like dropping the anvil on his toe). "And then he didn't come back with any farm equipment," recalled my mother, one of those little things which had planted a seed of doubt with her but because he said he was a man of integrity she believed him. She didn't have a huge frame of reference back then, and he could be terribly convincing in the face of any doubts.

But there was always a layer, something hidden, something furtive, something stopped-in-the-middle-of-and-stuffed-under-the-covers. And his descriptions of all of us complained of our duplicity, our deceitfulness, our ulterior motives. Because he always had one.

I've noticed lately something in myself I don't like that sort of pops out from time to time. I'll say, "You have to call me and tell me about that!" and it's like I've presumed something that should be offered and it takes the other person aback. It's very subtle, but I've noticed it a couple of times. I hope I can invite people to do things with me but can stop looking for leverage, no matter how much I feel we care for each other, or how much we've been through. The feelings around this remind me of the guy I grew up with, the one who always seemed to have an ulterior motive, or to find a way to cash in a chit he perceived he had, which he had extracted from an acquaintance. He still does this with the people on his visiting circuit, I'm sure. I wonder if I was like that with some people, always asking them for something, and leaving them to wonder why I had singled them out.

27 August 2008

A new assessment?

I started imagining my life as if a certain thing had not changed around when I turned 40. Immediately I recognized something I felt in blogging: recognizing that there are all of these people whose paths have turned out a little differently here and there until we see we're living in parallel universes with our lives unspooling equally rapidly before each one of us.

For in everyone we notice online or recognize in a blog entry or empathize with or even get peeved with, we notice something: an expectation each of us has of the world, the Other, our own selves, or d) all of the above. And we really notice it, I think, when we go out and explore what other people make of the world through their online personas. It's making me wish I could read more languages, because I think it would be so fun to learn about people beyond my own country, this particular universe I live in today.

In other news, yesterday I received a healthy reality check about some ideas for when I'm done screening films this year. Because I really do sense this urgency, this calling to do a lot right now, in the prime of my life, while my daughter is growing so she can see that for herself.

Keeping unrealistic expectations in check and staying focused were the key ingredients for my life recipe. I see it (and remember it from Nanowrimo): devoting a chunk of time to one project to move it along every day will keep me healthy, wealthy, and wise. There's a little of that Oh-I've-Been-Hiding-My-Light-Under-A-Bushel-Basket feeling in there, but mostly I feel excited to work on my novels. Both of them. Susan astonished me yesterday by asking me, “Could it be that there's a singular style of novels that is yours?” And I thought about how similar the territory was turning out to be in both of my as-yet-unfinished novels and saw how that could be true. It reminded me immediately of my neighbor asking, kind of amazed, “You mean like your story could have a social activism purpose?” His incredulity could be that such a thing could ever get beyond polemic, or that it might be possible in choosing which stories to tell and how to tell them to have an altruistic motivation for doing so.

What I saw when I looked back and then forward without this change I spoke of initially was sadder and filled with more chronic pain than I have today. I have seen so many around me continue that trend. When I realized where I was headed (maybe it was seeing one too many women on Oprah who looked like me, and felt like they couldn't keep up with their kids.

Now I find that the energy I put into this part of my life really has given back. I have become a poster child for the benefits of living well, and even find it keeps me conscious and alive and opens me up to yet other activities.

I find I don't want to identify this mysterious Thing of Which I Speak. There's too much judgment around it; it's too loaded for so many of us. I would love to spread a gospel, but all I can say is that I have served myself well (and as a result have huge compassion for those who work this hard or much harder and aren't able for whatever reason to do the same things I did).

As my life unspools before me, I see just how similar but even more how different we all are. Maybe like the Myers-Briggs personality inventory (I wonder: what's the story of those people who invented that? where are they today? how widespread is the use of this battery now?) there's some new kind of assessment (a gut-brain inventory?) that would sort us into important categories that would allow better treatment of various mental and physical health conditions. My mother's journey, other friends' and family's struggles, have all made me wonder whether there's some physical key that we simply haven't seen because we haven't looked through the right lens. Yet.

19 August 2008

We're all in sync

I was talking with a friend today and he said he hadn't had "the most relaxing summmer," elaborating that he'd helped make elder-care arrangements for someone, helped some folks get married, and helped some other folks stay married. I've been noticing, though, that I don't know anyone who has had a relaxing summer. I wouldn't call mine relaxing, f'r instance.

I think that lack of downtime this summer, though, is more than a result of our overscheduling tendencies. I tend to run with a fairly high-achieving crowd, I suppose, but still, it's not just the ambitious and committed -- it seems to me that everyone's world has changed tempo.

Certainly I'm not the only one floating this theory, but I think this is like women whose monthly cycles synchronize after they spend a lot of time together. September 11 was like hitting a reset button for everyone, not only the folks in the U.S. Everyone had to think about the unthinkable at the same moment; I believe that affected everyone around the world in a way that few unique events ever do, and in a way that we have all been collectively reacting to ever since, which I think has synchronized the world psyche. The prospect and achievement of the moon landing united all of humanity in a positive way; 9/11 had the same effect but in a negative way. Now I perceive a major busy uptick in our collective, long-term reaction.

Oh, it's so easy to generalize about everyone. But do you know anyone who has had a relaxing summer? I didn't think so.

18 August 2008

Seventh Baron: The latest release from Yamazaki Station

From rinnie ryn's livejournal blog come these instructions:

Go to the Wikipedia home page and click "random article" (see the left column of the page, under the Wikipedia logo). That is your band's name.
Click random article again; that is your album name.
Click random article 15 more times; those are the tracks on your album.

OK, here's mine:
Band name: Yamazaki Station
Album Title: I decided to shorten "Merlin Hanbury-Tracy, 7th Baron Sudeley" to "Seventh Baron"
Track 1: Ideal Speech Situation
Track 2: Magnanimity
Track 3: Canal Walk
Track 4: Birkan Batuk
Track 5: The Word Magazine
Track 6: Alphanate
Track 7: 1956 Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing Season
Track 8: Deckers, Colorado
Track 9: Sierra Leone National Basketball Team
Track 10: Averham
Track 11: Tracy Tweed
Track 12: Mohamed Amine Zemmamouche
Track 13: Valea Ciorii River
Track 14: 3041 Webb
Track 15: Haanja Parish

OK, so I wound up with a disproportionate number of places and people's names, but it's inspiring nonetheless, along the lines of a writing assignment that asks you to incorporate a random list of words.

*Next day edit*
I played again this morning and laughed when I got the band name: Ono. We have been talking for ages about starting a band called Uh-Oh (in part because the album title possibilities are endlessly fun -- Uh-Oh, Poncho Emergency!). Ono is about as close as you could get to that name.
Today's album name: AC/DC
7362 Rogerbyrd
Will Marion Cook
The Top 100 Canadian Albums
Aleksandr Anufriyev
Cory Branan
Experimental Electromechanical Module
Jill Trenary
Hugh Cavendish, Baron Cavendish of Furness
Aerfer Leone
Frequency Probability
Boom Boom
Caspar Wintermans
Automatic Weather Station

12 August 2008

Really, it's not just because Diablo Cody is one of my 14 friends on MySpace

The movie Juno keeps coming up in conversations, and I'm not even the one who brings it up. My friend asked me what made me love it, because he liked it but didn't love it and as a fellow reviewer he was curious about that difference. I said it was because of Juno's fundamentally optimistic and generous view of how people are, something I have admired in the work of many directors (with Wim Wenders at the top of the list). Juno is really the opposite of all those other movies it gets lumped in with, in today's popular and profitable goofy youth genre (see Judd Apatow, The Farrelly Brothers) that always seems to feature people as dumb or as obtuse as humanly possible to make a given plot work (e.g., in which freaking universe would Katharine Heigl's character really go for that guy in Knocked Up?) The character of Juno, on the other hand, remains true to her ideas about what she needs to do, whether she's deciding to go to the abortion clinic or deciding to have the baby. I felt some of what she did when I decided to adopt a child from another country: I'm already different. I have nothing to lose by pursuing and honoring my own beliefs and desires here.

And again, this morning, in a conversation about how dramatically linguistic standards have changed, I think I surprised my friend by saying I don't find it difficult to hold the grammar lines anymore but rather feel more and more that I embrace the changes in our language. This time I was the one to bring up Juno as a work that crystallized a new moment in the evolution of our public lexicon. If you imagine Juno having come out in the 1970s, people then would have been shocked and horrified at the crude language and innuendos and frank sexuality in a film about and in part aimed toward teenagers. It would have caused a cultural maelstrom (now there's a word I don't get the chance to use every day -- and notice how every and day are two separate words). Now, the language in Juno is not so far from what you can hear on prime time television shows (especially if you leave the sound up for the promos in between). Diablo Cody's genius in Juno and the reason I think she deserved the screenplay Oscar was that she captured something accurate about the youth culture here at this moment in the United States. Juno makes me feel more optimistic and less depressed about changes in the way we speak and interact, because I know we are all at once using this language in our own ways every day. I share Diablo Cody's faith in us.