Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Monday, March 21, 2005

It was Sunday morning, and I sat there at Starbucks - the one on Park Street, not the Ione plaza one, of course. That was even worse. I wouldn't be at this place at all, mind you, but that the little coffee shop in the building across from mine is closed on account of it being Sunday on spring break for the university, and the effort required to walk a mile to the Portland Coffee house is just too much. Perhaps I could've gone to the Bella Cafe, but that's eight blocks east and half that south, and there's no guarantees on it being open, either. I'm very particular about my coffee shops, you see; mostly, it's a matter of their environment and not the coffee they serve. If it were all the same to them I'd just sit in their chairs and drink some Earl Grey tea, but I can't bring myself to pay a dollar and a half for the same thing that I could make in my own apartment for a dime, and since I don't have an espresso maker, I can excuse my presence at these places by buying an Americano. None of those double-grande-with-whipped-two-per-cent Latte's for me, thank you. But every time I come here, I find my bile rising just a little bit, and occasionally I'll even vent these metaphorical acids onto my keyboard; today is such a day.

Starbucks is an impressively massive corporate coffee chain, and its dominance over the town's market is reflected in the fact that I could easily walk to over twenty of the green-and-white mermaid logos. Of all the things a coffee shop ought to have, Starbuckses on the whole have none. First of all, their product, while revolutionary compared to the almost tasteless slush that passes for coffee at convenient stores and gas stations nationwide, is decidedly inferior to several other local brands. Those less-advertised brews are rich, flavorful, and have all sorts of feel-good labels like 'organic' and even 'fair trade' or 'equal exchange,' meaning as we sip our caffeinated beverages that cost more than the entire daily income of the poorest fifth of the world, we can be placated by the assertion that the growers of these beans were paid a full, fair compensation for them. Altogether, Starbucks's coffee runs about a fifteen per cent price premium over many smaller coffee shops.

Worse is their selection of pastries. I've become quite accustomed to eating a scone in the mornings with my coffee or tea; a financial sin when I consider I've got to live on about seventy-five dollars a week, yes, but we all have our indulgences, and even though I could certainly throw together some hot cereal for nearly free, it's not the same. Like I said, I'm very particular about my location, but I'll get to that in a moment; I mention it here to say that if some coffee shop or other would be so kind as to prepare oatmeal for me, I'd be very happy. The scones at several of the local coffee shops are sourced from a few very excellent local bakeries, some of which go to the trouble of calling themselves Boulangeries, despite their situation in the old You Ess of A. One of my favorites calls itself this title as well as naming itself after a region in France, but I excuse this due to the quality of their pastries, and that they are lovingly crafted by a very, very French pastry chef. The scones at Starbucks, again, are sold at about a fifteen per cent premium over those from the aformetioned Boulangeries, but to say their quality is inadequate understates many things. Let me simply leave you with the observation that whoever provides their scones also supplies donuts.

Already, then, the chain has dug itself into quite a hole when it comes to ranking in my favorite places to pass an hour or two with a book and a drink, but what compounds their faults is the environment they provide. Typically, they're all filled in a similar manner - racks upon racks of overpriced products to sell, from bags of roasted coffee to mugs and thermoses, all the way up to espresso makers running in the hundreds of dollars. I won't bother to wonder how many of those they sell. Then, they pipe through their speakers an awful array of music supplied by a contracted, satellite-music source. To pay any attention to my mind, I've no choice but to bring headphones whenever I end up at one of these places. Another blow is their hours, though I may seem something of hypocrite bringing it up now; with one solitary exception I'm aware of in a suburban strip mall, they're all open what probably constitutes typical cafe hours, opening relatively early in the morning, but closing at or just after dinnertime. Seeing as how I'm something of a night owl and often would love a place that's not a smoky bar to sit and have a second round with that book I was reading earlier at about eleven at night, their locked doors and retired chairs pose an impediment, you understand.

Finally, there's the environment they provide: antiseptic, uninspired, homogenous. Many of my favored local coffee houses are, literally, houses; they're built into old residences that predate the businesses in their area. I find this charming, and it also means that they're usually lacking in the office-style foam square ceilings and cheap tile floors that's the calling card of Starbucks. In the name of efficiency, too, they usually have low-maintenance, pressboard chairs about tables fixed to the ground, and keep the thermostat several degrees lower than I find inviting to sit in for very long. The reason I've decided to come to this particular Starbucks is that, as an exception to most of the chain, they've at least ordered two comfortable, brown velour chairs, and the rest of their seats are actual wood that, if fairly cheap, is still a world better than the lightweights I described earlier in this rambling exposition. Chiefly, though, it's because corporate doesn't close for the holiday like many independents; their minimum-wage-plus-tips, black-and-green-clad staff still show up for work, and so here we are. But now that I've finished complaining about the lack of virtues plaguing this establishment, I may just remedy that.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

A few lines from my journal; verses, one in English, the other in Spanish:

Ahora, son las tres en la manana, y todavia estoy despierto.
Busco a una mujer que tambien lo este.
Busco a una mujer que leya bajo la luna,
Que tenga secretos, pero, que me los comparta.

Pienso en una mujer que suen~e, y que
No olvide sus suen~os cuando viene el sol.
Pinso en una mujer quer tunga todo que necesita en su propia vida,
Pero, todavia busque a mi.
Si buscamos tantos nohces, nos acercamos, nos tocaremos --

esto es seguro.

Pero - Vamos a conocer la una al otro cuando nos vemos?

Tal vez.
"I ignored the flashes of lightning all around me. They either had your number on them or they didn't." - J.D.S

Friday, March 18, 2005

Politics and sexuality: A brief redux -

"With your feet in the air and your head on the ground, try this trick and spin it.
You head will collapse, but there's nothing in it, and you'll ask yourself:
Where is my mind?"

Though massive cuts in most social progams were proposed by this years White House budget (many of which were subsequently rejected by the Senate), one group of programmes had their fundings greatly increased again, with further increases proposed in the next few years: Abstinence-only programs.

These programs, for those living under rocks or what have you, these are sexual "education" programs mandated in primary and secondary schools that are designed to coerce sexual abstinence from teenagers. To this end, they're not allowed to talk about 'safer' sex practices at all, often resorting to complete disinformation about the efficacy of condoms and other birth control methods. A member of a religious group promoting this sort of garbage said ""Look at the trends if you want to see whether abstinence education works." Well, Jimmy Hester, I'm glad also noticed that "students... didn't even realize that abstinence was an option." No? You mean, there is a way out of the rampant mandatory sex parties that all high schools have? That's genius! About condoms and safer sex: that just "waters down the message." Which is what? Let me turn to my dear friend Julia for the answer to that:

"Unlike Winston, she had grasped the inner meaning of the Party's sexual puritanism. It was not merely that the sex instict created a world of its own which was outside the Party's control and therefore had to be destroyed ... more important was that sexual privation indued hysteria, which was desirable because it could be transformed into war fever and leader worship. The way she put it was: '...All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour.' "

Fortunately, ( but also with frightening implications), telling people not to do something doesn't actually mean they'll do anything about it. You'd think they'd have learned that about laws regarding alcohol or marijuana. But in the case of this sort of intentional dis / mis-information, it's had the predictable effect of reducing the use of condoms and birth control, without any accompanying reduction in rates of sexual activity. Nice work!

From several studies on the matter :

"29 high schools became increasingly sexually active after taking such courses"
"no evidence the large amount of money we're spending is having an effect,"
"80 percent of the curricula examined contained false, misleading or distorted information."
"Students who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are more likely to take chances with other kinds of sex that increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases."

The clincher about the hacks who promote the abstinence-'education' is that they're not particularly interested in what actually happens, instead focusing on what would happen if their desired result was achieved. About the studies showing that those who pledge abstience are less likely to use protection, especially during oral and anal sex:

"Kids who pledge abstinence are taught that any word that has 'sex' in it is considered a sexual activity," Unruh [one of the hacks] said. "Therefore oral sex is sex, and they are staying away." [emphasis mine]

They are? Not in reality, of course, but, as we've all heard about lies, damnes lies, and statistics -- they're unconcerned with surveys of what people are actually doing. It's great to not actually have anything to do with, you know. Actual events.

Sources :
Article 1
Article 2
Ninteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
The Pixies: Where is my mind? (Surfer Rosa)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I am the anti-zen. Another night of a throbbing, pounding heartbeat, urging me to further heights of intensity that I struggle to find in the mortal world. Another night of dreams, and of stories. Nothing inside me is calm, peaceful. I've always been attracted to the intense, to the point I fear it becomes trite and cliche. My entire life is a metaphor of fire; I long for strong emotions, intense experiences. They don't have to be complex to be intense; sometimes, the simplest things carry the greatest weight. I long for a lingering gaze that burns all the way down my spine, to look up at the moon and feel my heart race, to awaken to the sound of drums; a deep, subsonic basso thrumming inside me. It takes me away.

I have stood at a thousand starting lines in a thousand worlds; the finish is always obscured to me. The finish line does not matter, and yet I long for victory, triumph. Perhaps I should be more "goal-oriented," but GOALS aren't in my nature so much as the DRIVE. Usually one associates the word 'driven' with an infinitive, like "to win" or "to madness." For me, it's not that way. The greatest quest of my adult life is to search for things I am driven TO. I love to race, but it is not the glory of the crowd I seek. When I reach the end and look back, I'll know whether I have won or lost. If by the end of my life there is an ounce of strength left in my legs, in my heart, then I'll know I have lost. I will conquer the world; my world, at least.

Loneliness compounds the anger inside me. There is a lot of it, and I fear most people don't understand that. The rage is just one of a swell of intense emotions that make me who I am, make me feel I'm human, and I revel in them. For entirely too long, I was entirely too cerebral, stuck in thoughts with in thoughts within thoughts. THAT drives me crazy. The passion is liberating. I thrive on words like "TRIUMPH," "ECSTASY," "PASSION," and on the metaphorical contexts of nearly every synonym for "FIRE": "IMMOLATION," "SEARING," "BOILING," "CONFLAGRATION," "SMOLDERING," "EMBER," "INCENDIARY." When I hear these words, the drums in my head grow a little louder.

It's instinctual. It's primal.

A fire in the dark, beneath the stars, massive hide-covered drums are relentlessly pounded; naked bodies painted with crimson streaks dance to the rhythm, chanting, wailing. I feel this every day before something HAPPENS.

I awaken with the sharp intake of breath that comes only in movies, my eyes glistening. I've never seen my eyes, naturally, not in those moments, but I have been told that shades of red are indeed visible through the deep browns that normally pigment my irises.

Further cliche is how my passion relates to love. I fantasize about nights of writhing, uninhibited passion - this is true. I don't want a timid, submissive partner; the lover of my dreams can kick my ass just as well. I imagine the same fire in her eyes.

But the real kicker, the thing that brings me tears when I awaken alone, is that there is nothing to soften the edges of the razor I walk on. What I really miss is not only the burning gazes at night, but the gentle caresses in the morning. In love there is passion, and intensity, but there is also peace.

Fragments of love, and of peace, have been flickering though my life, on and off, but I've only found it completely once, and it only lasted three days; but that's another story entirely.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Digital countdowns are flickering jumbles of lines, depicting numerals we've learned to interpret. Analog countdowns are just circles, spirals showing the path to an ending, taking itself back to the beginning again.
Normally, I try to stay as far away from all the celebrity-gossip junk as I can, but this was just FUNNY.

"...have sex in an elevator with Scarlett Johansson...? I kind of like ... you know, I ... well ... I don't know. Let's leave that to [your] imagination." -- Benicio Del Toro

Scarlett Johansson is that cute young lady from Lost in Translation, and I must say, for what I've seen of her at least, she's quite a charmer, an excellent actress (particularly for her youth,) and lovely in an endearing, real human way besides.

I think most celebrity crushes are pretty ridiculous, as is the culture's obsession with them. When Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston split up, I knew this because at the convenient store, three "gossip" rags near the counter all bore images of the two actors, a line bisecting them, and the headlines creatively read "Why They Split," "Reasons Behind The Split," and "Why They Split Up." Sometimes I find this disgusting; other days, it's just funny.

All right, so someone is in a television show or has a role in hollywood movies. What does this say about them as a person? Not very much. Don't even get me started on the likes of Britney Spears. There are innumerable thousands of reasonably physically attractive women out there, and if you paid any them millions of dollars so that all they had to do all day was have their stylist select designer clothes for them, mold their bodies with a full-time personal trainer, and have a hair and makeup artist make them into some twisted archetype of beauty -- BEFORE a professional photographer gets to them and does digital-gods-know-what to the images he produces, then any of those women could take Britney's place. She's not even a -person-. Oh, sure, there probably is a real young woman in there, somewhere. But we don't know her, none of her "fans," (or detractors, for that matter), know anything about that person. We just know the image, crafted from clay and wire, spray-painted to look like a girl.

But if I had to answer about 'celebrity crushes,' as in 'what movie stars am I the most attracted to,' I'd have to include Miss Johansson in that list, along with Natalie Portman, and probably Angelina Jolie. So there.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Hesitation, delays, handwritten scribbles, attempts at finals.
Beautiful weather and bicycles, and oh, the distant longing.

Posting, writing soon to resume.
For now, dreams.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Academic confessions of a disorganized mind:

I'm a terrible student. Most people I tell don't believe me when I tell them. I'm amused by that reaction - I say "I'm probably not going to pass any of my classes this term, except perhaps one," and the typical response I get from friends, family is something to the effect of "Sure you will. Just stop worrying so much." Now, most people really do worry about their grades too much, I think, allow the stresses of due dates and papers and such to overcome them, but do fine at the end. Not me. I mean it.

I've always been a terrible student, and it makes me feel a lot of nasty things about myself much of the time. It's quite ironic, I think, because I love learning and academia -- adore it. Almost any academic subject in existence fascinates me, but that's part of the problem, I suppose: A genuine interest in nearly everything and a 'pure' desire to learn means that focusing to produce required coursework is a challenge, to say the least.

But recently, I realized that it's worse than I thought. I have a research paper due in my Economics of Third World Development course, and I have yet to start on it. As I considered it, I tried to remember what I had done in the past that did work; maybe I could come up with something. Nothing. In fact, I have never written a research paper. Last term, one of my favourite classes was Economics of Multinational Enterprise. The class grade was based chiefly on a two-part mid-term exam, a final exam, and a small research presentation. The presentation was only about five pages, written about a relevant subject of your choosing. It was an easy thing. It wasn't required that you take a position, or perform any analysis; the assignment was just writing a brief explanation of the history of a transnational corporation. I got A's on both parts of the midterm, and on the final. The research project should've been simple, and I had the entire term to produce it. I tried, but failed. Not as in I wrote something bad -- I've never had the ability to do that -- rather, I wrote nothing at all. I selected a topic, performed some research on it, and then froze. Nothing. I ended up with an 'incomplete' in the course.

In a few other classes, I've been assigned essays requiring research, but not once have I done it. I've either dropped the class, not passed it, or found some way to receive credit without completing the assignment. I have no idea how that works. In classes where the grade is based on examination, I excel consistently. Readings, lecture, tests: conventional stuff, and I master them all. But get me something where I need to produce out of the classroom, and it all goes to hell.

It's not as if I don't want to, but I have never managed to get it taken care of. It's so built up now, it's ridiculous. Certainly, all of this is 'in my head,' but so am I, see?

This applies as well to things that I want to do for my own benefit, unrelated to class. I enjoy writing quite a bit; I have a large backlog of stories and essays in my mind that I'd love to write. But, even when I had the idea of submitting a few pieces to a campus publication, I didn't manage to actually get them out there. It's pretty darned silly. I get really upset about it, sometimes.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

I just read Phillip K. Dick's "The Mold of Yancy," a cleverly written little short story about the uniqueness of humanity and the value of individual thought and personal taste. It's only something like fourteen pages, but it's become one of my favorites in allegorical science fiction. It's short enough that I can't really say much about it without revealing the whole thing, so it's better off that you just read it.

If you have, I'd like to talk to you about John Edward Yancy, Britney Spears, Coca-Cola, and American presidents.

Dick's argument in "Yancy," is, more or less, that complex thoughts are undesirable to an authoritarian political regime, because those who have definite, expresssed, debatable opinions aren't able to be duped into agreement. Those with more watered-down thoughts, who "only thought they had an opinion" (from the story), are much easier to persuade and control. I believe this is the same effect that goes into platinum records, fast-food chains, and representative democracy.

I found the story in a collection of Dick's early shorts that I tracked down at Powell's for Eight Bucks on sale. Powell's is a Portland staple; a massive used bookstore with a ceaseless supply of used books. It's not always the best place for a deal, as they move through their used books quickly, but you can find just about anything there.If you read this story, I can use it as a great springboard to a conversation about my Philosophy on life, politics, and religion; an admittedly overarching theme! But I'm against watered-down, trite shit in any form.